Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Internal Contradictions

with 6 comments

I never know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I sit down to write the post in the morning and I don’t know where to start.

This morning, however, I’d better start with the most salient point.

I never said that William Henry was a conservative.

What I said was that he took a number of positions–a lot of them, really–that virtually everybody in America these days would assume were conservative positions.

These include

1) opposition to affirmative action

2) the position that affirmative action is a process by which lesser qualified candidates are given preferment over better qualified ones (and therefore is a form of racism)

3) an antipathy for the graduated income tax, under the assumption that such a tax is meant to punish achievement and success

4) an opposition to “victim’s studies” departments in colleges and universities

5) an opposition to “mainstreaming” the mentally handicapped in elementary and high school classrooms

6) an opposition to uncontrolled immigration and an insistance that immigrants learn English, Americanize themselves and assimilate

7) an opposition to conducting business, especially government business, in the US in anything but English

8) the firm belief that Western civilization in general and American civilization in particular is objectively superior to most of the others that now or have ever existed, and especially superior to the cultures of the present-day “third world.”

If I gave you that list of positions and told you nothing else about the person who held them, you would assume that person was a Republican.  So would I. 

And we’d be right.   In today’s political climate–and in the political climate of the early  90s, about which Henry is writing–those would be Republican positions.

What has always bothered me, what continues to bother me, is how it is possible to reconcile such positions with the position that highly educated elites are bad, and that goodness in the political process belongs to “just plain folks.”

In fact, I think that last thing, in the paragraph above, is inherently contradictory to the rest of the list, numbered above.

Of course, the obverse is also inherently contradictory–it makes no sense to champion lowered standards in schools and colleges and the superiority of Guatamalen folk art over Michaelangelo at the same time you’re insisting that the government is better run if it’s run by highly educated elites.

Back in the 30s, the Democrats had both the drive to economic leveling and the folk singers.  It was upper class Republicans who upheld the high art traditon while at the same time opposing the graduated income tax.

The parts of the puzzle do not go together for me. 

In the 60s, as in the 39s, being a progressive Democrat meant dumping all that higher learning, high achieving stuff and going in for folk art.  Being a Conservative–at least a William F. Buckley conservative–meant not only championing capitlism but looking down your nose at rock music and insisting that the high art tradition was the only tradition worthy of being called art.

This situation got turned around in the 80s, and I’m not quite sure how, although I think I know why.

What I am trying to say here is this:  it makes absolutely no sense to me that people who take the positions I outline above would ALSO take the position that all virtue resides in the “folks,” and that “elites” are bad.

The positions outlined above are, as Henry notes, essentially elitist ones.  To say that Western Civilization is superior to others is to say that Western Civilization is better and others are worse.  To say that entry to university should be on “merit only” is to say that some people are better than others and deserve better things–and that this sense of “better” is objective and universally applicable.

Back on the main page of this web site, I’ve got an essay–one of the ones on the menu on the right hand side–called “Why I Don’t Vote Republican.”  It comes in three parts, the last of which is called “The Stupid Thing.”   A number of people who have written that essay have said that it doesn’t make much sense to them.

This is what I was trying to get across here.

First, that the self-conscious apotheosis of “just plain folks” does not fit the rest of the positions that supposedly make up the Republican political philosophy and

Second, that it’s a deal breaker for me when any political party denigrates intelligence, education, and high culture.

And, what’s more, Ayn Rand would agree with me.

In spades.

A week or so ago, Steve Lewis (from the other blog) got confused as to why I would link “small town values” and Sarah Palin, and this is why.

But I still don’t understand how either political party manages to bridge the contraditions.

Written by janeh

June 11th, 2010 at 7:42 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'Internal Contradictions'

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  1. Do you think they DO bridge the contradictions, Jane? I don’t think they do. It’s all PR, in 30-second spots, and a lot of hand-waving and mirrors.


    11 Jun 10 at 9:33 am

  2. I believe your phrasing was that Henry was not a conservative “as far as [you] could tell.” Considering both his gratuitous swipes at every conservative in sight and a long half-paragraph reciting his liberal credentials (page 11 of my paperback) I thought this was an odd way of putting things–rather like saying Ayn Rand was not “so far as you could tell” a liberal Democrat.

