Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Liberal Condescension and "Conservative Populism" that Isn’t Really Populism

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.    

Discussions - 6 Comments

Buckley’s position, then, is not really populist.

Voegeli is trying too hard, out of a misguided fear of the word "populism". Buckleys quote was of course populist in sentiment. The basic idea behind this country was populist, as anyone who's read the Founders knows. It's un-conservative to run away from the word.

Of course we all share common principles with Buckley, whose anatexic vocabulary, resplendant with cachunda displays worthy of any decemvir, were falculate punishments to foes, iridic in their impact, and composed from the topgallant mast of his skiff. Of course his sphenophorus tongue is excluded from your list of snobs.

You write "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."

I think you mean "the joke they're making."

If conservatism means anything, it means good grammar and better spelling.

Best wishes,


Sick burn by the grammar police. I'll take that definition of conservatism, I think you are the first person to try to give one. That is what I will now think of when I hear conservatism.

I think the question is: is their a such thing as common sense and can good reason be seperated from bad and by what standard can that be done? I think its going to end up in a circle. common sense is the excercise of reason that then can be defined as good or bad by common sense. Mabye just get rid of reason? Add up everything it brings us and see which side comes out on top? Reason is the tool used to justify the worst of things, and if we have to use reason to justify them are we not going against the natural common sense. I might say, for instance, that I punched a guy because he spit at me? Was it an unreasonable thing to do? Why did I give a reason, do good deeds require the reason like bad? Do you need a reason to love you family or to be honorable?

Good catch, Ted Joy There's no excuse for that sort of thing . . . not even when the would-be editors show that they're more clever with grammar than with arguments. I can assure you that their efforts are deeply appreciated and that, in the future, a more conservative proof-reading will attend my posts.

Buckley was on to the academics from the very start with "God and Man at Yale". Because of his own intellectual brilliance, he saw through theirs.

Those Harvard academics would have imposed communism on their subjects, violating three Commandments: not to covet, not to steal and placing the god of government before God. Buckley knew that, unlike the academics, ordinary Americans would never knowingly impose such a thing on themselves and their neighbors.

Present company excluded of course, academics can convince themselves that down is up and up is down. And when they want to do something wrong, they re-label it "ethics". That's a long way to say this: I miss William F. Buckley, Jr. Rest in Peace, sir.

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