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Jacoby complains that conservatives “have turned the word intellectual into a dirty word,” particularly conservative intellectuals like Tom Wolfe who once quipped that “an intellectual is a person knowledgeable in one field who only speaks out in others,” or Richard Posner who said that “a successful academic may be able to use his success to reach the general public on matters about which he is an idiot.”
Of course, the word is good enough in and of itself. It is rather the clowns who masquerade as public intellectuals — the Chomskys, the Naomi Kleins, the Gore Vidals — who have dragged a perfectly fine word through the muck.
A video-playing teenager educated at a locally controlled public school (another bane to Jacoby’s existence) could easily refute her thesis. And that is the problem with the book. For a supposedly serious study, the thing has no balance. No symmetry.
Thus the task happily falls to her book’s many critics. As the reviewer Carlin Romano has pointed out, it is to America where the world’s smartest and wealthiest send their students. America receives the lion’s share of Nobel Prizes. New York, not London, Paris or Cairo, is the literary, cultural as well as financial capital of the world.
Not only are there more television channels appearing each year, but the number of new books published in the U.S. increases annually. There were 291,920 new titles and editions published in 2006.
AS THE AFOREMENTIONED titles by Barzun and Bloom indicate, cultural conservatives too have genuine concerns about the state of American culture. But while some may fret about video games and girls going wild, they are likely to blame liberal social engineering failures and abandonment of traditional mores for our cultural ills.
Jacoby (author of a history of atheism) pins the blame chiefly on fundamentalist religion and resurgent anti-rationalism. Resurgent, because in the '50s — that decade that is usually demonized and vilified for its bland, mindless conformity — was on the contrary, the golden age of middlebrow culture, before rock and roll usurped jazz, before TV went brain dead, and millions of bourgeois Americans read the Book of the Month.
According to the author, it wasn’t the rise of the '60s and '70s counter-culture, but the Reagan Revolution and its evangelical allies that are to blame for this latest round of anti-intellectualism.
Jacoby, not surprisingly, is unable to see the contradictions in her own deeply held convictions. Here is an elitist who envisions an egalitarian society. She longs for a more democratic, Jacksonian nation, but she also expects it to be peopled not by the rednecks who voted for Jackson, but the enlightened litterateurs who voted for John Quincy Adams (and lost).
Like all liberal snobs, Jacoby dutifully admires the poor and the working man, but cannot abide their colossal ignorance, their petty superstitions, their techno-savvy, their bigotry, and worse, their anti-intellectualism. Ultimately, one leaves this book with the suspicion that the only “folks” — to use a word the author rails against ad nauseum — the author can stomach are folks like herself, e.g., Upper Middle Class Overly Educated Atheists.
Jacoby claims she started out to write part two of Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Instead of a scholarly study of American culture she produced this bitter 356-page rant.
Now turn off your computer and go pick up a book, you big dummy.
Christopher Orlet is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator online.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?