January 16, 2006
The Beautiful People vs. The Dutiful People
In his opening
statement to the Judiciary Committee, Judge Samuel Alito told the
senators where he comes from. First, Hamilton Township, N.J., the
modest-income suburb of Trenton, where he grew up.
was a warm, but definitely an unpretentious, down-to-earth community,"
he said. "Most of the adults in the neighborhood were not
college graduates. I attended the public schools. In my spare
time, I played baseball and other sports with my friends. And
I have happy memories and strong memories of those days, and good
memories of the good sense and the decency of my friends and my
neighbors." All positive memories.
described Princeton, "a full 12 miles down the road,"
where he attended college. "And this was a time of great
intellectual excitement for me. Both college and law school opened
up new worlds of ideas." Still all positive. But then he
sounds a negative note: "But this was back in the late 1960s
and early 1970s. It was a time of turmoil at colleges and universities.
And I saw some very smart people and very privileged people behaving
irresponsibly. And I couldn't help making a contrast between some
of the worst of what I saw on the campus and the good sense and
the decency of the people back in my own community."
of the senators, this must have seemed a jarring note. For them,
universities like Princeton are places where young people are
trained to renounce the racism, sexism and all the other evil
-isms that are thought to be endemic in places like Hamilton Township.
But Alito, a man of the highest intellectual ability and deep
learning, sees the contrast another way. Witnessing radicals shut
down a college and bomb university buildings, he saw the left-liberalism
of the campus as an attack on one of civilization's highest institutions.
And he did not think that campus radicals had higher moral standing
than the middle-class people among whom he had grown up.
1960s and early 1970s were a time of cultural conflict, a battle
between what I have called the beautiful people and the dutiful
people. While Manhattan glitterati thronged Leonard Bernstein's
apartment to celebrate the murderous Black Panthers, ordinary
people in the outer boroughs and the far-flung suburbs of New
Jersey like Hamilton Township were going to work, raising their
families, and teaching their children to obey lawful authority
and work their way up in the world.
in the 1970s seized and still hold the cultural commanding heights
of our society -- the universities, the media, the Upper East
Side of Manhattan and the Westside of Los Angeles. But, as the
success of Sam Alito shows, they have not entirely won the hearts
and the minds of the people.
traveled through both Hamilton Township and Princeton. The contrast
between the million-dollar-plus homes and fancy shops of Princeton
and the modest-to-downright- depressing neighborhoods and strip
malls of Hamilton Township was stunning. So, too, are the voting
figures. Princeton voted 76 percent for John Kerry in 2004. Hamilton
Township voted 49.3 percent for George W. Bush and 49.8 percent
today have become our most intellectually corrupt institutions.
University administrators must lie and deny that they use racial
quotas and preferences in admissions, when they devote much of
their energy to doing just that. They must pledge allegiance to
diversity, when their campuses are among the least politically
diverse parts of our society, with speech codes that penalize
dissent and sometimes violent suppression of conservative opinion.
You can go door-to-door in Hamilton Township and find people feeling
free to voice every opinion across the political spectrum. At
Princeton, you will not find many feeling free to dissent from
the Bush-equals-Hitler orthodoxy.
that Sen. Edward Kennedy tried to charge Alito with racism and
sexism because he once belonged to an alumni group critical of
Princeton. Evidently in Kennedy's mind, dissent from campus orthodoxy
is prima facie evidence of bigotry.
I think, is a better example of the things that American universities
before his time stood for: intellectual excellence, free inquiry,
civility in the face of disagreement, commitment to patriotism.
can still find those things at Princeton and other great universities,
here and there -- in the scholarship of Princeton Professors Sean
Wilentz and Robert George, for example. But, to paraphrase William
F. Buckley, I think we're better off seeking guidance from the
first 100 names in the Hamilton Township phone book than from
a random sample of the Princeton faculty. It's comforting that
Judge Alito evidently thinks so, too.
Copyright 2005 US News & World Report
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