Skip to comments.Why I Became a Conservative: A British liberal discovers England's greatest philosopher.
Posted on 02/04/2003 10:13:26 PM PST by JohnHuang2
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I should have said "primo" bookcase, which sits in my living room. (The major part of my library is located in another part of the house.) It's the one that I use for my most cherished books. It's a sort of "grab bag," the sort of thing you'd expect of a generalist of conservative tendencies. Your asking me what's on it gives me a welcome chance to "flog" my favorite books! :^)
There's lots of Eric Voegelin (I'm collecting all his titles over time) and Plato. There's a rather large "Americana" section: works of the Framers (e.g., collected letters of T. Jefferson, Federalist); plus the new John Adams biography; a few years back I was collecting sources of the Framers' thought (e.g., Locke, Hume, Burke, Milton's Areopagitica, Trenchard and Gordon's Cato's Letters). They're all there still. Also critical studies of the founding period by Bernard Baylin (e.g., The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution and The Ideological Origins of American Politics). I have the Autobiography of U.S. Grant (a first edition!), the collected writings of John Calhoun, including his masterful Disquisition on Government.
Then there are writers on American and Western culture, such as Russell Kirk (The Roots of American Order), Richard Weaver (The Southern Tradition at Bay), the Vanderbilt Agrarians (I'll Take My Stand), A. J. Nock (Our Enemy, the State), Frank Chodorov (Fugitive Essays) Jacques Barzun, James Burnham (esp. Suicide of the West); lots of Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams. I only have two works on economics on these shelves: Ludwig von Mises (Human Action) and Joseph Schumpeter (Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy).
Other than Voegelin, Plato, Aristotle, and the Framers' sources, the only other philosophers there: Alasdair McIntyre's After Virtue. Theology: St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John of the Cross, Francis Schaffer (Trilogy), Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, and books by or about Pope John Paul II (including the fine Carl Bernstein biography). Of course, the King James Bible is there.
My science section is a-building: Wolfram, Gleick, Heisenberg, Sir James Jeans, Einstein, and (new accessions!!!) Roger Penrose, Evan Harris Walker, Christopher Wills....
I have Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Also Vilfredo Pareto's Mind and Society.
This bookshelf is relatively poetry and plays "lite": But T.S. Eliot and John Donne are there; also a collection of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Also Dante's Divine Comedy and Milton's Paradise Lost. The plays: T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, Aeschylus' Orestiea, and a collection of Moliere (he just cracks me up!).
I have most of the C.S. Lewis (my favorites: The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce) and G. E. K. Chesterton titles (I love his biographies of Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Francis of Assisi).
It's "fiction-lite", too. Only truly beloved titles are there, including Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov, The Possessed, The Idiot); the collected works of Jane Austin; Boccaccio's Decameron; Sir Thomas Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur; also Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Also one of the greatest autobiographies ever written (IMHO) is there: Whittaker Chambers' Witness, as well as Sam Tannenbaum's excellent critical biography of Chambers.
I think that's about it. Pretty eclectic, no?!
Thanks for asking, A-G. Hugs!
Excellent analysis, Alamo-Girl. But how does one communicate, however, with the neshamah -- in sound bites? I just don't know how it is to be done!
But how does one communicate, however, with the neshamah -- in sound bites?
Actually it is being done, but it requires funding and needs to be directed to non-believers also. An example is the white letter on black billboards you see now and again in Texas. One of them said: "Don't make me come down there!" - God.
Metaphysical naturalists could be targeted with a billboard showing a child helping an elderly person: "Mercy is not an accident of genes."
I'm not creative - but that's the general idea. Tug at the neshama.
John Donne, 1620
I am in at least some meaningful sense reluctant to agree. This love of truth is a very deep, passionate, moving thing, it is not cold and austere. An example. PBS did a segment on a British mathematician (wish I could remember his name) who struggled for years in search of a mathematical proof that had eluded all to that time. Incredible effort, countless hours, were spent over months and years in passionate, passionate, pursuit of that elusive proof. He succeeded. And he had to hold back tears when recalling the moment of truimph for the camera. Does passion always disorder?
