In thinking about criticism that might be rendered of the current social and cultural order, we are, I think, remiss if we immediately translate its finer points into political consequences. Hanson's post and my linking to it was never an exercise in "reclaiming conservative pessimism" or engaging in "conservative whining." Rather, it was an attempt to highlight one of the more unintended consequences of the enormous economic comfort and opportunities that have happened in our country over the last 30 years. This is the complacency of comfort and the endless choices it fleetingly promised so many. American life, characterized from the beginning, as the search for God and mammon, both being held in a delicate balance, seems to have forgotten the former in crucial ways. We wanted endless prosperity. Instead, we might be in a period of reversal of fortune. Of course, American conservatism, with significant exceptions, has for understandable reasons defined itself in terms of offering more choices, opportunites, and comforts if its policies are given an opportunity. This is not to deny the authenticity of the claims, claims that I agree with wholeheartedly. But it must not deny larger consequences that issue from life lived on these terms without contact with firm moral realism and the awareness of how fragile our situation is.
Hanson's thoughts on the dread 20somethings, or on the bobos of Palo Alto, are intimately related because both groups are quite divorced from the moral, philosophical, dare I say religious, and labored grounding of a great republic. I think it obvious that Hanson comes not from a place of "whining" but the cool reasoning and observation that flowers from a life spent in the classics. From his perspective, we are woefully lacking in the firm stuff of civilization, and thus we continue to fretter away our advantages. Cut off from the generational reserves of virtue and mercy, we seem peculiarly unable to insist on the imperatives of a free society. Ms. Ponzi is, of course, exempted from this claim.
We are in the condition of a great freedom but without the moral authority and guidance necessary to its fruitful consequences. To note these glaring instances that exist most prominently in university towns, or in the multiplying instances of economic inpatient care amongst recent graduates, is of imminent value. This does not lead to the "ought" of pessimism and retreat from the public square, but does help the public intellectual understand the evolving terms of engagement. In many ways, the rush to condemn cultural observation because it does not comport with needed political narratives is terribly unwise. Shortened intellectual time horizons are unbecoming in an intellectual movement whose task is to make real in our time the enduring truths of our constitutional order. We must have all the information and be fully aware of the moment. Otherwise, we are doomed, doomed!