EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the December 19, 2005, issue of National Review.
Twenty-five years ago, as I approached the ballroom of the Plaza Hotel for National Review’s 25th-anniversary fête, a reporter beckoned me aside and asked, “Would you call this a reunion of the Neo-conservative clan?”
So I said, “How are you spelling clan?”
When he assured me it was with a c, not a k – given the level of intellectual wit in 1980, that was still a distinction you had to make–I gazed out over the crowd in the ballroom and said, “No . . . what I think you’re looking at are 2500 people who in most cases never laid eyes on each other before but all of whom for one reason or another can’t go along with the party line.”
Now I had to assure him. No, I wasn’t talking about that party. I was talking about the prevailing zeitgeist of the intellectuals–which, it probably won’t surprise you to know, has not changed from that day to this.
I hasten to point out the difference between an intellectual and a person of intellectual achievement. An intellectual is a person knowledgeable in one field who speaks out only in others. When Noam Chomsky was merely the most original, arresting, and widely talked-about linguistic theorist in America, he was never referred to as a leading American intellectual. That came only after he expressed his outrage over American involvement in the war in Vietnam, about which he knew nothing, since he read The Nation instead of Parade. It was the outrage that gained him entry into that “charming aristocracy,” to borrow the words of Catulle Mendès. Or as Marshall McLuhan once put it, “Moral indignation is a standard strategy for endowing the idiot with dignity.”
National Review’s great contribution to those 2500 mavericks at the Plaza a quarter of a century ago was to offer them a friendly–and illustrious–harbor on an otherwise hostile shore…
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