Politics & Policy

This Is Important (Part II)

Aldous Huxley

Editor’s Note: Yesterday, Jay Nordlinger began a series about Roger Kimball’s book The Fortunes of Permanence. For that installment, go here. We continue today.

Talking about Huxley’s book, Brave New World, Kimball writes,

. . . we have not — not quite, not yet — caught up with the situation he describes. We do not — not quite, not yet — inhabit a world in which “mother” and “monogamy” are blasphemous terms from which people have been conditioned to recoil in visceral revulsion. Maybe it will never come to that. (Though monogamy, of course, has long been high on the social and sexual revolutionary’s list of hated institutions.)

I have a story to tell — a couple, actually. Years ago, I knew a woman whose sister was a graduate student in California. The sister was married to a fellow graduate student. But nobody on campus knew they were married: They were living in sin, so to speak — living as a married couple, under cover. The campus community thought they were just living together, as everyone else did. They didn’t want the stigma of being known as married.

As I remember, they had married in order to please their parents. But they didn’t tell anyone else.

Okay, the second story — not quite as good. About ten years ago, I heard a prominent writer sneer at someone else as a “monogamist.” That’s the first time I had ever heard that term as a putdown. In fact, I don’t think I had ever heard the term at all.

But I must report: I have not heard it since.

#ad#‐Again talking about Brave New World, Kimball writes, “Promiscuity is encouraged because it is a prophylactic against emotional depth.” Reading this, I thought, “So true” — which is a thought I had a lot in reading The Fortunes of Permanence.

‐At one point, Kimball has occasion to write, “[C]onsider the recently acquired habit of using the term ‘gender’ when what we mean is ‘sex.’” A couple of weeks ago, I heard an interview with Charles Moore. Thatcher had just died, and he is writing the authorized biography. (Volume I has just appeared.)

In the interview, Moore spoke of the opposition Thatcher faced from certain “Whiggish” types in her own party. The interviewer — young — asked him, “Was it anything to do with her class or her gender?” Moore answered, “I think it was related both to her class and to her sex.”

Now, I don’t think Moore was being rude — I don’t think he was correcting the interviewer, or rebuking him. I think he just couldn’t go along with “gender.” I think the word stuck in his throat. He could not say it.


‐Several times, Roger uses a word I didn’t know: “bootless.” Seems like such a simple English word. But I wasn’t familiar with it: “without result, gain, or advantage; unavailing; useless.”

‐There is a tendency, writes Roger, “to confuse propinquity with possession.” He goes on to say, “We can download a veritable library of material to our computer in a few minutes; that does not mean we have mastered its riches. Information is not synonymous with knowledge, let alone wisdom.”

Reading Roger in this section, I thought of the line, “I resemble that remark.” I am surrounded by materials, as we all are — literary, musical, and otherwise. Never has man had so much at his fingertips. But what do we really master?

I also think this — something I’ve always thought, but something I feel even surer of now: People tend to value something more if they pay for it. If you subscribe to a magazine, i.e., pay for it, do you value it more than the free stuff?

Today, people have virtually the whole of music on YouTube. Are they as appreciative, I wonder, as kids a few generations ago who might have been able to buy a few records a year?

‐Kimball writes, “The problem with computers is not the worlds they give us instant access to but the world they encourage us to neglect.” Roger reminds me of another book by another friend of mine: Mark Helprin’s Digital Barbarism.

In fact, many of the themes of Roger’s book show up in the novels of Mark. Mark, too, is interested in “permanence” — and the struggle of the permanent against the ephemeral, degrading, and cheap.

‐Kimball quotes Matthew Arnold on criticism — whose purpose, said Arnold, is to “create a current of true and fresh ideas,” and “to do this with inflexible honesty.”

Makes me feel better about being a critic (which I am in part of my daily, or weekly, work).

‐Sizing up Susan Sontag, Kimball notes “that curious compact of moral levity and grim self-absorption that has characterized so many partisans of ‘advanced’ opinion . . .”

