Dinesh D'Souza, Letters to a Young Conservative (Basic Books) 229 pp., $22.00.
If all parents of college students woke up to this book, it would out-sell the Bible. And they would enjoy it themselves. Not for a very long time have I read anything so readable and so much fun. You can have a great time being a conservative on the flabby campus of today. This series of letters to a young conservative called "Chris," who is now encountering college amounts to a silver bullet into the heart of Political Correctness, a coagulated version of what once passed as liberalism.
Political Correctness now pervades every university campus, except for a few provincial small schools. At D'Souza's (and my) Dartmouth there are two Republicans in an English Department of more that thirty professors. Zero in the Religion Department. One in Economics. Zero in Romance Languages. You get the idea. None of these is a Sam Nunn Democrat.
And Dartmouth is far from the worst in this respect. Political Correctness is a tyranny of the minority of zealots who are able to terrify otherwise sane people into affirming things they could not possibly believe.
I first became aware of Dinesh D'Souza now more than twenty years ago. He was a charming and bright freshman from Bombay and a liberalish reporter for the rote liberal official Daily Dartmouth. Political Correctness soon offended his penetrating and comic gaze. There, now, is a spot of good news. Dartmouth and like institutions sometimes teach the opposite of what they labor to inculcate. Soon Mr. D'Souza was an early editor of the self-funded and independent Dartmouth Review, which then and these days has caused many a cardiac arrest just where it should. As Solzhenitsyn said, even if the whole world were paved over, soon a blade of grass would rise through a crack in the concrete.
After serving as a policy advisor in the Reagan White House, Mr. D'Souza burst alarmingly on the national scene with Illiberal Education (1991), a withering case study of the effect of affirmative action on five major universities. He showed that affirmative action is not merely a matter of cheating better qualified students in the admissions process. It warps faculty hiring and promotion. It spawns bogus "Studies" programs like Black Studies, Queer Studies, and proliferating Victimologies. Most sinister of all, it distorts the curriculum. Welcome to the curriculum, I, Rigoberta Menchu, an entirely bogus "memoir" of a Latin American phoney victim now a classic of victimology and multiculturalism. Out, out at Stanford goes its established course in Western civilization. In, to the sounds of Kumbaya, came multicultural pablum. Jesse Jackson's trumpet blew the walls down: "Hey, hey, ho,ho, Western Civ has gotta go." Naturally the Stanford faculty caved. As Mr. D'Souza showed in Illiberal Education, "affirmative action" reaches far beyond admissions. It is a comprehensive culture, or anti-culture.
(I was charmed to be reminded in this book that I myself had suggested the working title of Illiberal Education. My suggestion lasted through until the penultimate decision. It was Bend Over, America. Somebody flinhed. We have the good but more prosaic present title of this wonderful book. Who knows, its sales might have swept San Francisco.)
Naturally, Mr. D'Souza and I became good friends at Dartmouth. As the Dartmouth administration labored in vain to suppress The Dartmouth Review, young D'Souza as its editor enjoyed himself uproariously skewering the pompous guardians of the reigning orthodoxies. He rose every dawn to enjoy a new absurdity. Bliss it was in those dawns to be alive, potting one clay pigeon after another.
Out of this, and from his more recent years of experiences on university campuses as a lecturer and debater, arises Letters to a Young Conservative, thirty-one short letters to young "Chris."
If I hit all the high points here, this review would be as long as the book itself. For example, Chris has asked how to fight Political Correctness on his campus. Mr. D'Souza recalls his experiences on The Dartmouth Review, where he saw that the Politically Correct fear laughter as Dracula does the sunrise. We developed, he writes,
a guerrilla strategy that was as effective as it was fun. Where do I start? I don't know. Conduct a survey to find out how many professors in the religion department believe in God. Distribute a pamphlet titled "Feminist Thought" that is made up of blank pages. Establish a Society for Creative Homophobia. Prepare a freshman course guide that lists your college's best, and worst, professors. Publish Maya Angelou's poems alongside a bunch of meaningless doggerel and see whether anyone can tell the difference. Put a picture of death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal on your Web site and instruct people who think he deserves capital punishment to click a button and electrocute him on-line. Whew, I better stop with these suggestions before I get too carried away.
Letters to a Young Conservative is frequently funny, that is, clarifyingly funny,but there is much more here than laughs. Mr. D'Souza begins with a brief and expert description-definition of American conservatism as it has developed its present themes. He then proceeds with thirty letters to Chris on salient matters: multiculturalism, great books, economic opportunity, affirmative action and feminism, postmodernism, leftism among the professoriate, media bias, the Constitution, Lincoln as a good guy (What? Yes, this seems to be a contemporary heresy), gay marriage, immigration, hate-America liberalism, and finally a short, and excellent, reading list for Chris.
His anecdotes from his many experiences as a platform lecturer and debater are often hilarious, and provide Chris with lessons learned from successful icing of Jesse Jackson, Stanley Fish and Jack the Ripper. Apparently at Dartmouth, as Mr. D'Souza observed, I emerged from the seminar room and from my lifelong immersion in Babylonian papyri much more often than I now remember. A sample:
Ave but never vale. The successors of those students are vibrant still in the Dartmouth Review office outrageously locaated on Main Street in Hanover, N.H. What Dinesh D'Souza stood for and still does, along with his DartmouthReview colleagues, now important writers, clergymen, businessmen, members of the top law firms, investment bankers, physicians, policy analysts, and surely a future Supreme Court Justice, simply cannot be defeated, and therefore will not be defeated.
Hart was exactly the opposite of the conservative stereotype. He wore a long raccoon coast around campus, and he smoked long pipes with curvaceous stems. He sometimes wore buttons that said things as "Soak the Poor. In his office was a pincher-like device that he explained was for the purpose of "pinching women you don't want to touch". . .
I remember some of those early dinners at the Hart farmhouse. We drank South American wine and listened to recordings of Ernest Hem- ingway and F.Scott Fitzgerald, and of Robert Frost reading his poems, and Nixon speeches, and comedian Rich Little doing his Nixon imitation, and George C.Scott delivering the opening speech in Patton, and some of Winston Churchill's orations, and the music from the BBC version of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. There was an ethos here, and a sensibility, and it conveyed to me something about conservatism that I had never suspected. Here was a conservatism that was alive, that was engaged with art, music, and literature; that was at the same time ironic, lighthearted, and fun.