Not alone

Sometimes I wonder if I labor in solitude.  Then I read this review of George Will's most recent book–which is really just a collection of columns with an introduction:

Has Will lurched leftward? Not at all. As his 1983 book “Statecraft as Soulcraft” indicates, he has long regretted that we have “become a nation wedded to the liberal assumption that the way to deal with passions is to ‘express’ them, to maximize ‘self-expression.’” These sentiments have now led to a sentimentalization of America. By contrast, Will mocks what he sees as a saccharine therapeutic culture in which bus drivers in Scottsdale, Ariz., are referred to as “tranporters of learners” and school receptionists as “directors of first impressions.” What’s more, Will ridicules Thomas Frank’s fatuous “What’s the Matter With Kansas?,” which maintained that Americans vote conservative only because hot-button social issues like abortion and gun-control blind them to their true economic interests. As Will puts it, “It has come to this: The crux of the political left’s complaint about Americans is that they are insufficiently materialistic.”

But these are easy targets, sometimes too easy. When Will issues blanket and tedious denunciations of American universities, he has a penchant for stacking the deck: “Professors, lusting after tenure and prestige, teach that the great works of the Western canon, properly deconstructed, are not explorations of the human spirit but mere reflections of power relations and social pathologies.” But is there anything wrong with a professor aspiring to make a mark in his or her field? Was Will “lusting” for “prestige” when he embarked upon his career as a journalist or was he simply trying to make a success of himself? And to denounce professors as a class is a form of reverse Marxism, no less absurd than depicting all businessmen as intrinsically greedy and corrupt.

Elsewhere, Will, like not a few conservatives, drifts into intellectual quicksand in trying to reconcile his worship of the past with his admiration for the free market. What Daniel Bell called the cultural contradictions of capitalism poses something of a problem for him since, you might say, he admires libertarian economics but not the libertinism that accompanies it. And for all his denunciations of hedonism, Will’s contempt for environmentalists and admiration of capitalism prompts him to pour scorn on measures to protect the planet. Suddenly, the swollen appetites of Americans are O.K. According to Will, in a column from 2002, “Beware the wrath of Americans who like to drive, and autoworkers who like to make, cars that are large, heavy and safer than the gasoline sippers that environmentalists prefer.”

I guess I wasn't the only one to notice.  But at a certain point, does one wonder whether such lazy and deceptive thinking deserves to be bound in a volume and reprinted?