In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Norman Podhoretz emerged from semi-retirement to express his approval for Sarah Palin . No, I don’t propose to revisit the Sarah, pro- and con- debate, which will remain sterile and tedious until she actually, like, runs for something (or not). But I do want to suggest a revision to Podohoretz’s interpretation of William F. Buckley’s of most famous and, I think, misunderstood remark: that he’d rather be governed by the first 2000 names in the Boston phonebook than the combined faculties of Harvard and MIT.

Now Podhoretz admits that what Buckley meant is not immediately clear. Neverthless, he, like almost everyone else, takes it as endorsement of populism. Better Joe the Plumber—or, perhaps, Al the Electrician—than Quincy Mather Winthrop, the Lowell Professor of 14th Century Central Asian Aesthetics. Well, maybe so. But the thing about the phonebook is that the people it lists are pretty randomly distributed. And 2000 is a lot a names, which could very well include a few of the good professor’s colleges in addition to a healthy majority of regular folks.

So it seems that Buckley was suggesting that it’s better to be governed by something like a representative sample of the population as whole than a guild of professors. Which is even more plausible than betting on the individual Al rather than the individual Quincy.  On the other hand, there’s likely to be a place in that sample for intellectuals, even if a smaller one than they often think they deserve.

Articles by Samuel Goldman

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