Friday, July 12, 2019

"Lovers of truth, when they are not heated with political debate."

The entry at Anecdotal Evidence this morning included a quotation from Barton Swaim's 2010 review of a collection of Samuel Johnson's writings. From that review in the now unfortunately defunct Weekly Standard:
...Johnson was more concerned with morality than with politics; he cared about individual rather than societal reform, and so could never be the father, or even the uncle, of any variety of political conservatism.

...Johnson’s is a moral and intellectual, not a political, conservatism, but it is no less relevant for that. If there is any truth to Michael Oakeshott’s claim that conservatism is a disposition rather than a creed, that disposition was given its fullest and most memorable expression in the works of Samuel Johnson: preeminently in his essays from The Rambler, The Idler, and The Adventurer, and in his short philosophical novel, Rasselas; but also in his literary criticism and other occasional writings. ....

Johnson was not, as those who’ve read only Boswell have often concluded, a reactionary. He thought of himself as a Tory, but that label did not mean for him a hidebound attitude toward all things modern. He certainly had a perverse streak (as, surely, all conservatives must have if they wish to preserve their sanity), and he enjoyed making outrageous and abusive remarks in conversation. But Johnson’s views were in chief respects more forward-looking and Whiggish than otherwise. In the essays reprinted in this volume, he inveighs against punishing debtors with prison sentences, men who take advantage of vulnerable women, the ill-treatment of children by fathers, and of Indians by the North American settlers. ....

...[H]is refusal to countenance any belief that oversimplified the human experience, and his dim view of man’s benevolence—made him skeptical of the claims of politics. The mental vulgarity of politics robs men of good cheer, and gives them the moral license to say things they know to be untrue. In Idler 10, Johnson discusses two of his friends. “They are both men of integrity,” he says, “where no factious interest is to be promoted; and both lovers of truth, when they are not heated with political debate.”

Politics usurps the mind, and tempts its participants to exaggerate the importance of government policies beyond all rational bounds. .... (much more)

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