Dismantling of a Culture
America’s elites now disdain the rest of America.

David Gelernter


What eventually followed was tragic. As May Day 1970 approached, Kingman Brewster, president of Yale, announced: “I am appalled and ashamed that things should have come to such a pass in this country that I am skeptical of the ability of black revolutionaries to achieve a fair trial anywhere in the United States.” These black revolutionaries were Black Panthers who were on trial for torturing to death one of their own members. They were terrorists and thugs. Or was Brewster expecting — in a sense, legitimizing — an armed insurrection against the American government?


Why do you, a distinguished professor, call Barack Obama “an airhead liberal”?

GELERNTER: His casual, unscripted comments suggest that he is typical (only more so) of the graduates of his alma maters Columbia and Harvard: Whatever he knows or doesn’t know, he certainly projects no grasp of modern history or any history. He casually rejects the American Creed, which has always centered on American uniqueness, American exceptionalism, America as that city on a hill striving to be worthy to lead the whole world towards freedom, equality, democracy.

Obama doesn’t see it.


But what about all the talk that he is a deep believer in all that is Left?

GELERNTER: I can’t see that he gives a damn about [being] left-wing or any other principles. He thinks Left and speaks Left because that’s what seems natural to him, where he’s comfortable, what he was trained to think. But did he walk union picket lines, as he promised to? Did he lead the country to a better understanding of cap-and-trade and the horrors of carbon emissions, or (say) a better understanding of the need to protect women from vicious Taliban rule in Afghanistan? Does he care about democracy? If so, why did he support card-check; why does his attorney general oppose photo-ID requirements for voting?


And a “PORGI (Post-Religious Globalist Intellectuals) establishment.” Is that to get you tea-party cred?

GELERNTER: If we don’t understand who’s running our leading colleges, we can’t even begin to understand our own culture. Our most powerful colleges have gigantic cultural influence through their alumni, graduate, and professional schools (especially their law, journalism, business, and education schools) and their direct influence on sister institutions throughout the nation. So who’s in charge? Once upon a time, there was a powerful WASP elite in this country. Obviously they weren’t all the same, and obviously we can generalize (either that or we can’t think). The WASP elite on the whole was politically moderate and Christian.

And what sort of people are running our powerful colleges today? Or are they so diverse, it is impossible to generalize?

In fact they’re radically un-diverse. They’re not all the same, there are dissenters, but culturally they are far more uniform than the old WASP elite ever were. You won’t find lots of church-goers among them. You won’t find lots of patriots. You will find plenty of intellectuals. You can call the PORGI establishment whatever you like, but there’s no way around the fact that the culturally uniform, conformist group in powerful positions at top colleges are likely to be post-religious and globalist and intellectuals — or at least intellectualizers, would-be intellectuals. So call them whatever you like, but they’re PORGIs to me.


Why is that “post-religion” bit so important?

GELERNTER: Post-religious thinkers don’t even live on the same spiritual planet as Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish Americans. Old-time atheists struggled with biblical religion and rejected it; modern post-religious thinkers struggled with nothing. Since the Bible and biblical religion underlie the invention of America, it’s hard (unsurprisingly) for post-religious people to understand America sympathetically. Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, the most sacred of American texts, is (precisely) a sermon describing North and South as equally guilty in God’s eyes for the sin of slavery and, ultimately, for the war itself:

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

The quote is from Psalms 19; Reagan’s famous “shining city on a hill” paraphrases the gospels. Expecting post-religious, Bible-ignorant thinkers to grasp America is like expecting a gerbil to sing Pagliacci. The gerbil might be brilliant in his way, but he’ll never make it in opera. (If this be species-ism, make the most of it!) How can my post-religious colleagues and countrymen, many of whom have never even opened a Bible, understand Lincoln or America or Americans?


What do you mean when you say that “conservatives today are not complacent — but they can’t let themselves become complacent about complacency.”

GELERNTER: They can’t relax and take things easy and let the big, deep problems work themselves out. Conservatives are too apt to be obsessed by politics and to cede culture to their opponents. For a generation, conservatives have shrugged off education, and now they face a hard slog merely to defeat a grandiose failure of a left-liberal president in a disastrous economy, in dangerous times, in what is still a center-right nation. If this isn’t gross Republican incompetence, show me what is.


Do liberals rage at injustice? Do conservatives love family, friends, and country? Do either do either particularly well? How can such a generalization be helpful outside of a country-music song?

GELERNTER: Yes, honest liberals do certainly rage at injustice. Of course conservatives love family, friends, and country. Not all conservatives are paragons (to say the least) and not all liberals are inch-deep phonies. But liberals and conservatives have chosen different emotions to display on their marquees.


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