Food For Thought from the New Pantagruel

You have been reading the New Pantagruel right? All the cool kids do. Just in case you haven’t, let me point you to a few articles from the Spring issue.

Understanding Traditionalist Conservatism by Mark C. Henrie is an excellent discussion of traditional conservatives in relationship to the dominant liberalism of American life as well as the strains of libertarianism and neo-conservatism on the right. Well worth a read for anyone interested in the subject. It is an extended version of an essay in Varieties Of Conservatism In America edited by Peter Berkowitz. Here is a snippet:

So drenched in the progressive spirit is American political discourse (how could it be otherwise in the novus ordo seclorum?) that the backward glance is usually rejected out of hand, and with the most facile of arguments. Ever since Burke’s solicitous phrases about “Gothick” and “monkish” traditions, traditionalist conservatives have notably looked to the Middle Ages as a source of inspiration. In doing so, one is met with a rejoinder of the sort, “But would you really want to live in an age before modern dentistry?” Southern traditionalists who speak well of the antebellum South almost always stand accused of being racist defenders of slavery. But why should such rejoinders count as definitive when the Modern Project, which is usually understood to have begun in the Renaissance, took as an inspiring model Athens – a society which had no access to modern dentistry and a society which depended upon slave labor? What is more, those lumieres suffering from polis-envy also tend to edit from their own “golden age” another salient fact of ancient Greek life: the ubiquitous threat of total annihilation in the event of military defeat.

The point of this exercise in comparative nostalgia is not to score debater points, but rather to achieve some clarity. Traditionalists do not wish to “turn back the clock” to pre-modern dentistry, any more than the lovers of Periclean Athens wish to restore a slave economy. Polis-envy in the Renaissance and among some of our contemporaries serves as an indicator that a thinker is attracted to an ideal of political participation, as well as literary and philosophical originality, and perhaps, of leisure, that he believes is unavailable or frustrated in the present. The traditional conservative’s kind words about medievalism indicate that he is attracted to forms of communal solidarity, friendship, leisure, honor and nobility, and religious “enchantment,” that he believes are unavailable or frustrated in the present. As Tocqueville helps us to understand, this list is not idiosyncratic or contingent, but rather corresponds in its particulars to the universal effects of the modern regime.

– Also of interest is Moby Dick and the Culture Wars by Randy Boyagoda. Here is a taste of his conclusion:

In Moby-Dick, as in so many of his other works, Melville offers a vigorous vision of American life in no small part by turning a hard eye to the absurdities, hypocrisies, and darker sins of his nation, as embodied in Ahab’s vicious tyranny and, if less infamously, Ishmael’s calloused amnesia.

*** Stay tuned this week for a review of Mr. Muo’s Traveling Couch by Dai Sijie.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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