Writers we should like, but we don’t
It is a strange phenomenon, which may have little or no significance, but I often find that there are authors who I feel I ought to like, but who I just don’t get or else who ‘rub me up the wrong way’ and create irritation and hostility.
An example is John Henry (Cardinal) Newman.
I know just what he means! I do like Cardinal Newman, but there are others writers who I’ve never been able to like, even though I feel like I should. Here’s my big example: Wendell Berry, today’s leading Southern agrarian. I feel like I should like him–all the “right” people do–but every time I start reading one of his essays, I start to feel irritated. That’s my example. What’s yours?
Modern but not liberal?
David Yeago at First Things points to the Lutheran Church’s statement against racial discrimination as proof that one can accept the genuine moral insights of modernity without buying into the dubious anthropology of liberalism. He points out that the the statement does not base itself on a notion of abstract rights or a religion-free “public reason”; rather it argues that “hatred and prejudice” destroy the unity Christ wills for His Church. Ah, but extracting one’s soul from the clutches of liberalism is harder than Yeago realizes. It binds us most strongly in those assumptions we don’t even notice ourselves making. Is it obvious that all preference for our co-ethnics is equivalent to “hatred”? Is it really impossible for such a preference–or, to bring matters from the level of feeling to that of conviction, such a loyalty–to coexist with a charitable desire that all peoples be baptized and saved? If I don’t want race X in my family or business, does that necessarily mean I want them to be damned? Premoderns would have found this claim odd. I don’t find it odd (and there’s no particular race of people I would mind having as coworkers or relatives), but neither do I find it obvious as Yeago seems to. It is in fact this very conflation of particular loyalties with “hatred of the Other” that is one of the most dangerous ideas in the liberal arsenal.
Wodehouse and the Germans
Has there ever been an alliance more obnoxiously self-righteous than the allies of World War II? Even today, we’re still supposed to be outraged by the perfidy, not only of the Axis powers, but of countries that were neutral. How dare they keep out of the great crusade! Take England’s persecution of one of her greatest writers, a man who did absolutely nothing wrong. Talking pleasantly to Germans is treason, don’t you know? This article is still a lot of fun because it’s peppered with Wodehouse quotes. I have trouble remembering the plot to any of the Jeeves books, but that’s not the point. The man used the English language to brilliant comic effect.
I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.
[He] looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say When!
The Woosters are chivalrous, but they can speak their minds. [She was a] droopy, soupy, sentimental exhibit, with melting eyes and a cooing voice and the most extraordinary views on such things as stars and rabbits. I remember her telling me once that rabbits were gnomes in attendance on the Fairy Queen and that the stars were God’s daisy chain. Perfect rot, of course. They’re nothing of the sort.
Having read this summary of the book, I find myself surprisingly sympathetic to the arguments in favor of hate speech laws put forward in Jeremy Waldron’s new book. Of course, I’m sure that I would be among the first hauled into jail if he had his way, but I’m always pleased when a liberal starts to realize that the common good must sometimes win out over abstract individual rights. His argument for banning hate speech–probably the best argument that can be made for it given America’s legal traditions–is that such speech is libel against groups. Well then, let’s follow the logic of that. Suppose the Lefties brought us to court for our group libels. Could they prove both that our claims about privileged minorities are untrue and that we ourselves don’t believe them to be true?