Sunday, October 26, 2008

Homecoming Issue Online

Our latest issue of The Dartmouth Review, celebrating homecoming, is now online. Top stories include:

* A History of Dartmouth Nights, including why one should, nay, must rush the field.
* The editorial take on the Presidential Search, and a tragic blow-by-blow of the student forum
* Why Jeffrey Hart is supporting Barack Obama.
* The Rugger's Roundup and the latest Indian Football update
* Why Socrates was not black
* Per Usual, the week in review and the last word on the subject.


John said...

OK, so let's start on the Hart interview. Hart's Burke, like that of Will Ladislaw in Middlemarch, is tinged with Shelley. And why Burke at all? He never visited the colonies or the US, after all, and his vision of them is largely a feature of his UK-oriented political philosophy. If I were to construct a conservative interpretation of American conditions, I think Tocqueville would be much more profitable, as his analysis is detailed, comprehensive, and based on actual experience.

Hart also misses a great deal of historical precedent for current conditions, from the Barbary Pirates to Jimmy Carter. It's worth pointing out that Islamic expansionism was one of the first foreign policy problems the US faced, and it took a uniquely modern form: European states wanted to continue buying off the pirates, while the US thought it would be better to defeat them militarily. There likely would have been continued US foreign intervention in Islamic expansionism, except that the 19th century phase of European colonialism put the problem on ice. Dubya is following a thoroughly historical course, and if we think we can avoid the problem, we'll simply postpone further confrontation.

Indeed, the issues relating to the need to confront Islamic expansionism have been central to Western culture, something the current Bishop of Rome has been pointing out. Hart at one time, in his Smiling Througb the Cultural Catastrophe, was in favor of Western Civ. Apparently no longer.

In fact, Obama on one hand represents a theme in the Democratic party that goes back at least to William Jennings Bryan, who quit as Wilson's Secretary of State because he wanted to continue an isolationist foreign policy in the face of an increasingly plain requirement that the US get involved in World War I. He also seems a lot like the earlier FDR, who comes off in Amity Shlaes's recent book as a dilettante. What's puzzling is an absence of historical context in Hart's imagination here, something that he used to hope his students would have.

I used to think, in fact, that the education I got at Dartmouth was as bad as it was due to the majority of the faculty being unlike Hart. Take the English Department of the time -- Henry Terrie was more interested in golf than English; Chauncey Loomis conducted polar expeditions rather than do textual analysis; Noel Perrin toyed with electric cars. Hart, I thought, was different, and I figured for some time that he was a bright spot.

I'm less convinced of that now. The Ivy League, according to critics from Richard Hofzstadter onward (but let's not ignore F.Scott), produces a vapid, narissistic, clubbable product (think Dubya or his dad, or Hank Paulson). An Ivy education is not, in fact, rigorous; it appeals to haute bourgeois prejudice and validates haute bourgeois aspirations.

If I find Hart's recent migrations disappointing, I'm increasingly convinced it's because I didn't evaluate his earlier teaching and writing critically enough. Of the post-World War I American writers, for instance, about the last one standing with any real reputation is Steinbeck, whose contemporaries valued him about the least. Yet Hart in his popular course on the 1920s referred favorably to Ezra Pound, a pathological case who wrote maybe a dozen lines of memorable poetry, T.S.Eliot, nearly as much of a fraud, and Hemingway, whose adoption of Telegrammenstil has had baleful effects. Nobody is going to come out of a course like that thinking seriously about what literature ought to be now. But Hart regards himself as a creature of the Ivy League. What else can we expect?

Anonymous said...

The Ivy League, according to critics from Richard Hofzstadter onward (but let's not ignore F.Scott), produces a vapid, narissistic, clubbable product (think Dubya or his dad, or Hank Paulson).

Based on your comments, the Ivy League has produced at least one vapid, narcissistic product. I don't know if it's "clubbable" or not. Perhaps the benefit of narcissism is that it occasionally leads to useful introspection.

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