Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 29, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CONSERVATIVES AND THEIR BOOKS....Jonah Goldberg thinks liberals don't read enough:

One thing that really does fascinate me...is the generalized ignorance or silence of mainstream liberals about their own intellectual history. Obviously this is a sweeping -- and therefore unfair -- generalization. But I read a lot of liberal stuff and have attended more than a few college confabs with liberal speakers speaking on the subject of liberalism itself. And it seems to me that liberals are intellectually deracinated. Read conservative publications or attend conservative conferences and there will almost always be at least some mention of our intellectual forefathers and often a spirited debate about them. The same goes for Libertarians, at least that branch which can be called a part or partner of the conservative movement.

But isn't the answer to this pretty obvious? Conservatives, almost by definition, are absorbed by the past. What's more, their message doesn't change much over time (tradition is good, stable society is good, the masses should get back to work and stop complaining) so it makes perfect sense to keep reading them. In fact, if you take the conservative reverence for tradition seriously, it almost demands that you have considerable respect for your forebears.

Liberalism is precisely the opposite. We don't wonder what Charles Beard would think of something? Of course not. The whole point of liberalism is change, so who cares what Beard would have thought? By now he's just an old fuddy duddy.

Those with a reverence for the past read long dead authors and feel at home. Those who disdain the past and relish cultural change won't give them the time of day. Right?

UPDATE: Last paragraph modified slightly based on comments.

Kevin Drum 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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