The Corner

Re: Conservative Anthropology

Kevin – As a point of personal privilege, I’ve been describing the phenomena of which you speak as the “conservatives in the mist” style of liberal journalism for years. From an old Goldberg File:

I was recently watching a BBC wildlife documentary on the Discovery Channel. The narrator — a British fellow with an accent like Gandalf the White — described the scene:

The male approaches the pack. His intentions are clear: assert dominance, conquer, rule. Sensing trepidation from the younger males and curiosity from the bitches — who at this age are in a perpetual state of heat — the would-be leader-of-the-pack seizes his opportunity. He puffs out his chest and lets loose with a booming roar: “Hey, have you read the latest issue of National Review?”

Okay, I’m lying. Or, as Steve Glass or Jayson Blair might say, I’m “fabulating.” (My couch just yelled from the other room: “Actually, Jonah, technically speaking Blair would say he’s ’stickin’ it to Whitey!’ but I get your drift.”) But, my point is, whenever I read liberals reporting about the goings-on of conservatives I always get the nature-documentary vibe. A liberal reporter puts on his or her Dian Fossey hat in order to attempt to write another installment of Conservatives in the Mist. I’ve followed this particular brand of reporting for years, it’s almost a fetish of mine. Most attempts fail. Of these lesser varieties, there’s fear (“Troglodytes!”), mockery (“Irrelevant troglodytes!”), condescension (“I had to explain to them they’re troglodytes.”), bewilderment (“Why don’t they understand they’re troglodytes?”), astonishment (Dear God, they’re not all troglodytes!”), and a few combinations of all the above.

But sometimes they even succeed, to a point. Thus, like the real Dian Fossey, they manage to saunter into the leafy thickets of conservatism, and are welcomed into a band of gorillas. They hold out the equivalent of a banana or maybe a fistful of grubs for long enough and eventually we come sniffing around. We’re intrigued by the creature lavishing attention on us. And the reporter eventually begins to feel as though he has been accepted into the band. Eventually, we conservatives grow comfortable enough around them to return to our old patterns. We scratch and fight and do our gorilla things and the chronicler dutifully takes notes. The notes eventually make their way into an article for the New York Times or The New Yorker or Vanity Fair.

“Who knew?” the readers will say over their morning bagels and coffee in Southampton or Fire Island, “I had no idea conservatives were such intelligent creatures. Why they even have the capacity for emotion and even some rudimentary forms of kindness.”

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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