I know you'd like to think your **** don't stink
But lean a little bit closer
See that roses really smell like poo-poo-oo
Yeah, roses really smell like poo-poo-oo
-- "Roses," OutKast, 2003
Academe is full of roses. Which might be what Rick Santorum was trying to say, in his somewhat demagogic style.
Sometimes you need to call in someone who is a smidge more, ahem, erudite than your typical politician, to get the message across. Enter Steven Hayward, writing at Powerline:
Instead, we should entertain the idea that in calling Obama a “snob,” Santorum has actually struck very close to the philosophical core of the contemporary Left. And my witness for this case is a long ago article from the late John Adams Wettergreen titled, “Is Snobbery a Formal Value? Considering Life at the End of Modernity,” published in the March 1973 issue of the Western Political Quarterly. (Only available online if you have J-STOR access, unfortunately.) This very theoretical article surveys the leading thinkers of the “New Left” at the time, including Marcuse, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and especially the French Hegelian, Alexandre Kojeve, whose own peculiar gloss on Hegel’s “end of history” became the basis of Francis Fukuyama’s blockbuster book The End of History and the Last Man.When we start namechecking French Hegelians, we're headed for the weeds, of course. But Wettergreen's point does come into focus, in discussing the career of William Makepeace Thackeray, who edited the venerable British humor magazine Punch in the 1800s. Just to keep track, this passage quotes Hayward, quoting Wettergreen, quoting Thackeray. Pretty meta, but stay with it:
Now Thackeray’s Book of Snobs was intentionally anti-snobbist and so it seems that snobbery may have had some content, something worthy of opposition. What was it in snobbery that Thackeray opposed? In a perhaps too serious moment, he wrote: “As long as [newspapers publish a "society page"] how the deuce are people whose names are chronicled in it ever to believe themselves the equals of that cringing race which daily reads that abominable trash?” . . .One might argue that Thackeray's opinion was a bit snobbish, but we'll set that aside. Back to Wettergreen:
According to Thackeray, the footman who grovels before the royal footman is equally a snob with the royal footman (or the royalty itself) that expects such groveling. Today, when all footmen have disappeared, Thackeray’s understanding remains: anyone who thinks that he is superior (in a way that society ought to take notice of) is a snob. In the age when groveling is strictly taboo, in the classless society, only the expectation of groveling can produce a snob. Therefore, in modem times snobbery has progressed from the objective condition of the lower or lowest class to the merely subjective preference for an upper class. This late kind of snobbery, almost the reverse of original snobbery, is what Kojeve hopes will save man’s humanity.So let's reel it back a bit. Here's Hayward again:
Likewise, today’s leftists have so fully absorbed their own “betterness” over the rest of us that they can’t be bothered with a serious philosophical defense of it.Based on my experience, there's some truth to this observation, but not enough to be entirely satisfactory. I do pick up on a tone of dismissiveness among many college-educated people, especially from my tribe -- that is, liberal arts majors. Certitude in anything is dangerous. If anything, I'm a lot less certain that I understand the world than I was 20-25 years ago.
Is certitude due to college education? Probably not. I certainly encountered Hegel, Marcuse, Heidegger and Sartre during my college years. And I also read Baudelaire's "The Flowers of Evil." Which brings us back to OutKast.
I suspect that Rick Santorum and many of his critics both believe their **** don't stink. What Santorum's more educated enemies recognize in Santorum is something they often fail to see in themselves, which is certitude. It's no surprise that what often drives Santorum's critics to their greatest rage is his views on matters sexual. It was also no surprise that one of Santorum's greatest enemies, Dan Savage, has turned Santorum's surname into a term for an, ahem, especially nasty byproduct of a specific form of sexual activity. Santorum offers, with his sweater vest and his particular form of piety, a direct challenge that many people had hoped was buried a long time ago.
If you can get by with refusing to deal with someone simply through being dismissive of their concerns, or through ridicule, you're going to come across as a snob, or worse. And Santorum, since he tends to intersperse a measure of ridicule in his piety, throws it right back in a way that pushes people's buttons. This is a populist moment, but not necessarily in an economic sense. Santorum understands this in ways that Mitt Romney never will. In the end, the Santorum candidacy will fail. It deserves to. But by raising these issues, he's giving both sides of the culture war a chance to look at some things that ought to make everyone involved uncomfortable. As Baudelaire said:
Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat,
—Hypocrite lecteur,—mon semblable,—mon frère!