I recently downloaded Counterpoints: 25 Years of The New Criterion on Culture and the Arts for my Kindle; it’s a marvelous anthology of some of the New Criterion’s most fascinating articles, beginning with Mark Steyn’s landmark “It’s the Demography, Stupid,” his dry run for what would become America Alone. The book also contains Heather McDonald’s “Revisionist Lust” essay from 1997, written the Smithsonian’s then-recent punitive debacle regarding the Enola Gay was still fresh in everyone’s minds:
Anyone who still doubts that the madness currently possessing American universities matters to society at large should take a stroll through today’s Smithsonian. The Institution has been transformed by a wholesale embrace of the worst elements of America’s academic culture. The staples of cutting-edge academic “research”-smirking irony, cultural relativism, celebration of putative victims, facile attacks on science-are all thriving in America’s premier museum and research complex, its showcase to itself and to the world. The changes at the Smithsonian are not unique to that institution. Museums across the country have rushed headlong into what may be called the “new museologv;’ based on a mindless parroting of academic fads. But the Smithsonian’s embrace of postmodern theory and identity politics is of greatest import, because of the Institution’s contribution to America’s public identity.
What causes an ideology to completely turn its back on its culture’s past and descend into what Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey calls “Black Armband History?”
That’s the topic that Theodore Dalrymple explores in The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism. As Dalrymple writes, Why should anyone wish to construct a national history that is nothing but crime and folly?
Limitless guilt being a form of grandiosity, the past commission of great crimes is a consolation for those who have lost power. It assures them that, notwithstanding their loss of the more immediate trappings of power, important, indeed determining, factors in the current situation of the world are traceable to them.
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a miserabilist history is a very useful instrument in securing if not a social revolution, then at least a change or expansion of elites.
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Bureaucracies must be created to right the wrongs of the past, the very bureaucracies that absorb the newly educated thousands and millions. Miserabilism thus combines business with pleasure.
As we’ve been discussing this week during my idyll at sea, if conservatives ever want to recapture the high ground of culture, just creating an alternative news media is nowhere near sufficient. It has to — somehow — recapture academia, where culture is ultimately created. And destroyed as well.