Saturday, October 29, 2011

Proposition 26

Next week brings election day to Mississippi, and we at TMH are delighted that his Excellency Joseph Latino, the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Jackson, is finally stamping the Catholic perspective on the politics of a state that has for too long ignored the powerful moral teaching of one of the world's great institutions. In particular, Bishop Latino has taken a very courageous stand on Proposition 26, the proposed human life amendment to Mississippi Constitution. The proposed amendment would define life as beginning at conception and would therefore outlaw abortion in Mississippi at any stage. While most of the Christian rubes and rednecks in Mississippi have taken the predictable, pedestrian position that Christians should support the initiative, Bishop Latino has taken a surprising and principled stand against proposal. In so doing, he has done a truly marvelous thing.

First, and most important, he has instructed the state and the watching world how effective truly clear thinking is when one confronts difficult moral questions. The Catholic Church possesses a legacy of careful and incisive moral thinking unparalleled in philosophical history, and his Excellency has drawn upon it extensively to show exactly why the Catholic Church in Mississippi opposes this proposed amendment. Although the proposal would end abortions in Mississippi, his Excellency reasons that we should not support such a bill in Mississippi until that bill is likely to become law throughout the nation. In so doing, he has not only stood firmly for the lives of the unborn in Mississippi, but he has provided a valuable lesson in political strategy. Since his reason for opposing the bill is that it is not national in scope, he has shown us that we really ought never to act unilaterally in Mississippi. If, for instance, Gov. Barbour wishes to move forward on using state funds to help businesses hire and train unemployed workers, we now strongly oppose that effort because it is not a nationwide initiative. For the same reason, we now understand fully that we should oppose the new legislation on school bus safety, since the law would affect only Mississippi and not the United States generally. Indeed, since we have a budget shortfall, we could follow the logical implications of Bishop Latino's reasoning to very good financial effect: we could abolish the entire committee structure of the State Legislature and simply have the legislators vote to enact any law for the State of Mississippi that is passed by the U.S. Congress. And of course state legislators would need only to vote yes on any of these questions, since to vote no would be in effect to vote a difference between the law in Mississippi and the laws of the nation--something expressly forbidden by the implications of the Bishop's carefully considered statement. All of the money thus saved by severely curtailing the activity of the Legislature could be used to help the poor in our fair state, provided of course we did so in ways authorized by national legislation.

The implications of the Bishop's far-sighted edict reach further still. If we as Mississippians should enact only national legislation, then we would save enormous psychic and physical energy. Think of all the annoying newspaper editorials, guilty of raping so many Mississippi forests to produce newsprint on which to express controversy, that would now disappear. All the local radio shows, so concerned with controversies of state politics, could be replaced with shows on gardening, kite flying, and other specialized hobbies. The benefits would be manifold, perhaps the greatest of which would be the removal of disagreement and argument from the airways and public spaces. Mississippi would become the Uncontroversial State, and retirees would flock to our shores to live their golden years in one unbroken stretch of peace after a lifetime spent in the tug and push of the real world where not everyone agrees.

By making the statement that he did, Bishop Latino also assures a greater stature for the Catholic Church in Mississippi, a state in which the Church has for too long had a minority voice unheeded by the majority of citizens. By making common cause with such groups as the ACLU and the Obama Justice Department, the Church will become much more highly respected by the majority of Christians in the state. Although some Southern Baptists, Missionary Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Independent Methodists, Southern Methodists, Presbyterians, members of the Church of Christ or Church of God, Holiness and Pentecostals will find it odd that the Bishop opposes an initiative protecting the life of the unborn, they will do so only because of their general lack of education. If evangelical Christians are too stupid to recognize the boldness of standing strong for nuance then they are beyond any hope of political enlightenment. In drawing upon the rich Western heritage of casuistry, the Bishop has given new life to all the old connotations of Jesuitical thinking and shown how much more important technical abstractions are than practical politics aimed at preserving human life.

