I have mentioned before Clive James’ book of mini-essays on intellectuals of the last hundred years, Cultural Amnesia . He really does not like Jean-Paul Sartre, who was lionized by so many for so long. James blames Sartre’s prewar period in Berlin, and especially the influence of Heidegger. "In Sartre’s style of argument, German metaphysics met French sophistry in a kind of European Coal and Steel Community producing nothing but rhetorical gas." But wait, he is just warming up. "[Sartre] might have known that he was debarred by nature from telling the truth for long about anything that mattered, because telling the truth was something that ordinary men did, and his urge to be extraordinary was, for him, more of a motive force than merely to see the world as it was." Sartre was a fervent communist to the end, denying or belittling the atrocities committed by Stalin, Mao, and their lesser imitators. As odiously, he made his peace with the Vichy regime and then, after the war, claimed to be a hero of the Resistance and set himself up as a grand inquisitor indicting intellectuals whom he thought had been less than heroic. "Heidegger and Sartre were only pretending to deal with existence, because each of them was in outright denial of his own experience, and therefore had a vested interest in separating existence from facts." "Working by a sure instinct for bogus language, a non-philosopher like George Orwell could call Sartre’s political writings a heap of beans, but there were few professional thinkers anywhere who found it advisable to dismiss Sartre’s air of intelligence: there was too great a risk of being called unintelligent themselves. Effectivement ¯to resurrect a French word that was worked to death at the time¯Sartre was called profound because he sounded as if he was either that or nothing, and few cared to say that they thought him nothing." And to think that I have been called¯rarely, but from time to time¯a polemicist.


Douglas Laycock, a distinguished professor of law at the University of Michigan and expert on the Religion Clause of the First Amendment, examines God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law by Marci A. Hamilton (Cambridge). Writing in the Michigan Law Review , he concludes after seventeen pages: "Occasional errors are inevitable, but here the extraordinary number of errors, often with reference to famous cases and basic doctrines, implies a reckless disregard for truth. I document these errors for a reason. No one should cite this book. No one should rely on it for any purpose. You might use its footnotes as leads to other sources, but take nothing from this book without independent verification." Prof. Laycock really did not like the book at all.


Fr. Paul Mankowski is a friend who teaches Hebrew and Ugaritic dialects at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. In Adoremus Bulletin , he reflects on the perils of Bible translations. He notes along the way that the New American Bible (NAB), an unfortunate translation that survives by virtue of being mandated in this country for reading at Mass, renders Matthew 19:12 without reference to "eunuchs." Instead, we read that some people are "incapable of marriage." Fr. Mankowski wryly observes that "marriage is not the activity of which eunuchs are incapable." On a perhaps more serious level, he points out the problems with employing "inclusive language," which is an ideological imposition on the text. The problem does not go away with the "compromise" of using only "horizontal" inclusive language. In that case, "he" and "him" are used only with reference to God ("vertical"), thus highlighting the maleness of the masculine forms that offend PC sensibilities. But I think he may be wrong about Romans 5. An otherwise inclusive-language translation is compelled, for understandable reasons, to make it "sin came into the world through one man." Mankowski writes: "Precisely to the extent that our expectations are based on the [inclusive] grammar without generic ‘man,’ we will understand St. Paul to be speaking about one male. In introducing exactly the kind of misunderstanding for which they are invoked as the cure, the inclusive devices cut their own throat." I’m not so sure. If I read some of these ideologists correctly, they want to say that sin came into the world through man, as in male. But I could be wrong about that. The above items are from "The Public Square" in a forthcoming issue of First Things . To become a subscriber, click here .
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