Good point, Phaedrus! Perhaps we could bring Alamo-Girl's distinction between nephesh and neshama into play here, so to try an answer to this question. I'd say the passion of nephesh -- that of the lower "animal" nature -- certainly does disorder. But this British mathematician you were speaking of, my guess is that his passion was of the neshama type -- expressing a passion for beauty and truth, and the delight of achieving something lovely, something sublime, that had long been elusive.
What do you think, my friend?
Passion of the nephesh demands gratification. Rape, theft, murder, intoxication, gluttony fall into this category. It is self serving, the politics are Marxist, the worldview is materialistic, the end justifies the means:
Yes, I agree. The longer I live and the more I think about these "things", the more I come to believe that life itself and the manner in which we exercise our Free Will is the lesson, and the first step, if you will, seems to me to be "overcoming the fear" and that requires understanding. A mouthful but FWIW, bb, as always.
A body-soul dichotomy, as with any dualism, is a setup for the tyranny of one over the other. And a prior synthesis or a fundamental arche to the body-soul or form-matter antithesis (I use Kant's word on purpose) is not to be found in Greek or Enlightenment thought (and the Hebrews weren't even Greek!)
cornelis, thank you for your cautionary statements with respect to dualism. Yet I don't see how the body-soul distinction necessarily must be thought of as constituting polar opposites. I imagine there must be a fundamental arche that unites the two at some level, for these two "aspects" need each other to express a human life; i.e., they constitute a unity. Yet given the limitations of language, to speak of either of the aspects requires us to "intend" one or the other; and intentionality implies a kind of artificial uprooting out of the fuller context in which each of the aspects appears and mutually participates in the other. In this sense, it distorts to some degree the thing we're thinking and speaking about. In this sense, "we murder to dissect." So we have to remember that the separation was an artificial one all along.
Does this make any sense?
cornelis: The first step toward a revision is to abandon the notion that these two actions are in some way a polar opposites. Otherwise we will land ourselves in a horrible dualism--something already intimated in suspicion of passion.
The dualism already exists, the conflict has always been there. It was recognized thousands of years ago by the Hebrew word usage in the Bible. It is at the root of Theology - from Judeo/Christian to Eastern Religions. Freud confirmed at least in part the Id and Superego. Both sides practice tyranny within us as we exercise our free will do I watch the soap opera or play with the kid?
IMHO, if we truly wish to communicate - we must tailor the message to the recipient. If its an English audience, we dont speak Spanish. We dont sell ice to Eskimos. And if the audience is particularly sensitive to an issue, thats the one you raise - play the race card to win an acquittal for O.J.
Likewise here conservatism doesnt appeal to the carnal man, the nephesh - so I suggest we speak to the neshama. In other words, why not exploit the difference which already exists to further conservatism?
I do not, and cannot, address the philosophical issues you raise. I only speak to the practical ones how to get the conservative message a fair hearing.
Neither do I, but that is only because of others have made the mistakes before me. The body-soul distinction was just an example. But with respect to the Hebrew, I am afraid we run the risk of building our edifice on the analysis, rather than on what the analysis is contingent on.
I don't blame Alamo-Girl for sticking to her guns here, but as I understand it, we need to make doubly sure whether this dualism which has always been there is fundamental. If you build your epistemology on it, you'll be more Greek than Hebrew.
I acknowledge the danger, cornelis. On the other hand, I don't think that Alamo-Girl means to construct a system, to "build an edifice" here. Personally, I doubt the dualism is fundamental. Yet to speak the language of nephesh and neshama really is to speak the language, not of ontology or epistemology, but rather of metaphor (perhaps even myth). It does allow us a way to account for observable differences between the behavior of the Parisian mob, and what Phaedrus' British mathematician was doing. To that extent, I think it has real value. Plus Alamo-Girl has developed this metaphoric language to account for specific, observable differences between socialist totalitarianism and the conservative position. This seems useful -- just so long as we remember we're dealing with metaphors.
Treating it as a metaphor is fine with me. My concern (and the reason I dared to contribute) is to suggest a way to "get through" to this spectator society (LOL!)
It is a tour de force.