The Corner

Wilson

Jonah: I was on to Wilson in 1991. See Chapter 5 of The Way of the WASPeasily done since it was a big bestseller that went into many paperback editions, not counting the graphic novel.

My argument in Chapter 5 was that the WASP template for American life could not have succumbed to attacks from outsiders (in part because so many outsiders assimilated). Rather it succumbed to boring from within. My three villains were Henry Adams, Emerson, and Wilson. The key graf on Wilson:

Progressivism represented a revolution in politics not because it changed people’s goals — not because it brought in utility comnmissions or the Federal Reserve — but because it changed their notions of what a goal was. Progress was not progress toward anything definite.… It was going with the flow, waiting in the baggage claim area of history to see what rumbled up the belt next.

I am a little amused now at my certainties of age 36. Henry Adams is a great historian, and Emerson is a great writer, and they deserve to be more than tent-poles of my jeremiad. I was right on about Wilson though. I claim no originality, since I got all my Wilson thoughts from Charles Kesler (we were having lunch at the Harvard Club — I wonder if he remembers it?). He is acknowledged in my acknowledgments.

Wilson has his defenders in right world. Russel Kirk, I believe, admired him. He has gone to the great library in the sky, but Jay admires him still. Perhaps he will put in a good word for our punching bag.

Richard Brookhiser — Historian Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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