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Common Nonsense
February 26, 2001

By Liz Trotta

Heather Mac Donald has earned applause from the right and opprobrium from the left for her trenchant essays exploring ‘the real-world consequences of elite intellectual fads.’

One of Heather Mac Donald's more memorable Christmases occurred at her home in Los Angeles during the 1960s when her brother, a budding revolutionary at the University of California at Berkeley, brought home Chairman Mao posters as family gifts.

"It was the classic idiotic rebellion," she says ruefully. "I was, by default, a liberal because in this culture, if you're not affirmatively conservative, you're a liberal without thought."

Mac Donald, 44, has become one of the most potent voices for conservative intellectual thought in the country, commenting on everything from the Rev. Al Sharpton to welfare cheats. Her new book, The Burden of Bad Ideas: How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society (Ivan R. Dee, $26, 242 pp), has caught the attention of urban planners, academics and politicians.

Mac Donald is not a member of the leggy blonde brigade that serves up volumes of verbiage on TV talk shows.

A tall, dark-haired woman who wears no makeup, she appears occasionally on television but more often writes unseen, working at her desk in her apartment on New York City's Upper East Side. In conversation, she has the wide-eyed look of someone perpetually amazed by what she considers the philosophical lunacy of contemporary culture. "I wasn't a movement conservative” she says, "but then I sat down to write about welfare, talked to people and saw how it had totally destroyed their lives."

When she began her studies in linguistics and comparative literature at Yale University in the 1970s, theories on race, gender and diversity were already in full sway, most of which taught that truth is illusive at best. "Text" is all that matters, went the mantra; the search for facts is a futile exercise.

Mac Donald graduated summa cum laude from Yale in 1978. Two years later, by the time she had earned her master's degree in English on a Mellon fellowship at Cambridge University, the transition from language to identity politics was complete. "I finally realized that my whole college education had been a waste, " she recalls. "Now you have literature professors bragging they never read books. People write law-review articles about the stiffness of their hair. It's all, 'Let's beat up on the whites because they enslaved people of color."'

©2001 The Washington Times

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