Nothing new on the left
Aug 30, 2018 | 272 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
To the Editor:

Before there was the left and all its current expressions, there was an English Poet, Robert Southey. And after Mr. Southey had written a book which espoused many opinions (which are by now familiar to 21st century dwellers), a 30-year old essayist was assigned to review this book. The year is 1829, almost two centuries ago. And this is how the reviewer described the political thought of Mr. Southey:

"It is, indeed, most extraordinary, that a mind like Mr. Southey’s, a mind richly endowed in many respects by nature, and highly cultivated by study, a mind which has exercised considerable influence on the most enlightened generation of the most enlightened people that ever existed, should be utterly destitute of the power of discerning truth from falsehood. Yet such is the fact. Government is to Mr. Southey one of the fine arts. He judges of a theory, of a public measure, of a religion or a political party, of a peace or a war, as men judge of a picture or a statue, by the effect produced on his imagination. A chain of associations is to him what a chain of reasoning is to other men; and what he calls his opinions are in fact merely his tastes.”

And, indeed, the call for “Democratic Socialism,” “Open Borders” and other chiliastic dreams, come from men and women who are victims of this type of thinking: almost all of the left and media do judge of a theory, a public measure, of a religion or a political party, of a peace or a war, as men judge of picture or a statue: by the effect produced on their imagination. And truly, for them, a chain of associations is to them what a chain of reasoning is to other men and women. And further what these people deem their opinions, are merely in fact, their tastes.

It would be remarkable, indeed, if the English Department in Bayonne High School spent some time during a student’s four years to teach our students critical thinking.

The reviewer continues his point:

"Now in the mind of Mr. Southey reason has no place at all, as either leader or follower, as either sovereign or slave.

He does not seem to know what an argument is. He never uses arguments himself. He never troubles himself to answer the arguments of his opponents. It has never occurred to him, that a man ought to be able to give some better account of the way in which he has arrived at his opinions than merely that it is his will and pleasure to hold them.

It has never occurred to him that there is a difference between assertion and demonstration, that a rumour does not always prove a fact, that a single fact, when proved, is hardly foundation enough for a theory, that two contradictory propositions cannot be undeniable truths, that to beg the question is not the way to settle it, or that when an objection is raised, it ought to be met with something more convincing than “scoundrel” and “blockhead.”

And yes, here we are with name calling. If we replace “scoundrel” and “blockhead” with “racist” and “fascist” we will be either looking in the mirror (for those with the intellectual honesty to do so) or this sort of analysis will be met with indignation and a retort such as: “Well the reviewer is a Proto-Fascist or Proto Racist, Proto-Sexist, Proto-Homophobe, and Proto-Islamophobe.”

The reviewer was Thomas Babington Macaulay, and never was such wisdom and writing style so vouchsafed to a writer in the English language as was to Lord Macaulay.

BRUCE KOWAL

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