Standing up for civilization, harrumph

Ever since the WSJ added a third daily opinion page (when they followed the rest of the industry and went to narrower pages to save newsprint), at about the same time we were cutting back on pages at The State in my desperate bid to get through bad times without cutting people (see how well that worked out?), I have…

Wait. I got lost in the multiple parentheticals… oh, yeah… ever since then, I’ve been hooked on the daily book review that runs all the way down the right-hand side of that page, Mondays through Fridays. For the first time in I don’t know when, I go into Barnes & Noble and am well familiar with pretty much everything on the “new arrival” shelves. And I’ve always got a list of books I want when Father’s Day, my birthday and Christmas roll around. To the point that I’m backed up on reading, and so intimidated by the stack of new books that I avoid the issue by rereading the Aubrey/Maturin series instead (I’m now on my fifth time through The Fortune of War).

But here’s another one I might have to request and add to the shelf, reviewed in today’s paper:

Among academics, the word “civilization” has long had a sinister ring to it, carrying associations of elitism and luxury. Worse, it is linked to imperialism, having provided Europeans with the justification for their far-flung conquests in centuries past—and, these days, for endless self-flagellation.

With “In Search of Civilization,” John Armstrong, the resident philosopher at the Melbourne Business School in Australia, sets out to restore the reputation of a word that, to him, represents something infinitely precious and life-sustaining, a source of strength and inspiration. The great civilizations, he says, provide “a community of maturity in which across the ages individuals try to help each other cope with the demands of mortality.”

As he makes clear, his purpose is not to provide a history of various civilizations or to update Samuel Huntington’s seminal 1996 book on the post-Cold War world, “The Clash of Civilizations,” though he cites Huntington’s conclusion that today’s real conflict is between civilization and barbarism. Mr. Armstrong wishes to convey what the idea means to him personally…

Indeed. Too bloody right. The real conflict — at home and abroad, is between civilization and barbarism. And it so often seems that civilization is losing, especially on the domestic front. And most especially in our politics, increasingly defined by mutually exclusive factions screaming pointlessly at each other.

I mean, what’s the world coming to when a guy who is supposedly all dedicated to having a civil blog starts using modifiers like “bloody?” I ask you…

Anyway, the book sounds interesting, and possibly edifying. I like the ending. After lamenting the state of the humanities in academia, the review concludes:

Our artists, too, have failed: The author sees Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons and their ilk as representatives of a decadent cultural elite that insists on provocation and newness as the only criteria for judging art. “Mockery, irony and archness,” Mr. Armstrong says, “is not what we need.” What is needed is hope and confidence. The treasures are all there to be rediscovered, if only we would bother.

Indeed, again. And harrumph, say I.

1 thought on “Standing up for civilization, harrumph

  1. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    “Civilization” is a word like “gentrification” that my comrades on the left have made into a bad thing. Gentrification is good for the environment, built and natural, because it counters sprawl and reuses housing stock that otherwise would degrade into rubble. The problem with both gentrification and civilization is in the implementation. Historically both have frequently been done without playing fair to the indigenous peoples.

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