Not Saussure

September 12, 2006

The Right Way To Look At It

While musing a few days ago on the curious intellectual alliance between some American neo-conservatives and the present government in Tehran, neither of whom is particularly impressed by what they see as the undesirable intellectual hegemony of secular liberals in their respective countries’ universities, I was vaguely reminded of something I’d read years ago.

My memory was again jogged by reading reports of David Cameron’s latest speech, in which he attempts to distance himself from what he takes to be ‘neo-Conservative thinking’, thus prompting the Indy to ask ‘What is neo-conservatism?‘ (a question that most other papers explored in depth some years ago, but then the Indy works to its own pace).

I recalled reading, some years ago, Imperial Caddy, by Joe Queenan, a very funny take on Dan Quayle, President Bush the Elder’s intellectually-challenged Vice President. The book’s now understandably out of print but still available at Amazon. It’s relevant, though because, with hindsight, Mr Quayle looks eirily like a trial run for the present incumbent.

Many of the neo-conservative advisors and speechwriters who are now, or were until their star began to fade because the debacle in Iraq, very close to President Bush the Younger, were, as Queenan puts it, originally hired by Mr Quayle ‘to make him seem far more intelligent than he actually was’.

This, by the way, was apparently not without its problems:

Attempts to enhance Quayle’s image by force-feeding him biographies of Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle, and encouraging him to discuss Plato’s Republic and Machiavelli’s The Prince with influential journalists blew up in [William] Kristol‘s face; once a cerebrally retrograde Hoosier starts telling reporters he’s been reading Plato and Machiavelli, those heartless sons of bitches will immediately start setting traps for him, so that they can show their wiseass, know-it-all readers that Dumbo really read only the Cliff Notes version.

Anyway, looking through Mr Queenan’s book to see what he had to say about the neo-conservatives then, rather than now, I came across what I’d been reminded of. Then, as now, they were very concerned about ‘leftist professors who have been indoctrinating our children with their dangerous Marxist ideas’. Queenan suggests they’ve got this wrong, and that, on the contrary, ‘by having leftist academics on college campuses, the rest of us have them right where we want them.

He explains,

Look at is this way: If leftist intellectuals were working at Burger King or the utility company, they might organize downtrodden laborers and bring a hungry, poorly lit nation to its knees. But by cloistering them together in universities, leftists limit the subversive impact of their seditiious ideas to young people between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one, many of whom do not have driver’s licences. We should accept it as a normal and healthy part of growning up for teenagers to flirst with the ideas of Karl Marx and Mao Tse-tung, knowing full well that these ideas will be banished from their consciousness forever the first time they get their quarterly earnings report from Fidelity Select Biotechnology and find out that their OTC stocks have skyrocketed 46 percent in the previous three months.

[…] The way [American] society works is this: Leftist intellectuals with hare-brained Marxist ideas get to control Stanford, MIT, Yale, and the American Studies department at the University of Vermont. In return, the right gets IBM, DEC, Honeywell, Disney World, and the New York Stock Exchange. Leftist academics get to try out out their stupid ideas on impressionable youths between seventeen and twenty-one who don’t have any money or power. The right gets to try out its ideas on North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and parts of Africa, most of which take MasterCard. The left gets Harvard, Oberlin, Twyla Tharp’s dance company, and Madison, Wisconsin. The right gets NASDAQ, General Motors, Apple, McDonnell Douglas, Washington DC, Citicorp, Texas, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Japan, and outer space.

This seems like a fair arrangement.

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