Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Kipling and us

Bill Kristol, amazingly (and indelicately?) and in the New York Times, brings Kipling (via George Orwell) into our current political discussions. I guess when you get to Bill’s status, you don’t have to worry about the prudence of such a thing. No matter. I like the idea in part because I use Kipling for his language (at least), in which, he is still without peer. Any of the Just So Stories will do, but this one is the best. It’s about men and women, and cats and dogs, the beginning of things, and trust. Read it aloud, please, even if you aren’t reading it to a child.

Discussions - 10 Comments

This, perhaps, is the essay referenced by Mr. Kristol. I use Orwell when teaching about essays, and now can use Kristol, referring to Orwell, referring to Kipling in my next class. Perfect.

Quoted in the essay: If, drunk with sight of power, we loose Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe, Such boastings as the Gentiles use, Or lesser breeds without the Law— Lord God of hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget—lest we forget! and the question is, was Kipling a Fascist?

Orwell manages to be so timely while so of a time. That's why I use him, because young people need to know that "then" can be timely.

The story you reference is, indeed, a very good one. I chose that story to read to my son's and my daughter's kindergarten classes when it was my turn to read aloud. Both times there were groans when I started as the children noted the length of the story--which, as it happens, is longer than most of the picture books they're accustomed to hear read. But the end result was also the same both times. There was not a sound in the room . . . no inappropriate giggles or wiggles (but certainly plenty in the right places); they hung on every word. My own kids love the story too and we have a very nice picture version that has made it a big favorite in our house. But my son probably prefers this one if for no other reason than it has a bi-colored python rock snake (how cool is that) in it and you get to say "great grey-green greasy Limpopo River all set about by fever trees" about a hundred times. And then, in the end, the kid gets to spank the grown ups.

For my daughter and for me, however, the best of all the Just So stories is clearly this one. It is the funniest and the truest and the one that is the most inspiring for a young girl's imagination and pleasing to an old girl's memory.

As to the prudence of Kristol's argument . . . I don't know about that. Perhaps that's the trouble of having a weekly column and having always to be clever and fresh and thoughtful? But perhaps this is a time for an audacious argument?

I am quite certain that it was not the Just so Stories that Kristol would have Democrats read. That was why I linked to the Orwell essay to which Kristol refers.


Orwell does not particularly like Kipling's poetry, A good bad poem is a graceful monument to the obvious. It records in memorable form—for verse is a mnemonic device, among other things—some emotion which very nearly every human being can share.... Such poems are a kind of rhyming proverb, and it is a fact that definitely popular poetry is usually gnomic or sententious. Oh. Well. I still like it.


However, One reason for Kipling’s power as a good bad poet I have already suggested—his sense of responsibility... Kipling was a Conservative, a thing that does not exist nowadays. Beyond his poetry, (and we might not be inclined to read Barrack Room Ballads to our children) but every child should read Kim to understand the sense of responsibility and its application by colonialists.

Maybe we could make If required reading before taking the oaths of office. It is obvious, as Orwell might put it, proverbial, and also responsible.

I am planning a seminar for next year on courage and prudence. I hadn't thought of Kipling and Orwell, but I now know I should.

Forgive my thick head, but what is imprudent or audacious about Kristol's piece?

JC, touching Kipling, or bringing him into the debate as any kind of exemplar takes a bit of nerve. As Orwell says, Kipling is a jingo imperialist, he is morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting. While some of us here might take issue with the "aesthetically disgusting" part, the rest is nearly inarguable. To say we need to look to a "jingo imperialist" for inspiration, who might have some good points to his perspective, as noted above, is to kindly ignore some of the implications of the whole of Kipling's work.

Read
The White Man's Burden and maybe you'll see what I mean.

I thought Schramm's point was that Orwell's Kipling sharpens our understanding of Orwell and permits us, so to speak, to read Kipling.

Kate,
When we look around the globe and see that every corner of the civilized world has profitted from being a former part of the British Empire its difficult not to excuse Kipling's jingoistic imperialism. I would add that the America is neither jingoistic nor imperial and too morally sensitive and that may be part of the problem in world affairs.

Steve Thomas, maybe you are right. I can't claim to understand Dr. Schramm quite to that extent, but he certainly permits us to read Kipling. Indeed, he insists on it. That last line is an imperative.

JC, yes, I agree with you, mostly, about the British Empire, although the benefits seem to wane over time - Uganda, Zimbabwe, Kenya. Maybe they weren't in Africa (or Iraq) long enough.


Yet it IS good to look at Kipling through Orwell's eyes, who looks through Kipling's insensitivities (and the good bad poetry) to see his virtues and what he was sensitive to, like the responsibility of governance. Kristol points at the excessive moral sensitivity of Democrats and suggests that it is making them irresponsible in governance. I'll buy that.


I also liked this from Orwell,

All left-wing parties in the highly industrialized countries are at bottom a sham, because they make it their business to fight against something which they do not really wish to destroy.

They'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, but if America is defeated, is that ever going to happen? It may not happen, anyway, but if it did the voices of America's left would sure be stilled. Middle Eastern music is not known for its harmonies.

Peter,
Giving credit to NLT, I sent the great Kipling story to many, including some bloggers.
BTW Peter, every time I try to send you an email at your Ashbrook address it's always rejected, some "BKUNKEL" problem.
Here's what I'm using peter.w.schramm@ashbrook.org, what should I be using?

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