    I’d call Henry a Schlesinger Democrat. Like Schlesinger, all his life he supported politicians, endorsed parties and financed organizations whose policies have now taken the country just where many conservatives said they would. Neither man–Henry or Schlesinger–wished he had acted differently, or proposed to act differently in the future. They just wished their actions had had different results. The world doesn’t work that way.

    As for contradictions, there are, of course, Buckley conservatives, and shall continue to be. And there were, if you must, “Palin” conservatives even pre-Buckley. (Seeing an old New Yorker cartoon–Arno? Hokinson? of a man in shirt sleeves harranguing a crowd, and a woman passing by sniffing “I didn’t know THAT sort of person could be a Republican.”

    But in Buckley’s day–at least when he started writing–there was a viable conservative and high arts tradition in the Ivy Leagues. Samuel Elliott Morrison was still on faculty, and many of the staff had served in uniform, or in the OSS. The English departments were still teaching novels written by Europeans–even males–and paying some respect to the intentions of the authors. Ths same is true of art museums and concert halls.

    Fast-forward 40 years to Palin. ALL these instutions are in the hands of the political enemy. Endorsement of a person or policy by the faculty of Harvard or Columbia–or any of the surviving Seven Sisters–tells a conservative that this is a person or policy to be opposed to the death. Buckley understood this to stem from liberal dominance of the institutions and abandonment of the traditions–but with none of the institutions upholding the traditions, that’s a difficult line to follow–rather like Tolkien opposing Naziism because they’d got the Northern Tradition wrong. So much easier to oppose the Northern Tradition because it was associated with the Nazis.

    If you don’t like “the Stupid Thing” than give conservative supporters of the Western Tradition a single institution to rally around. Don’t just dismiss us as yahoos because we distrust our sworn enemies.

    The Liberals may justify their own contradictions.


    11 Jun 10 at 4:04 pm

  3. Oh, ack.

    I don’t think “people who prefer Bach and Shakespeare to Die Hard movies and Garth Brooks” are the “sworn enemies” of anybody.

    And I think you have the historical timeline exactly backwards.

    A “Sarah Palin Republican” doesn’t oppose the Ivy League because it’s full of Democratic Party snobs.

    A “Sarah Palin Republican” hates and fears anybody or anythign who dares to seek more knowledge, or have more ambition, or insist on higher standards than those “just plain folks.”

    It’s not elitist snobbery, or leftist politics they hate.

    It’s intelligence itself, and any talent that doesn’t bown down first to the higher virtues of the “folks.”

    And only such ignorant, envious, proud-of-being-stupid people can be “real Americans.”

    Anybody with a real education lasts exactly as long as he’s willing to make all the right deferential moves to how it “the folks” that really know best about everything–

    Stop kowtowing, and you’re off the grid.

    It is, in fact, deference–in MY sense of the word–that Sarah Palin Republicans want.

    They want kowtowing, groveling deference.

    You worked really hard in school and went to some fancy college?

    Well, you’d better tell ME I’m better than YOU for NOT doing that, or you’re not a “real American.”

    Who do you think you are?

    There are a lot more people upholding the tradition than you think (see Victor Davis Hanson) and far more people that, if you actually looked into what they believe, you would call “conservative” among American faculty.

    But they’ll never call themselves that, they’ll never vote Republican and they’ll never identify with “the right” because “the right” is busy trashing the one thing that matters most to them.

    But none of this matters to my point, which remains valid.

    Somebody who holds all those positions OUGHT to be holding a similar bias towards the high art tradition and classical/traditional education.

    Anything else is a contradiction.


    11 Jun 10 at 4:35 pm

  4. You’re trying to put people into neat little boxes, and they often don’t fit. OK, I may be a little sensitive to that, because it really annoys me (an usually isn’t true) when someone announces triumphantly to me ‘Well, if you think X, you are obviously a member of Group Y, and you MUST think Z!!!’

    But a bit more seriously, outside of fantasy and the kind of political or religious movement that goes in big time for purity of belief and show trials for heretics, ANY group is going to have people with a range over views, and any individual member of any given group is going to some beliefs that are more in tune with those of other members, and some that aren’t. Aside from the single-issue fanatics and the aforementioned political purists, political parties in large diverse countries HAVE to appeal to people with a range of biases in order to cobble together enough support to govern. Maybe some of them do it by appealing to envy or class solidarity.

