Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Stink of the Common

Every now and then you read something on the internet that is so good that you want to share it with others. This is from a book review of Whittaker Chambers, Witness by the Brothers Judd.  The book was written in the 1950's but the insights are pertinent today:
What was truly unfortunate about McCarthyism was not the fact of the Red Hunt itself, but that it was left to such an incompetent as Joe McCarthy.  If, instead of circling the wagons to protect their own, responsible members of the Left had joined with the Right to root out men and women in government, academia, and the media who were actively trying to subvert democracy, the entire process might have been salutary, rather than turning into one of the more divisive episodes in our domestic political history.  But the Left, as a general rule, which had been untroubled by FDR's decision to imprison every American of Japanese descent on the West Coast during WWII, reacted viscerally to the idea of exposing and removing genuine agents of an enemy government from positions of power.

To a great, and unacknowledged, degree, this reaction was dictated by class animosity.  For the bitter truth is that Communism, particularly in America, was an ethos of the upper classes and the intelligentsia.  The middle classes, for obvious reasons, and the lower classes, for more complex reasons, never subscribed to the ideals of Communism.  And so, when the time came to destroy the Fifth Column, the destruction was led by men like McCarthy and Nixon, men with the stink of the common on them, and opposed by those who, like Hiss, had gone to the best Eastern schools and moved in the best social circles :
No feature of the Hiss Case is more obvious, or more troubling as history, than the jagged fissure, which it did not so much open as reveal, between plain men and women of the nation, and those who affected to act, think and speak for them.  It was, not invariably, but in general, the "best people" who were for Alger Hiss and who were  prepared to go to almost any length to protect and defend him. It was the enlightened and the powerful, the clamorous proponents of the open mind and the common man, who snapped their minds shut in a pro-Hiss psychosis, of a kind which, in an individual patient, means the simple failure of the ability to distinguish between reality and    unreality, and, in a nation, is a warning of the end. 
Those seeking to understand the passions stirred up by the Hiss Case need look no farther than the condescending aside of Hiss to Nixon : "My college was Harvard, I understand yours was Whittier."  There, in a sentence, is expressed the contempt and animosity between classes which would soon turn a simple espionage case into the cause which separated a generation of Americans.  So while it was common to blame Chambers and his supporters for McCarthyism, most of the blame should really fall upon the Anti-Anti-Communists, those who, though they did oppose communism, could not bear to see their peers brought down by commoners, no matter what crimes those peers may have committed in the putative name of those very commoners.

The further time removes us from the events of the Hiss case and the more information is revealed from the secret archives of both the U. S. government and the old Soviet Union, the less ambiguous the legacy of Whittaker Chambers becomes.  No one outside of the most irrational Left wing circles will any longer argue that Hiss was innocent; at most they try to impugn the character of Chambers, hinting darkly at elements of psychosexual drama in the case.  And the files further reveal that throughout the Cold War, many of the groups on the Left (like those disarmament groups that Clinton and Blair supported) were, either wittingly or unwittingly, funded and controlled by the Soviet Union.  The scope and effectiveness of Soviet subversion in the West is continually being revised upwards and those who warned about it and opposed it look better and better in retrospect.  No one looks better than Whittaker Chambers, whose life's journey from darkness into light so closely parallels that of the West as to serve as an allegory for the age.  Witness, his testimony to that journey and his statement of faith, stands as one of the great books of any age and perhaps the best book of the 20th century.


Hoyos said...

It's basically why Trump is a problem, he also stinks of the common.

Their "not common" is so insanely specific. Harvard, McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, we keep fishing in the same fetid pool. I guarantee you that you will meet some of the smartest people in your life at the University of Texas at Austin, or Rutgers, or accomplished people who don't work in big 4 consulting or finance, but you may as well be an inbred illiterate.

It's worse snobbery than Oxford and Cambridge, it's worse snobbery than actual aristocrats, it's bizarre.

David Foster said...

Peter Drucker (Austrian, lived in Germany before coming to the US) wrote in 1969:

"One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…"


"It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers. It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the engineer with a degree from North Idaho A. and M. is an engineer and not a draftsman."

We as a country are a lot closer to accepting Grande Ecole status for Harvard Law School and similar institutions than we were when Drucker wrote the above.

Other Drucker thoughts on education here:

The Social Pathologist said...


It's basically why Trump is a problem, he also stinks of the common.

Yes, and it's why he offends so many of the establishment. Though I can't find the quote now I remember that Solzhenitsyn had a very low opinion of the American elite and a much higher opinion of the "average" U.S. person.

But you've also got to be careful not to create an inverse snobbery. Some of the bottom rung elements of society are truly "deplorable" and the idolisation of the common man is just as deplorable as the idolisation of the aristocrat. Character, not rank or wealth, is what matters.


Thanks. I've seen the link and pretty much agree with all of the post.