- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Cultural identity

“[On] Christmas Eve, Samuel Huntington died at his home at Martha’s Vineyard. A decade and a half ago, in his most famous book ‘The Clash Of Civilizations,’ professor Huntington argued that Western elites’ view of man as homo economicus was reductive and misleading - that cultural identity is a more profound behavioral indicator than lazy assumptions about the universal appeal of Western-style economic liberty and the benefits it brings. Very few of us want to believe this. …

“In the modern world there is no diplomatic vocabulary for the kind of cultural fault line represented by the Israeli/Palestinian dispute, so even a smart thinker like [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice can only frame it as an issue of economic and educational opportunity. Of course, there are plenty of Palestinians like the ones the secretary of state describes: You meet them living as doctors and lawyers in Los Angeles and Montreal and Geneva … but not, on the whole, in Gaza.

“In Gaza, they don’t vote for Hamas because they want access to university education. Or, if they do, it’s to get Junior into the Saudi-funded Hamas-run Islamic University of Gaza, where majoring in rocket science involves making one and firing it at the Zionist Entity.”

-Mark Steyn, writing on “Clashing Civilizations,” in the Jan. 3 National Review

‘A little guy’

“The key to Tintin is that he has the mindset of ‘someone born in a small country,’ says Charles Dierick, in-house historian at the Herge Studios. He is ‘the clever little guy who outsmarts big bullies.’ And as a little guy, even a clever one, Tintin’s bravery works within limits: He rescues friends and foils plots. But when he finds himself in Japanese-controlled Shanghai, in ‘The Blue Lotus,’ he can do nothing to end the broader problem of foreign occupation. …

“Interviewed late in life, Herge acknowledged the links between his wartime experiences and his moral outlook. The second world war lies behind a great deal in Tintin, just as it lies deep beneath the political instincts of many on the European continent. It matters a lot that the Anglo-Saxon world has a different memory of that same war: It is a tragic event, but not a cause for shame, nor a reminder of impotence.

“Tintin … is a pragmatist, albeit a principled one. Perhaps Anglo-Saxon audiences want something more from their fictional heroes: They want them imbued with the power to change events, and inflict total defeat on the wicked. Tintin cannot offer something so unrealistic. In that, he is a very European hero.”

-From “A Very European Hero,” in the Dec. 18 edition of the Economist

The Great Books

“From the start, the Great Books of the Western World project was a paradoxical undertaking. [Robert Maynard] Hutchins and his evangelizing colleague Mortimer Adler were elitists on a democratic mission, popularizers who made few concessions to popular taste.

“The texts came unadorned with any historical or biographical materials to situate the reader, but such orientation was besides the point: Hutchins wanted the reader to confront the texts of Aristotle, Dante and Aeschylus naked, as it were, without any guidance or forethought. As he intoned in his preface, ‘Great books contain their own aids to reading; that is one reason they are great. Since we hold that these works are intelligible to the ordinary man, we see no reason to interpose ourselves or anybody else between the author and the reader.’

“Hutchins’ perverse reasoning perfectly encapsulates his particular brand of highbrow populism. … Hutchins’ beliefs were almost touching in their grandiosity: ‘An interminable liberal education’ was necessary for ‘effective citizenship in a democracy.’ … The great books could help ‘revive the great tradition of liberal human thought’ and bring about ‘a world republic of law and justice.’”

-Matthew Price, writing on “The Great Dictators,” on Dec. 26 in the Review section of the Abu Dhabi newspaper the National

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