We’ve followed the speeches given by Obama administration NEH chairman Jim Leach here (commenting on Leach’s “The tension between speaking and listening”) and here (commenting on Leach’s “Bridging cultures: NEH and the Muslim world”).
One finds in both speeches Leach’s praise of Lawrence Durrell’s highly literary Alexandria Quartet. Would someone who has actually read all four novels of the Alexandria Quartet really say, as Leach did in his “tension” speech, 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 not to think so.
Leach deduces a serious relativism from the Quartet‘s 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 the point of view of other 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 reports that Leach kicked off his “civility tour” in New York on March 4 with “Civility in a fractured society,” a speech condemning “divisive tendencies.” Among those Leach singled out for special treatment were Tea Partiers:
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 observes).
One can observe the paradox of the “respect” advocated by Leach toward the end of his 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.