The Corner


‘Ringing True Again’

John Dos Passos (Library of Congress)

My Impromptus today begins with an old topic: the role (if any) of morality or values in American foreign policy. It continues with an old label that is new again: “enemies of the people.” Then goes to the U.S.–Russia relationship. And concludes with a smattering of items, not all of them weighty.

Here on the Corner, I would like to mention something about Kevin’s column yesterday — his “Tuesday.” KDW writes, “We need honest language for deceitful times, precise language for vague ones.”

A bunch of us in the National Review Institute world are reading and discussing Up from Liberalism, WFB’s 1959 book. (Confusingly, Richard M. Weaver wrote a long autobiographical essay with the same title shortly before the WFB book came out.) The foreword to the book is by John Dos Passos, the novelist, essayist, and journalist who started on the radical left and wound up writing for NR. Indeed, he covered the 1964 Republican convention for us.

“Dos,” as his friends and colleagues called him — rhymes with “Haas,” as WFB told me — begins his foreword,

The first duty of a man trying to plot a course for clear thinking is to produce words that really apply to the situations he is trying to describe. I don’t mean a fresh set of neologisms devised, like thieves’ cant or doubletalk, to hold the uninitiated at arm’s length. . . . Plain English will do quite well enough, but the good old words have to be brought back to life by being used in their original sense for a change.

Only through a fresh approach, maybe through a variety of fresh approaches, can the terms through which we try to understand the events that govern our lives be reminted to the point of ringing true again.

As you know, WFB won esteem far outside the “tribe” of the Right. He aimed beyond tribe and succeeded in his aims. Earlier this month, I had a column that mentioned and quoted WFB, and received this note:

Anytime someone brings William F. Buckley into an article, they win my approval. No, I am not a “conservative” right-winger. I just admire Mr. Buckley. . . . I think of him as a man who ran for mayor and proposed a bikeway to lessen traffic and pollution. I think of him as an intellectual who believed in open discussion of ideas. . . .

A different reader wrote,

I enjoyed a lot of William F. Buckley’s writing, although I disagreed with most of his politics and virtually all of his religious opinions. (Me being an atheist.) Still, I respected his spirit.

I love language-related topics — including English grammar and vocabulary, Chinese languages, and Semitic languages. I’m also a bit obsessed with linguistics, especially questions regarding the origins of the Chinese writing system.

I’m 77 years old. I flunked out of college twice, leading to a 20-year career in the U. S. Army (1962–82). I was trained in Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, and Egyptian Arabic. After 22 years of non-use, my Mandarin is still pretty good, my Japanese is barely fair, and my Arabic is just a hair shy of nonexistent.

I spent most of my Army career in Military Intelligence and Psychological Operations, which included 20 months in Taiwan and 7.5 years in Japan. I finished up as a Master Sergeant. Since then I’ve mostly been a Mac programmer.

I’ve always been socially liberal, and I’ve come to view both trickle-down economics and Marxism as being equally faith-based, so I may not be a typical National Review reader (if there is such a thing).

The other week, I had a post called “Civil Wars, Hot and Cold.” A reader writes,

Your defense of Mona Charen reminded me of Cicero: “I would rather be wrong with Plato than right with men such as these.” I say the same of others you and I admire: David French, Mitt Romney, and so on.

Finally, I had an amusing note concerning math. A reader writes,

Yes, I was that kid in school who liked math. Over the course of my life, I’ve asked multiple friends about favorite and least favorite (high-school) math classes and have found a very strong trend. Those of us who really liked math tended to merely tolerate geometry. It was okay, but our least favorite math class. Among those who disliked math, geometry was almost always their favorite.

Make of that what you wish.

When I run out of fingers and toes, I’m pretty much done with math, but I’m hoping to prove a late bloomer in the math department.


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