Monday, May 24, 2010

A response to Professor Lilla
Tom Smith

Here is an interesting response to Professor Mark Lilla's sobering essay on the Tea Party movement, sobering because as a professor, I always find it sobering to read another professor write about something he evidently does not understand very well.  There's a there but for the grace of God go I sort of feeling it induces, a kind of, holy shit, I hope I never make a fool out of myself in this way, feeling. But he probably need not worry too much, as his ideological compatriots will read his essay uncritically and his ideological opponents, such as I, can be dismissed as Tea-crazed.  

If you have not read the Lilla essay, you really should.  It is a quick education in how NYC and other urban elite intellectual types are likely to view the Tea Party.  Though, to give those elites credit, I find it hard to believe that all of them would be as innocent of American history as Professor Lilla apparently is.  I mean, US history is practically one darn popular irritation after another;  it's really hard to miss that.  You have all those original Revolutionary patriots, through the Whiskey Rebels, to abolitionists, various evangelical revivalists, those darn Jacksonian Democrats (!), free soilers, Latter Day Saints, Wobblies, Free Silverites, I mean come on.  American history is a veritable pageant of roiling individuals impatient of being governed.  You get a bunch of restless, anti-authoritarian Americans, and Lilla wants to call them Jacobins?! That like announcing to your class, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the thing to remember about American history is Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose!"

Perhaps Professor Lilla is showing off in a subtle way, the way the American exchange student does when she comes back from a year in Paris and pretends she cannot remember the English word for something. "Mais c'est ca quoi?!  Bien . . . Ah oui! The "automobile"!"  By revealing the depth of his not-get-itude of the Tea Party, he may be demonstrating just how far removed from exurban, church-going, driving to the supermarket, not walking to gourmet shop America he is, as one would profess to be simply incapable of imaging what people who live in Connecticut do of an evening.  That is, he is pretending to be ignorant in order to be cool.  If that is not the case, somebody should sit his butt down with one of those review books for AP American History and make him read it.  I mean honestly.  He's like a famous American intellectual or something, right?  If Professor Lilla is only recently arrived in this country from Europe, I apologize.  I am all for stealing the best European scholars and ensconcing them in our top universities where they can well paid and add to the interest and color of our great institutions. Oh, nope.  I see he was born to Catholic parents in Detroit, about the same time I was born in Boise. Well, I don't know then.

https://rightcoast.typepad.com/rightcoast/2010/05/a-response-to-professor-lilla-tom-smith-.html

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Tom Smith
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Comments

"I always find it sobering to read another professor write about something he evidently does not understand very well. There's a there but for the grace of God go I sort of feeling it induces, a kind of, holy shit, I hope I never make a fool out of myself in this way, feeling. "

Oh, don't worry Tom. You've done that here a number of times, but this site isn't _that_ widely read, and we readers still love you because of your really funny posts on so many subjects. ;)

Posted by: Matt | May 24, 2010 12:52:22 PM

Thanks for the support, Matt. I think to be fair however it should be said that when I reveal my ignorance it is usually in a context where I am not pretending to over a grand, authoritative interpretation of a historical moment. I flatter myself to think it is just ignorance of the ordinary kind.

Posted by: Tom Smith | May 24, 2010 2:53:16 PM

And don't forget the RC is the 19th most widely read law prof blog in the entire universe.

Posted by: Tom Smith | May 24, 2010 3:00:11 PM

Weirdly, Lilla is also the author of The Reckless Mind, a very good book about the attractions of totalitarianism for intellectuals. Maybe he is in the Brad DeLong bubble, that group of high minded and highly self-regarding liberals who know better than the rest of us, and whose arrogance is annoying, but could be a lot worse. DeLong, remember, went nearly insane over George Bush, but he is utterly savage toward the likes of Chomsky and his minions, as well as to lefties who admire the likes of Fidel Castro.

Posted by: William Sjostrom | May 25, 2010 9:03:21 AM

More weird still, Lilla once edited the Public Interest and, if I am not mistaken was married to Irving Kristol's daughter. It's a weird world.

Posted by: Ben A | May 25, 2010 8:30:59 PM

This is also interesting: http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/PT-AK194_Conser_G_20081107162925.jpg&imgrefurl=http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122610558004810243.html&usg=__LU_VC3RXRopVlRc15OpvOvGRh9E=&h=369&w=553&sz=46&hl=en&start=16&um=1&itbs=1&tbnid=Hy1GNNSfDlGC1M:&tbnh=89&tbnw=133&prev=/images%3Fq%3DMark%2BLilla%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX%26tbs%3Disch:1

I agree they could be worse and that they are annoying.

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