By Kyle | March 29, 2012
My esteemed friend John Podhoretz makes a point that I’ve often thought before. Conservatives, because the culture is liberal (in a place like New York, D.C. or L.A., certainly, and other places as well) are forced to hear and digest liberal arguments. Liberals, on the other hand, can and often do wall themselves off from conservative thought (I specifically exclude reader YankeeFan from this group, by the way) and have no idea what our arguments may be; in the words of Lionel Trilling, they believe that conservatism is merely a collection of irritable mental gestures.
On the other hand, maybe I just think all this because I’m a conservative.
But this gets at a more fundamental point about American discourse. Until very recently, American conservatives were, by necessity, bilingual. To be sure, they were fluent in the language of conservative or classical liberal thought—the language of Burke and Adam Smith, the language of enumerated rights and governmental limits, the distinction between freedom and egalitarianism and between liberty and license.
But they were also entirely conversant with liberal concepts—the centrality of fairness as an organizing principle, the notion that justice (in John Rawls’s understanding) involves redistributing goods to repair the injustices of nature and human nature, the elevation of reason over faith.
That has never been true of American liberals. They know their own language but they don’t know the language of their ideological and partisan opposite numbers, and usually default to a form of prosecutorial analysis or psychoanalytic diagnosis to explain how so many people could come to so wrong a conclusion about things. They ascribe it to naked self-interest (i.e., greed), or irrational hatred and fear (i.e., ignorance), or mere stupidity
There will be a certain amount of liberal apoplexia when ObamaCare is properly overturned by the Supreme Court 90 days or so from today, but to quote Churchill, “In victory, magnanimity.” And let us heed the advice of James Q. Wilson when asked by a conservative professor how he might approach a career in the left-wing hegemony of academia: “Be twice as productive and four times as nice as your colleagues.”