A Companion to Brideshead Revisited
Ain't That America


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I find McDougall’s unremittingly negative hustler analogy off-balance. This, for instance, really bothers me: “…the blithe hustling, mobbing, lawless Americans fell through pretense and pride over slavery into the slaughter of Civil War…” That’s all it was about -- pretense and pride? Nothing about the fact that the Southern states were pushing to expand slavery into the territories?

For that matter, didn’t Woodrow Wilson become the big interferer in the world because World War I had been world-changing?

Agree with you, Mac. This is great stuff. I liked it so much I went ahead and subscribed to Humanitas, the journal in which it originally appeared.

"That’s all it was about -- pretense and pride? Nothing about the fact that the Southern states were pushing to expand slavery into the territories?"

Seems to me that McDougall is faulting both North and South for "pretense and pride," as he doesn't specify one or the other in the comment. Both were certainly guilty of those sins.

"didn’t Woodrow Wilson become the big interferer in the world because World War I had been world-changing?"

Wilson had the intention of "interfering" well before the Great War began. America's entry into the war only changed Wilson's method, not his policy.

I thought it was boring self advertisement and that almost anything Mac posts including pictures of herons tells us more about the meaning of life

Probably I should read something twice before pronouncing it the best. I'll read it again at lunch or sometime. I agree that the line about the Civil War was overly flip, and I would assume that as a serious historian he has more substantial things to say about it.

One thing I liked about it was the undercutting of the somewhat sanctimonious view of American history in a way that's still respectful of the achievement. The debunking is a commonplace maneuver on the left, but they generally go way too far and end up in their usual America-root-of-all-evil place. Conservatives tend to go in the other direction and make too much of American exceptionalism, and McDougall is concerned with taking down those who have led us into a pretty bad situation based partly on the more messianic manifestations of that.

Also, res expert, I didn't take this to have that much to do with the meaning of life in general, but with the more specific question of how the American republic can survive. I will try to post some more pictures soon.:-)

Well, I ran out of lunch hour and only got about halfway through the 2nd piece, but I think it was this basic idea that I was enthused about:

"...American power is spent, its future already mortgaged out two generations, and citizens may be excused for demanding change rather than conservation. Moreover, I would contend that much of what has passed for conservatism over my lifetime has been a masquerade or else an unwitting enabler for public and private pretense and prodigality that have almost reached fatal proportions. Back in the 1960s Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen would drawl, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon we’re talking real money.” Today we read Charles Morris on The Two Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash (Perseus, 2008), Joseph Stiglitz on The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the War in Iraq (Norton, 2008), Andrew Bacevich on The Limits of Power, which foresees the suicide of American Exceptionalism, and Niall Ferguson on The Ascent of Money, which foresees another Great Depression during which “there will be blood.” If in fact our Republic of Hustlers has degenerated in our time into a monstrous Ponzi scheme, then what is it that conservatives would want to conserve? If in fact today’s festering lilies sprang from bad seeds planted far back in American history, then what is it that conservatives would want to restore? If in fact the prudential, immediate goal of conservatives is simply to defend what remains of our heritage and forestall a slide into anarchy, then what is it conservatives can do, paradoxically, to sustain the very Republic of Hustlers they damn?"

This is the paradoxical situation I find myself in: jeremiah-ing around about the fact that the republic has decayed to a point where it can't survive and probably doesn't deserve to, and yet finding enough undecayed good in it to want it to survive.

Res ex, I didn't mind the personal focus, as a setting for his reflection on the idea of conservatism.

I really loved this: "A conservative is someone who knows that things could be worse."


I'm not going to put this in the Undead Thread because it might get overlooked. Y'all should read this.


Comment on the opening: somewhere in the past week or two I read a story about Rupert Murdoch which began "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a rich old man must be in want of a new, younger wife."

But I'll have to wait till later to read the whole thing.

Poor Jane.


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