A prophet and a polemicist, David Gelernter displays anything but a light touch in this attack on “imperial academia” and what it has wrought.  Like most prophets, Gelernter the polemicist hopes to be proved wrong.  Perhaps, with our culture dismantled and the “Obama­crats” in charge, the contest is over—game, set, and match.  Tennis was once a WASP game in America, and America a WASP-dominated country.  The new elite comprises what Gelernter calls post-religious globalist intellectuals (PORGIs), who today are as supreme and as supremely confident as the WASPs once were.

Though his name never appears in these pages, the first PORGI was arguably a WASP of more than minor importance named Woodrow Wilson.  A product of Princeton and Johns Hopkins, Wilson was a devotee of the German administrative state and a version of cosmopolitan internationalism.  Gelernter argues that the cultural revolution we associate with the 1960’s was already well under way in the 50’s, when Wilson’s PORGI successors first manifested in elite American colleges.  Once this collegiate beachhead was established, the coming elite then trained its sights on the Democratic Party, which it captured with the nomination of George McGovern and the subsequent transformation of the party.  After fits and starts, from Jimmy Carter through John Kerry, the new elite and its party took the country in the perfect storm of 2008 and elected the personification of the type as its mouthpiece.

Professor Gelernter is intimately familiar with the story of the “long march” of the victors, their fellow travelers, and their useful idiots through the American academy that laid waste to his own Yale University, which changed from a WASPish “social college” to a bastion of PORGIism in little more than two decades, initiating the “steady seep” that continues to poison the country’s entire educational system.  David Gelernter, despite his Yale professorship, is a populist of sorts who puts his faith in “each and every citizen” rather than in any elite.  Certainly, he does not advocate the revival of WASP America, assuming that were possible.  Lacking self-confidence and strength of will at the start of the cultural revolution, their sting, like their day, is long gone.

Nor does Gelernter have hope in the conservative establishment, too many of whom are convinced that the country’s problems are at bottom economic, not “social, cultural, educational and (above all) spiritual.”  Even so, the immediate problem is the dominance of the “educated, but ignorant” elite that promotes and sells what Gelernter calls “America-Lite.”

Yet there is a depth to this country that WASPs never appreciated and PORGIs cannot fathom.  While a half-century of PORGIfication has indeed done considerable damage, the real America remains alive, if not entirely well.  A great many Americans remain stubbornly resistant to what the new elite has in store for them.  That elite prefers theories to facts, a mental weakness that inclines them to “beliefs that are silly and false,” not to mention dangerous.  Ignorant and ideological, the elite knows just enough American history to convince them that Americans must be denied an understanding of the truths of their history, the history of the American founding especially.  As Gelernter says, “with no past, you are no one . . . Globalism [then] becomes natural and patriotism impossible.”

One saving grace of the WASP was his patriotism.  The new elite, by contrast, has divorced itself from this—or any—country.  The WASP took his superiority for granted, and with it his duty to “nudge” his fellow Americans “upward.”  His successors are concerned with “hoisting and hurling” those beneath them into a statist “PORGI paradise.”  Among the many attendant problems is that this envisioned paradise has little, if anything, to do with the history and traditions of this—or any—particular country.  It also has little to do with historical reality.

David Gelernter has not surrendered to pessimism.  Convinced that the New America is a house of cards, he refuses to back down without a fight.  The wild card, he thinks, is the average American citizen.  Does he really believe that our problems are fundamentally spiritual ones?  Is he inoculated against what Henry James termed the “ulcer of envy”?  Is Mary McCarthy’s “Man in the Brooks Brothers Suit” still justified in his belief that “every working man wants to live the way I do.  He doesn’t want me to live the way he does”?  Time will tell.

Gelernter predicts that one of two things will happen, sooner rather than later: Either the country will come crashing down, or the “PORGI empire” will collapse.  This book represents David Gelernter’s bet that the country can still defeat the empire.


[America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered in the Obamacrats), by David Gelernter (New York: Encounter Books) 185 pp., $23.99]