The emergence of a previously unknown and uncharacteristically fiery essay by Lionel Trilling is all the buzz in intellectual circles. Our stringers at far-flung camupuses report the excitement at faculty clubs and academic production centers where Trilling's essays in criticism, particularly those written between 1940 and his death in 1975, command a respect accorded to few contemporaries, not because he had a penchant for oracular pronouncements (he did not) but because of the nuanced style of exposition in his writing, which reflected a mind of immense subtlety, irony, and complexity. By indirections he found directions out.
The reputation for what champions admired as subtlety (and detractors considerd coyness) may change with the posthumous appearance of an essay Trilling was said to have begun in 1967 but never completed to his satisfaction. The essay's working title was "I Hate the Liberals." Victor Mathis, the archivist who discovered the draft in Trilling's papers, insisted that marginal handwritten comments in the legendary Columbia prof's distinctive script imply "that this jest was a place-holder for an ultimate title along the lines of 'The Liberal Dilemma in an Age of Economic Decline'."
That Trilling, author of "The Liberal Imagination," had commenced on an essay critical of New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay and of what was vulgarly known as "limousine liberalism," a phrase Trilling dissects, made news wherever talking heads shmooze. "It's like an intellectual version of Tom Wolfe's outing of Leonard Bernstein's black panther party as 'radical chic'," said Jenna Clauss of the Brookings Institute. Marvin Murdeck of the McLuhan School of Publc Information emphasized that the title, though evidently a joke Trilling enjoyed, was "deliberately reductive of his thoughts on the whole question of political hypocrisy among union-smashing NIMBY elites who are incredibly full of shit but should not be cariacatured nevertheless."
Handmade signs declaring "I Hate the Liberals" have sprung up in affluent parts of Ann Arbor, Madison, Colorado Springs, Ithaca, Providence, Rhode Island, and Evanston, Illinois. Some say this is happening in the spirit of a joke. "It's post-modernism, man," said Josh Lucas, a freshperson at Northwestern, who has not yet declared a major but is leaning toward sociology. But there are those who see in the outpouring of anti-liberal sentiment the hyperbolic release of impulses long repressed. Professor Leon Elson, the Hayte-Jacques Professor of Applied Kenesiology at Florida Ache, compares the "I Hate the Liberals" fad with people screaming out the windows, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more." Elson's point: "It's not so much a matter of art following life, or life following art, but life following life, and art, art, depending on how you define it."