No, in supporting with such clear and principled political reasoning his position on the sanctity of human life, Bishop Latino has shown us the way forward. We are never prouder to be Catholic than when we hear on the radio the heretofore rather unappealing liberal voices laced with all the postmodern sarcasm that the enlightened can muster as they condescend to explain to the awkward hayseeds throughout the state that even the Diocese of Jackson joins them in opposing this method of protecting human life. And the smugness is pleasantly contagious. When our neighbors shake their head in puzzlement at why a Church so strongly pro-life in word as the Catholic Church can oppose Proposition 26, we can now look down upon them ourselves and savor for a brief moment our consciousness of intellectual superiority. And in the next moment we can savor the further delight of explaining to them exactly why his Excellency has taken the courageous stand that he has. Although no one has yet actually understood when we offer that explanation, we are certain that their incomprehension is due entirely to their obdurate ignorance. Any truly educated equivocator will see immediately the self-evident justice of the Catholic position.

In telling us that we must not act unilaterally, his Excellency finally relieves of us a great psychic burden. For some, it is embarrassing that Mississippi should always be last: last in health, last in education, last in per capita income. By arguing so eloquently and so well that Mississippi should enact only national initiatives, the good Bishop persuades us that Mississippi should never strive to improve herself when she might be working to improve the nation. In so doing he makes us all, in one keystroke, feel better about ourselves. No need to work to make Mississippi safer than the nation generally when it comes to human life. Better to stay home on election day (which promises to be cold after all and who knows maybe rainy as well) and watch The X Factor on demand. The unborn will take care of themselves, and by following the first-rate moral guidance of the Diocese of Jackson, the Catholic Church in Mississippi will take very good care of itself now and in the future.

Monday, October 24, 2011


Another friend sends me a link late today to yet another story--this time in First Things, R.R. Reno's review of Naomi Schaeffer Riley's book The Faculty Lounges. The delightful pun in the title, which reminds me of a former colleague who to all appearances did nothing all day but wander from office to office with a mug of coffee in hand, seems to be the best thing about the book. Apparently Riley has produced another volume in what has by now become an almost venerable genre--the conservative attack on tenure. The instinct is understandable, for who does not lament the fact that virtually the entire system of American education, from elementary through graduate school, is in the hands of left-wing teachers? This system produces liberal students in schools of journalism, education, and liberal arts all across the country, who upon graduation spend years proselytizing for the left-wing cause until, in due course, they learn through experience that life is not at all the utopian concern they were taught it is and they begin on the way of wisdom to unlearn the teaching of the colleges.

That, as I say, is a huge problem. Would Barack Obama ever have made it to the White House with an electorate that had been educated in high school and college about the differences between Carter and Reagan? And yet, despite the damage that a bad system of education can multiply throughout society, tenure is not the root of the evil, nor is its abolition the solution.

One notes, for example, that while telling us that Riley explains well how tenure ensures conformity, the paragraph in which Reno summarizes Riley's explanation doesn't really explain anything at all: "Far from securing a free and open academic culture, tenure can have the opposite effect. Riley does an especially good job showing how tenure constricts rather than expands the intellectual diversity of most college campuses. Colleges and universities want to give jobs and tenure only to qualified applicants—and qualified applicants are those who think the same way as the already tenured professors on the tenure review committees." To some extent, this is true, as the case at the University of Kentucky showed last year, when a qualified professor was not hired to teach astronomy precisely because, as emails from the search committee revealed, they feared his Christianity. But it is unclear how precisely tenure causes this problem. The difficulty lies in the fact of the bias of those who hire. A left-wing system of education will produce a left-wing faculty, who will tend to hire clones of themselves. Whether or not those who hire have tenure will make little difference.

