On the whole, if we know what a person thinks about any one given political issue, we can usually guess where he or she stands on most other issues. The range of possible political positions in our culture is, by itself, already narrow. But this range is narrowed even further by the fact that only certain contingent combinations of these positions seem to be culturally permissible. Thus, we meet very few pro-life socialists in America — both because there are very few socialists in America, period, and because the socialists that do exist are very unlikely to be pro-life.
This is why I was delighted to see that Wendell Berry had been chosen to give the 2012 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities last month in Washington, D.C. The National Endowment for the Humanities describes the Jefferson Lecture as “the highest honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual and public achievement in the humanities.” Berry is a man who stands in stark contrast to our cramped and rigid public intellectual culture. Spotlighting him with this lecture allowed the American public to see that there is intellectual life beyond simplistic left-right dichotomies.