Stooping To Conquer

If you’re like me, then Sarah Palin gives you the willies, just a little. I have nothing against conservatives — I hold fairly conservative views myself, on quite a few issues — but it’s the kind of conservatism she embodies that gives me the fantods.

One of the things that has always appealed to me about old-school American conservatism is its unrepentant admiration for excellence: its conviction that all forms of thought and expression are not equal, that there is high and enduring value in the great canon of Western culture, and that erudition and worldly perspective are valuable assets in a statesman. These last are not qualities that Ms. Palin conspicuously exemplifies. That her lack of them is for very many Americans the essence of her appeal is evidence of another, far ruder form of “conservative”, one that has less in common with the with the founders of modern conservative thought than with the lowbrow, unwashed populism of William Jennings Bryan — about whom H.L. Mencken once said: “His career brought him into contact with the first men of his time; he preferred the company of rustic ignoramuses.”

I admit that as a Godless heathen I don’t fit in all that well with traditional conservatism either: while I acknowledge the binding and stabilizing effect of religious tradition in a homogeneous society, I think that its benefits are on balance a poor tradeoff for its enshrinement of Iron Age superstition, and that the polarizing and antagonizing effect it has between societies in an ever-shrinking world far outweighs whatever value it confers. Ms. Palin, if reports are accurate, is a young-earth creationist who confesses a faith of the most unsubtle and exoteric sort; I have to say that for me this is grounds for intellectual disqualification. I appreciate that her selection by the McCain campaign strategists was a brilliant tactical stroke, but it was hardly intended to attract people like me, and I am not about to ratify it with a vote.

In today’s Times, columnist David Brooks comments on all of this with his usual clarity and insight. Read his essay here.

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2 Comments

  1. The thing that struck me about the David Brooks column in today’s paper is that it is the first Brooks column which I agreed with.

    I would cite the canard about blind hogs finding acorns, but that would invite questions as to which one of us is the hog.

    Posted September 16, 2008 at 11:20 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Prudent of you; indeed it might.

    Posted September 16, 2008 at 11:21 pm | Permalink