Mark Schmitt at the American Prospect responds to my observation that contemporary liberals don’t know very much about their own intellectual history. Alas, he seems needlessly scornful of my “mostly incorrect” assertion, considering the fact that it launched a new column at The American Prospect and was sufficiently true to keep him thinking about it for more than a month. This seems especially so since I wrote at the time of my assertion: “Obviously this is a sweeping — and therefore unfair — generalization.”
Anyway, he has some thoughts about all of it. He’s right, by the way, that liberals in the mid 1990s did talk a lot more about Herbert Croly. But, again, I guarantee you that if I were to ask an audience of college Democrats “Who can tell me who Herbert Croly (never mind — gasp — Rexford Tugwell) was and what did he believe?” I wouldn’t get more than a few raised hands and not many good answers. If I were to ask an audeince of College Republicans the same question about, say, Friedrich Hayek I’d get a lot of good answers. If I asked, by the way, Who was Margaret Sanger — a few feminists might know the answer but I doubt they’d know what a racist she was.
This partly has to do with the nature of liberal-leftism on college campuses (which are more spread out into different and often competing identity politics groups concerned with complaining more than arguing) as opposed to the right (fairly unified into one or two organizations).
But I don’t need Schmitt to confirm for me what I’ve observed first hand for several years now; liberals — again as a gross generalization — are much less interested in, and knowledgeable of, their own intellectual history. In fact, many of the intellectual liberal journalist types I’ve met seem to know the intellectual history of conservatives better than they know their own side’s. I could be wrong about that but I don’t think I’m very wrong.