Thursday, September 4, 2008


Yes, it hurts. Based on my CV, I'm one of those snobby elitists too. I get it. I even saw it coming.

I come from a small town in central Connecticut - one of those classic New England towns - but am now a transplant in the new Rome. I've long felt a bit homeless in the heart of the cosmopolis, and more than a bit put off by those who consider themselves escapees from parochial backwaters and disdain the poor masses that didn't make it out. It's from that perspective of being "in exile" that I often write critically of my fellow East Coasters - more a worldview than a geographical inevitability. Let's face it: most Americans come from somewhere and end up somewhere else. That's a truth of our culture and our economy. The difference lies in whether you think we should seek to preserve and defend those somewheres or join the progressive tide of history in seeking their demise (i.e., through human strip mining operations that liberate us from parochiality and policies that support destruction of local economic entities. Meritocracy meets Wal Mart). It's a progressive project that's advanced simultaneously by the economic "Right" and the "cultural" Left. I've written about the conundrum and even potential hypocrisy of criticizing the cosmopolitan project while ensconced at an elite institution. Sadly, it's possible that the respectability of such a critique is likely to have more credence from within those very institutions. Maybe Wendell Berry can do it all on his own from the farm - but it can't hurt to assign his books in university classes and raise a very different set of questions for tomorrow's leaders. For all the perils, it's worth the risk...


FLG said...

The Windsor, CT thing doesn't help as much as you think. Most people think that us Nutmegers are rich, snooty elites. You know, verdant estates and all that.

Patrick Deneen said...

Yea, I know that too. Most people think Connecticut is a New York suburb. The rest is drive-over country on the way to Boston. Believe it or not, my mother grew up on a family farm in Glastonbury, CT. Verdant, but hardly a landed estate.

But this is all a bit silly, I'll admit. Reminiscent of the old Monty Python skit:

Man 1: When I was growing up, we lived in a cardboard box.

Man 2: We used to DREAM of living in a cardboard box.

Man 3: Our father used to beat us around the head and shoulders with a broken bottle.

Man 4: At least you had a father.

John Hintermaier said...

I was acquainted with Patrick while he was at Princeton. For what it's worth, he did not seem like an elitist then nor does he now.

I know it has become part of conservative parlance to stress the dangers of elitism, but this often degenerates into the sort of stupid ad hominem attack that Patrick suffered.

That being said, I would like to see him return to the topic of what it is like to be an outsider (of sorts) inside several elite institutions.