Sunday, July 16, 2017

Roger Kimball: The Fortunes of Permanence

I don't do too many book reviews here, but The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia to give its full title, just published on July 4, looks rather good. Roger Kimball has written a lot of books including Tenured Radicals from way back in 1991. The real reason I don't do book reviews is probably that I don't have the qualifications! Unless it is a book on music, of course. But I can direct your attention to a book that might be worth reading...

This is a cultural critique with an impressive depth of learning behind it. Sample quote:
The deepest foolishness of multiculturalism shows itself in the puerile attacks it mounts on the cogency of scientific rationality, epitomized poignantly by the Afrocentrist who flips on his word processor to write books decrying the parochial nature of Western science and extolling the virtues of the “African way.”
[Kimball, Roger. The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (Kindle Locations 129-131). St. Augustine's Press. Kindle Edition.]
In analyzing an HSBC ad campaign he points out the following:
The ostensible tenet of this catechism is that all cultures are equally valuable and, therefore, that preferring one culture, intellectual heritage, or moral and social order to another is to be guilty of ethnocentrism. It’s actually not quite as egalitarian as it looks, however, for you soon realize that the doctrine of cultural relativism is always a weighted relativism: Preferring Western culture or intellectual heritage is culpable in a way that preferring other traditions is not.
[ibid, Kindle Locations 138-141]
This passage has attracted a few comments and summarizes the argument of the book:
the fruits of egalitarianism are ignorance, the habit of intellectual conformity, and the systematic subjection of cultural achievement to political criteria. In the university, this means classes devoted to pop novels, rock videos, and third-rate works chosen simply because their authors are members of the requisite sex, ethnic group, or social minority. It involves an attack on permanent things for the sake of the trendy and ephemeral. It means students who are graduated not having read Milton or Dante or Shakespeare— or, what is in some ways even worse, who have been taught to regard the works of such authors chiefly as hunting grounds for examples of patriarchy, homophobia, imperialism, or some other politically correct vice. It means faculty and students who regard education as an exercise in disillusionment and who look to the past only to corroborate their sense of superiority and self-satisfaction. The Fortunes of Permanence aims to disturb that complacency and reaffirm the tradition that made both the experience of and the striving for greatness possible.
[ibid. Kindle Locations 235-242]
Kimball's analysis of relativism as being one of the prime culprits is quite good. Egalitarians attack all hierarchies as being immoral, but typically they then smuggle in their own utopian ideas as replacement. And the end of that road is always great human suffering. Of course the power of progressivism lies in its pretense to being shiny and new. I am reminded of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's reply to a critic who questioned his appointment of a cabinet that was precisely 50% men and 50% women (what, no transexuals?). When asked why he simply replied, "Because it's 2015." Well, there you go! Brave New World. While seeming both cool and logical, this is really an attack on the idea that anything can have inherent value. Progressivism in that way justifies itself: what we are doing is good because it is progressive and because it is progressive it is good. And then you wake up one day and find yourself agreeing that Bach is no better than Justin Bieber.

I am just reading the book myself, so I can't offer any global criticism, but it seems both well-written and well-founded, so probably worth a look.

UPDATE: Agh! Somehow I missed that this book was actually published in 2012. Sorry, I thought it was a new publication.


Will Wilkin said...

Bryan, have you ever read anything at the website called "Musicology Now"? Not that I want to irritate you, but I would enjoy commiserating with you....

David said...

Bryan, I am sure I could find a connection between the quote that I just encountered and your post on Kimball's book, but I was too motivated to share the wisdom of the "not-so" ancients:

The quote: “The artist who does not feel completely satisfied by elegant lines, by harmonious colors and by beautiful successions of chords does not understand the art of music.”

The source: Camille Saint-Saens. I know I wouldn't be quick to argue with that intellect.

Keep up the good work with your blog.

Bryan Townsend said...

@Will: checking back I see that I did talk about a debate going on at Musicology Now in a post last year:

But I have not read anything there lately. Thanks for reminding me!

Saint-Saens was a child prodigy, but I don't know his music nearly as well as I might.

And thanks!