Beauty of Gray

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Let’s get some new arguments

A common sentiment on the pro-war side has been to lament the lack of new ideas in the anti-war camp, criticizing them for simply recycling generations old slogans and ideas. (See here for a recent example, if you haven’t already seen many.) With that in mind, I was amused to run across the following line of argument in The Idiot by Dostoevsky:

“To begin with, what is liberalism, really, speaking in general, if not an assault (reasonable or erroneous is not the point) on the existing order of things? That’s so, isn’t it? Well then, my fact is that Russian liberalism is not an assault on the existing order of things, it is an attack on the very essence of the things we have, the things themselves, not just on their ordering, not on the Russian system but on Russia herself. My liberal has reached the stage of denying Russia itself—that is, he hates and beats his own mother. Every evidence of the wretchedness and failure of Russia prompts him to laughter, delight even…If there’s an excuse for him, it’s only that he doesn’t realize what he’s doing and takes his hatred of Russia for the most fruitful kind of liberalism…Not too long ago some of our liberals used to regard this hatred of Russia as being almost equivalent to a genuine love of country…nowadays they’ve become more outspoken and even the words “love of country” make them fel ashamed; they’ve even banished and dismissed the very concept as something pernicious and of little account.”

While the anti-war protesters may be recycling their ideas from the 60’s, too many conservatives seem to be recycling their ideas about liberals from the 60’s too. The 1860’s, that is. The equation of liberalism with hatred of country goes back at least that far, although one doubts Coulter and others making the charge know or care of the long pedigree of the ideas they present as if they were their own. Neither side here has any monopoly on the tired retreading of worn-out arguments.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 4:45 PM

And now for something completely different…

Flipping around the radio yesterday, since it was Valentine’s Day I happened to hear a DJ referring to Romeo and Juliet as the “Mount Everest” of love stories. This is a pet peeve of mine, since I think that sentiment is so common and so utterly misguided. I don’t know if it’s the general critical consensus, but certainly among the general population Romeo and Juliet has become elevated into a beautiful story of great love, archetypal and moving, the highest expression of love and romance. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Strip away the beautiful language that Shakespeare gives to his characters, and what is left? Well, let me put it this way. If your 16 year old daughter came home from school one day and told you that she’d just met this guy, and he’s soooooo dreamy, and she’s totally in love with him and can’t live without him, what would you think? Would you think she is truly in the grip of a grand love for the ages, or would you think she was infatuated, feeling her hormones and struck with puppy love, the sort of thing all adolescents experience and think is the real thing?

And that’s what Romeo and Juliet is—it’s a play about an adolescent infatuation that the teenagers are utterly convinced is true love. And since, like most teenagers, they think everything they experience is totally unprecedented and the grandest emotion ever, they take their puppy love so seriously that, in dual fits of angst and melodrama, they commit suicide (another not so mature response to a situation.) It might be a tragic story, but it’s not because a great, pure, true love lies at the center of it.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 4:42 PM

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