Essays Gathered to Celebrate, Lament Modern Intellectual rigors.(BOOKS)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 6, 2002 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Essays Gathered to Celebrate, Lament Modern Intellectual rigors.(BOOKS)


As a general rule, book editors show little enthusiasm for collections of the occasional essays. Even if well written, they are likely to seem dated and to lack a unifying theme. When, however, they come from the pen of a writer as practiced as Roger Kimball, they can retain their freshness and exhibit a satisfying coherence. Mr. Kimball is managing editor of the New Criterion, a monthly review in the tradition of T. S. Eliot's Criterion, and so dedicated to the uncertain survival of high culture.

Broadly and well educated, Mr. Kimball writes with insight and verve on a remarkably wide range of artistic, literary, and philosophical matters while taking the role and record of modern intellectuals as his special province. Most of the essays gathered here were prompted by new publications, but they offer extended reflections on famous and undeservedly neglected "lives of the mind."

The guiding theme of "Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse," Mr. Kimball tells us, is that intelligence may be abused as well as used to good purpose. Like the rather obscure Australian philosopher David Stove (1927-94), whom he greatly admires, he thinks that the abuse of intelligence is almost always a result of some defect in character. Like Stove too, he is, as readers of an earlier work, "Tenured Radicals," know, at his best when on the attack.

Although not always entirely fair; for example, Mr. Kimball makes mincemeat of Georg Hegel and other "academic professors of philosophy" whose livelihood "is bound up with verbal legerdemain." Naturally, then, he thinks highly of Soren Kierkegaard's famous attack on Hegelianism, his use of intelligence to battle overweening intelligence. At the same time, however, he sees weakness of character in the way SK nursed his melancholy. W.H. Auden was right, he believes, that one searches the gloomy existentialist's writings in vain for any recognition that "whatever sorrows and sufferings a man may have to endure, it is nevertheless, a miraculous blessing to be alive."

Something similar might be said of Bertrand Russell's oeuvre. Certainly no one who has read Ray Monk's two-volume biography of Russell can be unaware of that brilliant mind's character flaws. Aside from an addiction to "causes," Mr. Kimball calls particular attention to what he regards as Russell's craving for disillusionment, a perverse desire he believes to be typical of the kind of intellectual who prides himself on his ability to "see through" and unmask the manners and morals that give direction to the lives of others.

Although Mr. Kimball admits to being an "intellectual pathologist," he does not overlook those who in his judgement have turned intelligence to good account, those who possess common sense because they maintain a "healthy contact with reality." He praises Raymond Aron, for example, as one who upheld common sense at a time in French history when it was in short supply, the postwar period when Jean-Paul Sartre ad Maurice Merleau-Ponty employed Hegel's (Karl Marx's) dialectic to prove that humanism, rightly understood, was Soviet terror.

In Alexis de Tocqueville, Aron's master, Mr. Kimball sees the incarnation of that conservative liberalism to which he himself inclines.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Essays Gathered to Celebrate, Lament Modern Intellectual rigors.(BOOKS)


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?