In these very divisive times we see people passionately aligned to entrenched ideas they do not understand promoting actions that run counter to the good of our nation. It matters little whether they are promoting anarchy or raging against the immorality of our times. Actions that stem simply from emotional response to real or perceived issues will lack the ability to properly address those issues.
Over the past years I have tried to find a balanced understanding of how we have managed to get to this place in our history. For those of us that believe in God and absolutes in regard to morality, virtues and values our current environment causes us great concern. It is easy to find books and materials that are simply the extension of a strong emotional belief and seek to paint history with current emotional brushes. But there are some writers that I believe can explain what has happened and why it is happening based upon a more balance historical understanding. That is where Gertrude Himmelfarb comes into the picture.
Her writings focus mainly on the Victorian era. Where many have painted those times with a brush dipped into preconceived ideas, she goes back and reviews for us some of the writings and personalities that paint a very different picture.
This month’s selection is The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightments (2005). While this is not your end of the day quick read, it does bring into perspective the enlightenment and its relationship to the founding of America. If you are interested in the ideas and philosopher’s that our founding fathers looked to then this book is for you. I believe her emphasis on virtues as the basis of character and action represents the keys to unlock a future of hope.
About the Author
The following is taken from wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gertrude_Himmelfarb
Gertrude Himmelfarb (also known as Bea Kristol) 1922-
Gertrude Himmelfarb received her undergraduate degree from Brooklyn college in 1942 and her doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1950. She also studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and at Girton College, Cambridge University. She is married and has two children and is a political commentator and editor of The Weekly Standard.
Himmelfarb is best known as a historian of Victorian England. But she puts that period in a larger context. The Idea of Poverty opens with an extended analysis of Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus, who helped shape the debates and policies throughout the nineteenth century and beyond. Victorian Minds features such eighteenth-century "proto-Victorians" as Edmund Burke and Jeremy Bentham, concluding with the "last Victorian," John Buchan, whose novels depict a twentieth century imbued with Victorian values. The Moral Imaginationranges from Burke to Winston Churchill and Lionel Trilling, with assorted Victorians and non-Victorians in between. On Looking into the Abyss has modern culture and society in the forefront and the Victorians in the background, while One Nation, Two Cultures is entirely about American culture and society. The Roads to Modernity enlarges the perspective of the Enlightenment, both chronologically and nationally, placing the British Enlightenment in opposition to the French and in accord with the American. Most recently, The Jewish Odyssey of George Eliot and The People of the Book focus on attitudes to Jews, Judaism, and Zionism in England from their readmission in the seventeenth century to the present.
And so with scores of essays demonstrating that Victorian "values" – "virtues," she calls them – were not unique to that time and place. "The Victorian Ethos: Before and after Victoria," is the title of one essay; "Victorianism before Victoria" are the opening words of another. The word "Victorian" today has a disagreeable and crabbed connotation, conjuring up repressive sexual and social mores. Himmelfarb humanizes and democratizes that concept.. In an interview after receiving the National Humanities Medal, she explained that the Victorian virtues – prudence, temperance, industriousness, decency, responsibility – were thoroughly pedestrian. "They depended on no special breeding, talent, sensibility, or even money. They were common, everyday virtues, within the capacity of ordinary people. They were the virtues of citizens, not of heroes or saints – and of citizens of democratic countries, not aristocratic ones." Himmelfarb has argued "for the reintroduction of traditional values (she prefers the term 'virtues'), such as shame, responsibility, chastity, and self-reliance, into American political life and policy-making".
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