On the Civil War, Houellebecq & the state of Classics.
Recent links of note:
“Bis interimitur qui suis armis perit”
Richard Waghorne, The Critic
That general interest in Classics today is in decline can be of no doubt. Educators can and should fight tooth and nail to revitalize interest in their subject. But when those efforts amount to a wholesale dislocation of the subject’s foundational texts, one has reason to ask: what, exactly, are they trying to revitalize? A recent proposal reportedly under consideration at Oxford would make the study of Homer and Virgil in the original Greek and Latin, which has long been mandatory for second-year exams, essentially optional. The text is too difficult, its advocates say (in many more words); besides, it’s not as though students wouldn’t have the option to study these texts should they so choose. These explanations and sundry others all smack, writes Richard Waghorne for The Critic, of “retrospective justification for unwarranted defeatism.” The study of ancient language and literature may be difficult, but pretending as though it is impossible makes it all the more so. Such reluctance to grapple with the challenges posed by Homer and Virgil, he concludes, reveals a good deal about our modern insecurities and, in so doing, about how much we stand to lose by neglecting these works.
“Congress at War and When It Was Grand Review: The Great Emancipators”
David S. Reynolds, The Wall Street Journal
The phrase “radical Republicans” may strike today’s ears as a tad out of tune, but to the mainstream political establishment in 1854, the program of the newly formed abolitionist coalition would have been frighteningly coherent. Within six short years the party would put its man Abraham Lincoln in the White House. It met with similar success in overrunning Congress, abetted, admittedly, by the defection of eleven Southern states that were Democratic to the core. Rightly praised but underexamined, writes David S. Reynolds, were the political efforts of those Republicans not named Lincoln during the Civil War. A pair of recent books, Congress at War (by Fergus M. Bordewich) and When It Was Grand (by LeeAnna Keith), sheds light on the efforts of both the Republican Congressmen and the abolitionists who galvanized the movement, making clear just how audacious and determined they were in attaining “the greatest moral victory the nation has yet achieved.”
“A Bellow from France”
Christopher Caldwell, Commentary
At one point in his latest for Commentary, Christopher Caldwell writes that to understand the worldview of Michel Houellebecq, “it helps to know something about his childhood, which resembles that of no public figure so much as that of Barack Obama.” American audiences are more likely to know Houellebecq for his depiction of a Franco-Islamic dystopia in Submission (2015) or his 2018 essay in Harper’s, “Donald Trump is a Good President”—in short, as a staunch critic of the so-called liberal international order—than for any affinities to our forty-forth president. But Caldwell employs the parallel to impressive effect, using it to get at the heart of Houellebecq’s critique of liberalism today, as well as why his reception in the New World has been so tepid. “Better than any other author he describes certain human predicaments of the global age,” Caldwell concludes. “But he is writing at a time when New World critics and readers have decided to do without the kind of wisdom European novels traditionally impart.”
“James Panero on The Frick Collection.”
On ill-advised renovations to a New York treasure.
Clayton Trutor reviews Dreams of El Dorado: A History of the American West by H. W. Brands.
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