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September 18, 2003

Conservative Highbrow

I've been thinking about class. Not socioeconomic class, but cultural class, its icons & productions, its markers & indicators. In reviewing what I said about being a Republican, I considered the contra argument. Am I really? As you may know, I have a gripe against what I consider to being the populist pandering of the Republican to the Christian Right. I have lots of gripes with Republicans but I care about the future of the Republican Party, and I really don't care what happens to Democrats in a matter of speaking.

Nevertheless I thought I might spend a moment considering the social markers of 'liberals' and 'conservatives' in light of something I skimmed last week about why intellectuals tend to be liberal, or contrarian or anti-patriotic or something like that. I also thought about something else I recall in a similar discussion about class which is that highly educated people tend to cluster together. Ah cluster, that's it. It was David Brooks.

So now I am thinking, having referred some nominally white folks to contemplate Bill Benzon's cogitations as an entre into black culture, about what highbrow culture is to me. I want to know what it is to liberals and conservatives, to the pious and to the secular. How well does American Culture with a capital C, hold up? In particular, I wonder where intellectual righties and lefties meet in agreement on the best of American culture.

At this very moment, I am listening to "The Weary Ways of Mary Magdalene" by Delfayo Marsalis. Prior to that on the playlist was "Shango" by Angelique Kidjo. Next in the stack is some Sonny Rollins, then Nancy Wilson, Herbie Hancock, Kronos Quartet, Johann Strauss Jr, Rachmaninoff and oh, well Black Sheep and Nelly Furtado.

One's taste in music can give very deep insights to one's personality. But I'm not certain music inscribes itself on the strategic mind so much as it does the soul. So I would much rather entertain questions of dueling playwrites than banjos. Yet I'm eliding my deep belief that West African influences on European music and liturgy has given America its soul and is one of the primary reasons that America does a good job attracting and integrating foreigners, as contrasted to Sweden, but more on that much later. I know Benzon understands this and knocks out the detail with far more precision than I could muster, thus the deferral & referral.

Me, I have a taste for Jack Daniels and Jim Beam rye, because I'm a blackneck too. Nothing says America to me quite like roadhouse blues rock ala Eric Sardinas. In that vein, I find much to admire in the personality of James Carville despite the fact that I think he's some kind of megawhore (but I'll never prove that). He just smacks me as an authentic kind of asshole that I'd love to sit down and rap with. But after a while if I found that he were actually a Southern Baptist who has no taste for vegetables and wouldn't be caught dead at a Shakespeare play - if I found he was nothing but horseshoes, barbecue and football around the homestead, I think I'd get really tired of Carville really quickly. In fact, that stereotype is exactly what I think of Phil Gramm, and it wouldn't surprise me a bit if Tom DeLay read Reader's Digest in the john.

Yes I am talking about class snobbery which is different from class warfare. You know the French have a saying I'll slightly mangle (because my spell chequer n'est-ce pas Francaise). "Tout comprenner c'est tout pardonner". It means to know is to forgive, and it implies that the more you know, the more forgiving you are. I like it because it works for noblesse oblige, which I inherit from the Talented Tenth. And so I think that in a certain aspect we are all liberal in the classic sense of the word. We learn more we expand our world, we appropriate, integrate and move on to a higher plane, thus leaving forgiving spaces below us for the huddled masses yearning to learn what we already know. It's condescending, but it works. Snobs need elbow room, may as well go up. But what is at the top? Do Americans on the left and right agree?

I'm also implying that the stridency of much conservatism is rooted in ignorance, which is exactly what my cultural spidey senses tell me about the likes of the Freepers the majority of which appear to be devotees of redneck radio. Again, I love Jack as much as anyone, but there are limits to how much whittling sticks I can do on a Sunday afternoon. There are, after all, higher pursuits in this great nation of ours.

Bill Bennett has taken a drubbing at the hands of some bloggers recently. I forget the issue. He's also appeared more stridently partisan these days as I recall the last time I saw him bloviate on some talk show. But Bill B. was one of the highbrow cats that first got me interested in whatever it is I'm doing - way back in the "Closing of the American Mind" days. I also dug (who didn't) the dry wit (and occasional lip licking) of William F. Buckley.

So where in the porno stained world of television is the alternative? Where is conservative highbrow? Did that all go out of the window with the Contract with America? Where is the cultural conservative ball and what are they dancing to? Because if it's the Texas two step, as Eminem says "We're going to have a problem here."

Posted by mbowen at September 18, 2003 05:49 PM

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Posted by: George at September 19, 2003 04:43 AM

Ah right. Bennett the gambler. What a maroon.

Posted by: Cobb at September 19, 2003 12:13 PM

William Bennet? Oh, say it ain't so! Anyone but Bennet.

"I'm also implying that the stridency of much conservatism is rooted in ignorance."

Well, now make up your mind. Cranky middle aged Republicans tend to achieve higher levels of education on average--generally, because once you put in the money and time to go to school, you want to "keep" your money (psss... what's that $87mil?). And, being better educated, they tend to make more money.

It's not an uneducated party. It's different priorities. The priorities you claim to share.

Add in the general call of conservatives for our schools to stick to the practical three R's. Performance-based education based around tests leaves no room for creativity.

I'm guessing that adds up to:

Republicans don't tend to "do" art. Business as art? Sure! Art as investment? Maybe something there... and it's pretty highbrow. You could be snooty all over.

But... music? Ha! I think you're stuck with Alan Jackson. Perry Como? Christian rock! (I'm kidding :) sort of.) Really, how "conservative" is the decision to become a musician?

Posted by: aldahlia at September 22, 2003 01:08 AM

Hmm. Could be a dichotomy. Could be.

When I'm on the road (which hasn't been much this year), I'm a diehard news junkie. When I don't have kids to mind, I mind the economy. I'm glued to CNBC.

And naturally, when I'm on the road, I travel with the expense account, premier airline membership and hard shoes.

I can remember sensing in Bush the Elder a kind of mind-numbing distance from the common man, which was pathetic and endearing at the same time. He could not un-inbreed his blue blood, but he might have made a better effort than to suggest we all go shopping for socks to bolster his failing economy. For that type of Republican, I can see how non-Yale education for the masses seems almost indistinguishable from military training. There are millions of job-slots to fill. So learn what you need to know.

Something I think is not enough appreciated is the difficulty inherent in investment. When you are the rich guy and you have to find someone to mind your money, it's awfully difficult. How do you trust someone who refuses to acknowledge you? This is the rich man's problem. Everyone, above and beyond the petty jealousy and schadenfruede of everyday living, likes to see wealthy people suffer. Nobody cares about the hard times of soft people, even though their own livelihoods depend on it.

That's what kills me about animal rights activists.

Posted by: Cobb at September 22, 2003 09:09 AM

I think so.

Posted by: phentermine at December 5, 2003 01:39 PM