A revewer's Notebook
JULY 01, 1965 by JOHN CHAMBERLAIN
Russell Kirk’s excellent John Randolph of Roanoke: A Study in American Politics, which on the date of its first issue in 1951 was a harbinger of modern conservative scholarship, has been republished by Henry Regnery of Chicago (480 pp., $5.95) with new appendices containing Randolph’s more important speeches and a selection of his letters. The new edition is extremely welcome, for it comes at a time when Kirk is under considerable fire from one wing of the conservatives for his attempt to make the thought of the Anglo-Irishman Edmund Burke relevant to an
The main point made by Kirk is that his two intellectual heroes had a common horror of abstraction in political thought such as Locke’s theory of "natural rights," or Tom Paine’s "rights of man." The things men did have a right to, in the Burke (and Randolph) view, were the benefits and traditions incorporated over the ages in their culture and society. "All we have of freedom, all we use and know, this our fathers bought for us, long and long ago," as I seem to remember Kipling. Kirk puts it this way: "Men’s rights, in short, are not mysterious gifts deduced from a priori postulates; they are opportunities or advantages which the stability of a just society bestows upon its members."
I find myself biting on air when I read a sentence like that, for the definition of a "just society" would seem to demand a theory of the nature of man, which gets us back to "rights appropriate to man’s nature," or "natural rights" tout court. But if my sense of logic makes me a Lockean, my temperament makes me a Burkean, for I agree with Kirk (and Burke and Randolph) that the tissue of traditional Anglo-American liberties should not be subjected to sudden change by legislatures—or courts!—prodded by the momentary clamor of pressure groups.
Just as Burke venerated the traditions of his eighteenth century British society,
Men of Honor and Learning
The Burkean reality of Virginia Tidewater life at the end of the eighteenth century was that it produced men of honor and learning.
Old Republicanism required strict construction of the Constitution for the preservation of states’ rights. In economics, it meant Free Trade, for the planters who supported the Old Republicans needed English markets for their crops, and found it more expedient—and cheaper—to trade for English manufactured goods. In foreign affairs, Old Republicanism meant political isolationism, for wars interfered with overseas commerce and put high taxes on agrarians who weren’t prepared to pay them.
But he did pass on the substance of his thought to John Calhoun of
The Problems Remain the Same
If You Don’t Mind My Saying So, Essays on Man and Nature by Joseph Wood Krutch,
Reviewed by: R. M. Thornton and E. A. Opitz
We may not be able to frame a definition of philosophy, but we can, nevertheless, recognize a philosopher when we see one. He would be a man who had served a long and varied apprenticeship: professor of literature at
Krutch wrote a little bombshell of a book in 1929, The Modern Temper, all the more shattering in its conclusion because of its urbane style. The book examines the universe supposedly revealed by modern science, draws some logical conclusions, and calmly demonstrates that the human spirit can no longer be or feel at home in such a universe. Exactly 25 years and many books later, Krutch returned to the general subject in a book called The Measure of
Krutch views his fellow creatures—and himself—with detachment and amused tolerance, so that his strongest criticisms pervade one’s thinking without setting up any unnatural resistance to what he has to say. He does not scold the social scientists for their infatuation with statistics and polls; he pats them on the head with a witty essay entitled "Through Happiness with Slide Rule and Calipers," and they visibly diminish. In "Whom Do We Picket Tonight?" he deflates those who feel called to mind other folk’s business by observing that it is "sometimes easier to head an institute for the study of child guidance than it is to turn one brat into a decent human being." Dealing with those who disparage market competition, he writes: "When men cannot compete for wealth they compete for position, for authority, for influence in the right places. When they cannot own a palace, four automobiles, and ten servants, they manage to get themselves appointed to jobs in connection with which these things are assigned them. More dreadfully still, when these same men find themselves no longer required to pay the common man to do their work for them, they quickly discover that when the profit motive has been abolished, the fear motive affords a very handy substitute."
