From The New Criterion: ‘Solzhenitsyn’s Cathedrals’

Thanks, reader:

‘Like Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gulag is literary without being fictional. Indeed, part of its value lies in its bringing to life the real stories of so many ordinary people. When I first began to read it, I feared that a long list of outrages would rapidly prove boring, but to my surprise I could not put the book down.’

and:

‘One lesson of Gulag is that we are all capable of evil, just as Solzhenitsyn himself was. The world is not divided into good people like ourselves and evil people who think differently. “If only it were so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

I believe within the Western canon (traditions, laws, works of art, literature, moral philosophy etc.) there is enough knowledge, experience, and wisdom to light the way.

Take heart, but watch out for yourselves.

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”… From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.New liberty away from Hobbes?: From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’…Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and trendy leftist solidarity to liberalism, but wasn’t exactly classically liberal:  Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Repost: Clive James At The Prospect On Joseph Conrad-Some Links

James revisits many quite original, quite accomplished works.

Of note to this blogger:

‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’

Clive James’ site here.

Michael Dirda on ‘Clive James Last Readings’ review: A Critic’s Final Homage To Literature, Life:’

‘In 30 brief essays James goes on to tell us — in his most digressive, conversational manner — about the books he’s discovered or returned to quite probably for the last time.’

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Not entirely unrelated:

John Gray begins a discussion of his book ‘The Silence Of Animals‘ with a quote from Conrad:

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Added bonus if you act now in the face of no possible objective knowledge.

Part of Bryan Magee’s series:

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Nietzsche directed his thought against Christian morality, secular morality (Kantian and utilitarian), was quite anti-democratic, and anti-Socratic.

Related On This Site:  From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’.

A Few Thoughts On The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry: Nietzsche’s Moral And Political Philosophy..

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Slight Update And Repost-From The New Criterion: Theodore Dalrymple Reviews Ta-Nehisi Coates ‘Between The World And Me’

Jason Hill’s open letter to Coates here.

Dalrymple’s review of Coates:

‘Coates fails to notice that his blanket exoneration of the perpetrators actually dehumanizes them. On his view, when the young perpetrators pull the trigger or thrust the knife in they are only vectors of forces, not agents with purposes, desires, plans, or motives. Therefore they are not really men at all, so that, ironically enough, they become for him Invisible Man writ large.’

Many black writers in America should be recognized as having crossed bridges over chasms in communicating their experiences, experiences which have often made even the best radicalize to some degree in the face of such injustice.

Regardless, I’m guessing we’re all best off if the same high standards are universally applied when it comes to quality of prose, depth of thought, scope of imagination and moral courage.  Good writing deserves as much: Genuine, even if grudging or even if unfettered, respect.

Works of art are going to do what they’re going to do, polemics what they do, and I tend to believe that respect for the freedom, responsibility, agency and complexity of the individual ought to be central.  Realizing the interior lives of others, especially if they’re just characters in a novel, even when they fail miserably and do horrible things, is what I’ve taken to be a core feature of writing which has moved me. This, much more than ideological solidarity and what may be the shared popular sentiment of the moment.

To my mind, there’s something comic about a man (and I can’t be alone) espousing rather radical political views (theories of victim-hood, a lack of individual agency and anti-white racism, postmodern ‘body’ talk etc.) while being feted, possibly with the intent of appeasement and assimilation, by mostly less radical (and often very white) audiences.

That’s got to create some tension.

As to politics and social institutions, sent in by a reader, here’s a talk given by John McWhorter about his views in ‘Losing The Race‘, a man who strikes me as politically amorphous, unsatisfyingly moderate for some, and often very sensible.  As has been the case for a while, there [are] a whole range of views out there:

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From The Liberal Bastions-James Baldwin, Often

James Baldwin’s works are there to be read and thought about, his words and ideas echoing in your mind; your words formed in response.

Take or leave those words and ideas.  You can write a paper, and forget them.  They may deeply move and stir your moral imagination, or not.

