The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
9.1 (Winter 2009)
The previous issue of Praesidium (Spring 2010) may be viewed by clicking here.
John R. Harris, Ph.D.
Thomas F. Bertonneau, Ph.D.
Helen R. Andretta, Ph.D.
Michael H. Lythgoe
Lt. Col. USAF (Retd.)
A Few Words from the Editor
There is little indication that the change impending over our civilization will be salutary to the values of literate people, whether or not our new political leadership is a great success.
Thomas F. Bertonneau (history and literature)
Professor Bertonneau is mostly occupied in extrapolating from classicist Robert Drews’ work to arrive at the general conditions under which civilizations crumble. Yet the message to our own confused and groping culture is quite clear.
The challenge of “e-culture” to literate values is not an issue which either end of the political spectrum addresses coherently.
Mark Wegierski (the polis in crisis)
Mr. Wegierski anticipates Dr. Sugrue’s indictment of inflexible traditionalism with a defense of preserving the past based largely on recognizing the manipulation and bad faith of progressive alternatives.
Michael Sugrue (literature and academe)
The author reminisces about the culture shock of transferring his graduate studies from Columbia University to Charleston, South Carolina—an adventure which left him impressed with the propensity of both political extremes for revisionism.
John R. Harris (contemporary academe)
Not an attack on feminism per se… but what IS feminism? In the hazy popular culture which it has now infused and which undergraduate coeds have thirstily imbibed, it is the right of any young female to bully teachers and classmates with impunity.
Fault Line Sonnets and Night Nurse (poetry)
Michael H. Lythgoe
J. S. Moseby
The prototype of the nightmarish, ultimately tragic journey upon which a well-indoctrinated graduate student embarks is as old as Odysseus’s trip to the Underworld—or even Gilgamesh’s.
A Few Words from the Editor
In one of his last private letters, Cicero wrings his epistolary hands over the Republic’s degenerating state and stresses heavily the utter powerlessness which he and other good people feel. Morally, this isn’t one of his finest hours. The consul who ordered the traitorous Catiline’s execution, knowing full well that the man had influential friends, and who himself faced a butcher’s sword in his last moments rather than seek safety in flight, is here as fussy and timid as an old woman on a sinking ship. The disparity of sentiment—the mood swing, as we would say today—is hardly surprising. Many of us have made its intimate acquaintance. One could probably muster the fortitude to go out and be machine-gunned if Dame Liberty’s enemies were prowling the streets in bloody jackboots… but when collapse is just an odor in the air, one is less confident. Resistance in the latter case requires imagination and stamina. An odor cannot be seen. Many, perhaps most, can eventually grow used to any stench: then one appears a lunatic running about and reminding the populace that roses once smelled sweet. The role of mad doomsayer also wearies one quickly. Christmas comes. Why not spend some money to get the endorphins flowing, even though the stock market has tanked? Have a drink of punch—have another—or buy that new laptop. The world will not decay any the faster for one’s own infinitesimal surrender to its socio-economic solvent, nor will it last any the longer for one’s equally puny refusal to surrender.
At the graveside of yet another whirring year (I write these words on New Year’s Day of 2009), I survey the contents of 9.1 and realize that it is devoted with unusual—and quite unintended—precision to the subject of cultural meltdown. Thomas Bertonneau ponders at length the paradox, often repeated throughout recorded history and strongly implied in the relics of pre-history, of the mighty civilization unable to lift a hand and swat away a swarm of gnats. Yet such is typically the end of great civilizations. In their success lies their failure. Having no more adversaries to vanquish, they grow rich and flabby. Their internal organs war against each other out of envy and greed to such a degree that the first opportunistic infection (if you will pardon my sustained corporal metaphor) slays them as effectively as the Black Plague would have done. I know that Dr. Bertonneau has long been a devoted reader of German scholar Oswald Spengler, who discouraged and debunked simplistic historic parallels. This piece leaves a reflective audience free to draw or abstain from drawing parallels; its author is content merely to plot certain coordinates on history’s map. Spengler himself, however, does not conclude that history holds no lesson whatever for posterity. Indeed, a more accurate statement of his message might be that history must not be perverted to teach false lessons. That, too, is one of history’s lessons.
And that, too, is a common practice of our times: the rewriting of history, both to serve well-calculated ends and bluntly to flatter libidinous, childish desires. My contribution attests to the abundance of miserably phony feminism in the writing of undergraduates. No assertion about how women were exploited, suppressed, brutalized, and humiliated throughout history is too extravagant, apparently. Coed students will often seize upon an occasion to lionize the Euripidean Medea, for instance, as though she were the first suffragette, sweeping aside textual detail and cultural circumstance in their “discussion” so as to make ample room for the parade. Such anti-intellectual folderol proliferates in direct proportion to the individual student’s lack of decorous respect for other students and for teachers. Sometimes a bandit is just a bandit, no matter how loudly he blithers in his cups about sharing his plunder with the poor.
Michael Sugrue, whose splendid essay on Measure for Measure adorned the pages of 8.4, writes in an entirely different register this quarter about the colorful but sometimes obtuse South (and my own Southern roots are 350 years old) and its absurdly mythopoeic atavism (a.k.a. isolationism). Professor Sugrue is likely deploring the very kinds of historical abuse heartily loathed by Spengler. Yet he also concurs with Mr. Wegierski’s preceding indictment of progressivism to this extent: both detect in the Left-leaning utopia a bait-and-switch “freedom” presided over by strict arbiters of reality.
Praesidium, be it stressed, is not a politically partisan journal. We publish thoughtful essays even when some of us on the board feel uncomfortably close to their crosshairs. I eagerly await submissions from my friends of the Far Left who, while loathing Western culture and the Christian faith, have recovered from their idolatry of progress sufficiently to dread the number of cords and screens encircling our children’s heads. A great many of us on both sides are aware that something isn’t right and isn’t growing less wrong, year after year.
Michael Lythgoe’s poetry has often been a much-needed antidote to the dire and the dour in our pages. Yet this poet reminds us (as do so many) that we can neither express nor even conceive of what we truly desire. In mystery, then, nestles a warning: viz., that we will “conquer” our natural human longing not when we satisfy it better through technology, but rather when our technology degrades us to a robotic level of needs. Long may that victory wait. ~J. H.