Essays Honor Immutable Truths

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 17, 2012 | Go to article overview

Essays Honor Immutable Truths


Byline: John R. Coyne Jr. SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Roger Kimball, essayist, editor and publisher of the New Criterion, publisher of Encounter Books,a and author of a number of highly regarded books, among them Tenured Radicals, is in many ways a throwback to a time, not that long ago, when there were men of letters and the talk was of literature, life, manners, morals and values - when it was widely understood not only that ideas have consequences, but that those ideas are shaped by immutable truths and values worth defending and preserving.

Those are the ideas and attitudes frequently woven with wit and humor through these splendidly crafted and highly readable essays on a variety of topics, from culture, ideology and politics to literature, architecture and art.

Here's Randall Jarrell, author of Pictures From an Institution and one of our great forgotten 20th-century writers, quoted in a chapter titled Why the Art World Is a Disaster : Some of what she said was technical, and you would have had to be a welder to appreciate it; the rest was aesthetic or generally philosophical, and to appreciate it you would have had to be an imbecile.

In architecture, Mr. Kimball writes approvingly of the Amis principle, after Kingsley Amis. 'Nice things are nicer than nasty ones.' Of music, he asks us to consider what it means to put Sir Elton John on the same level with Bach. In fact, It might also be worth asking what had to happen in English society for there to be such a thing as 'Sir Elton John.' In literature there are appreciations of G.K. Chesterton; the prolific novelist John Buchan, called by Gertrude Himmelfarb the last Victorian ; and Rudyard Kipling, who in his Nobel Prize citation of 1907, Mr. Kimball writes, was praised for his virility of ideas.

There are penetrating essays on Friedrich Hayek and the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, whose observation on Marxism is key to the secret of its appeal: 'One of the causes of the popularity of Marxism among educated people ... was the fact that in its simple form it was very easy.' Like Freudianism, Darwinism and Hegelianism, Mr. Kimball writes, Marxism is a one-key-fits-all-locks philosophy, entailing the operation of a single all-governing process, which thereby offers the illusion of universal explanation.

Among American writers and thinkers, from what Mr. Kimball calls the great pantheon of half-forgotten conservative sages there's Richard Weaver, author of Ideas Have Consequences, the publication of which prompted the quirky Yale polemicist Willmoore Kendall to declare Weaver captain of the anti-liberal team - a team, Mr. Kimball writes, that was only just coming into its own with figures like Weaver and [Russell] Kirk and, just over the horizon, William F. …

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