In Impromptus today, I begin with the wokery that now plagues us, and that carries a whiff of the Cultural Revolution in China. Just a whiff, but pungent enough. I wrote my column before news broke of Bari Weiss’s resignation from the New York Times.
Have you had a chance to read her letter? It’s powerful. If ever we recover a culture of free expression and diversity of thought, I believe her letter will be regarded as an important landmark. It is anyway, as far as I’m concerned.
When I was growing up, there was a much-discussed documentary called “Scared Straight!” I have long thought that universities, press organs, and other institutions might be shamed straight — shamed into reflecting on, and re-embracing, liberal values. But the wait has been quite long . . .
With some regularity, I hear horror stories from campus, and I brush up against campus wokistas myself every now and then. I realize that I would not last a day on a campus — a typical American campus. Maybe a week. I’d use the wrong pronouns or something, and I’d be cooked.
I recall something that Arthur Waldron told me. (He is the eminent Asia scholar.) When he was teaching at Princeton, he said that North Korea invaded South Korea, thus starting the Korean War. This is like saying that Wednesday follows Tuesday. But it got him into a heap of trouble. He decamped to Penn.
Back to Bari Weiss for a moment. You often hear, “Twitter is not real life, you know. Don’t mistake Twitter for real life.” An important point. But sometimes Twitter, or the Twitter spirit, if you will, spills over into real life, with doleful consequences.
Other topics in my Impromptus today include Hamilton (the musical), Dr. Anthony Fauci, and extremism. At various times in my life, I have been posited as an extreme. Little reasonable old me? Yup. There are always people who will pin you as an extremist, thus advertising their own moderation. Conversely, there are people who will pin you as a mushy moderate, thus advertising their purity and boldness.
Anyway, I thought of a story from Yale, which I wanted to relate to you here on the Corner. Willmoore Kendall, as you know, was the famed right-wing political scientist, and Cleanth Brooks was the famed literary scholar. Kendall once observed, “Cleanth is always the second-most-conservative person in the room.”
I have often served as foil to modern-day Cleanth Brookses (though they lack his talent), allowing them to say, “Well, I may have strong views, but I’m not like Jay.”
Anyway, enough self-reference. For today’s Impromptus — delivering more self-reference! — go here.