Sunday, January 17, 2021

Descent of the Adversary Culture

Scott Johnson over at Powerline has linked to two articles about the adversarial attitude that intellectuals have long had toward American culture, which does not seem founded on actual history or sociological knowledge, but on a desire to reject the masses, the popular culture. One is by Dartmouth professor Jeffrey Hart in 1970, on the 15th anniversary of National Review, and a February 2021 article in First Things by Kathy Kersten.  Neither is terribly long.

Hart advocates learning historical context, and I concur, and I would also point the reader to CS Lewis's introduction to a (then) new edition of Athanasius, "On The Reading of Old Books," also not long.

I understand their disdain all too well. I developed that attitude young, likely as a compensation for being a poor kid who was trying to be accepted among the top academic groups, who were usually more well-off. I still shudder at a lot of popular culture, and hope that this snobbery is at least for artistic or moral reasons - though I am not very confident of that. As much as I hated it, it was good for me to work at a low-status job for many years, not only to break me down a bit, but also to find how wonderful a lot of nonintellectual people really are.  Nicer than a lot of the supposedly more enlightened people I was aspiring to count myself among.

1 comment:

Zachriel said...

Assistant Village Idiot: I understand their disdain all too well.

The disdain works both ways, of course. There is a tension between elitism and populism. The tension is dynamical, meaning there are intricacies of connections and swaying of influence through the social structure.

Everyone relies on expert opinion, but the most effective political systems involve buy-in from all levels of society. This interplay harnesses the wisdom of the crowds with the competency within individual fields. But tension is inevitable.

"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.' ” — Isaac Asimov

Assistant Village Idiot: I still shudder at a lot of popular culture ...

The trick is to be able to appreciate Beethoven while still recognizing that Rock 'n' Roll is fun.