Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Nobility of Spirit: A Forgotten Ideal

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Nobility of Spirit: A Forgotten Ideal

Article excerpt

BRIEFLY NOTED NOBILITY OF SPIRIT: A FORGOTTEN IDEAL by Rob Riemen Yale, 160 pages, $22

This is an admirable but rather feckless attempt to erect a bulwark against the tide of egalitarianism that has been running so strongly for the last century. But nobility of spirit, like other kinds of nobility, is not really "a forgotten ideal." Instead it has been quite deliberately and emphatically rejected. Rob Riemen can be persuasive in making the connection between egalitarianism and nihilism, but at times he writes as if people have chosen nihilism by some ghasdy mistake and not because they like it better than his alternative.

His heroes include Thomas Mann, Socrates, Spinoza, Dostoevsky, Herzen, and Camus, and he presents them to us here as if they were all members of the same fanclub-agreed in all essentials about the nature of truth, free inquiry, and nobility of spirit. Similarly, the dark forces working against freedom, transcendence, and the nobility of spirit are conveniently embodied in the person of the anonymous Roman Catholic priest with a swastika in the place of his pectoral cross who at the climax of the book is imagined as lecturing in the style of Dostoyevsky s Grand Inquisitor the anti-fascist martyr Leone Ginzburg as the latter languishes in the Regina Coeli prison in Rome shortly before his murder by the Gestapo in 1944. …

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