As the WASPs passed on the torch, they spoke often about the rightness of tolerance and equal opportunity. But there’s another element to this revolution, and its overtone you only catch if you listen carefully (and yet it’s important).
When the British and French withdrew from their empires during this same post-war generation, they spoke of the justice of what they were doing. But they were also exhausted. They no longer had the heart for imperialism. They blamed themselves and (more) their ancestors for having got them empires to start with. They felt guilty, and we saw the up-flare of European self-hatred that has been so important to the modern world ever since.
Kingman Brewster was a hero of the cultural revolution. He was also a hero of the WASP elite, a lineal descendant of William Brewster, a leader of the Mayflower
Pilgrims and of Plymouth Colony; he was suave, charming, accomplished, and brilliant. And he was very publicly “skeptical of the ability of black revolutionaries to achieve a fair trial anywhere in the United States.” Robert Lowell, McGeorge Bundy, and Robert McNamara were all important, self-hating WASPS who came to dislike the nation their ancestors had built.
LOPEZ: You write that “our nation’s most serious problems are not economic or political. They are social, cultural, educational and (above all) spiritual. Conservative thinkers and leaders tend to ignore such problems. But our cultural oxygen is being displaced by a steady seep of poison. We had better act soon; in fact, now.” You then say with some confidence that “we will.” What gives you that confidence? Is it anything you are seeing before your eyes?
GELERNTER: Americans have come through tougher crises. Until the middle of 1942 we got beaten and fell back again and again before the Japanese Empire. The Cold War was half a century of jangling tension. Americans rise to the occasion. That’s our style.
LOPEZ: So much is cultural in America-Lite, but how much rides on this coming election? Is it pivotal on its own, or does it have to bring with it a certain cultural component? A rage and a love made manifest in civil society?
GELERNTER: A lot rides on it; too close for comfort. But let’s assume we beat Obama. Certainly he is ripe for beating. We breathe a sigh of relief — and go on turning out pre-programming, left-tilting airheads, class after class. The exact same thing happens if Romney wins. Obama has become a four-alarm fire in this dangerous world and we must beat him. Even so, America herself will win only when we get rid of our dangerously infected schools and universities and get new ones. In the long run, I am all for Harvard and Yale and Princeton coming back strong — but only after losing the best students year after year to Internet colleges — a string of losses that will change their whole worldview. Internet colleges won’t teach right-wing history to make up for today’s ubiquitous left-wing history. They’ll just teach history.
LOPEZ: Why do you quote Henry James so much?
GELERNTER: He’s got a lot to say.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.