At the very center of conservative thought lies this idea: that the present division of wealth and power corresponds to some deeper reality of human life. Conservatives don’t want to say merely that the present division is what it ought to be, for that would invite a search for some distributive principle—as if it were possible to make a distribution. They want to say that whatever the division of wealth and power is, it naturally is, and that all efforts to change it, temporarily successful in proportion to their bloodiness, must be futile in the end. We are then invited, as in Irving Kristol’s recent Commentary article, to reflect upon the perversity of those who would make the attempt. Like a certain sort of leftist thought, conservative argument seems quickly to shape itself around a rhetoric of motives rather than one of reasons. Kristol is especially adept at that rhetoric and strangely unconcerned about the reductionism it involves. He aims to expose egalitarianism as the ideology of envious and resentful intellectuals. No one else cares about it, he says, except the “new class” of college educated, professional, most importantly, professorial men and women, who hate their bourgeois past (and present) and long for a world of their own making.
I suppose I should have felt, after reading Kristol’s piece, that the decent drapery of my socialist convictions has been stripped away, that I was left naked and shivering, small-minded and self-concerned. Perhaps I did feel a little like that, for my first im- 1 “About Equality,” Commentary, November 1972. pulse was to respond in kind, exposing antiegalitarianism as the ideology of those other intellectuals—”they are mostly professors, of course”—whose spiritual course was sketched some years -ago by the editor of Commentary. But that would be at best a degrading business, and I doubt that my analysis would be any more accurate than Kristol’s. It is better to ignore the motives of these “new men” and focus instead on what they say: that the inequalities we are all familiar with are inherent in our condition, are accepted by ordinary people (like themselves), and are criticized only by the perverse. I think all these assertions are false; I shall try to respond to them in a serious way