Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Paul Johnson on Europe

Here’s a snippet:

:The last Continental statesman who grasped the historical and cultural context of European unity was Charles de Gaulle. He wanted "the Europe of the Fatherlands (L’Europe des patries)" and at one of his press conferences I recall him referring to "L’Europe de Dante, de Goethe et de Chateaubriand." I interrupted: "Et de Shakespeare, mon General?" He agreed: "Oui! Shakespeare aussi!"

No leading member of the EU elite would use such language today. The EU has no intellectual content. Great writers have no role to play in it, even indirectly, nor have great thinkers or scientists. It is not the Europe of Aquinas, Luther or Calvin--or the Europe of Galileo, Newton and Einstein. Half a century ago, Robert Schumann, first of the founding fathers, often referred in his speeches to Kant and St. Thomas More, Dante and the poet Paul Valery. To him--he said explicitly--building Europe was a "great moral issue." He spoke of "the Soul of Europe." Such thoughts and expressions strike no chord in Brussels today.

Read the whole thing.

Update: Tom Cerber has more thoughts here, linking Johnson’s piece with this one by David Brooks. Here’s Brooks’s concluding paragraph:

Today more people go to college. They may be assigned Rimbaud or Faulkner or even Hemingway. But somehow in adulthood, they tend to have less interest in that stuff than readers 40 years ago.

Why, gentle readers, do you think this is the case? I have my thoughts. What are your’s?

Discussions - 6 Comments

There is no single cause. However, one often overlooked cause is the common condition you find in people, namely, infantilism. People increasingly do not mature, grow into responsible, capable, effective persons. This condition arises because they have no sense of what to grow or develop towards, no hierarchy with which to understand and chart their moral and character development. Instead they remain as children, slaves to their appetites and bereft of the intelect and will to tame and guide them. The life of the mind and soul is not thinkable when the infantile demands of appetite scream "Where is my Mapo!"

In my opinion our tastes have coarsened because of the marketplace. As capitalism has produced a dizzying array of goods and services, Western populations have learned to value what is immediate and what can satisfy baser appetites. The lessons that can be learned from rumination, the awards of dispassionate thinking...these are undervalued and dismissed as "old" and "boring." That’s why we aren’t as inclined to enjoy the God, look what they did to the Illiad in the movie "Troy."

This is one of the reasons why I think the Libertarian worship of the market is misguided (and why I am a Conservative rather than a Libertarian). All human institutions are flawed, and all can lead us into error. In the end, virtue is never automatic...we have to work at it.

Ditto to Dain.
I think that puts conservatives in a strange place. They often criticize godless Europe and even godless America at times. However, they tend to embrace unrestrained "Capitalism", the Wal-Martization of America, etc. Modernity numbs me. Europe has its vices, but we sure do too.

Perhaps Rousseau (or J.J., as I like to call him) was right. We need to escape it all sometimes to find the "sentiment" of our existence. It is difficult to be a philosopher when you are watching "Chaotic: Britney & Kevin" or when you are navigating through the urban sprawl.

I knew if I criticized the market someone would jump on board and say "Yea, capitalism is evil." Well, that wasn’t my intent, nor do I believe that. All institutions must be disciplined by other institutions (checks and balances)...I don’t think government is the right disciplinary institution in many cases. Conservatives would more likely say that government has been the cause of many has been government that has forcefully prevented the family and religion from softening the marketplace, for instance. There has been far too much emphasis on individual rights and not nearly enough respect for community norms and values. Government has been hip-deep in dragging down our moral communities (eg., abortion, tolerance of pornography on 1st Amendment grounds, and yes, even desegregation -- all are antagonist government interventions that shattered community power). So please, don’t misunderstand me...the marketplace is godless and materialist, but that doesn’t mean I want government to control the economy. I do want government to legally enforce community standards and stop trying to "reshape" America.

As for Rousseau, he was a nutjob. His philosophy legitimated totalitarianism, and the French Reign of Terror is his epitaph.

There are a lot of reasons why the classics aren’t read by today’s "modern" man, but nothing I’ve read here that I’d consider the "smoking gun". In order to love good literature, you have to be TAUGHT to love good literature. That requires an interest from your parents,from your schooling, or from someone you admire. The most enjoyable college class I’ve ever attended was one that focused on five early classics: Homer’s Iliad, Virgil’s the Anead, Dante’s Inferno, The Oresteian Trilogy by Aeschylus, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

I was in the Primary Care waiting room at the local military hospital. Most of the people waiting were watching CNN on cable television. The exceptions were my wife and I reading magazines, and a mother and her three children - all reading books. People who love books will read them, even the classics (if someone says something about them that’s interesting). People who "don’t have time for books" will spend their time watching television, and their brains will atrophy. Their children will most probably NOT read more than necessary, and will be shallow and uninteresting to those who read books regularly.

There never were very many people reading the great books. Not many could read them, or can read them. I think the universality of education today has necessarily reduced the average quality of it. Fortunately, it doesn’t take too many of us to preserve great books--and preserve the advice to the right people that reading them is a great joy. So let’s quit bitching about that. Now why can’t you bring back cups and saucers? I’m awfully sick of mugs. And real silver, too. And butter knives. And real butter. And what George III called the most succulent dish on earth, the soft boiled egg.

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