Russell Jacoby, a U.C.L.A. historian, has penned a bizarre review of the forthcoming anthology, Why I Turned Right: Leading Baby Boom Conservatives Chronicle Their Political Journeys. This is a Mary Eberstadt edited collection, to which I am a contributor. (The review is in the current Chronicle of Higher Education, and is subscriber restricted.) I kid you not: Jacoby’s main complaint is that the book is well written, which supposedly proves that conservatives are superficial.
“Almost without exception,” Jacoby begins, “each essay is lucid and articulate.” “Would it be possible to assemble a countercollection by leftists that would be equally limpid?” “Unlikely,” Jacoby answers. The leftist professorate, he admits, “distrusts clear prose as superficial. Oddly, English and literature professors led the way….they became convinced that incomprehensibility equals profundity….Compared to that, much conservative writing has a deft, light touch.” The villain here? “…conservative think tanks, which encourage readable prose for a reading public.” Yes, Jacoby admits, “these conservatives are best at puncturing liberal, especially academic, balderdash.” “On the basis of this volume, conservatives are excellent writers–and facile thinkers. Perhaps the two go together.”
Jacoby’s review betrays no profundity, lucid or otherwise. It’s merely an angry litany of what struck Jacoby as the most odious conservative views affirmed by the various authors of Why I Turned Right. Anyway, snaps Jacoby, today’s conservatives are merely reacting to campus culture, not to the sort of truly serious oppression we found in the old Soviet Union. (Somehow Jacoby missed the account of my trip to the old Soviet Union.) And Jacoby complains that the authors of Why I Turned Right have nothing to say about a variety of important issues–like civil rights. (Guess my discussion of the betrayal of liberal civil rights ideals by the movement for race and gender preferences doesn’t count.)
Panning Why I Turned Right as well written but superficial is a risible excuse for a critique. These pieces are personal statements, not detailed policy documents or philosophical disquisitions. If you want something intellectually meatier, take a look at, say, “The Future of History.” (I admit that even this is easier to understand than the nonsense penned by many postmodern English professors.) But liberal academics don’t bother engaging conservative policy analysis, no matter how serious it is. Instead, they bridle at the thought that a book by conservatives might actually be read and enjoyed by the general public.
Anyway, what do you say about a review that confirms every stereotype of the crotchety, jealous, humorless, politically correct zealots who run our academy. Get real, professor Jacoby. Good writing is not a disqualification. Has the other side really been reduced to this? You might have tried graciously conceding that the essays read well, and then moved on to some thoughtful criticism. This sort of silliness merely shows how completely removed from public discourse our academics actually are. Remember, these folks are supposed to be teaching America’s children.
So I give you Why I Turned Right: in the words of its bitterest critics, “lucid, articulate…limpid…written with a deft, light touch, [penned by] excellent writers…readable prose for the reading public.” Note to publisher: first blurb for paperback now available.