Thursday, October 09, 2008

Victor Davis Hanson: "What is Wisdom?"

Victor Davis Hanson writes:
There is a report today (I think first offered in the Huffington Post) that David Brooks, the gifted New York Times columnist, has described Sarah Palin as a "fatal cancer" and part of a larger pernicious conservative trend:
But there has been a counter, more populist tradition, which is not only to scorn liberal ideas but to scorn ideas entirely. And I'm afraid that Sarah Palin has those prejudices. I think President Bush has those prejudices.
Brooks then praised the logorrhea of Joe Biden in his interview with the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg as the proper antidote to Palin...

But Brooks' reflections about Biden, at least according to the reported transcript, are telling. We had a debate between the two Vice Presidential candidates. Biden was superficially the more impressive with his recall of facts, anecdotes (most of them not mysteriously with Biden at the heroic center), and broad assertions.

In contrast, Palin was direct and perhaps repetitive in her focus on lower taxes, less government, and individual responsibility (especially for personal debt) — and I suppose what Brooks would call populist in her vocabulary, tone, and Fargo-mode of expression. But when they were through, Palin proved the more truthful and pragmatic, inasmuch as the glib Biden turned out to have misled in almost everything he professed, from our own Constitution to Hezbollah's presence in Lebanon. Even the folksy reference to his hometown diner was inaccurate. And that raises the age-old Euripidean question, "What is wisdom?" or maybe those general Hesiodic warnings about the dangers of moral regress that sometimes can accompany intellectual progress...
One of the best lines in Hanson's piece is this response to Brooks' admission to having a Matthewsesqe tingle in his trousers over Sen. Obama:
This is sad — since everything from the faux-seal with its vero possumus pretensions, the Greek temple backdrops, the efforts to speak at the Brandenburg Gate, the mantra "we are the change we've been waiting for," the messianic idea that the seas and planet will likewise heel to His wisdom, and the inane 'hope and change' banalities do not suggest real wisdom at all, but a dazzling veneer that overlays a great deal of megalomania.
Read the whole thing.

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At 10/09/2008 7:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hanson, my favorite contemporary historian, has more wattage in one of his cuticles than poor David Brooks has in his brain. Hanson is that true rarity: an intellectual who understands there is more to wisdom than amassing degrees by regurgitating the proper answers and adopting the "correct" attitudes.

At 10/10/2008 10:03 AM, Blogger Darwin said...

He really is. There's a point in Fields Without Dreams where he writes about building a wall on his property modeled on the construction techniques of the Athenians throwing up quick defensive walls during the Peloponesian War. It's a little detail, but somehow it's always stuck with me (that's my favorite of his books) because its such an example of living with and in history.

Brooks' anecdote about swapping understandings of obscure political theorists with Obama is redolant of a worldview in which knowledge is something you read about and play with. A toy. Whereas Hanson considered 2500 year old texts to be something you should live out.


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