Not Even Joseph Epstein Speaks Freely about the Conservative Movement

Austin Bramwell

I am a freelance opinion-monger living in New York City.

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28 Responses

  1. Rufus F. says:

    I think the problem I have when we talk about people like Hitchens as public intellectuals, and where I’d probably agree with Epstein, is that it’s not like we’re talking about people who are working their way through big problems in innovative ways. Instead, they tend to already know the answers and excel at rhetoric in support of those answers. It’s more like the weekly sermon for neoconservatism, or atheism, or Trotskyism, or Obamism, or whatever it is this week. So I can see what he means there. But, you know, when I think of a golden age of “the disinterested pursuit of truth” I sure as shit don’t think of Commentary in any era.Report

  2. Mike Schilling says:

    I’m assuming from your choice of font that you have no interest in communicating with middle-aged people.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    One wonders if it’s not just a situation where the maps have changed.

    In the days where every single family subscribed to Look Magazine, watched the same 3 channels, and read Reader’s Digest’s Condensed Books, you had a hugely homogenous culture and the little nooks where “intellectuals” hung out and talked about how awesome it was to not be middlebrow were islands of non-middlebrow culture.

    Now? *EVERYWHERE* is a nook. Be your own big fish in your personal small pond. Ponds not just devoted to “intellectualism”, but any/everything. Go to Slashdot and marvel at exactly how possible it is to argue the nuances of Debian vs. FreeBSD. Go to the Food Network boards and learn about the chemistry of custard. Watch Project Runway and learn about the nuances of high-end tailing.

    Stuff that you used to have to be an intellectual to even figure out how to research is now a click away.

    Want to argue policy? You can quickly find the numbers for anything via google. Wikipedia is one of the most amazing secondary sources in the universe and it’s right there, free.

    You no longer need a map to find the hidden intellectual places. You are here. This is a nook (just like everywhere).

    We are all intellectuals now.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird says:

      @Jaybird, Yeah, but the problem with those nooks is that they get way too specialized to be mind-expanding in any way. I recently read a conversation on a horror geek site in which five people were talking about how great the movie “Near Dark” was and wondering, seriously, whatever happened to its director Katherine Bigelow and whether she’s made any films since then.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:


      That is, with all of us being on an equal footing, none of us are intellectuals. Where everybody’s somebody, nobody’s anybody.Report

      • Travis in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        @Mike Schilling, but that’s not quite true. Specialization still occurs, only it’s on the topical level.

        To use Jaybird’s example, I couldn’t possibly argue Debian vs. FreeBSD or explain the chemistry of custard. I freely admit I haven’t a clue about either. But ask me to discuss the competitive situation facing mid-major college basketball conferences, or debate the value of public investment in high-speed rail, and I could give you a sermon.Report

        • Rufus in reply to Travis says:

          @Travis, Right, but isn’t a specialist a lot different from an intellectual. In academia, we encounter 99.9% specialist and the very rare intellectual. I tend to think of intellectuals as being more well-rounded than most eggheads I meet. That’s not an insult- personally, I’m neither an intellectual or a specialist.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Rufus says:

            @Rufus, speaking for myself only, the real world has an exceptionally low bar.

            The other day, when going out to lunch with co-workers, one of them talked about “America’s Next Top Artist” or whatever it’s called. (I got rid of cable a while back. (This allows me to say such things as “Oh, I don’t *HAVE* cable” when my co-workers talk about television.)) Anyway, he mentioned that the guy who did “Piss Christ” was on the show and I said “Andres Serrano” and the response was “oh, Jaybird, he knows everything”.

            I assure you, I do not know everything. (I am just used to arguing with Maribou.)

            Anyway, the real world has a sliding scale for “intellectual”. I reckon that those immersed in academia have one as well… and, no doubt, that profressors with tenure have one. Like one professor mentions some vague thing and some other prof puts a fine point on it and says “oh, yeah, Maureen Forrester!” and all of the other profs will roll their eyes and say “what a damn know-it-all”.

            There are circles where I (*I*, of all friggin people!) am considered an intellectual. That *ALONE* tells me that it’s a trait like “clever” or “handsome” that only means something in relationship to every other dude in the room.

            And *THAT* tells me that it’s bullshit.

            For what that’s worth.Report

  4. Bob Cheeks says:

    Actually, I consider D.W. Sabin of the Front Porch Republic to be one of those rare and delightful political commentators in the mold of H.L. Menchen (Sp), Will Rodgers, Mark Twain, and Bill Kauffman. His only problem, as far as I can see, is he’s way to considerate.Report

  5. Koz says:

    It’s especially ironic that Epstein would take that angle considering that Norman Podhoretz wrote _Making It_ back in 1965 or 1970 or whatever, explicitly defending the intellectual’s right to be motivated by money or fame as much as anyone else is (and IIRC causing a permanent split between Podhoretz Sr. and Lionel Trilling).Report

  6. Barry says:

    Austin, some good points – I agree with both the niche idea, and the idea that there’s a more organized right-wing movement (with the drivers being found more on AM radio than in print).

    However, I also get the feeling that Epstein is also complaining that he doesn’t have a sufficient number of really good writers who would be happy making not much money, so long as they have the privilege of writing for ‘Commentary’.Report