Unwise conservatism

Scratch a radical American conservative and all-too-often you'll uncover an emotional Marxist -- a sentimental lover of the noble working classes. Take Hoover Institute classicist Victor Davis Hanson, for example, the house intellectual at conservative website Pajama Media. Hanson takes advantage of the Palin versus Obama debate about experience to tell us what really is wisdom. And it's not wise. Hanson compares the egg-heads he had the misfortune to meet at Stanford, UC Santa Cruz and Greece with the real working folk he came across on his Californian vineyard. Hanson says he learnt two things from his experiences both on the land and in the classroom:

While civilization advances on the shoulders of the educated, it iscarried along by the legs of the muscular classes. And the latter are not there by some magical IQ test or a natural filtering process that separates the wheat from the chaff, but rather by either birth, or, as often, by their preference for action and the physical world.

Early Marx or late Jefferson? Even the baroque language is neo-marxist. Civilization carried along by the legs of the muscular classes. Sounds more painful than noble to me. Even more painful, however, is Hanson's unwillingness to address the meritocratic nature of America's democratic knowledge economy. And he's wrong, of course, on the "natural filtering process that separates the wheat from the chaff." That process is called education (it took the smart Hanson to Stanford university and Greece). Garbage collectors or orange pickers don't collect garbage or pick oranges rather than practice law or medicine because of their preference for action and the physical world. No, In post industrial America, the smartest people are the winners in the competitive knowledge economy: they go to the best colleges, earn the most amount of money. live the longest lives and have the most power. In contrast, the least intelligent people in America are the losers: they don't go to college, they earn poorly if at all, their lives are nasty, brutish and short.

Hanson's other lesson is equally absurd:

Second, I have seen no difference in intelligence levels between those who inhabit the world of the physical and those who cultivate the life of the mind. That is, the most brilliant Greek philologists seemed no more impressive in their aptitude than the fellow who could take apart the transmission of an old Italian Oliver tractor, fix it, and put it back together — without a manual. And I knew three or four who could.

What Hansen is articulating is the moralizing guilt and self hatred of the American ruling class -- the very forces that have produced the cult of the amateur known as Sarah Palin. Here we have a Hoover Institute academic telling us that Edison is no smarter than the guy who fixes light bulbs for a living. It's the same message, of course, articulated by the fourteen-year old kid on Wikipedia who claims he knows as much about the Peloponnesian War as Victor Davis Hanson, the author of A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.

So what is wisdom? Hanson confuses goodness and wisdom, conveniently substituting one with the other. Palin might be good (although I doubt it), but her goodness doesn't guarantee wisdom. Excellence is ammoral and it resides, amorally, in the educated rather than the muscular classes.