The things that people of a given period take for granted are answers supplied to them by thinkers whom they might not even know. It is the task of social criticism to confront us with the men we permit to do our thinking for us, to make us aware of our assumptions. Here is Mr Krutch’s thumbnail analysis:
"The fundamental answers which we have on the whole made, and which we continue to accept, were first given in the seventeenth century by Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, and Rene Descartes, and were later elaborated and modernized by Marx and the Darwinians. These basic tenets of our civilization (in chronological but not quite logical order) are:
1) the most important task to which the human mind may devote itself is the ‘control of nature’ through technology (Bacon);
2) man may be completely understood if he is considered to be an animal, making predictable reactions to that desire for pleasure and power to which all his other desires may by analysis be reduced (Hobbes);
3) all animals (man excepted) are pure machines (Descartes);
4) man, Descartes notwithstanding, is also an animal and therefore also a machine (
5) the human condition is not determined by philosophy, religion, or moral ideas because all of these are actually only by-products of social and technological developments which take place independent of man’s will and uninfluenced by the ‘ideologies’ which they generate (Marx)."
Krutch jokingly asserts that his claim to fame is that he knows more about plant life than any other drama critic, and more about the theater than any botanist! Essays in both fields are here, plus pieces on Johnson, Thoreau, and Mencken—whom Krutch regards as the best prose writer of the twentieth century.
Thoreau wrote that he came into the world, not to make it better, but to live in it good or bad. Similarly, Mr. Krutch, who turns a skeptical eye on many of the reforms currently proposed to improve the lot of mankind. He believes that society can be improved only by improving individual men and women and that "saving the world" is, perhaps, a task beyond man’s capacity.
Krutch is proud of having never been taken in by communism, as were so many intellectuals during the past half century. Nor has he worshiped the other false gods of our time—Rationalism, Relativism, Progress, Equality, Science, and Democracy. He discusses attempts to cure educational ills by pouring money into school plant; he shows the fallacies in pacifism, and in the sociology which exhibits a more tender concern for the criminal than for his victim; heis critical of those who would make poverty the scapegoat for all social problems, and who then look to government to rid us of poverty. Mr Krutch distrusts all panaceas, for his faith is placed on the responsible individual. He argues cogently that there is discoverable meaning and purpose in human existence, and that man is a unique creation gifted with the will and the imagination to make a world, not merely submit to one. "Man’s most important characteristic and that which bestows upon him his dignity is his freedom to choose."
Who says a book of essays has to be dull?
The American Colonial Mind And The Classical Tradition by Richard H. Gummere,
Reviewed by Robert M. Thornton
Many early settlers in
"Two ancient ideas were regarded as fundamental by pre-Revolutionary Americans," says Mr. Gummere, "the Greek concept of a colony independent of the mother state, in everything but sentiment and loyalty, and the Law of Nature which took precedence over any man-made legislation." He quotes
True Law is Right Reason, in agreement with Nature; it is of universal value, unchanging and everlasting. It is a sin to alter this law… we cannot be freed from its obligations by senate or people, and we need not look outside ourselves for an expounder. There will not be different laws at
"The high water mark of the classical tradition in colonial writings" is, in Mr. Gummere’s opinion, the correspondence between
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (1812-1826). "These two elder statesmen reveal a mastery of the classics and a practical application of ancient ideas to modern situations." They were, he writes, "at home in all fields of history."
It is precisely this at-homeness in history that is lacking in our age of innovation, with colleges offering practical courses, trivial electives, and quick returns. Here, as at so many points, Albert Jay Nock speaks to our condition:
"The literatures of Greece and Rome," he writes in his Memoirs (p. 81), "comprise the longest, most complete, and most nearly continuous record we have of what the strange creature known as Homo sapiens has been busy about in virtually every department of spiritual, intellectual, and social activity. That record covers nearly twenty-five hundred years in an unbroken stretch…. The mind which has attentively canvassed this record is much more than a disciplined mind, it is an experienced mind. It has come, as Emerson says, into a feeling of immense longevity, and it instinctively views contemporary man and his doings in the perspective set by this profound and weighty experience."
The effort to recover our past might be the most effective way to assure our future.