Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.
The regular reader of Mr. Stephens knows that he, like his Neo-Conservative tribalist allies, likes nothing more than attacking Students, and the particular Students he finds so without merit are from the ‘Left’. And their coddlers in America’s Universities, are the weak willed administrators, who bow to the blackmail of these petty tyrants, or so the story is confected by Mr. Stephens.
This maladroit propaganda barrage is used as cover for Mr. Stephens unrelenting campaign to wage war against both Iran and Russia. As if the War on Terror, now being fought on eight fronts, isn’t enough to satisfy Mr. Stephens’ unslakable appetite for war. Having no actual experience of war makes Mr. Stephens’ enthusiasm for war – he is no Ernst Jünger exalting the clarifications of battle.
Where have I read this political merde before? Probably in a newspaper, in my case the unmourned Los Angeles Herald Examiner, during and after Berkeley while the ‘Free Speech Movement’ had its day. Or when Columbia exploded. One of America’s most valuable Journalists was there, Juan González.
Nothing new under the sun? Except the mendacity of Neo-Conservatism and one of its junior members, Mr Stephens, who exercises his historical ignorance in the garb of enlightened centrism.
Neo-Conservatives have made a tradition of this particular brand demonizing of generations of Students finding their way in a University settings. Look to Allen Bloom and his ‘Closing of the American Mind’ as one of the templates used by the succeeding generation of Neo-Conservatives, to continue the fight against the perceived/invented, the reader must choose her side, Student Political Irrationalism. Except that Bloom’s diagnosis was that those ‘Students’ were addled by both ‘Rock and Roll’ and their own advanced narcissism. To engage is reductive psychology, Bloom’s hysterical diatribe had its root in his being ignored, as the dinosaur he was, by the very Students he attacked with such venom. Like Bloom Stephens is a Prophet of Nihilism!
Enter the hero of Mr. Stephens moralizing melodrama Robert Zimmer, the President of the University of Chicago. The usual technique of the respectable bourgeois commenter: proclaim themselves to be the voice of rational centrism, as opposed to the un-reason of the Students of the Left. Mr. Stephens cultivated historical ignorance doesn’t effect some of his readership, who recall vividly Theodore Hesburgh as fulfilling not an identical role/purpose as Zimmer, but so disturbingly, even uncannily similar, to the ‘rationalists’ of present day America. Yet, he wasn’t quite the kind of political actor that Stephens might unreservedly admire. Mr. Zimmer fulfills the role of both scold and enforcer of respectable bourgeois political norms, that Mr. Stephens finds admirable. A link to a web page in honor of Father Hesburgh is instructive:
‘A week after Father Hesburgh sent his letter to the student body, President Richard Nixon requested that he advise Vice President Spiro Agnew about federal legislation to control student violence on campuses because the vice president would be meeting with all the state governors to discuss and vote on the issue. He wrote a letter to the vice president opposing any sort of federal legislation or action regarding the issue, suggesting that students were often being portrayed unfairly and inaccurately and suggesting that the colleges and universities themselves were better suited to deal with their own communities. When the governors first gathered, more than 40 of them were prepared to vote for federal action, but after reading Father Hesburgh’s letter, more than 40 of them voted against federal legislation.
In October 1969, Father Hesburgh more publicly expressed his own disagreement with U.S. policy in Vietnam, and signed an open letter with other college and university presidents calling on the government to accelerate its withdrawal of troops.’
History and its civic actors, and the political nuances expressed by those actors, are inconvenient to a perpetual political present. This ‘present’ is by definition history-less, in sum, free floating, ambiguous, cultivated by a writer, whose opinionating is defined by a complete lack of curiosity, and a political program that, in fact, renders that lack of curiosity usable to the ends of propaganda.