On the Democratic Idea in America
by Irving Kristol
Harper and Row, 149 pp., $5.00
By reading this book one discovers what Spiro Agnew would sound like if he had gone to CCNY in the Thirties. Irving Kristol’s villains, like Agnew’s, are drugs, pornography, “youth,” the “adversary culture,” “intellectuals” (professors in particular), those who criticize the war, those on welfare and others who share “unreasonable” expectations of material well-being, “urban mobs,” and so forth. His primary method of exposition, like Agnew’s, is the sweeping undocumented assertion. It is therefore no surprise to learn, from the Wall Street Journal, that Kristol is the academic writer most frequently cited by the Nixon Administration.
A few sample pronouncements will show us why. Consider the following:
“An adult’s ‘normal’ political instincts should be conservative.”
“Men take it as an insult when they are asked to be reasonable in their desires and demands.”
“A liberal…ought to favor a liberal form of censorship.”
“The salaries of professors compare favorably with the salaries of bank executives.”
“Those same young radicals who are infuriated by trivial inequalities in the American economic system….”
The last two points are characteristic cheap shots. Some bank executives do make salaries comparable to some professors, but the over-all salary range is not at all comparable; thus the May 15, 1972, issue of Forbes Magazine said of “banking salaries” that there is a big cluster of them in the $200,000-$250,000 range. As for the “trivial inequalities,” according to the economist Lester Thurow, 2.5 percent of the population of the United States owns 45 percent of the country’s privately held assets. The book is littered with such assertions, some outright falsehoods, some misleading, some cleverly tendentious, some quite possibly accurate, but all without supporting authority or any hint (unless we count a motive as a reason) of their derivation.
One of Kristol’s favorite targets is “the intellectual,” whom he defines as a man “…with general authority about a subject on which he has no particular competence.” Intellectuals, among other things, never get their priorities right. They have an overoptimistic sense of human perfectibility or an underdeveloped sense of evil. They are given to “extreme dissatisfaction, sometimes extremist dissatisfaction.” By contrast, “the common people” tend to support the initiatives of the state. “The war in Vietnam has been borne with greater patience than might have been expected…. The general feeling was that it had to be endured.” Elsewhere Kristol calls these same “common people” a “mob”; they apparently acquire virtue as they acquiesce in their government’s policy. Perspicacious, dogged, wise, they stand firm against the seditions of intellectuals who want to create “a domestic climate of ideological dissent that will enfeeble the resolution of our statesmen and diminish the credibility of their policies abroad.” As if our credibility were otherwise undiminished!
Another of Kristol’s whipping boys is “the University,” whose administrators lead a “charmed life,” “never get much criticism,” and preserve their jobs by truckling to student fads and fancies. “Quite a few of our universities…decided that …