One suspects that the conservative opposition to tenure is two-fold. First, the university faculties really are singularly left-leaning institutions in the context of a generally conservative society. Since these faculty also enjoy the singular privilege of tenure, it seems logical that the tenure must be the root of the liberalism. But tenure is not necessarily the cause of the liberalism: if it is, the critics of tenure ought to provide a more convincing explanation for how the one causes the other. Second, conservatives, who tend to value the free market as a model for most human endeavor, are understandably suspicious of a system which, after a period of probation, provides a sinecure for whoever is lucky enough to receive one. That universities ought to be run as free-market enterprises, however, is far from certain. In their old traditional form, when they laid the groundwork for the magnificent tradition in the humanities, universities were grossly inefficient in economic terms. College faculties were assembled to teach a handful of matriculating students, an an entire Oxford College--All Souls--existed (and still does) purely for research, not educating any students at all. However, if one contrasts that inefficient system with the for-profit institutions of today or the general tendency of third-tier and regional universities to be run like businesses, one will find that the former system, which lavishes great expense on the relationship between teacher and student actually produced something worth having--a system that gave us a canon of great works of literature that nourish the human soul and the means for any curious mind to study those works through a body of helpful scholarship that guided the student through such works as docents through a museum. The current system is in danger of cranking the greatest number of warm bodies through the smallest number of classes to ensure that they produce the largest possible body of tuition-paying students, who are ensured of graduation so that they can one day contribute alumni dollars to administrations that are fat, happy, and completely in charge of the budget bag.

If we want universities that actually educate students, we will indeed need serious reform. But that reform should begin with administrations, which ought to be even more bothersome to conservatives than tenured faculty. University administrations continue to drive up the costs of education by providing ever greater salaries for themselves and their rapidly-growing armies of support staff, who make their jobs ever easier as they gain an ever-larger slice of the university finances. And since they are largely the ones who allocate those finances, they embody corruption. It is they, whose numbers since the late 1970s have been increasing rapidly, who drive up the cost of education, not professors, whose numbers and salaries have remained relatively flat over the same period of time. At the university where I teach, the only thing that stands in the way of the administration's turning the institution into another business on the order of Best Buy or the local Toyota dealership is a tenured faculty which can sometimes act as a conscience for the school and through opposition shame the administration into abandoning some of its most cynically self-interested initiatives.

Although conservatives often describe tenure as existing primarily to protect the controversial speech of some professors, such I think is not its primary purpose. Going back to the beginning of Western society is the idea that human beings can live two types of life--the active and the contemplative. This is in part what lies at the heart of Achilles' great choice in the Iliad, and it is the point of the Gospel pericope about Mary and Martha. Some do while others teach, and both action and contemplation are necessary for society to flourish. In part this realization is an example of the old medieval argument about whether knowledge or action is supreme: the answer is that the world needs both. Action without knowledge is dangerous, says Confucius, while knowledge without action is useless. Society needs librarians and researchers. We need the contemplative Einstein, Gödel, and Turing, as we also need the active Ford, Edison, and the brothers Wright. Those without tenure have the compensation of being free, if they work hard enough, to grow very wealthy indeed; those with tenure will never grow wealthy, but they will have the security they need to study, think, educate themselves in the sometimes impractical knowledge that in the end makes them better teachers. To use one's tenure, for example, to acquire a range of languages, which permits reading a rich variety of untranslated texts, makes one a better teacher than he would be if he had been forced by lack of tenure into the greater productivity of writing articles and books that would do neither him, nor other teachers, nor his students any good. Such studies deepen a mind to which any students who wish can have access: such access enriches their life and helps them approach the richness of culture that is one of the chief ends of a liberal education. A professoriate without tenure constantly worried about productivity on someone else's timetable will not be able to serve as such a guide.

One can respond, of course, that such a professoriate is rare these days, when more and more faculty members work themselves into ever narrower niches of bizarre specialization that end up as parodies of scholarship. But denying tenure to the few traditional scholars who occupy the universities will not solve this problem. We do indeed need a way to achieve greater diversity of opinion on college faculties, but leaving all professors without protection at the mercy of self-serving administrations will only make matters worse. Whatever the ultimate solutions to this problem, ending tenure will not in the end help anyone--except administrators.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Rationalism and Peace

