Recent links of note:
“A Philosophy of Fear—and Society of Scolds”
Daniel McCarthy, Modern Age
So much ink has been spilled by now over the causes, conditions, and effects of the coronavirus crisis that it almost seems uncouth to urge more philosophic commentary on weary readers. Forcing people to stay at home is one sort of imposition, shoving epidemic exegesis down their gullets quite another. Social distancing is not enough; many would seem to prefer ideological conformity to herd immunity. But forgive us if we make an exception for this recent essay by Daniel McCarthy, since it serves to explain the sort of Orwellian intrusions described above. Many in the public sphere have been subject to rank abuses, not for practical violations of quarantine protocol, but for failing to parrot the obsessive, full-throated panic to which most of our common discourse has descended. This has less to do with immediate public safety, McCarthy writes, than with a sort of defensive psychology, traceable back to Hobbes’s Leviathan and rampant among right-thinking liberals today. To hear him tell it, the issue is a matter of life and death—but not in the way you might think.
“The Mind of the Moralist”
Algis Valiunas, Claremont Review of Books
A memorable moment in James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson comes when the artist William Hogarth meets the biography’s subject for the first time. The two both happened to be visiting, separately, the novelist Samuel Richardson. Hogarth “perceived a person standing at a window in the room, shaking his head, and rolling himself about in a strange ridiculous manner. He concluded that he was an ideot [sic], whom his relations had put under the care of Mr. Richardson, as a very good man.” This man was Johnson, his head and neck scarred from a childhood bout with scrofula, given to head-rolling, muttering, bizarre huffing and puffing—in short, all manner of nervous tics and habits. The seeming halfwit proceeded to unleash a verbal fusillade against the tyrannies of King George II so learned and vituperative “that Hogarth looked at him in astonishment, and actually imagined that this ideot had been at the moment inspired.”
This episode and many like it are recounted in a fine piece by Algis Valiunas for the Claremont Review of Books. Johnson persisted through a childhood marked by pain and suffering to become a writer and thinker of exceptional range and industry. His Dictionary of the English Language was, for instance, the sort of project “other countries had thought . . . fit only for whole academies,” in Boswell’s words. And yet Valiunas makes the case that “no other writer of comparable greatness hated his work as much as Johnson did, and so hated himself for shirking it.” At the core of Johnson’s achievement were the lofty standards of virtue he applied to his work and his life alike. At what cost to his own peace he adhered to this moral purpose leaves one in awe, as much for us today as it did his peers then.
“The week the war ended”
Barry Turner, The Critic
Seventy-five years ago today, it was announced to the world that Germany had agreed to surrender to the Allied Powers. What a time for celebration it was. But despite the extinction of one global menace, there was a slyer evil that was, and had been, lying in wait for some time: the pall of Communism in the Soviet Union. Writing for The Critic, Barry Turner gives usan account of V-E Day and the circumstances surrounding it, laying out the political intricacies and implications of the treaty between Germany, England, the United States, the USSR, and other parties in fine detail. If nothing else, it serves as a reminder that the throne of a deposed tyrant does not go long wanting for suitors.
“Roger Kimball introduces the May issue”
A new podcast from the Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion.
“Done it again”
Emina Melonic reviews The Last Days of Sylvia Plath by Carl Rollyson.