Volume > Issue > Briefly: March 1990

March 1990

The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth-Century Russian Thought

By Andrzej Walicki

Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press

Pages: 609

Price: $18.95

Review Author:

In the Introduction to the original edition of The Slavo­phile Controversy, published in 1944 (and now reissued), the Polish historian Andrzej Wa­licki, now a professor at the University of Notre Dame, maintained that “the issues debated by the Slavophiles and Westernizers (the individual’s relation to society, types of so­cial integration and spiritual culture, the problem of free­dom and alienation, the eman­cipation of personality, and so on) are no less topical today.” These words ring with even more truth 25 years later, for the people of the Soviet Union have plunged anew into a fierce and rough-and-tumble conflict over matters raised, but not settled, by the 19th­-century debate.

Through his enlightening study, Walicki not only re­minds one of the richness and vitality of Russian thought in the half century or so before the Bolsheviks seized power, but he also provides historical depth for one determined to comprehend current controver­sies in the Soviet Union.

Spark from Heaven: The Mystery of the Madonna of Medjugorje

By Mary Craig

Publisher: Ave Maria Press

Pages: 231

Price: $6.95

Review Author:

Mary Craig, an English Catholic journalist, can’t make up her mind about the alleged apparitions of the Virgin in Yugoslavia. She accompanied a BBC film crew to Medjugorje in 1986, mainly because she was intrigued by the political implications of the situation — of how a Communist govern­ment was handling an erup­tion of spiritual fervor. Im­pressed with the visionaries and with the “fruits” of what the film crew’s interpreter called “this good tree” that the Virgin has planted “in the rocky soil of Medjugorje,” Craig returned in June 1987 for the celebration of the sixth anniversary of the Virgin’s first appearance. A disenchanted Mary Craig departed from Medjugorje this time. “All I had found seemed to be heat ­rash and depression,” she complains. “Those pilgrims seemed so certain that they had found what they were looking for. Yet, to me, such certainty was intolerable; I was suspicious of ‘answers’ that seemed to be rooted in formal prayers and orthodox Catholic practice.” Pointing out that the local bishop, a man unrelent­ingly hostile to the visionaries, has “logic and reason…on his side,” Craig still confesses: “And yet…somehow, in spite of everything, I find myself hoping he’s wrong.” On Craig’s first visit, one of the BBC technicians, no believer, blurted: “I don’t know what the hell’s going on here; but something certainly is.” That something left a prom­inent American Pentecostal marveling at the authentic New Testament spirituality radiated by the priests and young people. It awed a Muslim holy man who came to observe the goings-on: “I felt in my heart such energy that I could have cried aloud…. I decided to pray the whole night….” Perhaps most impressive is the testimony from a young man identified by Craig as “a radical and anti-clerical research student from Leeds University.” On a mission to debunk, he met with a surprise in the Yugoslavian village. “Precon­ceived ideas from either left or right tend to get drowned in God’s will here,” he admitted. “I think this place transcends divisions. It’s about peace and reconciliation…. In Medju­gorje, I believe God is speak­ing above the din of conserva­tives versus radicals.”

Harper's Bible Pronunciation Guide

By William O. Walker Jr.

Publisher: Harper & Row

Pages: 170

Price: $15.95

Review Author:

Perusing the Bible silently, one’s eye glides effortlessly over an abundance of exotic, tongue-tying names and words. But what happens when one is called upon to read a biblical passage aloud and in public? As the eye skips ahead it spots the inevi­table unpronounceable term — “Aholibamah,” say, or “Chepharamammoni” or “Zerubba­bel.” What to do? Either mumble the word in hopes that no one will notice anything odd, or bluff it through with enough volume, vigor, and self-confidence that the auditors will be satisfied that one’s own pronunciation is the correct one.

Help has arrived in the form of Harper’s Bible Pronunci­ation Guide, a volume that con­tains over 7,000 words, divid­ed into two sections — “Bibli­cal Terms” and “Nonbiblical Terms,” (“Apocalypticism,” Persepolis,” and “Tetragram­maton,” for example) related to scripture study. This guide joins two other Harper’s refer­ence works — the Bible Dic­tionary and the Bible Commen­tary — as indispensable items on the shelf of the serious student of the Bible.

Evelyn Waugh

By Katharyn W. Crabbe

Publisher: Continuum

Pages: 188

Price: $16.95

Review Author:

Most everyone in the Lit ­Crit Establishment used to nod the head sagely and lament that, yes, Catholicism spoiled Evelyn Waugh. The critics loved his early books, those scintillating novels that crack­led with wicked satire, mor­dant wit, and social mayhem. Alas, the Church snared him and ruined his art. Although Katharyn Crabbe pays her re­spects to this received wisdom (“there is some truth in this version,” she avers), her per­ceptive, no-nonsense study of Waugh’s fiction proves just the opposite.