A friend sent me yesterday a link to the current issue of Nature, in which the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker presents the central argument of his new book--that violence has declined over the last decades (or centuries) because human beings fall ever more under the sway of reason, and reason teaches us that we should not be as casually violent as we were throughout much of human history. Although Pinker has a large reputation as a philosopher of mind and language, his thesis, at least as presented in the short space of this article, is not at all persuasive. Why it should have received the honor of a guest opinion prominently displayed in one of the nation's premier journals of science is beyond me, except that the man is one of those growing number of celebrity intellectuals, like Stanley Fish, Richard Dawkins, and others, who have stepped out of the lecture hall in order to address an audience much larger than those who ordinarily listen to them because of a shared interest in a narrow field or because of the requirements of their college curriculum. (That the present writer is also an academic scribbling just now for a general audience is by no means the same thing: the present author is neither a celebrity nor, judging from the number of hits on this blog, is his audience quite general.) Their status, however, as celebrities in one field does not make them experts in another, and therefore they ought not to command special attention simply because of who they are. For a person to be accorded that type of respect, he must have a much larger reputation for wisdom generally. I am prepared to listen with rapt attention to Jesus, Socrates, and Confucius because their words are true, and their words are true because of who they are. Our current crop of celebrity intellectuals aren't anywhere near that league, so we ought to be as skeptical of them as we are of anyone who addresses general topics on life and humanity. One suspects that the real reason Pinker gets so much space in such prestigious places is that he sells. Maybe having him inside the pages of Science expounding on history and human nature is perhaps a little like having Elle McPherson on the cover of Glamour. They both sell copy.

Pinker begins with an a claim that produces almost as much astonishment as his byline: that the twentieth century was not the bloodiest period in human history. The assertion must be astonishing to command our attention--if he simply says the uncontroversial thing, then no one will read him. On the other hand, the truly controversial statement about matters so well studied as the twentieth century or historical atrocity is likely to be wrong precisely because with so much knowledge generally accepted about these topics, telling us something explosive about them is more interesting than enlightening. The truly astounding thing to say about the shape of the earth--as Tom Friedman has shown, if only rhetorically--is that it is flat. In these matters one gets no points for originality if one merely states the truth. So the problem with his opening is that in any significant sense it is untrue. After grabbing our attention with the flashy headline, Pinker begins, as he must, to backpedal: he means, it turns out, that the twentieth century was not the bloodiest if we look per capita--other centuries, in which human population was much smaller, were perhaps as, if not more, bloody. But this is a trivial point. When historians speak of the twentieth century as the bloodiest in history, they have in mind the industrial-strength genocide of Nazi Germany or Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, the willed starvation of the Ukraine in the 1930s or the millions who died in Mao's China. The fact that at the time of these enterprises the population of the world happened to be much larger than it had been at the time of the Antonines is meaningless--a mathematician's point (or debater's trick), not a substantive revaluation that changes the character of the age. Pinker himself seems to forget this point later in the essay when he says "Indeed, because morality furnishes people with motives for violent acts that bring them no tangible benefit, it is more often the problem than the solution. If you added up all the homicides committed in pursuit of rough justice, the casualties of religious and revolutionary wars, the people executed for victimless crimes and the eggs broken in genocides to make utopian omelettes, they would surely outnumber the fatalities from amoral predation and conquest." What he seems to describe here when he needs a club with which to beat true believers seems precisely (as the reference to Lenin's metaphor makes clear) to be a description of the twentieth century. He also makes the rather smug point that because the second half of the twentieth century has been relatively peaceful, but this is also beside the point. When a historian calls the twentieth century the bloodiest in history, he does not by "century" mean the years 1900 (or 1901, if one wishes to be as precise as Barbara Tuchman in The Proud Tower) to 1999; rather he means precisely that very nightmare time of phantasmagoric brutality from about 1915 until 1945--rather as a scholar in English literature defines "the Seventeenth Century" as the period from 1603 until 1660.

The more serious flaw with Pinker's argument, however, lies in his double assertion that the world becomes more reasonable over time and that such reason is responsible for a general decline in violence in the contemporary world. To make the latter assertion, of course, Pinker has to ignore or explain away the inconvenient history of twentieth century (i.e., as defined above), which stands as an unanswerable counterargument to his thesis--hence his eccentric musings on twentieth-century history. But even if we granted his claim that the world grows more reasonable over time, it by no means follows that that reasonableness produces peace. It has, for example, haunted George Steiner for all his career that perhaps the best educated society in all of history--Germany of the early twentieth century--could have furnished us with the one of the most grotesquely violent regimes ever seen. The paradox is there, and if an explanation is to be had, it will require thinking of a deeper level, as Theodor Adorno or Paul Celan indicate, than Pinker's implication that comparatively speaking Nazi Germany wasn't so bad. Indeed, if this is what Pinker is asserting, then he reminds one of nothing so much as the naive optimists of the full flush of the Enlightenment, who were certain that human reason would bring about universal brotherhood and tranquillity, a belief finally shattered by the mindless and unproductive violence of World War I.

