Edited and written by David Gordon, senior fellow of the Mises Institute and author of four books and thousands of essays.

The Left's Favorite Killer

Summer 1998

David Gelernter
The Free Press, 1997, viii + 158 pgs.

Much of this moving book lies outside the scope of The Mises Review. The Unabomber selected Mr. Gelernter as a target; and in June 1993, a package exploded in his office at Yale University. The blast seriously injured him, and he barely escaped bleeding to death. The book describes in detail the author's stay in the hospital, his slow recovery, and his thoughts about his assailant. I think it fair to say that he does not view the Unabomber with favor.

In the course of his account, Mr. Gelernter sketches a notable theory of American intellectuals. He was led to his account by the reluctance of many people to condemn terrorism resolutely. "When you are trying to figure out how a society thinks and feels, words are the surest route to the truth. In recent years we have gotten into the habit of using 'judgmental' as a pejorative" (p. 10). Unlike an era Mr. Gerlernter loves, the 1930s, when the battle against crime was seen as a struggle between good and evil, in today's America murder and mayhem are often viewed with detachment.

What has led to the change? Our author places much of the blame on intellectuals at elite colleges. Before 1965, and especially before World War II, these colleges were in part "finishing schools" in which the future leaders of society were trained.

Since the 1960s, matters have been quite different. A new breed of detached intellectuals controls the elite schools. "'Don't be judgmental' is a perversity that originates, I believe, with intellectuals.... It's hardly surprising that intellectuals should oppose the making of judgments. In their world tolerance is a cardinal virtue. In fact it comes pretty close to being the only virtue" (p. 62). Mr. Gelernter's theory is intriguing, but is his initial premise sound? Are we indifferent to terrorism? Agree with him or not, Mr. Gelernter has given us much to ponder.


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