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Like many intellectually-inclined individuals born in the Midwest, I chose to attend college in New England and settle in cities outside my native region, first living in the Washington, D.C.-metropolitan area and now in Los Angeles. And while many of my peers who made similar journeys share my politics, most do not. It seems that when they pull up stakes, they lose all allegiance to their place of birth–and the people who live there.
They behave as if because they’re so much smarter than the folks they left behind, they know better how to run their lives than they do. They heap scorn on those who don’t know the difference between Hegel and Heidegger and can’t name a single German film director from the 1920s or a French one from the 1960s. In fact, most of the folk left behind probably couldn’t name more than one or two American directors for the 200os.
We conservatives, most of us at least, are a tad more humble. While we appreciate the company of those with whom we can share our intellectual/cultural pursuits, we recognize that our supposed smarts don’t give us the qualifications to run the lives of our youthful companions or to question their world view. Sometimes, we’re even aware that these folks have more practical intelligence than we do; we even turn to them for advice on matters of running our households and managing our money.
Yet, many of our left-wing counterparts just can’t accept that those in the hinterlands just don’t trust the judgments of their betters. How, they exclaim, could anyone find the Blind Side entertaining or, in generations past, couldn’t get enough of John Wayne movies? Just take a gander at Jacob Weisberg’s latest lament: “what may be the biggest culprit in our current predicament: the childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large.”
He then goes on to tell us just what it is that makes the American people so ignorant and incoherent: “We want Washington and the states to fix all of our problems now. At the same time, we want government to shrink, spend less, and reduce our taxes.” Guess he missed the latest Gallup poll. The American people don’t want the the government to solve our problems, well, most of us don’t and I would dare say the better part of the 38 percent who do lives in regions near Mr. Weisberg and, well, myself.
But, I guess he just can’t let go of his prejudices.
In the past few days, I have read two columns taking on people like Mr. Weisberg. In The Great Peasant Revolt of 2010, Charles Krathammer observes that Democrats understand the results in Massachusetts
. . . through a prism of two cherished axioms: (1) The people are stupid and (2) Republicans are bad. Result? The dim, led by the malicious, vote incorrectly. . . . Liberals [believe that they] act in the public interest, while conservatives think only of power, elections, self-aggrandizement and self-interest.
What was “dissent” when a Republican was in office becomes “malice” now that a Democrat leads the nation.
In a more exhaustive piece on liberal condescension (in the same left-leaning daily!), Gerard Alexander contends such condescension is “part of a liberal tradition”
. . . that for generations has impoverished American debates over the economy, society and the functions of government — and threatens to do so again today, when dialogue would be more valuable than ever.
Liberals have dismissed conservative thinking for decades, a tendency encapsulated by Lionel Trilling’s 1950 remark that conservatives do not “express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.” During the 1950s and ’60s, liberals trivialized the nascent conservative movement. Prominent studies and journalistic accounts of right-wing politics at the time stressed paranoia, intolerance and insecurity, rendering conservative thought more a psychiatric disorder than a rival. In 1962, Richard Hofstadter referred to “the Manichaean style of thought, the apocalyptic tendencies, the love of mystification, the intolerance of compromise that are observable in the right-wing mind.”
This sense of liberal intellectual superiority dropped off during the economic woes of the 1970s and the Reagan boom of the 1980s. (Jimmy Carter’s presidency, buffeted by economic and national security challenges, generated perhaps the clearest episode of liberal self-doubt.) But these days, liberal confidence and its companion disdain for conservative thinking are back with a vengeance, finding energetic expression in politicians’ speeches, top-selling books, historical works and the blogosphere. This attitude comes in the form of four major narratives about who conservatives are and how they think and function.
In the end, I think the difference between intellectual conservatives are our counterparts on the left is this: when we recognize our preference for ideas over action, for the life of the mind over that of the body, we recognize that we are different from our less intellectual fellows. Our liberal peers, however, believe they are better than the associates of their youth.
We appreciate those differences; many liberals deride them. And they’re the ones who make such a fuss over diversity.
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