Sunday, May 29, 2005

Book Meme (Again)

Someguy from Mystery Achievement tagged me with a new book meme. Yes, yes, I know, I just did one a month ago, but it was so fun I'm doing it again. Honestly, I almost feel like making this a regular feature on CUANAS. It's fun to talk about books.

1. Total Number of books I've owned: I don't know, really. Somewhere between 2000-3000. I'm probably in possession of approximately 1,500 of those currently. When I was about 21 years old, I got this odd idea in my head that I had had enough of books, and I began taking boxfuls of books to a local used book store and selling them. That was among the stupidest things I have ever done. Thank God I came to my senses before I sold them all.

2. Last book I bought: Lincoln's Virtues, by William Lee Miller. This is an interesting type of book. It is subtitled "An Ethical Biography." Basically, the book goes through Lincoln's life in chronological order and notes all the ethical issues he faced, and the decisions he made in the face of those issues. The book takes great pains to make clear the definition of words like "Prudence" (as a "Cardinal Virtue" - I would imagine Someguy being Catholic might be able to explain the significance of that term), Responsibility, and Realism, and to explain that Lincoln's vocation was politics and not moralism.

The most interesting passage I have read so far, was the one I read right before my eyelids finally collapsed in a heap atop my still roving eyes. Just preceding this passage, Miller discusses the Free-Soil Party and their take-no-prisoners version of politics. The Free-Soilers were a one-issue dominated third party (anti-slavery) who had no chance of winning, and would only serve to throw the election to the more pro-slavery Democrats. Lincoln stood against them in the interest of realism, and Prudence. In this passage, Miler compares and contrasts the unrealistic moral absolutism of the Free-Soilers with the realism of Lincoln's political approach:

That essay of Weber's (referring to Max Weber's Politics as a Vocation) would seem to disparage an ethic of unconditional and peremptory absolutes and enodorse exclusively an ethic of calculating responsibility. Beu then at the end of his essay, perhaps to the surprise of the reader, he describes the "immensely moving" occasion when the two ethics come together, and a mature man - no matter whether old or you in years - following an ethic of responsibility somewhere reaches the point where he says (as Weber's hearers would know, a quotation from Martin Luther): "Here I stand; I can do no other."

Lincoln, at his core a surpassingly dutiful man, would certainly come to such occasions. This book from one angle may be seen as the story of Lincoln's coming to that point. Weber's provision that the occasion involve a mature person, and that it represent not the overcoming of one by the other but the combining of those two kinds of ethics, suggests what is surely true in Loncoln's case: that the occasion on which he said his version of "Here I stand; I can do no other" were rare, profound, truly the end of all calculating, deeply personal, still not detatched from effects in the real world, and not undertaken for a self-indulgent display of rectitude."

I found this passage both inspiring and convicting. Why? Because CUANAS, while it does have it's mission, is ultimately just a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. I have no power to effect any change in the Islamic world, nor in the world of European politics, nor in the American Academy. Having no power, I do not risk losing anything by shooting off my mouth, and criticizing individuals and institutions for their anti-Semitism.

Lincoln however, chose to be a politician, so that he could effect political change. As a politician, he had to shore up power, which meant forging alliances and coming to agreements with individuals and institutions. This always means compromise, a thing I am loathe to do.

Often, we who do not tolerate compromise think that we are "pure" and that we are brave in our moral stand. However, if one does not have power to lose, then what bravery has one displayed by taking a moral stand. The only bravery I display in writing CUANAS is the bravery of expending the precious time alotted to me on such an endeavor. That is as much my families decision as it is mine.

This description of the political Lincoln coming to the point where he says, "Here I stand; I can do no other" is the description of a person who has gained his power on compromises, saying "to hell with the power, no longer will I compromise with you."

Now that is a brave moral decision.

And we see how both Lincoln and America paid for it. A real moral choice for the good does not reward the individual or the institution with a heavenly bounty. Instead it leads to a legion of ugly particulars which need to be fought for in the real world.

I think this is the totality of Christ's message. Certainly, Christ said to himself when eating the last supper, "Here I stand; I can do no other." And in His insistence to us through the Gospels that true Goodness does not lie in the Law, but in seeing the needs of the "least of these" and responding with a sacrifice that meets those needs.

Ok, I guess I should get back to the book meme, huh?

I also recently bought (and am slowly reading) The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, The Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy, by Peter Huber. That's a provocative title, isn't it? This book will turn your understanding of the politics and economics of energy, on it's head.

3. Last Book I Read: Roosevel, Champion of Freedom, by Conrad Black. Well, I admit I didn't read the whole thing. I "savored" it, as Someguy so eloquently puts it. But, I did read the parts which were of particular interest, and of particular use, to me.

Uh, I guess I should also mention that I am currently in downtime (having every intention of rebooting) on Eurabia by Bat Ye'or. It's a book I must read the whole way through, but I think all of us can agree the woman is truly a crappy writer. Very, very difficult.

4. Five Books That Mean A Lot To Me:

1) The Bible - this goes without saying. However, I'll try to be a little more specific. The book of Romans is one of my favorites, not only because of what it has to say about the relationship of the Church to the Jews, but also because of passages like this:

15For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!"
16The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,
17and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
19For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.
20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope
21that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
22For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.
23And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons,the redemption of our body.
24For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?

2) Thus Spake Zarathustra/Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzche - This is two books, but I'm not going to list them separately because they are of a piece. The philosophy layed out in these two books is the philosophy of raw power. This is the philosophy of theft and murder, raping and pillaging, malevolence and marauding. Such behavior comes naturally to those who do not allow themselves to be guided by moral priniciples. I will be teaching my children these books as they grow older. Because they will need to understand the way the world works.

3) The Book of Common Prayer 1928 Edition - The Morning Prayer opens with the verse, "The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before him." (I remember sitting in front of a beautiful Catholic Church, just up the hill from Union Square in san Francisco, and watching the sun come up, hearing the birds break out into their alleluias, the whole city waking into a human symphony of wails and groaning. And behind it silence. The Silence of God and all of creation in contemplation. It's there. We're blessed when we can find it.

4) The Tao Te Ching, the only other scripture that I have ever read which seems to have a kind of divinity to it. (I'd love to hear Christians criticize that statement.) Here's the opening passage:

"The dao (tao) produced the one. The one produced the two. The two produced the three, and the three produced the ten thousand things"

Sounds familiar.

5) The Garden of Eden, by Ernest Hemingway. I have tried in this book meme to talk about different books than I did a month ago. However, I will mention this one again, because I think it needs to be considered. In my opinion, it is among his greatest, and is certainly the most distinct. James Mellow wrote a biography of Hemingway called, A Life Without Consequences. To Mellow it seemed that Hemingway was somehow able to live suspended above the physical and emotional impairment of which we mere mortals are victims. In The Garden of Eden, Hemingway pulls back the veil which hid all his doubts and anxieties from the world. He performs an absolutely brutal deconstruction of his own myth.

5. People I will infect with this meme: My fellow CUANAS brother, Publius. Papijoe at Marlowe's Shade. Jack, at Jack of Clubs. Graham, at Graham Lester's blog. TVD at Philosodude. I'd also love to know what Baron at Gates of Vienna is reading, and, oh yes, how could I forget; what about Screaming Memes?