Note: Nicholas Capaldi contributed to this column. He directs the Center for Spiritual Capital at Loyola University.
The literati (otherwise known as intellectuals, most of whom occupy positions in academe) are a self-conscious special class. Their communication skills can at times make them valuable but also troublesome members of their respective societies. In developed and developing countries, they become problematic when they begin to consider themselves the high priests of their respective societies – namely, the arbiters of fundamental values, or worse still, they try to assume political office in a kind of “academocracy.”
In the U.S., the literati take two forms: conservative and liberal. Both seek a revenge.
The former, namely the conservatives (e.g., those running the National Review, Wall Street Journal, etc.), are typically secularists willing to tolerate traditional centers of cultural authority such as religion and the family as long as those centers adhere to the secular catechism as defined by themselves: 1) There is a collective good vouchsafed to the conservative literati (their version of substituting politics for religion or taming religion to fit their politics); 2) Ivy-league speech and writing norms; 3) globalism; 4) dogmatic commitment to free markets, and 5) universal representative democracy (the neocons prefer interventionist nation-building abroad).
These ideologue conservatives and neocons dislike Donald Trump because he violates their basic five commandments. Since in the minds of the conservative literati these commandments are beyond reproach and therefore beyond debate, they refuse to engage Trump in a discussion that would require opening up these commandments for honest and full review.
From the point of view of the conservative literati, Trump takes no “substantive” positions (i.e., he does not endorse or exemplify their basic commandments without reservation; and when he outlines policy stances they do not form a neat deductive system as required by academic logic). Hence, any discussion of Trump degenerates quickly into either character assassination or speculation on his hidden private ambitions and egoism or, worse, an alleged authoritarianism.
These conservatives’ attitude and dogma were perfectly demonstrated recently by Bret Stephens, the deputy editorial page editor for the Wall Street Journal when he told CNN: “I most certainly will not vote for Donald Trump. I will vote for the least left-wing opponent to Donald Trump, and I want to make a vote to make sure that he has – that he is the biggest loser in presidential history since, I don’t know, Alf Landon or going back further.”
Said Stephens, “It’s important that Donald Trump and what he represents – this kind of ethnic, quote, ‘conservatism,’ or populism – be so decisively rebuked that the Republican Party, the Republican voters, will forever learn their lesson that they cannot nominate a man so manifestly unqualified to be president in any way, shape or form.”
The liberal literati follow a remarkably similar pattern, as demonstrated by the New York Times, Atlantic monthly, The New Yorker, PBS and most of the media. But, they are dedicated secular humanists unwilling to tolerate Judeo-Christian institutions. (Islam is fine because it is a temporary stick with which to beat the other forms of monotheism.)
The radical secular-humanist catechism includes: 1) There is a collective good vouchsafed exclusively to the liberal literati (their version of substituting politics for religion); 2) Ivy-league speech and writing norms; 3) globalism; 4) the basic innate goodness of all human beings (this is why it is so important to reject any Christian concept of sin); 5) evil is the result of environmental determinism (called victimization); (6) the existence of a social technology vouchsafed to social scientists at major universities; 7) the need for an all-powerful government, perhaps in time, a world government, to employ that social technology as administered by their expert graduates; and 8) redistributionist democratic-socialism when properly informed by the all-knowing liberal literati.
The liberal literati exhibit two current forms of behavior: sharp hatred of Trump and loving forgiveness of the Clintons.
They dislike Trump because he violates all of their basic commandments. Since in the minds of the liberal literati these commandments are beyond reproach and therefore beyond debate, they refuse to engage Trump in a discussion that would require opening up these commandments for review and inspection.
From the point of view of the liberal literati, Trump takes no “substantive” positions (i.e., he does not endorse or exemplify their basic commandments; and when he outlines policy stances they do not form a neat deductive system as required by their liberal academic orthodoxy and logic). Hence, any discussion of Trump degenerates into vicious character assassination and hatred or even accusations of fascism. That fear is always lurching behind their façade of openness. Name calling is easier than debate.
With regard to Hillary: She is seen an intellectual genius (Yale Law School but a “mute inglorious Milton” because her commitment never gave her sufficient time to write anything memorable); courageous in character (consciously willing to take whatever heat Fox News generates about her systematic lying when that lying is in the service of the ’cause’); selfless devotion to all minorities (willing to vote for the Democratic Party and diversity, quotas and any form of statism – from health care to welfare/free goods); martyr for women’s liberation, willing to spend a lifetime loyally married to a known predator and abuser (who no doubt was himself somehow a victim); and a foreign-policy wonder-star (all of whose failed or botched policies were sabotaged by the military, the FBI and the CIA).
Oh to rediscover the ancient and Christian account of true intellectual life without revenge. St. Augustine in his “On Free Will,” described it as “an effort to gather our whole soul … to station ourselves and become wholly entrenched … so that we may no longer rejoice in our own private goods, which are bound up with ephemeral things, but instead cast aside all attachment to times and places and apprehend that which is always one and the same.”
Forget the literati – not in an anti-intellectual tradition but realizing that a vote for Trump and such eternal thought may again be possible, if he also defunds higher education and calls the literati on both sides what they are: merely ideologues.