This Is Important (Part V)

Roger Kimball


Something in these pages prompted a memory: of a conversation between Bill Buckley and Vernon Walters (the general, diplomat, CIA official, linguist, and so on). WFB asked his regular, weary question: How can you explain the attractiveness of socialism to the Third World? (The attractiveness of socialism elsewhere was a different though related question.)

Part of Walters’s answer was this, if I remember correctly: Socialism often lets mediocrity vault to power. The lowly sergeant or lieutenant gets to be boss of the whole army. The third-rate economics professor gets to run the finance ministry. And so on.

Oh, was Walters interesting, in addition to experienced.

Kimball discusses a French revolutionary, Sylvain Maréchal, who took to signing himself “l’HSD” — l’Homme sans Dieu, or, Man without God. And I thought of Solzhenitsyn. Do you remember this?

He was born in 1918. So he was a child during the first years of Bolshevik power. Some of the old people around him said, “This all happened because the people forgot God.” That’s the way superstitious, uneducated old people talk.

Solzhenitsyn was a great intellectual. He experienced the Soviet Union for many decades: in the Gulag and out. He devoted many, many hours of thought to the question of the Soviet Union: the whys and wherefores.

And he concluded that he really couldn’t improve on what those old people had said: This all happened because the people forgot God.

Kimball says, “I cannot help receiving the news of socialism’s death with a certain scepticism.” He is absolutely right (despite his British spelling!). Socialism is unkillable. It is always on the prowl, preying on the envious and delusional. The envious and delusional in turn prey on others — society as a whole.

You have to work against socialism, all the time: eternal vigilance. It won’t slink off, defeated. Freedom is more likely to slink off . . .

Roger quotes Adam Smith: “Be assured, my young friend, that there’s a great deal of ruin in a nation.” He then quotes an addition by John O’Sullivan: “especially this nation,” meaning the United States.

About five years ago, I interviewed George Shultz. (For the article, go here.) He said that his late friend and “hero,” Milton Friedman, used to say, “There’s a great deal of ruin in the United States.”

Good. May we lurch on, until we’re on our feet, securely.

Kimball’s final chapter is on “The Anglosphere & the Future of Liberty.” I love a quotation from Madhav Das Nalapat, an Indian scholar: We in the Anglosphere are united by “the blood of the mind” rather than “the blood of the body.”

That’s my kind of blood — the blood of the mind.

There is a link, says Roger — and say many others — between “the English language and the habit of liberty.” But he has “nothing by way of an explanation for this filiation.” I know what he means.

In this book are many words that I didn’t know or that I knew only vaguely — too vaguely to be confident about. I herewith provide a partial list: lucubration, quietism, pullulating, instinct (as an adjective), proleptic, apophasis, vatic, cynosure, metanoia, pleonasm, mythopoesis, refectory, allotrope, imbrication, apostrophize, apodosis.

Roger doesn’t use words such as these because they’re fancy; he uses them because they’re his mots justes, notes in his scale, items in his toolkit. He is at home with them. Anyone else can be too, with a modicum of effort.

Well, I’ve written five installments — and I should probably knock off. I could write five more. The Fortunes of Permanence is that stimulating, that welcome. After reading it, you sit or stand a little straighter. You feel lifted up (even though the book analyzes a lot that is low). You feel richer than before (no matter how much you spent on the book).

A reader of ours — a reader of NRO — wrote me not long ago. He said, “I think I know why those Great Courses tapes are so popular: We need to catch up on the things we missed in school. In elementary school, junior high, high school, and college. Maybe even in graduate school. We were fed so much pap: so much political correctness and multiculturalism and Marxism. We missed out on the good stuff. We need to be nourished.”

This latest book of Roger’s, like all his books, is nourishing. You eat your vegetables, yes. But, as I said before, you get glorious hot-fudge sundaes as well. And even the vegetables are good!

To order Jay Nordlinger’s book Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.