For decades, those who represent a defense of the command economy, who have attempted to redefine America’s role in world affairs and are the avatars of nontraditional principles have legitimized their philosophical stance with awards for their version of excellence. For example, the Pulitzer Prize in journalism has become a self-congratulatory award for New York Times and Washington Post writers. The so-called “genius award” conferred by the MacArthur Foundation invariably favors scholars and artists on the ideological left.
Of course, there is little doubt that the nontraditionalists have come to dominate the culture. One might even argue that the counterculture of yesteryear now resides with conservatives.
Hence, it is not surprising - indeed, it is justifiable - that conservatives of a moderate bent would want to honor their confreres who embody the characteristics of tradition, patriotism and the free market. If the culture is a reflection of national sentiments, it seems to me illogical to leave out at least half of scholarly opinion.
Filling this cultural void is the estimable Bradley Foundation, which over the past six years has given out awards to remarkable recipients at a ceremony held at the Kennedy Center.
Despite what detractors contend, the honorees do not share a homogeneous ideological position. However, they are united in love of country and a general, if somewhat ambiguous, devotion to traditional attitudes embodied in Judeo-Christian civilization. They come from all walks of life but are overrepresented by scholars from the Academy.
Most noteworthy, the recipients are serious men and women of accomplishment. This is not an award to bring attention to an ideology. The board at Bradley, responsible for these annual decisions, has done its homework. By any standard, including the criteria employed at the MacArthur Foundation, these Bradley awardees are deserving of honors.
Yet it is instructive that a separate award had to be established for them. If anything, this condition is a reflection of national polarization, a belief that there are sides in the culture war. Facile contentions that we have entered an era of nonpartisanship are not borne out by reality.
Something profound occurred in the “Woodstock years,” and the United States is still living with that legacy. Cynicism insinuated itself into the national DNA as blemishes from the past were superordinated and achievements overlooked. A significant portion of opinion-makers argued we should take pride in what America may become, not in what the nation has already achieved. This view, so evident in the last presidential campaign, has come to dominate elite political opinion.
That is why the Bradley Prizes take on such profound significance. The recipients understand and appreciate that there is much reason to rejoice in our national past and that the past can serve as a guide to our future.
The land of the free and home of the brave can only remain so if we recognize those scholars who put into words and deeds what this nation stands for. In conferring the Bradley Prizes, this foundation in Milwaukee has performed a national service that all Americans should admire.
Herbert London is president of the Hudson Institute, professor emeritus of New York University and author of “Decade of Denial,” Lexington Books, and “America’s Secular Challenge,” Encounter Books.
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