By focusing on such leit­motifs as exile and the “de­cline and fall of the city of man,” Crabbe reveals the unity that binds early Waugh to late Waugh. She gives a full and appreciative reading to the Catholic Waugh, even devoting attention, as few critics do, to such neglected works as Hele­na, Waugh’s imaginative ren­dering of the life of the mother of the Emperor Constantine. Crabbe’s illuminating explica­tion of these writings prompts one to reach for a volume of Waugh.

The Modernization of Sex: Havelock Ellis, Alfred Kinsey, William Masters and Virginia Johnson

By Paul Robinson

Publisher: Cornell University Press

Pages: 200

Price: $9.95

Review Author:

The Modernization of Sex (first published in 1976) is one of those droll creatures that struts and frets in the halls of academe. Half scholarship, half polemic, it both illuminates its subject and irritates those who reject the author’s partis pris.

As a contribution to learn­ing, the book skillfully expli­cates the ideas of four propo­nents of “sexual modernism,” a movement that strips sex of its mystique, explodes roman­tic sentimentalism, and re­duces the act (or acts, for noth­ing is taboo among the mod­ernizers) to its physical me­chanics.

The other side of Robin­son’s book — its offensive tendentiousness — debouches from his unsubtle championing of sexual modernism, especial­ly as it seeks to collapse the notion of perversion, promote unrestrained indulgence, and denigrate marriage and child­bearing. Alfred Kinsey wins Robinson’s award as ideal sexual revolutionary; “for me,” he declares, Kinsey is “an at­tractive, even a heroic figure.” Of his hero, Robinson reveals that Kinsey “was anxious to pin the blame on religion” for all man’s sexual afflictions — “no matter what the evi­dence.” Tolerance, a prized canon of sexual modernism, received its ultimate boost from Kinsey, who even, as Robinson points out, put in a “good word for child molest­ers.” Alas, Robinson laments in the preface he composed for this reprinting of his book that the glory days have vanished; we are allegedly mired in “sexual reaction.”

Sacralizing the Secular: The Renaissance Origins of Moder­nity

By Stephen A. McKnight

Publisher: Louisiana State University Press

Pages: 131

Price: $25

Review Author:

In Sacralizing the Secular Stephen McKnight, a political philosopher at the University of Florida, contributes to the movement afoot to dispel the still popular misapprehension that the Renaissance spelled the triumph of science, reason, and secularity over the sup­posedly superstitious and obscurantist Middle Ages. Like Frances Yates, the astute histo­rian of the “occult philoso­phy,” McKnight singles out the “Ancient Wisdom,” a far­rago of esoteric ideas derived from the legendary Egyptian magus, Hermes Trismegistus, as a key element in Renais­sance thought, especially as fil­tered through the minds of Marsilio Ficino, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Cornelius Agrippa, Giordano Bruno, and Tommaso Campanella.

Rather than to sunder heaven from earth, God from man, as did such Renaissance secularists as Boccaccio and Machiavelli, propagators of Hermeticism revived myths that “underscore man’s divini­ty and describe man as pos­sessing both God-like knowl­edge and the creative capacity to use that knowledge to emulate God’s creation.” They endeavored, as the title of McKnight’s book indicates, to sacralize the secular. Ficino and Pico fashioned ancient ideas into instruments of “self­-divinization”; in the next two centuries, led by Bruno, Cam­panella, and others, propo­nents of the so-called Ancient Wisdom stimulated “utopian ideas of religious and political reformation.”

In the most provocative section of the book, McKnight argues that the Hermetic tradi­tion’s program of sacralization cropped up significantly in the works of 19th-century ideo­logues, notably Comte and Marx. McKnight’s book ad­duces a closely woven and persuasive thesis that helps one to grasp the roots of per­versity that feed some strains of modern thought.

Another Sort of Learning

By James V. Schall

Publisher: Ignatius

Pages: 299

Price: $12.95

Review Author:

James Schall is Allan Bloom without the solemnity and bitchiness. Like Bloom, Schall deplores the slump in elevated discourse and urges the reading of classic books, but unlike his fellow political theorist, Fr. Schall has fun with earnest matters. His twinkling wit and fondness for laughter suffuse Another Sort of Learning, proving that a fur­rowed brow and grim visage are not mandatory in the dis­cussion of the gravest of con­cerns. Who else would quote St. Thomas on one page and Mad magazine on the next?

Schall is a subversive among the professors. Believ­ing that education rarely edu­cates in the deepest sense, he exhorts the truth-seeker to im­pose his own regimen of learn­ing. “I believe,” he observes, “that we are in a world today where most of this searching must take place outside the normal educational process and outside the myriads of media images and opinions with which we are constantly confronted.”

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