In “Dreaming of a World with No Intellectuals” in the latest Chronicle of Higher Education, Professor Russell Jacoby of UCLA smashes into my book America-Lite with the finesse of an out-of-control 18-wheeler, destroying in the process (or attempting to) a whole raftful of conservative ideas.
In fact, Professor Jacoby’s piece demonstrates the left-lib intellectual in action so perfectly that I’d suspect it of being a parody — except for two spots in which his accusations are not just batty but loathsome. But in the end, his piece leaves a reader more sad than angry. We need a Left and a Right in this country. To see left-liberalism decay into an ugly rant is like watching the Obama administration’s collapse from all that glowing post-partisan hope and change to this week’s dirty ad accusing Mitt Romney of making a Democrat’s wife die of cancer. Word on the street is that Romney killed 30 men last Tuesday in a drunken brawl, and then tortured his dog to death — or (excuse me) that will probably be the next word on the street. Sorry to jump the gun. So it goes on the left.
Jacoby’s demonstration has two parts. First, he holds up to ridicule statements he regards as obviously false, but which are in fact obviously true. Intellectuals, as I argued in my book, are thinkers who prefer neat theories to messy facts. Second, he reminds us that bigotry has found a home on the left — which carries its stereotyped Conservative Moron around like the ghetto-blaster of a bygone age. Leftist stereotyping is so loud and all-pervasive that it leaves conservatives speechless, or at any rate inaudible. Evidently (please read on), the Left has no idea what its intellectual opponents actually sound like.
Jacoby dismisses my book’s argument as old hat, a mere repeat of conventional conservative wisdom in which “America progressed smoothly from Presidents George Washington through Dwight D. Eisenhower, but went to hell in the 1960s and has yet to recover. Radicals have taken over the universities and spread their poison. That is the gist of David Gelernter’s book.”
Nonsense. No one would write a book arguing that “radicals [i.e., left-liberals] have taken over the universities,” because everyone already knows it; no serious person, left or right, disputes it. The question is not what but why: Why and how did it happen? In 1940, our elite universities were roughly in cultural alignment with the country at large — with its Judaeo-Christian ideas, its patriotism, its proud American exceptionalism. By 1975, they had turned on mainstream America with a switchblade, and have held that pose ever since. Why did it happen? If they got along with America under FDR, why did they turn on America under JFK? And how did they take so much of the cultural establishment with them — newspapers, broadcasting networks, Hollywood, many professional associations, many public and private schools? Between 1940 and 1975, American culture turned upside-down. Why?
In any case, writes Professor Jacoby, the idea that humanities professors are pumping their students full of left-wing propaganda is “strikingly off the mark,” because “The humanities in general have been declining, and business and business-related majors increasing. In my experience, most students pay little attention to the pronouncements of graying leftist professors. Most students want jobs.”
Thus left-wing professors are no problem because, even if they do bloviate and propagandize in the classroom as a matter of course, no one listens to them, and besides they are old and gray and (presumably) dying out. But before they got old, I seem to recall that they ran their departments, including the tenure and appointments committees, plus the scholarly journals and meetings — and their junior colleagues did not have the luxury of paying “little attention,” did they, professor? So it’s no surprise, even in Professor Jacoby’s narrow world, that the young profs should be as far left as the old, or farther.