Dead White Men: An Important Swing Constituency

So I saw in my hometown paper, the Los Angeles Times--which I read every day because you never know which issue will be the Souvenir Final one--that a Charlotte Allen praised WALL-E as "profoundly conservative" because, among other things, it "celebrates Western civilization."

Well, I'm a liberal, so much so that I pay a surcharge to my utility so they'll lie to me and tell me my electricity is from wind, and I think that, when conservatives dine out on Western Civilization, they haven't read the ingredients on the back of the box.

I have. Or, more correctly, I'm starting to, because this year I am cracking open my great-grandfather's set of Harvard Classics that have been sitting unread in my hall bookcase for years--having been moved from my parents' hall bookcase, where they sat unread for decades. And the ideas I find there would get you frog-marched out of any right-wing think tank.

Check it out:

January 11: Federalist #1 inaugurates the Era of Big Government: "a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people, than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of Government." The Federalist Society has a new target, apparently--The Federalist.

February 25: Daniel Dafoe calls for mass executions of dissenters: "the poison of their nature makes it a charity to our neighbors, to destroy those creatures! ...not for the evil they have done, but the evil they may do!" I know, it sounds conservative, but it was satire--Dafoe was literally pilloried for it.

April 26: Further attacks on our Judeo-Christian traditions are carried out by David Hume, cleverly disguised as fancy 18th-century prose.

June 5: Adam Smith points out that landlords are jerks.

June 13: Plutarch tells the story of a great empire (Persia) which comes to grief against an insurgency whose members hate each other (Athens, Sparta)

You get the picture. Yeah, there's plenty of counterexamples--Hobbes is included, after all--but maybe we should try to avoid treating our intellectual heritage like trophies we're trying to get custody of in the divorce. Can't we see we're tearing them apart?

But don't take my word for it. Here's Edmund Burke, the capo di tutti conservatives: "[History] may, in the perversion, serve for a magazine, furnishing offensive and defensive weapons for parties in church and state, and supplying the means of keeping alive, or reviving, dissensions and animosities, and adding fuel to civil fury."

He didn't say anything about how to review robot movies, though. Some things we'll just have to figure out on our own.