on 25 July 2013
When I hear the word 'gun' I reach for my culture. I've a great deal of time for cultural conservatives (the cultured of any stripe are an endangered species) but much of this reads like a rant, cobbled together, as far as one can tell, from articles or reviews that didn't make the pages of The New Criterion (which Kimball edits). '[L]et it be repeated innumerable times', he says at one point. I say! hang on, Roger! Quotes pop up like old friends, or bad pennies; is this not supposed to be read sequentially? (It is.) Marxism as 'moral catnip' is followed, twelve pages and a chapter heading later, by 'the catnip of socialism'; you get the picture. (Wasn't, isn't religion the mother of all catnips?)
On trannies Kimball wheels out the mustily fin de siècle term 'demi-monde'; if they are in the half-light that is because they have been put there. Evidently feeling penned in, this would-be ayatollah counters with statements like 'The New York Times Sunday Magazine not so long ago ran a long and symathetic cover story about a "transgendered" thirteen-year-old who, though born as a girl, has lived for the last several years as a boy'. His point is? (For elucidation on this matter, see Stephen Burt in the LRB of 11/4/13.) Similarly, to be wary of excessive patriotism is hardly to reject 'white, Christian, 'Eurocentric' values'. (Remind me again, what exactly are non-white values?) And who can he possibly be addressing when he gives us pearls like (of Periclean Athens) 'democracy finally managed to get off the ground' (good to know) or 'it is worth remembering that every right carries with it a corresponding duty'; I'll make a note. But read on I shall
The index is strong on Marx, Kolakowski (Leszek), Hayek and Tocqueville, also Kipling, Chesterton*, Orwell and the fast fading figure of Muggeridge (M.) ('Daddy, who was Malcolm Muggeridge?') He married a Webb, you know. Who knew? Who cares? I like Kimball's description of his 'braying' accent as 'Cambridge-trumps-Croydon'. Then there are 25! - count them - 25! banal pages on John ('there are no more comfortable words in the language than Peace and Joy') Buchan. For, besides being an acolyte of noted Australian flake David Stove (lack of a bibliography prevents one from identifying all the precise volumes that he draws on), Kimball is, embarrassingly an anglophile. An anglophile who thinks the NHS represents 'British surrender of personal freedom for the sake of a spurious security.' Yeah, right. Doesn't know us very well, does he?
And those three stars? They are deserved; five out of the nine essays in Part Two are as good as it gets, starting with his demolition of Martha Nussbaum - he sure won that one! In his bracing lecture Architecture & Ideology he gets one of the Poundbury architects in his sights. In Part the Third he has fun with William Godwin's 800-or-so page Enquiry Concerning Political Justice. 'We all frown on the defacement of library books. But the impulse in this instance is perhaps understandable.' And any man who can throw cynasure and dishabille, ensorcell and gravamen ('What is the gravamen of taste?'), orotund and apodosis, crapulous and metanoia (twice!) into the mix can't be entirely bad. But lookit, Kimball, quit reading The New York Times Sunday Magazine, will ya? Stick with Tocqueville; he was on the button. And while we're at it, quit reading the New York Times altogether. You know how it upsets you
* Eek. But I did happen on two interesting factoids. One is that Chesterton stood six foot four in his socks, the other that he couldn't read until going on nine. Would that he'd never learned. 'Nonsense is faith', indeed! (Another case of Edwardian arrested development. The ferociously intelligent mathematician and 'philosophical scrivener' Martin Gardner was a fan; but he also liked Alice in Wonderland.) Was it not of Chesterton that GG Coulton remarked, with splendid offensiveness, that 'he crucified Truth upside down'? No? Then the world is the poorer