A recent article in the Weekly Standard by Andrew Ferguson usefully details NEH Chairman James Leach’s various incoherent and grandiloquent pronouncements. Ferguson’s main point is that Leach’s oft-evoked ”civility” is really a New Civility, going beyond mere manners and etiquette (which is the Old Civility, says Ferguson), to what amounts to agreeing with the PC status quo. In Leach’s words, there are “those who seek unity by respecting diversity,” as opposed to “those who press debilitating cultural wars or extreme ideological agendas,” that is, anyone who cares about standards.
I’ve been interested in another example of Leach’s fuzziness, what he said about Lawrence Durell’s Alexandria Quartet, from which the NEH Chairman took what he thought were lessons for today. Although the Quartet does give four different perspectives on more or less the same events, the book as a whole does not support Leach’s idea of diversity, how people of different backgrounds see reality differently. The larger vision one gets from the whole work, whether Durell intended it or not, is that the Europeans badly lose their way in the Egyptian Muslim culture, and, to a certain extent, in the Coptic Christian culture as well. They mostly wind up leaving and the main character who is a central figure of interest for all the others emigrates to Palestine to work toward the Jewish state, which she believes will salvage the Mideast.