Yesterday, over at Contentions, John Podhoretz attacked David P. Goldman for writing this last Friday on a First Things blog:
Even more disgusting—obscene, in truth—is the arrogant certainty with which Goldman unmasks the sexual motivations of Ann Dunham, the President’s mother, now fourteen years dead. If this is not, as Podhoretz says, “beyond the pale both intellectually, ideologically, and as a simple matter of taste,” then nothing is. The mystery of a person’s sexual life is just that—a mystery, revealed only to intimates, who are their lover’s secret counsel. There is no possible means by which anyone else can know anything at all about another person’s sexual experience, and to speculate about it is characteristic of the totalitarian mentality, from which nothing is permitted to be concealed.
But Podhoretz also directs fire at the second half of Goldman’s accusation:
All I would add to Podhoretz’s point is that the “ideas or ideology . . . endemic in the American university in the late 1970s and early 1980s” did not start there and then. Leftist ideas have enjoyed a long and charmed life in America. As early as 1887, after four anarchist leaders were executed for causing the Haymarket riot (and one killed himself the night before), the fifty-year-old William Dean Howells, champion of literary realism in America, wrote: “[T]his free Republic has killed five men for their opinions.” As a consequence, the judgment upon America for “every unjust and evil deed” committed on these shores now “goes on forever,” he said.
That judgment has been installed in the American university curricula for some time. At all events, it is wiser and more instructive, I think, to locate a man’s political sins in the intellectual tradition that he has uncritically embraced. The conservative movement stands for the proposition that ideas, not fetid and hidden motives, are the real reality of human experience.