Such is freedom.

A lack of freedom is demonstrated by uttering James Baldwin’s words as incantations seeking solidarity; chanted mindlessly by a mob of moral/ideological purists, shouting down anyone who might disagree.

Most of these low-rent, post-Enlightenment ideological re-enactors are happy to become stars; each of their own scripted passion-plays and soapy little dramas; tacitly cradled by the academics and administrators off-camera.


In this blog’s opinion, John Derbyshire has extended his own experiences into broader truth claims about race and empirical reality.  He uses statistics and evidence to bolster his arguments.  There are, frankly, quite a few people who agree with him.

Should one disagree, it must be demonstrated to him, and to others, why he might be wrong.  Derbyshire’s intellectually honest enough to present his arguments clearly and cogently, as presumably he believes what he’s saying is true.

Become part of a much nobler process, dear reader.  Most decent people already know better than to claim all the truth, moral goodness and virtue for themselves.

Related On This Site:   What about black people held in bondage by the laws..the liberation theology of Rev Wright…the progressive vision and the folks over at the Nation gathered piously around John Brown’s body?: Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’……Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”

Race And Free Speech-From Volokh: ‘Philadelphia Mayor Suggests Magazine Article on Race Relations Isn’t Protected by the First Amendment’

Repost-Eugene Volokh At The National Review: ‘Multiculturalism: For or Against?

Via The Future Of Capitalism: ‘The Politics Of The New Yorker’

You know, it just might be possible to nurture experimental literature, poetry and the ‘avant-garde’ without explicit political bias:

Via The Future Of Capitalism, a new editor at The New Yorker opines:

‘Is it necessary for us to have a conservative voice or something like that? We’ve discussed it, but I’m not sure exactly what it would look like. I think The New Yorker’s niche is pretty comfortably in this progressive space and it’s much less of an issue to us than it is to The New York Times.’

I actually might agree on two fronts:  The New Yorker definitely caters to progressive political ideals (a long-term winning strategy?) AND that there’s something loathsome about hiring just to fill quotas.  The idea of letting other people live their own lives and make their own decisions is so crazy it just might work.

The latter is lost on many true-believing progressives, as the presupposed rigged ‘system’ of the oppressor justifies all manner of intrusion into existing institutions through protest, radical unrest and forced quota-systems.

Beware those who would make you care:

Under A Green Moon-Ira Stoll At The New York Sun: ‘Comma in the New Yorker Opens Up Quite a Vista Of Liberal Parochialism’

From The New Yorker: ‘Writing Powered By Amtrak’

 

A Quillette Review Of Mark Lilla And A Default Liberal Political Idealism Common To the Academy

Oliver Traldi at Quillete reviews Mark Lilla- ‘The Once And Future Liberal: After Identity Politics

‘Lilla’s own explanation of his liberalism, given by the book’s structure, is that politics is liberal by definition.

and:

‘Lilla clearly thinks he is making a pragmatic case, but he does not engage with any empirical political science; no numbers of any kind—polls, turnout, what have you—appear in the book.’

Despite the narrowness of understanding and lack of empirical rigor on display (liberal political idealism is the lingua franca of many a humanities department), I don’t mind Lilla’s plea for more national unity and moderate party politics in American life.

Do I really think Democrat donor parties claiming national greatness, neo-liberal economics and an evening of Beatles songs at the Kennedy Center are enough to placate the activists and radicals?

No.

Do I think the old conservative guard and National Review cruises are going to unite the populist, angry and economically left-behind members of the Right, including some actual race-mongers and dangerous ideologues?

No, probably not.

I actually forgive a lot of arts and humanities folks a lack of empirical rigor as long as the pronouncements don’t come too grandiose and self-righteous (I happen to think the great books and Western Civ 101 still hold a vital place in our Republic, despite the recent bad stewardship…I could even tolerate a return to William James and John Dewey).

