Thursday, February 5, 2009

In the Future, When We are All Bohemians

When it comes to Sarah Palin and the future of conservatism, Conor Friedersdorf can't stop, won't stop:
Americans disdain the cultural radicalism of men like Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers, and their ilk, and comparing their lives, rhetoric, and personas to Barack Obama, a cautious, even-keeled family man who ran the Harvard Law Review, helps to demonstrate why Sarah Palin’s charges of cultural radicalism failed to take hold. If the professional, “latte sipping” class in America backs a candidate in large numbers, he may well be a social liberal, but it is exceedingly doubtful that he is a radical.
Of course, we don't need to look any further than this morning's paper for evidence that the professionals Conor is talking about have a tendency to romanticize radicals, in this case ex-Black Panther Warren Kimbro, who died yesterday:
Q: Why did Kimbro agree to be featured in Murder in the Elm City?

A: He asked me to write the book. He wanted to come to grips with what really happened. He wanted people to understand to understand that he wasn’t a hero for committing a murder. He didn’t want young black men to follow that path. He wanted the truth to come out about the misdeeds of the federal government, the police, the Panthers, everyone. He thought the historical record needed to be set straight.

Q: Who called him a hero?

A: Everyone calls him a hero. His wife was being operated on by a doctor who came out and said, “I marched for you in the 60's. You were a hero!” He said, “No, I wasn’t!” I thought he was hero, but not in any way for killing Alex Rackley. The people romanticized that era, and he was worried that the romanticism excused violence.
Kimbro, of course, was a hero, but for what he did after getting out of prison, not for what put him there. I am reminded of the story Daniel Patrick Moynihan tells in Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding of the government-sponsored community action program that "purchased telescopic sights for high-powered rifles and gave the excuse that they were going to be used for microscopes." All underwritten by middle-class bureaucrats.

And who is to say that the Democratic platform isn't itself radical? Hasn't that been the point of right-wing sociology for the last four decades? Conor seems to think that Sarah Palin's cultural appeals were nothing but naked tribalism; I wonder if he has considered the possibility that they might have been coded expressions of principle as much as allegiance. Much in the same way that the "latte-sipping" aesthetic (to run with Yuval Levin's shorthand) stands for a future in which we are all bohemians—a future in which I, a Brooklynite hipster (see photo at right), would be perfectly at home, but to which I nevertheless have strong, principled objections.

*Take this passage from Theodore Dalrymple for a footnote:
Consider Eric Hobsbawm, the famous, much feted, and unrepentantly Marxist historian. No one would feel personally threatened by him at a social gathering, where he would be amusing, polite, charming, and accomplished; if you had him to dinner, you wouldn’t have to count the spoons afterward, even though he theoretically opposes the idea of private wealth. In short, there would be no reason to suspect that he was about to commit a common crime against you. In this sense, he is what one might call a moderate Marxist.

But Hobsbawm has stated quite openly that, had the Soviet Union managed to create a functioning and prosperous socialist society, 20 million deaths would have been a worthwhile price to pay; and since he didn’t recognize, even partially, that the Soviet Union was not in fact on the path to such a society until many years after it had murdered 20 million of its people (if not more), it is fair to assume that, if things had turned out another way in his own country, Hobsbawm would have applauded, justified, and perhaps even instigated the murders of the very people to whom he was now, under the current dispensation, being amusing, charming, and polite. In other words, what saved Hobsbawm from committing utter evil was not his own scruples or ratiocination, and certainly not the doctrine he espoused, but the force of historical circumstance. His current moderation would have counted for nothing if world events had been different.

No comments:

Post a Comment