Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Roots of Liberal Condescension

William Voegeli's essay from a few weeks ago has been linked at three separate sites I frequent, suggesting that it strikes a chord. It certainly fits with my Cultural Tribes theme.
Later in the essay, "The Aimlessness of American Education," Buckley elaborated on the "common premise" the university rejected: "The Ten Commandments do not sit about shaking, awaiting their inevitable deposition by some swashbuckling professor of ethics. Certain great truths have been apprehended. In the field of morality, all the basic truths have been apprehended."

Buckley's position, then, is not really populist. The –ism of populism is the idea that the people are inherently more sound and virtuous than the elites. Buckley is saying, less categorically, that we live in an age when the people happen to possess better judgment than the professors. If the reverse were true, if the professors had more respect than the people for God's laws and tradition's wisdom, Buckley's argument would have favored entrusting government pari passu (as he would have said) to scholars instead of citizens.

What sets the people in the phonebook apart from the professors, according to this argument, is that they believe in and defer to profound truths existing outside of history. They are willing, furthermore, to accept that the "democracy of the dead," incorporating the cumulative judgment of people long gone and forgotten, might well have grasped those truths better than people, even very smart people, who happen to be alive at this moment.

The professors, by contrast, expect to be deferred to, not to be the ones deferring. Their "intellectual arrogance" is a consequence of the assumptions of progressivism, an –ism that treats progress as the fundamental reality.
Longish, but as one section is repeated at the link, it's not so bad as you'd think.

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