Sainte-Beuve RevisitednIn its recent attempt to dcnigniie ihenliterary status of social critic Tom WoH’c.nMother janes, a magazine of prncmnmunistnscholarship, conceded th;ii his influentialnessay “Radical Chic” was “mnwell written and mostly clearly obsi-ned”nbut then added this bit of nciu-ricncriticism:nYet Wolfe is striking muJi hardernthan a satirist would. His intt-ni ion wa<nreally to do harm, and he siinecdecinbrilliantly.nThis means, of course, that Pope andnSwift were not satirists, according lo .11/nerudition. As far as we know, they reallyndid intend to “do harm” to John [Cartridgenand Colley Gibber.nsigns, and that there is a great chance fornthe modern conservative impulse in thatntruth. However, General Motors is herenand with it have come some modifiedncategories of both social logic and socialnmorality about which St. Thomas couldnhave had only dim premonitions. Wenknow by now that the most successfiil nationsnin history have flourished on thensense of moral and behavioral measure,nwhile victorious empires were built onnsocial convenance. Societies thrive wherenrestraint, principle, norm, moral rule,nconvention, custom, and widely acceptednusage of existential modes arenwoven into a rich social fabric. Oddlynenough, social and behavioral hypocrisy,nprudery, puritanism, have contributednmore to the welfare of large communitiesnthan it is fashionable to admit today. Yetnthere is a caveat here: coercion, moralizing,npreachery, or mere nostalgicnreverie that so often transmutes into petulantnarbitrariness, won’t do. The valuesnenumerated above must be freely acceptednas an archetype for a better lifenLIBERAL CULTURE Hnand perceived as a source of glamorousnsatisfaction and self-advancement. Oncenagain, culture alone is the instmment tonachieve the goal. Speaking today aboutnthe so-called bourgeois culture, no onenpoints out its prevalent ambience ofnsecurity, serenity, dignity, calm gemiitlichkeit.nThose were false impressions—nso say that culture’s rabid critics—justnsuperficial images from a mid-19thcenturyndaguerreotype. Isn’t that, alone,nquite a bit? When else have surfaces—nbefore or after the bourgeois culture’snreign—been gentle, serene, secure? Thencollective soul—if something like thatnexists—of America is plagued by anpalpable foreboding that our civilizationnis cmmbling, and even if a return to thenimages of bygone (mostly not true)nplacidity and quiescence is out of thenquestion, something must be donenabout the cmmbling. Mr. Reagan oncenclaimed to know something about thatnquagmire and what to do about it. Yet,nmidway through his term, he has donennothing to address the issue, to tackle itsnnnmomentousness, if not its eschatology,nneither in terms of practicality, nor ofnmoral guidelines. Still, an expectationnpersists that modern conservatism seemsnqualified to stmcture the answer.nIs Prejudices a step in that direction? Inwould say very much so, but a too-cautiousnone. National Review excoriatednMr. Nisbet for his deviation from thenparty line on the abortion dilemma. Thenjournal’s assessment of his views remindednme of a chat in a waterfront bar with anmuscular sailor who was fiercely antiabortion.nHe maintained that life beginsnwith the first lustfial gaze cast by a male atna chosen female—a far more uncompromisingnopinion than even the mostnpurist prolifer’s. I tried to bring the incertitudesnof science and philosophy intonthe exchange, or even the agonies ofndualism which harrowed the earlynChurch fathers, or the Thomist queriesnabout form and matter, but my attemptsnwere markedly tempered by the easilynperceptible tiiickness of his neck. YetnNational Review has a point, in thatn”something is missing from his [Nisbet’s]nvision of things. . . . Maybe a certainnAristotelian vigor that, instead ofnjust reacting, seeks to define and resolve.”nThe liberal New Republic propoundsna more charitable view:nThe value of this book is that itnreminds us of the harmonies of organicnsociety and the irreplaceablenlosses that occur when they arendestroyed in the name of abstractnprinciples, whether they are thenDeclaration of the Rights of Man ornurban renewal. For Burke that led to ancall for pmdence, for a respect for thenpresent, rooted as it is in the past.nBut New Republic discusses Mr. Nisbetnfrom a position of stiff literalnessnwhich presumes that what he longs for isna simple reinstatement of the dissectednstatus quos of the past—a rather naivenpresumption. Even his most maladroitnglorifications make sense only as legaciesnto be considered for inspection beforenthey are reapportioned, much as onen•MHiOnApril 1983n