Thursday, January 04, 2007
Liberal Thursday V: Special Bauerlein Edition!
Last month, Mark Bauerlein wrote a Chronicle of Higher Education essay in which he said this:
In What’s Liberal ... ?, conservatism suffers similarly from stigmatizing references. Bérubé focuses on the anti-academic conservatives and fills his descriptions with diagnostic asides. Gay-rights debates “transform otherwise reasonable cultural conservatives into fumbling, conspiracy-mongering fanatics.” The columnist George Will is “furious,” and the columnist Michelle Malkin writes “shameful” books pressing “‘interpretations’ that no sane person countenances,” while Horowitz exaggerates “hysterically.” Such psychic wants explain why, according to Bérubé, “we just don’t trust cultural conservatives’ track record over the long term, to be honest. We think they’re the heirs of the people who spent decades dehumanizing African-Americans and immigrants, arguing chapter and verse that the Bible endorses slavery and the subjection of women."
Note the lineage: Not a line of reasoning, but a swell of mad wrath. Not Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville, T.S. Eliot, and Leo Strauss, but slaveholders, nativists, and sexists. Nothing from Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, E.D. Hirsch Jr., Harvey C. Mansfield, and the late Philip Rieff, to cite more-recent writers who may be termed “educational conservatives.” The scholarly conservative case against higher education is overlooked, while Bérubé devotes too many words to the claims of discrimination by a conservative student on television’s Hannity & Colmes, to a worry by a state legislator about “leftist totalitarianism,” and so on.
By my count, there are three things deeply wrong with this. I’ll get to them on Saturday, but if you’d like to see something even wronger with Bauerlein’s essay, read the whole thing (as they say on blogs) and wait ‘til you get to his treatment of Dinesh D’Souza’s The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11. You know, there really is only one intellectually respectable way to discuss D’Souza’s The Enemy At Home, and Mark Warren has recently provided a handy demonstration of that way in the pages of Esquire. Bauerlein, by contrast, decided to go the route of the D’Souza Enabler—offering a measured assessment of The Enemy at Home, the kind that helps Dinesh burnish his credentials as a Serious Person. And yes, I’ll get to that on Saturday too. But rest assured that I won’t associate Harvey Mansfield with racism in any shape or form just because he went around for years claiming, without a shred of empirical evidence, that grade inflation at Harvard was the work of molly-coddling liberal professors trying gamely to mask the shortcomings of Harvard’s African-American students.
In the meantime, consider this completely unrelated conundrum: Boogie Nights is very much like Ed Wood in that it is a very good movie about the campy very badness of very bad movies, and it continually (and rather gracefully) walks the line between ridiculing and paying wry homage to its subject. (I mean, Brock Landers and Chest Rockwell really are great names!) And yet Boogie Nights is also like The Kids Are Alright insofar as it takes its name from a song that is entirely appropriate to the subject yet appears nowhere on the soundtrack.
Coincidence . . . or mystery?