And there is, finally, the highly problematic thesis that human beings are indeed growing more enlightened over time. Pinker adduces interesting evidence from IQ tests taken over the course of (once again!) the twentieth century. But this is again to confuse matters. What Pinker discusses is raw intelligence, but it is precisely something along the lines of emotional intelligence, or empathy (a category which, to fair, Pinker discusses) that produces the type of peaceful society that Pinker believes he finds slowly materializing around us. But there is little evidence that such a trait of character is increasing over time. Homer for example wrote almost 3,000 years ago with plaintive eloquence of the senselessness of violence--what is the Iliad but a meditation on precisely that theme? And while Homer was a singular genius, his singularity consisted not in his message, which after all has found a very receptive audience through the ages, but in his ability to compose great poetry. What's more, Homer--and his first, responsive audience lived not in a period of civilization, to which Pinker attributes the rise of an enlightened world view, but in a period of barbarism and violence--seems near the beginning of recorded history to arrive at the type of vision that Pinker implies is a product of modern society. Throughout time, we have had those few who espouse the concern with others lauded by Pinker and those many who do not. It is man's constant nature to be complex, driven primarily not by reason but by passion but to have as examples those who exemplify the possibility that man can live the life of higher reason. This is why the young Jonathan Swift could while a student at Trinity College mark through the definition given in his logic textbook of man as "animal rationale" and substitute his own description of humanity: "animal capax rationis." Moreover, it was a mature Jonathan Swift who shows us in the final part of Gulliver's Travels the problems with a life lived purely according to reason: Houyhnhnmland is so reasonable, so entirely devoid of those Burkean ties of tradition and affection, that for all their peaceful reasonableness, it is a cold and bloodless place perhaps not very far from the totalitarian Utopias that in the past have produced so much misery for so many.

Perhaps the main problem is that Pinker confuses intelligence with enlightenment. Raw intelligence is good for helping to produce the comforts of the technological world we inhabit, but it can be misdirected and is therefore a dangerous substitute for enlightenment. Enlightenment in its truest sense is a type of love--a concern for others deep enough that one respects their freedom as human beings made in the image of God. Such enlightenment does not come easily--certainly it is no mere adornment of nature. It is won by a solid education in the great works of the past, pursued in humility, with an eye toward what we can learn about human nature (for good and ill). Perhaps most of all such an education leaves one impervious to all the various determinisms that would render us less than human by trying to convince us that gender, evolution, economics, biochemistry, society, or the forces of history determine our nature and destiny. Pinker is a good man but ultimately another in a long line of self-regarding thinkers who redefine human nature downward. The easiest thing in the world is to succumb to the spirit of the age and swallow Pinker's nostrum. It is much harder to do the human thing--to subject his thesis to a rigorous analysis made possible by a broadly humanist education and then freely to accept or reject what he says, swayed not by who he is but by whether what he says is true.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Death of Jobs

Sometimes life is an allegory. If Plato and all his fellow idealists are right, life is always exactly that, but sometimes no matter how skeptical you are, life seems transparently scripted in certain ironic moments almost to shout at us the meanings behind the events we experience. Such is the case with the death of Steve Jobs, which made the nation sadder yesterday. I will say little about his passing itself, since so many others more qualified to speak about the man and his achievements have already eulogized him so eloquently and so well. But even I, technologically challenged as I am, have enough experience with the Macintosh computer, the iPod, and now the iPad to lament the passing of one who has revolutionized technology and the way virtually all humans experience it--as well as to lament all the innovations that he would have made had he been granted another few decades among us.

No, what I wish to discuss even more is one of meanings of his passing at just this moment. Surely Jobs' death is ironic since it comes at a time when we are beginning to see the results of our President's socialist vision of spreading the wealth and, instead of encouraging a society that produces, satisfies itself with spending the capital that other generations have created. In the 1970s, when Apple was getting off the ground, Jobs was producing during the day what he had dreamed at night in part because he worked in a field in which government was absent. He did not have to worry about regulations, about government making decisions which he himself could make much better on his own. He was free to create, free to fail, and therefore free also to do everything in his power to ensure that he succeeded. And succeed he did by creating products that people wanted, that met their needs, and that vastly multiplied human freedom by serving as tools that allowed users to unleash their creativity.

