So AFTER MIDNIGHT last might, I got emails from those two SEATON BROTHERS–Paul and Gary.
Gary sent the good news that MARILYNNE ROBINSON has won the NATIONAL HUMANITIES MEDAL–the same award given (under Republican administrations) to Walker Percy, Tom Wolfe, and Harvey Mansfield. And of course more recently to Wendell Berry. I once thought of teaching a course just on their four acceptance addresses. After Robinson, it will make even more sense to go with five. Now we’ll have all the indigenous American poetic possibilities–American Thomism (the WP synthesis of Stoicism and Christianity), the purer southern Stoicism of the man in full, the defender of the “spirit” of American liberty against despotic materialism, agrarianism, and the neo-Puritanical or Calvinist defender of egalitarianism without condescension.
Some Liberty Fund guy (Richard, are you reading?) or similar representative of some well-heeled educational foundation should sponsor a conference along these lines.
I’m very serious when I say that any account of America that doesn’t incorporate what’s true and noble about each of these five poetic possibilities is deficient. (Take that, everyone one from Dr. Pat Deneen to Jaffa-ites!)
Robinson reminded us of the original, authentically neo-Puritanical Oberlin: The only college in America at the time which offered a liberal education to both blacks and women, and the place where everyone–including the professors–both studied and did useful work. It’s sad and instructive, of course, to compare that Oberlin with the one portrayed on GIRLS.
A great thing about Robinson, of course, is that she’s not only written novels, but lots of essays–philosophic, theological, cultural, and political–for those of us who have that prosaic learning style.
Paul sent me a link that revealed that the AMERICAN CONSERVATIVES Rod Dreher and Alan Jacobs are both starting to take Southern Stoicism at least a little seriously.
That’s great, because you can’t be an AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE IN FULL without doing so. We POSTMODERN CONSERVATIVES have been doing so for well over a decade now.
Those American conservatives, even with the help of Walker Percy, still haven’t figured out what Southern Stoicism is. To do so, you have study carefully Percy’s “Stoicism in the South” and especially LANTERNS ON THE LEVEE, written by the philosophic poet who raised Walker–William Alexander Percy. “Uncle Will” has a fully developed teaching on the place of man in the cosmos, the indispensability of the Stoic virtues of magnanimity and generosity, and loneliness, class, understanding, beauty, and love. Unlike the Stoic attitude Jacobs criticizes, Will was hardly ashamed of his loneliness, and he was nothing if not a generous personal and community activist. When he was in his prime, Greenville, MS had perhaps the best public schools in the country, where Walker Percy and Shelby Foote had to struggle to get Bs in English.
As Walker Percy points out, the most powerful or influential book on Southern Stoicism was written by Harper Lee. To begin to think about who a Southern Stoic is, think ATTICUS (look up Atticus) FINCH. More on this later.