(Reviewed August 29, 2014)
A portrait of modern sanctity which — very oddly, in my view — asks not to be taken too seriously
(Reviewed August 27, 2014)
The movie it took twelve years to make — about a childhood that appears to be taking much, much longer
America: Imagine the World Without Her
(Reviewed July 31, 2014)
Another foray by Dinesh D’Souza into the lists in order to break a lance on President Obama — and Howard Zinn. At least the latter is effectively unhorsed.
(Reviewed June 30, 2014)
An austerely beautiful film by the Anglo-Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski that could hardly be a greater departure from his earlier My Summer of Love
Social elites have always defined themselves — and justified their elite status — by their manners. I think we must have forgotten this since the word "uncouth" became, well, uncouth. Originally meaning "unknown" or "unknowing" the word was in common use by the 18th century to indicate someone who was unfamiliar with the manners of what was once called "polite" society and therefore at best a doubtful claimant to membership in that society. There was no point to calling peasants or tradesmen uncouth unless they aspired to join, or deal on an equal footing with, the elite, when unfamiliarity with the latter’s ways advertised unfitness for their company. The manners of the postwar American elite do not admit of any such overt exclusions, which are now seen as wrong and undemocratic. But the elite would not be an elite if it did not retain some means of excluding the uncouth — something that it has accomplished in our time by turning its manners into morals.
This is what so-called "political correctness" is all about. Now we are meant to show our fitness for membership in the elite by knowing that you must refer to "people of color" but never, ever "colored people," a locution which, dating from the benighted past, is deemed to be racist and offensive — as bad as saying "Negro" rather than "African-American" or "oriental" when you mean "Asian." You will go to your dictionaries mostly in vain these days if you seek precise definitions of words which have lately become less precise — for instance "lie" which can now be used to mean a mere mistake — or for formerly "correct" usages which have not been moralized and therefore are routinely debunked as not being "correct" at all. But the dictionaries would not be doing their job if they did not warn you off committing such social faux pas as these and others with the discreet notation: "Considered offensive."
Offensive, you may wonder, to whom? Not necessarily to the members of those minorities towards whose feelings the dictionaries have become ostensibly solicitous. You may be sure that The Washington Post’s recent discovery that the term "redskin" is not considered offensive by 90 per cent of the American Indians it surveyed will not be taken into account the next time the dictionaries are revised. That is because the feelings that matter are not those of the minorities alleged to be offended but those of the elite who have moralized our linguistic manners so as to be able to exclude the unwanted and the uncouth — that is, those who do not signal their fitness for inclusion in it by adopting the elite’s vocabulary. Lacking the means of excluding such people merely on social or aesthetic grounds, the elite must turn the social and aesthetic into the just and ethical so as to be able to exclude them on moral grounds.
ENTRY from May 23, 2016
My book Media Madness, is available for order from Encounter Books. Less a polemic than an attempt to understand the origins of the mass media’s folie de grandeur, the book is a warning even to those who are deserting the big networks, newsweeklies and large-circulation dailies not to carry with them into the more attractive world of niche media the undisciplined habits of thought that the old media culture has given rise to. To order this book, click here.
Also available, now in paperback, is Honor, A History, which was first published in 2006. A study of Western cultural artifacts, from the epics of Homer to the movies and TV shows of today, it is focused on explaining why Western ideas of honor developed so differently from those elsewhere — and especially from the savage honor cultures of the Islamic world. The book then goes on to trace the collapse and ultimate rejection of the old Western honor culture from World War I until the present day and to suggest the conditions that would have to prevail for its revival.
Politics Without Honor.
April 30, 2016.
To put honor, trust, decorum in the service of self-interest is to misunderstand the meaning of the words — From The New Criterion of April, 2016 ...
A Man or a Mouse?.
March 31, 2016.
On the political consequences of the decline and fall of America’s honor culture — From The New Criterion of March, 2016 ...
The King of Tastelessness.
February 29, 2016.
Inexperienced? Maybe only a veteran of "reality TV" like Donald Trump has the right experience to be president today — From The New Criterion of February, 2016 ...