Interview: David Gelernter on America-Lite

In 1957, William DeVane, dean of Yale, made a casual statement that no one noticed at the time. But in retrospect it’s remarkable.

Our national leaders for the most part are men of integrity, idealism, and skill; our literary and artistic people command an international respect such as they never had before; our scientists and engineers, especially the latter, are the wonder and envy of other nations; our teachers in our colleges and universities are learned and devoted.

In 1957, Americans were pleased with America and proud of it. They had problems and knew it, but were undismayed.

Less than twenty years later, that proud confidence was gone, crumbled like mud-bricks into flyblown clouds of dust. “No one knows which way to turn and which way to go,” wrote the great essayist (and lifelong optimist, patriot, liberal) E. B. White in 1975. “Patriotism is unfashionable,” he wrote in 1976, “having picked up the taint of chauvinism, jingoism, and demagoguery. A man is not expected to love his country, lest he make an ass of himself.” The nation got over its low spirits, but Americans no longer speak about their country the way DeVane did back in 1957.

-- From the opening of Chapter One of David Gelernter’s new book,  America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered In the Obamacrats).  Today, if an American academic expresses any pride at all in America, he does so by modifying his statement with some variation of “yes but.” Or as an academic-turned-president said shortly after taking office:

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.

But what caused such a dramatic transformation? That’s the subject of the new book by Gelernter, who is also the professor of computer science at Yale University. During our 25-minute interview, David discusses:

  • We all know of the isolationist right in America on the eve of World War II.  Why aren't we as familiar with the numerous prominent liberal intellectuals who also opposed America's entry into that war?
  • The symbiotic relationship between the liberal intellectuals who dreamed up America’s role in the Vietnam War, and the liberal intellectuals who opposed it. And how opposition to Vietnam essentially predates the war itself, not the other way around.
  • The role of what Gelernter dubs "self-hating WASPs," and the changing role of Jewish intellectuals in the academy over the 20th century.
  • How Barack Obama is "the perfect superhero of America-Lite."
  • How a video featuring David earned him 549 "likes" -- and over five thousand dislikes from YouTube' viewers.
  • How the higher-education bubble (to coin a phrase) could be the opening for conservatives and other members of the non-Left to take back higher culture.

And much more. Click here to listen:

(25 minutes long; 23 MB file size. Want to download instead of streaming? Right click here to download to your hard drive. Or right click here to download the 4.3 MB lo-fi edition.)

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