From what I understand, something seems to have gone wrong with the blog site since the last time I posted, and several people found that there was no way to post comments to that last post.
I assume this couldn’t have been a general problem with the site, since people continued to post comments to the post before that post, but I don’t know.
It would be good to know if this is something I need to get fixed, so I’d appreciate it if as many people as possible could post comments to THIS post, if it’s possible, or send me an e-mail saying it couldn’t be done.
The comments don’t have to be “real” comments. They just have to say something like “hey, I got on!” or whatever.
That way, I’ll know whether I actually need to do something, or if that was just a glitch in that particular post.
I’ll admit that a couple of things went oddly wrong in the writing of it, but I didn’t take them seriously at the time.
In case you wonder where I’ve been, the term started yesterday–the real term, with students in classrooms–and I’ve got a book due March 15, so I’ve been a little distracted.
I’ve also been indulging in odd little bits of nostalgia, or something.
There are literally thousands of books lying around in my house. Most of them are more or less recent–that is, no more than 25 years old, and therefore bought or given to me since I married Bill–but a remarkable number are in fact leftovers from my childhood.
I’ve still got a fairly extensive collection of Nancy Drew, for instance, including the copy of The Ghost of Blackwood Hall, the first book I ever got to pick out for myself, which my mother bought for me at Malley’s in New Haven when I was six. It was her prize for me for being “good” at the eye surgeon’s office when we went in to see about getting my crossed eyes fixed.
That’s one of those things. My mother had crossed eyes as a child, in an era when surgery for that sort of thing was (at least) not common, and she’d been so traumatized by it that she insisted on “doing something” about mine as soon as she saw them.
It’s interesting to me, because hers corrected themselves by the time she hit high school, and so did those of at least one of her brothers. In all likelihood, mine would have, too. She wasn’t willing to wait.
A couple of days ago, I stumbled across another book I remember from my childhood–William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale.
It was published the year I was born, and I bought my first copy of it when I was somewhere between ten and fourteen, which was also the time when I had my first magazine subscriptions, to The New Yorker and National Review.
Before you get the idea that I was a preternaturally precocious politco and a conservative to boot, what interested me about National Review and God and Man At Yale both was not the politics, but the Yale.
Or, at least, what I imagined Yale to be.
Yale’s undergraduate college was, at that time, all-male and showing no signs of being interested in admitting women. It wouldn’t begin to admit women until the year after I graduated from high school–and yes, I applied and got turned down.
But to me, Yale was a set of beautiful college Gothic buildings stretched out across the center of New Haven, Connecticut, where I would sometimes walk when I had some time in that place to myself. I would buy books at the Yale Co-op and then go wandering around listening to people talk.
And they did talk. Undergraduates walking on sidewalks arguing about Locke and Hume, Henry James and Jane Austen.
If Buckley’s book is to be believed, I either got lucky and caught the good stuff in a sea of the mediocre and trivial, or I only remembered the stuff I heard that made me happy.
Anyway, that’s what I was looking for–a place where people read books the way the people I knew watched television, a place where people talked about Locke and Hume the way the people I knew talked about each other.
In one way, I got very lucky indeed.
It was an era before the endless celebrity gossip we’re inundated with at the present, so at least I didn’t have to put up with chatter about the sex life of Pat Boone. Or Elvis.
God and Man at Yale is a strange little book in a lot of ways.
It was a significant best seller almost immediately, in spite of the fact that it does not even pretend to be a discussion about general trends in education or to be equally applicable to all colleges and universities.
Instead, it’s an essay on political and religious life at Yale by a recently graduated alumnus, and it’s guiding thesis is that Yale alumni should take a more active part in the running of the university than they do.
It is a book, in other words, in the middle of the great transformation of universities from being collegialities to being institutions run for the benefit of faculty alone.
And sometimes it can be difficult to understand what’s going on, because the vision of the nature of the university is so different than anything we’d had since, at least the Sixties, that I had to keep adjusting and readjusting my sense of what is “normal” in academic life.
Maybe the best way to say it would be that Buckley’s Yale is more like Sayers’s Oxford in Gaudy Night than it is like Yale, or anywhere else, today.
