BrothersJudd.com
Loading

Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

Listen to a bestseller for $7.49 at audible.com!
Download and Listen to any Audiobook for only $7.49. Save 50% for 3 months on over 100,000 Titles.
Humanity does not pass through phases as a train through stations: being alive, it has the privilege of always moving yet never leaving anything behind. Whatever we have been, in some sense we still are. -C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love

Mr. Hart's book opens with an especially appealing notion, one derived from a fellow Dartmouth professor, one he studied under, the philosopher Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy:
He had two phrases he repeated so often they remained in a student's mind.

He would say, "History must be told." He explained in various ways that history is to a civilization what personal memory is to an individual an essential part of identity and a source of meaning.

He also said that the goal of education is the citizen. He defined the citizen in a radical and original way arising out of his own twentieth-century experience. He said that a citizen is a person who, if need be, can re-create his civilization.
As Mr. Hart himself says, there's a particular urgency for us in this definition of the citizen because:
In a democracy such as ours the goal must be to have as many people as possible grasp their civilization this way, because they participate in the governing function either directly or indirectly and because they help to create the moral and cultural tone of the social environment we all share.
He locates the core of our civilization--as have others before him, most notably in recent years Leo Strauss--in the tension between "Athens and Jerusalem":
As used in this way those two nouns refer simultaneously to two cities and to two goals of the human mind. Athens and Jerusalem are at once actual and symbolic. In their symbolic meaning, "Athens" represents a philosophic-scientific approach to actuality, with the goal being cognition, while "Jerusalem" represents a scriptural tradition of disciplined insight and the aspiration to holiness. Together they propose the question: Is all of actuality more like a mathematical equation or is it more like a complicated and surprising poem, reflecting, as Robert Penn Warren once put it, the world's tangled and hieroglyphic beauty. Over many centuries Western civilization has answered this question not either-or but both-and, both Athens and Jerusalem. The interaction between Athens and Jerusalem has been a dynamic one, characterized by tension, attempted synthesis, and outright conflict. It has been this dynamic relation that is distinctive in Western civilization, and has created its restlessness as well as energized its greatest achievements, both material and spiritual, both Athens and Jerusalem.
It may be helpful to think of the two cities as representing reason and revelation or truths we can arrive at through the operation of human reason and truths revealed to us by God. Western Civilization then is a product of the inevitable tension and tentative reconciliation between these truths.

The "cultural catastrophe" of the book's title is the disastrous trend away from studying the great works of these two traditions in the modern university, but the "smiling through" comes from Professor Hart's intuition that this trend has peaked and that interest in the "Great Books" is reviving. The book represents his own reading of a number of these great texts, as they relate to the two cities, and amounts to a forceful argument for their enduring relevance and for the need to retain both strains of thought if we are to preserve our culture and be able each to recreate our civilization.

He begins with the two great epic poems and the two great Bronze Age heroes of the two traditions, Achilles in The Illiad and Moses in what Mr. Hart calls The Mosead, the Bible's Book of Exodus. Each tradition then reaches an apotheosis, Athens and the quest for cognition in the teachings and martyrdom of Socrates and Jerusalem and the quest for holiness in the ministry and crucifixion of Christ. Each is kind of a perfect exemplar of the city he represents and each, in his willingness to die to vindicate his tradition, establishes a benchmark for his followers to aspire to. These two traditions are then synthesized by Paul (Saul of Tarsus), a Hellenized Jew, who helps to found and expand Christianity, a process whose success Mr. Hart traces to a timely confluence of factors:
Four preconditions made possible the astonishingly rapid spread of Christianity beyond Palestine and throughout the Mediterranean world. These were: (1) biblical tradition and the reported events of Jesus' life and death; (2) the spread of the Greek language and Greek philosophy throughout the Near East in the wake of the conquests of Alexander the Great; (3) the international civilization of the Roman Empire with its laws, roads, military power, and stability; and (4) the universal claims of the monotheist Creation account in Genesis and implicit in the narrative of Jesus.
In effect, Paul's world was one where Athens had penetrated far enough into Jerusalem that the time was ripe for someone to join them together.

