DAMON LINKER SEPTEMBER 13, 2009
Highly recommended: My old friend Mark Lilla’s essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education lamenting how academics neglect conservative and/or right-wing ideas. The occasion for Lilla’s article is the opening of a Center for the Comparative Study of Right-Wing Movements at UC-Berkeley. Even if the center does its job well, Lilla’s point will remain valid for a very long time. Professors in the humanities and social sciences tend to combine indifference to conservative ideas with a self-serving belief that there are no conservative ideas, just the “irritable mental gestures” once dismissed by literary critic Lionel Trilling. And unfortunately, lots of right-wing “intellectuals” today—not to mention their explicitly anti-intellectual minions, some of whom spent Saturday waving asinine placards on the Washington Mall—confirm the prejudice by confusing populist sloganeering with serious thought.
The fact, though, is that there is a rich and varied tradition of conservative ideas that is very much worth reading and studying, both for the sake of our national self-understanding and for the challenge it poses to settled liberal assumptions. That those ideas are rarely read or studied in the nation’s universities is an intellectual and scholarly disgrace that we can only hope will be rectified in the future. Bravo to Berkeley for taking the first tentative step toward doing so.