But other things struck me in reading this book, and mostly they had to do with a feeling of being out of time.
In some ways, Buckley’s Yale is far more familiar than it ought to be.
1) We seem to be making a lot of the same arguments that were being made right after the way, and making them in largely the same terms.
There is, for instance, the endless talk about “income inequality,” which appears to have been a catch phrase even then, and to have many of the same defenses.
There’s also a lot about how really, the day when individuals to do for themselves is long gone, and in the increasingly complex world we need increasingly complex government to protect us from “monopolies,” which (also like now) aren’t actually monopolies but just businesses large enough to “influence the market.”
2) In cases where the terminology has changed, I still found it familiar, because it is largely the terminology used by Ayn Rand to describe the relationship between the diffenent sides of the political divide.
In other words, we aren’t talking about “left” and “right” or “liberal” and “conservative,” but about “individualist” and “collectivist” theories of government, society and human nature.
Atlas Shrugged had not been written at the time this book was published, so I have to assume that the terms were used because they were the terms that were current at the time Buckley (and later Rand) published.
Rand used these terms all her life. They are not the terms you will find in Buckley’s work later in his career. His vocabulary moved with the times.
But it’s interesting, nonetheless, because so much of Buckley’s analysis of the nature and workings of “collectivist” thought is nearly identical to Rand’s, with the obvious exception of their differences in regard to the nature and import of Christianity.
And that’s interesting because Buckley had nothing but contempt for Rand as a writer, a philosopher, or a human being, and wasn’t shy of saying so.
National Review savaged Atlas Shrugged when it was published, and professed itself astonished that anybody would read the thing. Maybe, the magazine opined, it was the people wanted “the dirty bits.”
To Buckley, of course, Christianity brought two things to the table that were absolutely necessary to the foundation and maintenance of a free society: the concept of the individual human being as being of infinite worth and value in his individuality (that is, not as a member of a group), and b) the concept of “rights” as being something prior to and superior to social institutions meant to observe or violate them.
Rand, of course, saw Christianity as inherently collectivist in its valoration of altruism and insistance that men and women bow to the dictates of a God rather than define their own values and morality.
Back in the days when politics was about something more than an endless war over class markers–Volvos! Nascar! Chicken-fired steak! Brie!–it was, I think, a pretty good shorthand way of explaining the differences between conservatism and libertarianism.
3) Virtually nothing at all has changed in the last fifty years in the names the Left calls the Right.
Attacks by the Right have changed considerably, and the focus of right wing criticism of the Left had done a near 180 degree turn from the Sixties.
I could take almost any of the reviews of God and Man at Yale, though, and publish them tomorrow, and you wouldn’t be able to tell when they were published.
I don’t know exactly what I think about that. The Right suffers, I think, from the loss of its high intellectual end, and conservatism especially suffers from the recent dearth of voices like Buckley’s, which wanted to preserve Western Civilization and not just “they way we did things in Hope, Mississippi when I was six.”
There is, however, something kind of odd about a Left that seems to be frozen in time, and that time being close to a hundred years ago now.
4) And, as a note, rereading this book gave me a piece of information I hadn’t had before.
One of my favorite organizations on the planet is called (these days) the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
It publishes books and lectures and does studies and runs a website all in the aid of the Great Tradition and classical Liberal Arts Studies.
It has become, these days, “agnostic” about evolution, of course–because in the Politicization of Everything, all that matters is that we each consistantly take sides.
But aside from that, the organization makes me very happy most of the time, and it appears in Buckley’s book in its original form as an organization on the Yale campus meant to bring Yale back to the Great Tradition.
So maybe, when I was fourteen, I wasn’t so far off in thinking that Yale presented a possible avenue into my fantasy world of people who lived for books and ideas, where wanting those things made you cool instead of stupid.
Of course, these days, Yale likes to turn down multi hundred million dollar bequests to found departments of Western Civilization–so there’s that.
And they did turn me down not just the once, but eventually three times in all, which says something else, I suppose, about the both of us.
I’ve got to go correct student papers.
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