Snow Patrol

This exchange between Austin Bramwell and Will Wilkinson on skiers vs. snowboarders is absolutely priceless (full disclosure: I enjoy both activities), but Bramwell concludes with an interesting point:

Second, as much fun as it is to describe skier-snowboard conflict in sociological terms, I consciously avoided doing so myself. Some readers even e-mailed me to complain that I neglected to mention snowboarders bad manners on the slopes. (Wilkinson, on the other hand, imagines that snowboarders’ vulgarity was the very focus of my rant.) I chose not do so, for the reason that skier-snowboarder conflict is fundamentally economic: that is, it is a matter of control over scarce resources. Snowboarders hog the good snow, the trail space, even the peaceful mountain air. There is really no need to explain the antagonism as a matter of class or ethnic conflict when simple economic models will do.

Finally, I can’t see how “the quaint essence of elite American conservatism” is “a sense of grievance at the loss of exclusive WASP folkways.” The American conservative movement was largely founded by and continues to be dominated by ethnic whites (Frank Meyer, William F. Buckley, Milton Friedman, Brent Bozell, &c). Sociologically speaking, American conservatism was born out of hostility to the liberal WASP establishment. (See my 2001 my retrospective on God and Man at Yale.) Indeed, one could say that the conservative movement struck the first blow against the WASP establishment. The 1960s New Left struck the second, but by then the damage had been done. I don’t know anyone from a patrician WASP family who has particularly reactionary politics. They instead devote their political energies to protecting abortion rights and conserving the environment. Probably a greater percentage of Protestant Establishment types now register Democrat than ever before.

Although I’m confused by Buckley’s inclusion in the “white ethnics” sub-group (Is professing Catholicism enough to join the club? Paging Lord Baltimore . . .), I think Bramwell is basically correct. I also think this highlights certain changes within the United States’ elite cultural institutions. If the university replaces the country club as the nation’s breeding ground for political leadership, we shouldn’t be surprised when politicians’ legislative priorities reflect the prejudices of their formative environment.

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