Our own William Voegeli has a very thoughtful and compelling essay in today’s Wall Street Journal in which he examines the roots of the inclination on the left to always consider themselves to be on the inside of the joke their making on the rest of the country. It fits nicely with the theme discussed below on the question of anti-intellectualism on the right. It’s not so much that conservatives disdain intellectual activity or intellectual arguments or even that they disdain the so-called intellectuals themselves--argues Voegeli. It’s that we live in a time where intellectual arguments have a promiscuous sort of grounding beneath them or, worse yet, they have no grounding at all. In other words, we do not trust the common premises of their arguments because they do not share common premises. In speaking of William Buckley’s famously half quoted notion that he’d rather be governed by the first 2000 names in the Boston telephone directory than the faculty at Harvard, Voegeli notes that people rarely give Buckley’s explanation for this provocative point. It is not, Voegeli notes, because he thinks there is something inherently more intelligent or virtuous about those random people. It is not because of something that their nature makes them more likely to possess but, rather, because of something in their circumstances that makes them NOT likely to possess impiety.
Buckley’s position, then, is not really populist. The ism of populism is the idea that the people are inherently more sound and virtuous than the elites. Buckley is saying, less categorically, that we live in an age when the people happen to possess better judgment than the professors. If the reverse were true, if the professors had more respect than the people for God’s laws and tradition’s wisdom, Buckley’s argument would have favored entrusting government pari passu (as he would have said) to scholars instead of citizens.Another choice quote is this:
Thus, if patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, snobbery is the last refuge of the liberal-arts major.And this:
Political parties have traditionally been coalitions held together by beliefs and interests. The modern Democratic Party may be the first in which the mortar is a shared sensibility. The cool kids disdain the dorks, and find it infuriating and baffling that they ever lose a class election to them.But read the whole thing.