Such moments of synthesis are, of course, rare though, and for the remainder of the book Mr. Hart tracks the rising fortunes of one city or another and subsequent attempts to refute one or the other, to reunite them, or to add to them, in the works of: Augustine; Dante; Shakespeare; Moliere, Voltaire; Dostoyevsky; and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The point that really unifies all these varied authors is Mr. Hart's contention that to be the types of citizens who could recreate our civilization we must read them all and let their arguments fight it out in our own minds--we must become the battlefield in which the tension between the two cities plays out:
Although it is clear that an individual forced in an either-or situation to make a choice must choose between the rival authorities, Strauss thought, persuasively I think, that culture and society must remain open to the two possibilities, maintain the tension.

The very power of the important books works to make their readers fair-minded. It demands that the books be heard. The reader experiences the desire to come up to their power of mind. You listen to them, putting aside your own opinions, desires, and causes. There occurs the thought that there is no need to assign Plato or Montaigne, Dante or Dostoyevsky to some political category, at least before waiting a very long time. This amounts to the cultivation of fairness, or disinterestedness, and it attacks the fortress of every provincialism.
One can dispute Mr. Hart's notion that this "disinterestedness" should be our goal--indeed, anyone who's ever read Michael Oakeshott's Rationalism in Politics can hardly view with disinterest the struggle between Reason and Revelation--but it seems hard to argue with the idea that the tension between Athens and Jerusalem has been beneficial to Western Civilization. And it is certainly the case that the goal of education should be to ensure that every citizen understands the tension and reads the great texts that created and explore it, regardless of how they ultimately determine the issues in their own minds.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A-)

  

Websites:

See also:

Literary Criticism
Jeffrey Hart Links:

    -BOOKNOTES: Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe: Toward the Revival of Higher Education by Jeffrey Hart (C-SPAN, January 13, 2002)
    -BOOK SITE: Smiling Through (Yale University Press)
    -ARCHIVES: Jeffrey Hart (National Review)
    -ARCHIVES: The Jeffrey Hart Column (Independent Voice)
    -ESSAY: George W. Bush, Bogus conservative: No wonder this president's support is crumbling (Jeffrey Hart, November 20, 2005, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
    -ESSAY: The "deliberate sense" of Willimoore Kendall (Jeffrey Hart, March 2002, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: 2,000 Years of Song: Poets and poems inspired by the Bethlehem birth. (Jeffrey Hart, December 22, 2001, National Review)
    -ESSAY: What Went Right in the West-and Wrong in Islam: The West-and the United States in particular-has before it a battle that it must win if civilization is to prosper. Jeffrey Hart, Fall 2002, Hoover Digest)
    -ESSAY: What Is the "West"? (Jeffrey Hart, Winter 2002, Hoover Digest)
    -ESSAY: In Focus: Nobody is spelling it 'Amerika' now (September 22, 2001, National Review)
    -ESSAY: Those who favour Frost: Jeffrey Hart on a satisfying new biography of the American poet Robert Frost, who deserves to be up with Yeats and Eliot in the poetry pantheon (Jeffrey Hart , January 2000, Prospect)
    ESSAY: Architecture Simply Grand (Jeffrey Hart, 11/09/98, National Review)
    -LETTER: THE BUCHANAN CANON (Jeffrey Hart, April 9, 1992, The New York Review of Books) -REVIEW: of Letters to a Young Conservative by Dinesh D'Souza (Jeffrey Hart, Front Page)
   
    -REVIEW: of When Men Were the Only Models We Had: My Teachers Barzun, Fadiman, Trilling by Carolyn G. Heilbrun (Jeffrey Hart, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Hitler: 1936-1945: Nemesis, by Ian Kershaw (Jeffrey Hart, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of Robert Frost: A Life, by Jay Parini (Jeffrey Hart, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of Hemingway: The Final Years, by Michael Reynolds (Jeffrey Hart, National Review)
    -EREVIEW: of Dreamers of Dreams: Essays on Poets and Poetry, by John Simon (Jeffrey Hart, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of Why I Am a Catholic, by Garry Wills (Jeffrey Hart, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of Words Alone: The Poet T. S. Eliot, by Denis Donoghue (Jeffrey Hart, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Inferno, by Dante Alighieri, translated by Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander (Jeffrey Hart, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Guest from the Future: Anna Akhmatova and Isaiah Berlin, by Gyorgy Dalos, translated by Antony Wood (Jeffrey Hart, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life: 1500 to the Present, by Jacques Barzun (Jeffrey Hart, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of String of Pearls: On the News Beat in New York and Paris, by Priscilla L. Buckley (Jeffrey Hart, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of What Lips My Lips Have Kissed: The Loves and Love Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay, by Daniel Mark Epstein (Jeffrey Hart, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors, by Doug Stanton (Jeffrey Hart, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of Ex-Friends: Falling Out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer, by Norman Podhoretz (Jeffrey Hart, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of National Diversity and Global Capitalism Edited by Suzanne Berger and Ronald Dore (Jeffrey Hart, American Political Science Review)
    -OBIT: George Champion R.I.P. (Jeffrey Hart) -OBIT: Meldrim Thomson, R.I.P. (National Review, May 14 2001, Jeffrey Hart)
   