Recently in this column, I quoted what Joseph Addison said when founding, or co-founding, his magazine, The Spectator: “I shall endeavour to enliven Morality with Wit, and to temper Wit with Morality . . .”

#page#‐Kimball writes, “It has long been obvious that ‘multiculturalism’ is an ornate synonym for ‘anti-Americanism.’ It is anti-Americanism on a peculiar moralistic jag.”

You know, I don’t think I have ever put it so bluntly: but I’m pretty sure I believe it.

‐More frank and true talk from Kimball:

“No taxation without representation” is a splendid demand. But so is “no immigration without assimilation.” Where is the simple imperative that one live up to one’s oaths or face the consequences? If one becomes an American citizen, then one must become an American citizen, with the rights and duties pertaining thereto.

Not long ago in this column, I quoted Roger Ailes: “You are either American or you aren’t. Living here is the only entitlement you need.”

Bartlett’s-worthy (as I said then).

‐“[I]t is always later than you think,” says Kimball, but “it is never too late to start anew.” He continues,

During the Bush [43] years, the French sometimes disparaged the “simplisme” of America’s foreign policy. In their subtlety they ignored the fact that most important truths are — I use the adverb advisedly — terribly simple. Our complexity is much more likely to lead us astray than any simplicity we may follow.

A couple of comments from me — both Reagan-related. Reagan loved to quote Tom Paine: “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” He did this, in particular, during the 1980 campaign. George Will remarked that Paine’s statement was the most un-conservative utterance in history.

Also, Reagan said — many times — “There are simple answers. There are just no easy ones.” That was an important distinction to him (and I got it entirely, even at my tender age).

#ad#‐Kimball writes, “The survival of culture is never a sure thing. No more is its defeat. Our acknowledgement of those twin facts . . . is one important sign of our strength.”

That is almost moving into St. Crispin’s Day territory . . .

‐This is stark — very stark: One of Roger’s chapters is titled “Institutionalizing Our Demise: America vs. Multiculturalism.” That little word, or abbreviation, “vs.” packs a punch.

‐Roger quotes Theodore Roosevelt, to wit, “The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin . . . would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.”

Yes, a certain road to ruin.

‐Maybe I’m the last American to learn this fact: Taking command of Fort McHenry, George Armistead asked for an extra-large flag “so that the British will have no trouble seeing it from a distance.”

About John Hancock’s signature, I knew; about this, no. And the bit about Hancock’s signature — Hancock’s Hancock — seems not to be true.

But it should be true. He should have said, “I will write it so that King George can read it without his spectacles.”

‐Kimball quotes Samuel Huntington on multiculturalism: “anti–European civilization”; “basically an anti-Western ideology.”

Bracing. Hard to argue with.

‐With due approbation, Kimball cites Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s 1992 book, The Disuniting of America. In a recent column, I wrote about this book — calling it “just about the best thing Schlesinger ever did in his life.”

I also said, “Possibly the last book Bill Buckley ever read was Schlesinger’s Journals: 1952-2000. He spoke of this book on my last visit with him.” He was enthralled with the book, calling it marvelous. He also expressed the desire to write a long, long piece on it.

He also confided that there were two references to him in it — both of them mean.

He was a big man, WFB, and so is Roger. If I remember correctly — and I know I do — Schlesinger did not exactly strew his path with roses.

‐Kimball writes of a poll showing that, “while 90 percent of Ivy League students could identify Rosa Parks, only 25 percent could identify the author of the words ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people.’”

He also writes of a study of high-school students — more of whom “knew who Harriet Tubman was than knew that Washington commanded the American army in the Revolution or that Abraham Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation.”

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s been a long while: From about seventh grade through graduate school, I was assigned one of Richard Wright’s books — either Black Boy or Native Son — every year.

Now, this is a bit of an exaggeration — but not much. I’m glad to know Wright, very glad. But I also think my teachers and professors (though not working together, obviously) engaged in overkill. Maybe in a little condescension as well.

I think that’ll be enough for today. Join me tomorrow? Thanks, and see you then.


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.

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