Jorge Luis Borges was bom in 1899, a month before ErnestnHemingway and in the same generation as F. Scott Fitzgerald,nEdmund Wilson, George Orwell, and William Faulkner.nThroughout their lives the writers of this generation had to refusenthe work assigned to them by those who evidendy knewnbetter: that is, writing with “social responsibility.” In practice,nthat meant taking the approved view of imperialism, the classnstruggle, and other manifestations of the decline of the West.nWilson began his career by doing so, changed, and ended up asnour best man of letters. Hemingway began as a great novelistnbut also changed, and ended by praising good causes in bad fiction.nToday a great deal of literature is a branch of politics, andnis intent on celebrating the value of liberalism. It is above allnmoral, and it usually identifies evil with democratic society andngood with the catharsis or cleansing rage of revolution.nX here has, in other words, been a kind of regression to thenUterary values we had before Modernism. Literature is supposednto celebrate an idea and improve the reader. Nowadays, thengood poet turns out to be not Eliot but MacLeish, the goodnnovelist is not Cozzens but Mailer.nBut at the heart of Modernism has been a certain obstinacynabout believing things. Fitzgerald said that he believed in thenpolitics of the left, but he would not write about them. Theynwere, evidendy, too moral for literature and without the ambiguitynof life. The modems wrote in the symbolic mode, butnwith a realist temper. They had litde use for that curious combinationnof beliefe in original human innocence and social guilt.nThey shared what is sometimes called “the tragic view of life.”nThey distrusted Utopias, and one of them probably made it impossiblenfor Utopian politics to be taken seriously for a verynlong time.nOne of the most interesting things about 20th-century literaturenis that our best writers are not prescriptive; only thenmediocre ones are ftill of passionate intensity. The great writersnseem to have been skeptical, and to have resisted ideas. Thenbad ones have been violated by ideas. And their readers in thencultural bureaucracies, the media, teaching, and government,nhave been deeply troubled by such heterodoxy. It is enough tondislike mankind to be in their bad graces, so that even literaturenhundreds of years old comes to be judged for its sweetness,ntoleration, and light. Jonathan Swift, who was worshiped by hisnmany friends, is now viewed as a kind of part-time psychoticnwhile the inimitable Mailer is generally perceived to suffer onlynfi^om moral generosity too hastily applied to literary form.nOne of the greatest rewards of reading Orwell and Eliot andnBorges is that we will not be troubled by virtue. In what mustnhave been a memorable interview a few years ago Borgesnstated—^as he had stated before—^that he did not have his ovwinform of orthodoxy with which to confront the expectations ofnthe intelligentsia. All he had was the traditional objectivity ofnChronicles of Culturen• ON CONSERVATIVE MODERNISTS •nC n M M i: N Innnthe artist. Below is his summation of the making of a conservative:nOnce, I was engaged in conversation with a writer and she suddenlynsaid to me: Tou, as a Conservative, say this,’ And I toldnher: ‘No, I’m not a Conservative: I’m a Radical.’ And she said:n’No, no. You are essentially a Conservative.’ And I realized shenwas right. This was one of the reasons that led me to join thenConservative Party. Besides, I realized that whenever I spokenwith Conservative Mends of mine, I agreed with them onneverything. So I joined the Conservative Party a few days beforenthe elections. Hardoy tried to advise me against it; he toldnme it was absurd, they didn’t have the slightest chance of winning,nand I made this remark I told him: ‘A gentieman is interestednin lost causes only’ And he said to me: ‘Oh, well! In thatncase I won’t say another word.’nIt is a charming and illustrative story. The case is not that thenconservative temper in writing opposes to liberal ideas theirnequal and opposite counterpart: none of the great writers hasnthe remotest intention of defending capitalism againstnsocialism. They assert instead intellectual independence, andnone of the great ironies of our time is that conservatism, whichnis more or less blindly unconscious of the literary and artisticnculture which helps sustain it, has been accompanied in itsn>iW^ Jfn