    -INTERVIEW: Academia in Review: Interview with Jeffrey Hart (Alexander Talcott, Dartmouth Review)
    -PROFILE: Jeffrey Hart: Outside the Ivory Tower (James S. C. Baehr, Dartmouth Review)
    -ESSAY: Christianize Dartmouth? (William F., Jr. Buckley, 03/23/98, National Review)
    -ESSAY: Sid Unvicious (John B. Judis, 10/18/00, New Republic)
    -ARCHIVES: "jeffrey hart" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe-Toward the Revival of Higher Education, by Jeffrey Hart (William F. Buckley, Jr., National Review)
    -REVIEW: of Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe (Carol Iannone, Commentary)

(THE FOLLOWING ARE ARCHIVED ON J-STOR AND ARE AVAILABLE TO USERS AT EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS)
   -ESSAY: Paradise Lost and Order: "I Know Each Lane and Every Valley Green" (Jeffrey Hart, May 1964, College English)
   -REVIEW: of Viscount Bolingbroke: Tory Humanist by Jeffrey Hart (1966) (Caroline Robbins, The American Historical Review)
   -REVIEW: of Viscount Bolingbroke: Tory Humanist (Robert Walcott, The Journal of Modern History)
   -REVIEW: of The American Dissent: A Decade of Modern Conservatism by Jeffrey Hart (1967) (David Spitz, The Journal of Politics)

Book-related and General Links:


LEO STRAUSS:
   -ESSAY: Leo Strauss and the Straussians: An Anti-Democratic Cult? (Gregory Bruce Smith, June 1997, PS: Political Science and Politics)
   -ESSAY: The Modern World of Leo Strauss (Robert B. Pippin, August 1992, Political Theory)
   -ESSAY: Athens, Jerusalem, Mecca: Leo Strauss's "Muslim" Understanding of Greek Philosophy (Remi Brague, Summer 1998, Poetics Today)
   -ESSAY: The Esoteric Philosophy of Leo Strauss (S. B. Drury, August 1985, Political Theory)

ATHENS & JERUSALEM:
   -ESSAY: "The Tension of Athens & Jerusalem in the Philosophy of Lev Shestov" (Brian Horowitz, Spring 1999, The Slavic and East European Journal)
   -ESSAY: The Demolition of Reason in Lev Shestov's Athens and Jerusalem (Brian Horowitz; Bernard Martin, Summer 1998, Poetics Today)
   -REVIEW: of Athens in Jerusalem: Classical Antiquity and Hellenism in the Making of the Modern Secular Jew by Yaacov Shavit; Chaya Maor; Niki Werner (Jacob Neusner, The American Historical Review)
   -REVIEW: of Athens and Jerusalem by Lev Shestov (Victor Terras, The Slavic and East European Journal)
EUGEN ROSENSTOCK-HUESSY (1888-1973):
    -ESSAY: Concerning Contracts and Covenants (Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and James B. Jordan, January 1996, Biblical Horizons)
   -REVIEW: of The Anatomy of Revolution by Crane Brinton (Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, The American Historical Review)
   -REVIEW: of Das Schicksal der Volksbildung in Deutschland by Werner Picht (Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Journal of Higher Education)
    -Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy Research Institute
    -Rosenstock-Huessy: A Dartmouth "Original"
    -ESSAY: Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy: A Brief Introduction by James B. Jordan (Biblical Horizons January, 1995)
    -ESSAY: ``respondeo, etsi mutabor'' (Stephen Talbott)
    -REVIEW: of Speech and Reality By Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (Bruce O. Boston, Theology Today)
   -REVIEW: of Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (1939) (Crane Brinton, Political Science Quarterly)
   -REVIEW: of Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man (Fred R. Yoder, American Sociological Review)

TERTULLIAN:
   -REVIEW: of Tertullian by Timothy David Barnes (W. H. C. Frend, The Classical Review)

Comments: