The Art of Thinking
Gertrude Himmelfarb's lives of the mind.
Jun 5, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 36 • By DAVID GELERNTER
Ultimately, it is religion that safeguards morality. And liberalism is, ultimately, the enemy of religion. These truths emerge from Trilling's work. In many ways, Trilling was a champion of liberalism; yet he discerned in liberalism, as Himmelfarb notes, the seeds of paganism. And on the other hand, where "others found [T.S.] Eliot interesting in spite of his politics, Trilling found him interesting because of his politics: a politics not only conservative but religious, and not only religious but identifiably Christian."
In the long run, liberalism intends to renounce Judeo-Christian morality in favor of a world in which human rights have replaced human duties; where only the state has obligations; and the passive, bovine citizenry can relax and let the state take care of everything. The Moral Imagination is the story of the ongoing struggle between the moral and the liberal imagination, between Judeo-Christian morality and liberalism. (In fairness, Himmelfarb doesn't quite say all this; this is only my reading of her message.)
Here are the author's bona fide, no-nonsense conclusions: If you care for the truth you must consider all the facts, evaluate every side, think and think again before you make a decision. If you follow this advice, you might find yourself drawing conservative conclusions again and again. As for the author herself, her luminous intellectual integrity is one of the most powerful weapons conservatism has ever possessed.
David Gelernter is the author, most recently, of The Muse in the Machine: Computerizing the Poetry of Human Thought.