South Carolina. Inevitably, he was writing a book about thenSouth. After reading Cash’s The Mind of the South andnattending a few lower-middle-class cocktail parties innCharleston, he had concluded that Southerners were stupid,nignorant, credulous, and bigoted. Of course there were nonrace problems in Buffalo, no ignorance, no religion, and ofncourse he had not run into any cultivated Southerners.nJournalists are hardly alone in preferring ignorance. Onenof modernism’s most charming traits is a blind faith innnaivete and inexperience. I well remember the worstngraduate student in classics I ever met, son of a distinguishednNortheastern art historian. He knew neither Latin nornGreek, but—he assured me — his very lack of training wasna guarantee of freshness and originality. It is, of course,nmuch easier to understand the Iliad from a Monarchnoutline. Original texts, like real experiences, only muddlenthe picture. As Wilde’s Lady Bracknell so sagely observed:n”Ignorance is like a rare, exotic fruit: touch it and the bloomnis gone.”nTravelers were not always so cocksure. Herodotus, thenfirst and best of the literary tourists who have survived,npreserved a sort of boyish simplicity throughout his researches.nIt allowed him to repeat the various sides of a politicalncontroversy, preserving the equally valuable myth alongsidenof plausible accounts. He also swallowed the nonsense fed tonhim by Egyptian priests and tour guides. The result isnfirst-rate reportage — Naipaul without the sneers—brilliantlynarranged as part of a cosmic struggle between Eastnand West. We make do with Jonathan Raban. As PaulnFussell said recently in another context, the age cries out forna Jonathan Swift, and we have to settle for Core Vidal.nVidal might as well stay in Italy all year long (instead ofnjust most of the time), for all he understands of Americannpolitics. I know Americans who like to think the Economistnbeats American publications in covering the US politicalnscene. This is true to the extent that Economist reporters donnot exempt New York liberals from their general contempt.nBut reading about the United States in a European newspapernis a little like watching Ran, Kurosawa’s powerfulnadaptation of Macbeth. Sure, we recognize the story, butnthere is something a little strange about the dress, not to saynthe accent.nAlexis de Tocqueville is usually held up as the example ofna foreigner who understood us better than we understoodnourselves. He was unquestionably a penetrating analyst —nhis writings on France are sufficient to prove that. When henturned his intelligence to things American, the results were anbook that continues to influence the way we look upon ourncountry. But if Tocqueville was an exception, he was still annexception that proves the rule: he came to America with anthesis to prove (or at least a central question to answer), andnhe found the evidence in the townships of New England.nOn the rest of the country, he drew a blank, establishing anpattern to be followed by Mrs. Trollope (who did get tonCincinnati) and other literary visitors.nThe best European observers of American political lifenhave followed in Tocqueville’s footsteps in trying to discovernhow it is that “democracy” works here, but not in othernplaces. Henry Sumner Maine thought the answer could benfound in all the restraints we had laid upon popularngovernment. He predicted, quite correctly, that the Englishnwould do themselves mischief if they attempted to establishnpopular rule without the checks of indirect representation ornfederalism. He also realized that in the democracies of thenfuture, the old corruption of “giving to expectant partisansnplaces paid out of the taxes” would be replaced by a newncorruption of “legislating away the property of one class andntransferring it to another.” In America we called it a NewnDeal. Under the old American system at least, the propertiednclasses would have been able to cut the cards.nTocqueville was among the first foreigners to understandnthat our system worked not so much because the framers ofnthe Constitution were in possession of any special genius asnbecause the facts of day-to-day life in small towns and ruralnareas had taught us the practical lessons of self-government.nOf course, we could have learned the same lessons fromnJefferson and Adams and Patrick Henry, but Americans arenalways overawed by foreigners, especially if one of theirnancestors had been sufficiently bloodthirsty to earn himself antitle. We even kowtow to life peers who virtually purchasentheir titles with money or, worse, with that species ofnchicanery we call public service.nOur gullibility is something extraordinary. What elsenexplains the success of Christopher Hitchens and AlexandernCoekbum in their careers as latter-day Tocquevilles? I cannunderstand how there got to be so many British academicsnin American universities. As one of our editors points out,none’s colleagues won’t endure a talented American, so thenonly way to hire competent scholars is to make sure they’renforeigners. Foreign birth and foreign loyalties present nonobstacle to the work of an historian or classicist.nWith political journalists it is a different story. There is nonevidence that either Mr. Coekbum or Mr. Hitchens knownanything of life in America — or much of anything else, fornthat matter. Poor Hitchens, taking his usual potshots atnconservatives {The Nation, June 11), tries to grapple withnthe question of Michael Dukakis’s standing in the OrthodoxnChuch: “For not having baptized his children he is deniednthe solace of certain sacraments [e.g., communion], but henis not excommunicated.” Like most contributors to ThenNation, Hitchens needs to buy a dictionary.nHitchens may not be more ignorant or more malevolentnthan most American journalists, but we’re stuck with them.nWhy we don’t deport a venomous little toad like AlexandernCoekbum is a mystery. There is altogether too much loosentalk about anti-Semitism in America, but I cannot imaginenwhy else the left puts up with Coekbum.nI wish I could say that conservatives were exempt fromnthe general xenophilic gullibility, but they aren’t. Liberalsnlike John Judis (in his articles in The New Republic) andnDan Himmelfarb (in Commentary) are not entirely off basenin detecting a certain foreign flavor in the American right. (Inonly wish they would get their facts straight. M.E. Bradfordnand Clyde Wilson are not counterreformational, counterrevolut’onarynCatholics, but Jeffersonian Protestants. Don’tnthese guys ever get outside of the Washington-New Yorknaxis?) Conservatives have been, perhaps, excessively preoccupiednwith questions of social stability, hierarchy, and thenmajesty of the state. In this, they have been influenced not anlittle by the distinguished European rightists with whomnthey have made common cause.nOn balance, this influence has been enormously benefi-nnnNOVEMBER 19881 7n