Leach has made himself something of a schoolmarm, both pompous and insipid, while continuing to curry favor with the Obama administration. Leach returned to the themes of his “Bridging cultures” speech in “The tension between speaking and listening” in February 2010 at Wayne State University Law School. In the speech Leach opined at Castroite length on politics, civility, the Supreme Court, and just about everything but the humanities. Unlike any previous chairman of the NEH, Democrat or Republican, Leach is turning the NEH into a political soapbox.
One finds in these and other of Leach’s speeches praise of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet tetralogy. Would someone who has actually read all four volumes of that work really say, as Leach repeatedly does, that “Certain frameworks of thought define rival ideas,” or instruct his audience that “The choice for leaders is whether to opt for unifying statesmanship or opportunistic partisanship”? I would like to think not.
Leach holds the Alexandria Quartet almost as high in his esteem as he does Obama:
In a set of four books published half a century ago called the Alexandria Quartet, the British author Lawrence Durrell describes urban life in the ancient Egyptian city Alexandria between the first and second World Wars. In the first book, Durrell spins a story from the singular perspective of one individual. In each subsequent book, he describes the same events from the perspective of others. While the surrounding events are the same, the stories are profoundly different, informed by each narrator’s life and circumstances. The moral is that to get a sense of reality it is illuminating to see things from more than one set of eyes. This observation can apply to interactions in a court room or town hall or to the international stage. What America does may seem reasonable from our perspective, but look very different to a European, African, Middle Easterner, or Asian.
Leach’s errors describing the Quartet suggest that he himself needs another pair of eyes to get a good perspective on it. It seems to have been a while since Leach actually read the novels, though he may be the first of Durrell’s readers to find a moral to the story. Leach deduces a serious relativism from the novels’ experiment with point of view. For a relativistic kind of guy, however, Leach seems awfully sure of himself. One must wonder about Leach’s relativistic point of view. Is it exempt from the Leach uncertainty principle? How can he be so sure that he is right, and his fellow Americans wrong? Or is the Leach uncertainty principle the final revelation?
When it comes to passing judgment on his fellow Americans, we find that Leach quickly sheds his advocacy of respect for differing perspectives. The Daily Caller reported that Leach kicked off his “civility tour” in New York on March 4, 2010, with “Civility in a fractured society,” a speech condemning “divisive tendencies.” Among those Leach singled out for special treatment were – who else? — Tea Party protesters:
This afternoon I visited the New York Historical Society. At its wondrous, NEH-supported exhibition on “Lincoln in New York” I was mesmerized by a portrayal of several citizen movements. Pictured was a 30,000 strong rally of New Yorkers calling themselves “Brooklyn Soporifics” who objected to Lincoln and his anti-slavery stance. Next to it was a picture of a group of like-dressed, brown-suited torch bearers called “Wide Awakes” who were marching the streets of the city in support of Lincoln during the same 1860 campaign.
“It would be unfair to make philosophical analogies to the tea and coffee parties a century and a half later,” Leach said, essentially making the analogy (as the Daily Caller observed).
One can observe the paradox of the “respect” advocated by Leach toward the end of this speech: “The national interest is not served by a dysfunctional, rules-hamstrung Legislature, a corporatist Court, an irreconcilable face-off between the Legislature and the Executive, and most of all, a citizenry in which individuals have an increasingly difficult time respecting those with whom they differ.” Why? “Nihilism is not the American way.” Ouch! Where is the Alexandria Quartet when you need it? For a guy who badly needs a course in remedial writing, Leach communicates his point (and he does have one) when he wants to: those who disagree with him are un-American.
Previously: An introduction, Part 1, Part 2. Tomorrow: Part 4.