    I’d love to think I could become a being of such purity and clarity of thought that all my ideas were perfectly aligned and I didn’t have any messy bits which didn’t quite match most of my beliefs or actions. But I’m not, and I don’t think anyone is. OTOH, appealing to human failings to gain political support is a very old tactic.


    11 Jun 10 at 5:47 pm

  5. OK, I’m going to say it. I’ve known Republicans and conservatives all my life. I have read and continue to read conservative books and magazines, and in two different phases of my life used to pick up Rush Limbaugh on the radio.

    I have never met, read or heard ANY conservative or Republican who fits your description of a “Sarah Palin Republican.” Asking me to reconcile Republican hatred of intelligence and talent with conservative belief in restrained government is like asking me to reconcile the hippogriff and the theory of evolution.

    That said, I’m sure there’s someone out there who matches your description. There are some of virtually anything. But I notice Republican candidates for public office continue to be the same mix of people from humble origins who went to school or into business and made something of themselves with those like McCain and the Bush family who come from longer traditions of service.

    And surely you noticed that Harvard and Columbia are no longer the refuges of those who prefer Bach and Shakespeare? The last time I read up on it, you could graduate from Harvard AS AN ENGLISH MAJOR without being required to take any Shakespeare whatever. So long as you confuse respect for Western culture with respect for schools which have long since abandoned it, other people’s politics will make no sense to you.

    What the prestious liberal arts schools of 1960 have become is the home of entrenched leftist politics–so much so, that, as I said, any idea endorsed by many of these universities as a body can be relied on to be standard leftist claptrap–not the fruit of intellectual activity of any sort. If they insist on treating third-rate political thinking seriously, and putting the prestige of the university behind such things. it’s not surprising that anything else popularly associated with them is a little suspect. Far too many of their intellectual checks have bounced.

    Yes, I have read and enjoyed Hanson and others–conservatives and proponents of the Western tradition, a handful of whom still teach in such schools. Which is why I was careful to specify the various “prestige” universities acting as a body, or the faculty concensus. I know full well there are honorable exceptions. I also know they’re being weeded out. There is no one left at Harvard teaching history as Ranke understood it. When there is no one left teaching Shakespeare, will you continue to call disrespect of Harvard an assault on the Western Tradition?


    12 Jun 10 at 9:03 am

  6. Well, okay, a few things.

    First, every Republican campaign for President since Bush 1 has been of the kind I described–a long-drawn-out denigration of intelligence, not just “intellectuals,” with the Ivies, et al, being the code for actually having a thnking brain.

    Maybe Robert is missing something by not watching television.

    Second–yes, Harvard and Columbia, and Wellesley and Vassar, and Amherst and Williams, are indeed still sanctuaries for people who love Shakespeare and Bach. They are, virtually, the only such sanctuaries left in this country, where a taste for the high art tradition will brand you as a pariah in no time flat almost anywhere else.

    Third–you’ve got it backwards. It isn’t the “honorable exceptions” who are being weeded out. In fact, the trend is the exact opposite. The doctrinaire ideologues are by and large hanging on because they have tenure, and they’re all really old.
    Younger faculty coming up are, by and large, a lot more traditoinal in their approach to the Humanities and a lot less interested in politics of any sort.

    Humanities departments that attempt to stay politically “pure” are imploding. Half the English departments of the kind you dislike would no longer exist at all if it weren’t for the Frenshman English requirement–

    And all the new people being hired to teach that have doctorates in Writing Communication, not in English lit. And those people have no interest at all in leftist politics beyond what they read in the papers.

    The problem isn’t “disrespect of Harvard,” it’s using “Harvard” as a code word for ‘smart.”

    Which is, in fact, what’s happening.

    I’ll say what I said before–if Republicans don’t want to be painted as a bunch of anti-intellectual, ignoant, provincial, practically illiterate yahoos–then they should stop acting like that.

    Stop beating people up for being intelligent. Stop championing igornance and stupidity as what “real Americans” are. Stop trashing people for driving Volvos instead of pick-up trucks.

    Well, what can I say?

    You don’t watch enough television, but I watch a lot.

    And Sarah Palin was a slap in the face of anybody who has ever sat down and really applied themselves to academic work–or even to the morning newspaper.


    12 Jun 10 at 9:22 am

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