My immediate take after hearing Lilla discuss the book with current editor of the New Yorker David Remnick was pretty basic: What hand-wringing! These guys deserve to have to re-think their own positions and assumptions.

I’m glad they don’t have much political power over my life:

A quote from Ken Minogue I still find compelling:

-Minogue, Kenneth.  Politics.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1995. (Pg 111).

On the many dangers of political idealism, and using political theory as the limits of your field of vision:

‘We may sum this up by saying that the more the style of what used to be called politics becomes theorized, the more political problems come to be reintrepreted as managerial.  Working out the least oppressive laws under which different and sometimes conflicting groups may live peaceably together is being replaced by manipulation and management of the attitudes different groups take towards each other, with the hope that this will ultimately bring harmony.  In other words, in the new form of society, human beings are becoming the matter which is to be shaped according to the latest moral ideas.’

If you leave your speech up to these folks…:

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What Are You Doing With The Arts & Humanities? There’s Been A Lot Of Bad Stewardship

I suspect a lot of wisdom can be found throughout ‘Western Civ 101’ about the problems of the human heart, human nature and political power.

Apparently, though, such wisdom is being lost on a lot of people these days.  I humbly submit such people should not merely think their ideas will become more justified, their hearts more pure, simply by organizing coalitions with the purpose of gaining political power.

As previously posted:

Ira Stoll here.

‘There was a wonderful article by an editor at the magazine, Mary Norris, about commas. Wonderful, that is, until this passage, “That was during the Reagan Administration, when many of us suspected that Reagan had some form of dementia, but no one could do anything about it. The country was running on automatic.”

Such politicization can make for bad stewardship of the arts, certainly.

Perhaps New Yorker features are increasingly flogged to maintain readership in a competitive marketplace, or are being put to use for other purposes, like reaffirming political ideology and identities to signal the right beliefs and in-group/out-group loyalties.  Many of the liberal pieties can be found on display at the New Yorker.

Unsolicited advice for The New Yorker: Build a wall around your political stable, don’t bet too much on current trends and politicians, and keep other spaces free for the genuinely ‘avant-garde,’ the strange and beautiful, and biting satire when it shows-up.

For further context:

Here’s one senior New Yorker editor, Hendrik Hertzberg, discussing years ago how to abolish the Electoral College, arrive at a National Vote (to better serve the People, of course) and enact ‘democratic change.’

This strikes me as in-line with much Left and Left-liberal majoritarian populism. activism and softly (ultimately hard) radical change.

He has knowledge, of course, regarding what the People (will, should?) want, and why eroding such checks will lead towards more victims enfranchised voters and the ‘good’ society.

Perhaps some of the publishing decisions at the New Yorker make a little more sense…

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As previously posted-A breath of fresh air from George Packer at the New Yorker: ‘Mute Button:

‘The problem with free speech is that it’s hard, and self-censorship is the path of least resistance. But, once you learn to keep yourself from voicing unwelcome thoughts, you forget how to think them—how to think freely at all—and ideas perish at conception. Washiqur Rahman and Avijit Roy had more to fear than most of us, but they lived and died as free men.’

Maybe this kind of moral courage will make a comeback…

As for free speech and public sentiment, perhaps we’ll see where a new speech beachhead lies as the tide recedes from the powerful pull of an activist moon.

The problem with ‘brownstone activism’ may be the material itself:

‘Brownstone is a word used both to refer to a type of building material and structures built or sheathed in it. While it is most closely associated with the Eastern United States, this material was at one point used all over the world in construction, particularly in upper class regions. A distinctive architectural style using brownstone is very familiar to many residents of industrialized nations. Its popularity as a building material waned when builders began to realize that it weathered poorly, and that other materials might be more suitable.’

Soft, crumbly, loosely aggregated, weathers poorly…

Christopher Hitchens at Slate: Yale Surrenders

From The Liberal Bastions-James Baldwin, Often

Repost-Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

***Whom do you trust for discussions of the arts and culture, and would you just rather publications be up front about their ideological bents and loyalties?