Years ago at a party I saw, attached to a refrigerator, a season’s worth of tickets to the Chicago Lyric Opera. The combined cost of the seats was over $1,000 and when I teased the host about it she informed me that it was very expensive to be cultured in Chicago. She was incorrect, however. What she should have said is that it’s very expensive to be seen as cultured in our city as there are an infinitesimal number of cheaper means by which one can heighten their sophistication. Perhaps the most obvious at the moment is to purchase Counterpoints: Twenty-five Years of The New Criterion for about 20 bucks.
The New Criterion is the most highbrow of conservative publications and one of the most intellectually rewarding and in these pages only the best of their best is on display; for the mind this is an inspiring feast. A myriad of themes are developed but the one most ubiquitous is that western civilization is in serious decline and it is impossible to know how much further it will deteriorate. In 2007, the radicals are no longer at the gates; they have melted them down and turned them into loud speakers. They have tainted the west’s intellectual inheritance with one of their many interlocking isms, and the young have been persuaded that war, slavery, and dehumanization are our main cultural achievements.
It is here, upon a blistering and torrid battlefield, that The New Criterion asserts itself. Their purpose is in keeping the immortal words of George Santayana that “the best men in all ages keep classic traditions alive.” A standard motif of every issue is to rehabilitate verboten cerebrals or those who do not fit into the sound byte parameters of our society. This volume resurrects a great many figures. The title of a composition by Brooke Allen asks “Who Was Simon Raven?” but readers will no cause to echo her after once they are finished. The same can be said of other unfashionable personages like John Buchan, Leigh Fermor, Milton Avery, F.R. Leavis, and Donald Francis Tovey.
Every person and idea that the journal places into our consciousness acts as a partial antidote to the neurotoxin of political correctness, and builds an infrastructure upon which we can better understand our world. Nowadays, unfortunately, truth exists almost entirely outside the purview of the race, class, and sex Commissars infesting our universities, but were it not for their bizarre and Manichean oppression most of us would have little appreciation for a writer like Michel Houellebecq. Cultural Marxism enables us to feel sympathy towards this semi-ne'er-do-well as we discover that the French put him on trial for “inciting religious hatred” by calling Islam a dumb religion. Our admiration for him is further increased when we discover that he also once rubbed the knee of a reporter from The New York Times after asking her to appear in one of his erotic films.
The late Mordecai Richler’s discussion of Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad illustrates aptly how far we have fallen. Today, one of this nation’s most respected treasures would be as unwelcome among academics as Mr. Houellebecq. Twain’s observations concerning the diverse peoples would earn him a place in the docket at a politically correct show trial. He wholeheartedly agreed with the decision of Muslim women, based on their “atrocious ugliness,” to veil their faces. Twain advised those wishing to see “dwarfs” to head to Genoa, but if they wanted to see “cripples and human monsters” then Constantinople was the place to go. Lines like that would ruin a writer today and place The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on the same vile plane as Mein Kampf.
In a brief resuscitation, Dr. Theodore Dalrymple manages to convincingly persuade his readers in regards to a quintessential question of human existence. “The Epidemiology of Evil” examines the way in which Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde misrepresents evil as being an external force which somehow finds its way into men. He then contrasts this view with the one espoused by James Hogg in his more viable and believable The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Hogg describes evil as a power present within the hearts of men at birth which, given a few millenniums worth of evidence, is a very difficult proposition to refute.
The New Criterion does more than commemorate and enshrine. It also counterattacks which it does in an entertaining and lethal fashion. Its artful and erudite tone does not diminish its impact. This should not surprise us as Evander Holyfield also fought like a gentleman, but woe to the fool who stepped into one of his combinations. Noam Chomsky said, “It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies,” but the sentence has absolutely nothing to do with the linguist and his side-career as political poseur and pseudo-sage. Yet it has everything to do with Keith Windschuttle’s renunciation of him here in one of Counterpoints’ finest articles. Equally powerful is Robert Bork’s “Adversary Jurisprudence” which reveals the full extent of our legal system’s politicization and corruption. Kenneth Minogue’s “‘Christophobia’ and the West” is a haymaker delivered at the Olympian nature of our elites who are above, not only Christianity, but the nation state and the people who live within it. David Pryce-Jones’ piece on Eric Hobsbawm illustrates the disgrace of that communist still being considered a legitimate historian. To the political left, integrity of scholarship is immaterial as long as an academic’s lies continue to fit perfectly into their pre-existing belief system.
My only real criticism of Counterpoints is that the work is slightly mis-described. It is hailed as being the best of a quarter century of The New Criterion, but only draws upon those essays written after 1994. I asked the book’s co-editor, Roger Kimball, why this was the case and he explained that this is actually the journal’s third published collection. Essays from the eighties and early nineties can be found in The New Criterion Reader and Against the Grain: The New Criterion on Art and Intellect at the End of the Twentieth Century.
In these days of insane educational inflation, the most important question to ask in regards to this book is how many college courses is it worth? Five? Ten? Fifteen? I guess the answer depends on the particular university and how “engaged” their professors happen to be. When the search for truth has been abandoned and truth itself has been demoted to one of many competing “perspectives,” the fruit of this journal is one of the few ways in which the young can discern veritas.
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