August 24, 2009

Derb on Gottfried-ism

Our friend John Derbyshire has reviewed Paul Gottfried’s autobiography, Encounters, at National Review Online. He ends his piece, appropriately, with some sarcastic quotations and, finally, dark, melancholy chords, possessing barely audible optimistic overtones:

Teaching humanities to undergraduates in a small and undistinguished private college does not conduce to optimism, either. I see on Gottfried?s employer?s website that the college has an Office of Multicultural Affairs. But of course they do! ?Pointing out the persistence of ethnic antagonism seems to my students ?un-American,?? Gottfried tells us. I imagine this is primarily the case with non-Hispanic white students. Many minorities take ?the persistence of ethnic antagonism? for granted, depending on it when they allege ?discrimination? or ?racial profiling,? or benefit from affirmative action.

Gottried tells us that only three of 30 students in one of his Western Civ. classes had heard of Julius Caesar. None of the 30 had read a historical narrative ?before having been forced to take my course.? But then: ?I asked whether my students knew which group had been the most persecuted: women, gays, or blacks. A lively debate followed full of varied claims to victimhood.?

The future looks dark indeed; and as dark as it looks to a dilettante like me, it must look darker yet to someone who takes the life of the mind as seriously as Paul Gottfried does. How intensely intellectual the Old Right is! If you haven?t read your Aristotle in the original Greek, these guys can sometimes be hard to follow.

In today?s political circumstances they are of course perfectly irrelevant. Is there any case to be made for paleoconservatism as a long-term investment? There is, although the case rests on deeply pessimistic premises.

It may be that the Old Right will come into its inheritance at last 20 or 30 years from now, in one of the little fragment nations that will emerge when corruption, fiscal incompetence, demographic idiocy, educational romanticism, willful scientific ignorance, ethnic warfare, and missionary imperialism have finally destroyed the United States of America.

But, as I said, Ive just written a book about conservative gloom.

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