Russell Jacoby: Review of David Gelernter's "America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered in the Obamacrats)"
Are conservative intellectuals anti-intellectual? The short answer must be no. Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Harvey Mansfield, Wilfred M. McClay—conservative thinkers have championed scholarship, learning, and history. The long answer, however, is more ambiguous. Confronted by social upheavals, conservative intellectuals tend to blame other intellectuals—socialist, liberal, secular—as the cause. They perceive political unrest as rooted in fallacious ideas advanced by misguided thinkers and indict the educational system for inculcating subversion. In Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke denounced lawyers and writers—whom he called "these professors of the rights of man"—for their dangerous ideas.
A new book, America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered in the Obamacrats) (Encounter), by David Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale, affords an occasion to revisit the issue: Do contemporary American conservatives scapegoat intellectuals and teachers? If so, they can claim an all-American pedigree....
How did liberals take command of higher education and derail America? The standard conservative interpretation is straightforward: America progressed smoothly from Presidents George Washington through Dwight D. Eisenhower, but went to hell in the 1960s and has yet to recover. Radicals have taken over the universities and spread their poison. That is the gist of David Gelernter's book.
Patriotism and families once flourished, Gelernter argues, and then patriotism disintegrated into bitterness, and the nuclear family crumbled. The proportion of children born to unmarried women began to rise in the 60s from 5 percent and has not stopped since, reaching 41 percent today. That is bad news for children, who suffer in every way from single parenthood. What accounts for these two phenomena—the fall of old-style patriotism and the traditional family? Easy. Intellectuals. "Patriotism has been beaten bloody and the family is on the ropes. It has been a great epoch for American intellectuals," Gelernter writes. How do intellectuals engender the rise of single parenthood? Again, easy—so easy that he does not explain, and never returns to the subject....
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