Untimely Observations

Closing the American Mind

The responses on this website to my remarks from last month’s Mencken Club meeting impel me to offer this clarification. For those respondents who criticize me for not addressing biodiversity, I should point out the obvious. Unlike a scholar like Henry Harpending, who was one of our speakers, I am not a biologist. It would therefore be presumptuous of me to pontificate about an area of learning in which I am simply not trained. Moreover, I was not delivering a speech at the meeting on the neglect of sociobiology, however interesting a subject that may be. I was asked to speak on the multicultural Left and on how the leftist mindset came to influence the “conservative movement.” Whether or not the authorized conservative movement should discuss genetics or whether or not biodiversity is essential to the recreation of an American Right was not my subject on October 22.

Although it is possible to find isolated passages in Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind that sound anti-leftist, such statements are usually throwaways meant to appeal to naïve cultural conservatives. The things that stick out in my mind about Bloom’s book are his defenses of American liberal democracy, as practiced in the modern United States, his support of past crusades for democratic, egalitarian “education” carried on through war, and a call for cleansing our society of the “German connection.” The rest of the work seemed to me the kind of boiler plate one runs into in conservative Catholic and Evangelical diatribes against the Zeitgeist.

Moreover, one doesn’t need to consult Bloom in order to come up with a “conservative” critique of psychedelic drugs and punk rock. In fact there is no more “conservative” reason for citing Bloom as a moral authority on morals and the arts than for bringing up Herbert Marcuse on the one-dimensionality of capitalist society. One could easily find people on the real Right, e.g., James Kalb or Robert Nisbet, who arrived at similar critical conclusions.  Unfortunately for their pocketbooks, none of these authors produced a “conservative classic” that would be celebrated in National Review. This of course speaks volumes for what now passes for a movement conservative authority. But perhaps I’m carping too much. Since National Review, the New York Post, and other neoconservative outlets accept gay everything these days while beating up on Muslims for being insensitive to the “West,” as the citadel of alternative lifestyles, perhaps Bloom in view of his widely remarked on lifestyle may have been perfectly in step with the march of “conservative family values.”

On another, only slightly related matter, Richard may be on to something when he suggests that former president Bush is exhibiting the “despair” of the guilt-ridden white Republican when he goes on and on about how the black rapper Kanye West accused him of “not caring about black people” during and after the Katrina flood. The former president seems to have been shaken-up to a degree that would have been inconceivable for a Jewish liberal if confronted by the same attack. It is easy to think of how Eliot Spitzer or Charles Schumer would have reacted to a comparable insult, namely, by shrugging it off and/or by calling the offending vocalist a horrible anti-Semite. A similar reaction might have been forthcoming if the target had been Bill Clinton, although Clinton would not be able to reach for the Anti-Semite-branding iron in counterattacking.

Bush seems tormented in a way that characterizes those driven by social and racial guilt. It’s as if his moral center had been challenged because blacks not only failed to appreciate his anti-racist goodness but because a culturally enriching black accused him of not being the antiracist Bush strives to be. In any case his reaction to this incident, as explained in his interview with Mat Lauer, was not simply outrage or contempt. It involved a dark night of the soul, as if Bush were afraid of what politically incorrect feelings lurked inside of him. This anguished experience, if Richard is correct about Bush, does not increase my respect for him. It increases my annoyance with those who make a fetish of antiracism -- or their own antiracial sensitivity.