Repeat As Necessary
I posted this comment over at Digby's Hullabaloo in response to a post that featured a longish quotation from Hazlitt. I've tweaked it a bit.
Chait grants that the netroots "instrumentalism" (our "practical interest") is perhaps necessary, but he frets that there is a danger that the movement will devolve into some sort of unthinking know-nothingness that rivals the right.
Chait here falls for the right's self-promotiing stance as defenders of culture against the know-nothing dirty fucking hippies. The "intellectual" right in this country has adopted the stance that it stands for "high" culture while the left stands for oh I dunno the Grateful Dead and the Beatles and sex on the teevee and sensational art exhibitions. In the first place this division is completely bogus, and their pretensions to culture are even more bogus. John Dean said it in his book: They have no ideas.
Their claim to be defenders of western civilization is so utterly empty. I mean, is Harvey Mansfield supposed to represent the best of Western philosophy? He could only seem so to empty and ignorant or deliberately dishonest people. I don't know how so many people got taken in by this stuff, but I do think that liberals are partly to blame for letting it get so far. Some of it was owing to what happened to education in the 1980s, in my view. What I saw during my academic career was this: the conservative movement was moving in on things, i.e., positions, power, resources, while people in humanities departments were arguing about words. I don't mean that the academic left should necessarily have been out on the barricades, but a lot of time was wasted not teaching students how to spot these frauds for what they were. Someone like George Will or the egregious Mansfield could not pass for a person of culture in any place where cultural literacy had been effectively taught, where, to use Ben Shahn's word, culture was "integrated" into your understanding and wasn't just a highbrow form of Trivial Pursuit.
The behavior that Hazlitt describes is not confined to one political party or even to politics. I've certainly run across it in personal life, and, come to think of it, in academic life. And the only way to fight it is head-on, ferociously and not giving an inch of ground. You must make them afraid to tell you a lie, you must make it not worth the trouble for them to try to manipulate and con you, it is the only thing that works. This is very old wisdom. Well, so then they can't be your friend. So what? They are not people whom you can trust and that is all there is to it, and the sooner you understand that, the sooner you understand the speciousness of all their reasoning, the better off you will be. And yes, if you want to learn how to mop the floor with such weak reasoners, read Hazlitt. And Samuel Johnson. And Edmund Burke. And Sophocles. And Alexander Herzen. All these writers and thinkers these posers claim for themselves and whom they never read.
What I didn't write over there was that in my experience, lots of people who pass for liberals on campuses are not particularly liberal or, for that matter, particularly high-minded. A veneer of sophistication over howling incoherence and spite, shot through with the most grubby self-complacency, status-seeking, and self-servingness. And this sloppiness, carelessness, and incoherence are also responsible for the political plight in which liberalism has found itself in recent years. Nobody was minding the store. I know I'm being vague, and if you want me to be more specific I can. Just dare me. Otherwise I'll go on and on and on.