Day By Day

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Cult of "America the Ugly"

Read Norman Podhoretz [the original neo-con] remembers the rise of the anti-war Left during and after the Vietnam controversies.

[A]s the Vietnam War ground inconclusively on, the institutions that shape our culture were one by one and bit by bit converting to the "faith in America the ugly." By now, indeed, in the world of the arts, in the universities, in the major media of news and entertainment, and even in some of the mainstream churches, that faith had become the regnant orthodoxy.

But it would be a great mistake to suppose that the influence of these sectors of the culture was limited to their inhabitants. John Maynard Keynes once said that "practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist." Keynes was referring specifically to businessmen. But bureaucrats and administrators are subject to the same rule, though they tend to be the slaves not of economists, but of historians and sociologists and philosophers and novelists who may be very much alive even when their ideas have, or should have, become defunct.

Nor is it necessary for the "practical men" to have studied the works in question, or even ever to have heard of their authors. All they need do is read the New York Times, or switch on their television sets, or go to the movies--and, drip by drip, a more easily assimilable form of the original material is absorbed into their heads and into their nervous systems.

Read the whole thing here.

Time and again I have been struck by how the ideas and values of long dead scholars -- ideas that were discredited in academic circles several decades ago -- continue to live on in the minds of respected pundits and other journalists. It's as though they never learned anything more except their craft since graduating from college.

Of course, some of the nonsense that replaced the old, discredited perspectives wasn't worth learning anyhow. Still, reading much of the commentary in the MSM is like a trip back in time half a century or more. The "ugly" cult Podhoretz references is only part of the problem.