Two items

Item, several readers have queried my location of the Existentialists on the Left of the 20th-century political spectrum. To call Gabriel Marcel, for instance, a leftist, would seem almost untoward. He was consciously faithful to the Catholic magisterium, and as the son of a revered Jewish mother, and an atheist through adolescence, not from any habit, but by smouldering convert zeal. He did not call himself an Existentialist, like Sartre, but a neo-Socratic, like Kierkegaard. And he was so, not only in The Mystery of Being, but as playwright, and literary and musical essayist. Indeed, Kierkegaard is called “the father of Existentialism,” and the label sticks — as a radical conception of the existence, the freedom and responsibility of the subject, who allows this also in the subjective will of The Other. Not, in other words, one of those “we the people” types.

The short reply is that, I am wrong. (I am often so.) It should be mentioned, however, that I love Gabriel Marcel, and that necessarily includes delight in a certain leftishness in him. It consisted of a sense of intellectual fashion. In ideological terms, he dressed well for the cameras. He was “in the swing” — as Heidegger, and Louis Armstrong, liked to say. He knew how to contend with leftists, without entirely losing their respect. He was a fine intellectual dancer.

Further, on my terminology, is my own sense of fashion. The primary distinction I make, between Left and Right, could be put in this way. Going back to the French Revolution, the Left has always been fashionable, the Right unfashionable. If gentle reader should wish to be more fashionable, at the present day, he will have to swing Left — to the “we the people” side. (I consider Mr Trump to be left-liberal-progressive, for instance; Mrs Clinton was, too.) And as I assure my leftish friends, if they should wish to be less fashionable, they must swing Right, towards self-denying faith in God. But just as we have cooler and warmer colours in painting, there are questions of tinge within the hues themselves. Marcel was on the Left-tinged Right. Sartre, by contrast, was a flaming Red until, it seems, he rethought his whole colour-wheel position on his deathbed.

Of course, anything that is fashionable in its time is soon dead. The “classics” in all fields — literary, scientific, more generally “cultural” — tend to be the reactionaries. They were the ones who, like Ulysses, had themselves tied to the mast, rather than succumb to the bewitching chorus of the Sirens.

Kierkegaard, incidentally — impressively unpopular in life — would, like Nietzche, have disowned all his supposed philosophical progeny. But then, so would Marx have done, and probably even Darwin. By now they must all necessarily realize that, without God, nothing makes sense. Kierkegaard, and Marcel, too, realized this in their own lifetimes.

I hope this makes everything clear.


Item, a crack ex-Vatican Latinist has taken me to task for my proposal to launch a daily Latin news sheet. (See here, then follow the link to my original article.) Let me reply to that reply.

I am criticized for having proposed “a little elitist island of sanity and spiritual calm.” Daniel Gallagher is onside with the Latin newspaper project, per se, and would “send the first edition to the printer tomorrow.” But he notes, from his own experience in the Latin translation bureau at Rome, and as a teacher in elite American universities, that many of the best students are what I would call “liberals.” He mentions prominent leftish-feminish classicists such as Mary Beard, who would have no difficulty expounding her views in the language of Cicero and Augustine and Spinoza.

I, too, would welcome op-eds from Mary Beard, for while I disagree with most of her opinions, she expounds them cleverly, and is (like e.g. Germaine Greer) not a party-line zombie, but a woman who thinks for herself. She also understands that the ancient authors were neither leftish nor feminish. Even slightly.

Moreover, if the effect of such a newspaper were to make Latin better known and more popular among the masses, I would not despair.

Gallagher accuses me of dog-whistling, implying that Latin is “for the smart, the sophisticated, the sane. It’s a secret code that separates those who are right from those who are wrong.” Here he is mistaken. I make this distinction quite openly.

So my response is: Good! I will be Publisher, and he will be Chief Editor, and then we will have creative tension between these poles. Too, as Gallagher’s Latin is surely better than mine, I would rather he did the copy-editing.

But he must be warned, that I have already promised jobs to quite a few people, including most recently a learned Swedish gentleman, who will be our Sports and Palaeography Editor. (He is a crack sniper and enthusiast for all blood sports. He has also many small children, to whom I have promised jobs in the mail room.)

Perfesser Gallagher should be assured, as he leaves his secure job at Cornell, that wages on the daily Brevium ad Principes will be very high and prompt, as I am rich beyond the dreams of avarice.