Skip to comments.The Roots of Liberal Condescension
Posted on 05/17/2010 7:27:08 PM PDT by Lorianne
The denunciation of Palin took place 45 years after William F. Buckley, Jr., wrote: "I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University." From Richard Nixon's invoking the "silent majority" to Palin's campaigning as a devout, plain-spoken hockey mom, conservatives have claimed that they share the common sense of the common man. Liberalsfrom Adlai Stevenson to Barack Obama to innumerable writers, artists, and academicshave often been willing foils in this drama, unable to stop themselves from disparaging the very people whose votes are indispensable to the liberal cause. The elephant-in-the-room irony is that the liberal cause is supposed to be about improving the prospects and economic security of ordinary Americans, whose beliefs and intelligence liberals so often enjoy deriding.
Buckley's identification of the political fault-line running beneath the campus quadrangle was confirmed by "UD," a blogger for "Inside Higher Ed." Belittling Palin's degree in communications from the University of Idaho, UD concluded, "A lot of Americans don't seem to like highly educated people, and they don't want them running the country." He continued:
We need to encourage everyone to be in college for as many years as they possibly can, in the hope that somewhere along the line they might get some exposure to the world outside their town, and to moral ideas not exclusively derived from their parents' religion. If they don't get this in college, they're not going to get it anywhere else.
Thus, higher education is remedial education, and the affliction it remedies is an American upbringing.
Buckley, it must be noted, was an improbable champion of conservative populism. By 1963, still in his thirties, he had already created a public persona "that may be unique in our cultural history," according to a recent Boston Review article by the journalist William Hogeland. "Buckley's perfectly phrased insults and languorous polysyllabery made him the pop-culture model of intellectual, cultural, and verbal advancement, an unflappable connoisseur, guardian of the best ever thought and said by man." Even when siding with the masses against the professoriate, Buckley formulated his preference with the sort of fusty grammatical precision ("I should sooner live") appreciated in faculty lounges but alien to VFW halls.
We can make sense of this incongruity by moving beyond his famous line about the telephone directory to the rarely quoted explanation for why he would oppose being governed by eminent scholars:
Not, heaven knows, because I hold lightly the brainpower or knowledge or generosity or even the affability of the Harvard faculty: but because I greatly fear intellectual arrogance, and that is a distinguishing characteristic of the university which refuses to accept any common premise. In the deliberations of two thousand citizens of Boston I think one would discern a respect for the laws of God and for the wisdom of our ancestors which does not characterize the thought of Harvard professorswho, to the extent that they believe in God at all, tend to believe He made some terrible mistakes which they would undertake to rectify; and, when they are paying homage to the wisdom of our ancestors, tend to do so with a kind of condescension toward those whose accomplishments we long since surpassed.
Later in the essay, "The Aimlessness of American Education," Buckley elaborated on the "common premise" the university rejected: "The Ten Commandments do not sit about shaking, awaiting their inevitable deposition by some swashbuckling professor of ethics. Certain great truths have been apprehended. In the field of morality, all the basic truths have been apprehended."
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.
What sets the people in the phonebook apart from the professors, according to this argument, is that they believe in and defer to profound truths existing outside of history. They are willing, furthermore, to accept that the "democracy of the dead," incorporating the cumulative judgment of people long gone and forgotten, might well have grasped those truths better than people, even very smart people, who happen to be alive at this moment.
If your goal is to exterminate the majority of the population and enslave the rest so as to allow you live as gods, it is imperative that you develop a self-protective psychosis of superiority that allows you to enjoy your life while drenched in blood.
Buckley was a gadfly and a pariah for pointing this out in God And Man At Yale, which reads today as if it were published today. I'm not entirely sure it would be published today.
Interesting article. Thanks for posting.
Reading this reminds me how much I miss WFB.
WFB’s unworthy son rejected the clearest opportunity ever offered to live by his father’s famous aphorism when he denounced Sarah Palin. Wonder how he feels about it now.
He also gets it wrong about Aristocracy.
He wants to seperate the European version of Aristocracy form the USA version (i.e natural Aristocracy)
this is a false argument. Aristocracy is Aristocracy and means a form of government in which a few of the most prominent citizens rule.
The American Aristocrat is no different than the European one. The only difference is the time they have been around. the American Aristocracy is relatively new and the still forming thus they have more ways to obtain it. Give this movement another 100 years to solidify and there will be no difference between the two.
Bump for later read.