Now, however, we inhabit a different world. Candidate Obama promised fundamentally to transform American society, and unfortunately that means changing even what is good about America, like the freedom that Jobs enjoyed to transform America in a far less authoritarian way. No, the President's transformation entails using the power of government to deprive people of choice as ever-increasing regulation tells us what to do and what not to do--in short, as regulation makes those decisions for us that constitute our freedom as human beings and allow us to capitalize on that freedom to create the goods such as those that Steve Jobs did at Apple. While some worry about technology impairing humanity, it might be fairer to say that the greater perennial threat to human nature is expansion of government beyond Constitutional limits. If the great stream of Western philosophy is correct in teaching that the essence of humanity is freedom, then a government that renders us less free by coercing ever more of our behavior and making ever more of our decisions for us poses a very real threat to the freedom that defines us as human beings.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that as government grows, jobs die. It is more than simply a pun to point out that the current lesson of the growth of government killing jobs comes at a time when Steve Jobs died, that great symbol of innovation and economic freedom that has made life so much better for so many people. And he did so with no force other than persuasive power. If you wanted his products, you bought them; if you didn't, you didn't. But that's the way Jobs was--freedom for himself and freedom for you. President Obama, however, has a different vision. For the promise of more government largesse, he asserts that government is the solution of all problems. In his view, government must grow, and therefore it must intrude ever further into your life and mine, taking ever more of our fundamental humanity as it makes ever more of the decisions that define the essence of our humanity.

Steve Jobs will live on in the innovations produced by his vision, his freedom, and his choices. And when the United States eventually replaces President Obama's statist vision with one that again treats us all like adults capable of making our own ways in the world, the jobs--as represented by Steve Jobs--will once again return and allow us all to live the lives we choose.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

An Exemplary Life

The coming of fall--and it has come in the most delicious way to us: deep blue skies, cool temperatures, brilliant sunlight etching deep shadows, and a fresh breeze--the coming of fall always puts one in a wistful mood. In addition to bringing harvest, it brings longer nights and therefore, if one turns off the television, it brings reflection, in part on times past and people we have known.

One of the best I have known is now gone--he passed away last year at 89 after a long life, full for the most part of adventure and more recently of a quiet retirement. His name was Arthur Lewis, an Englishman born in Cheshire and raised near Solihull. I do not know where he attended school, but he made his way to Oxford, where he eventually earned his M.A. He was ordained a priest in the Church of England and went almost immediately to Africa, where he served happily as a missionary. In his first decade, he worked in Zanzibar and Tanganyika, then German colonies, but he lived in the great period of decolonization, as one nation after another another all over Africa declared independence and, sometimes bloodily, less often peacefully, established existence by severing ties to the European powers that had carved up the continent a hundred years before in what historians call the scramble for Africa.

As the countries in which he served declared independence and then more often than not established Marxist regimes generally hostile to European settlers, he moved south, eventually landing in Rhodesia, where he worked happily for many years. He was devoted to the people he evangelized and spoke in enchanted terms of their goodness of heart and of the beauty of the countryside near his mission of St Peter in the Honde Valley and later Inyanga, where he served from the late 1960s. He never took the condescending attitude of some of the white settlers in Rhodesia--he respected the natives, particularly those who dealt honestly with the white farmers, who, it must be admitted, brought a great deal of stability and prosperity to south-central Africa in the years following the Second World War. In the years after UDI--the Unilateral Declaration of Independence pronounced by Rhodesia in order to dissolve its ties with an England that looked too eager to decolonize Rhodesia and therefore withdraw any protection for the white settlers--Fr Lewis eventually became a senator in the Rhodesian parliament. It would be easy to criticize him as a racist who took part in the government of Ian Smith, but if others were, he was not. His was a moderate position: he worked for justice and equality for the black Africans while trying to ensure security for the white Africans who had farmed that fertile land so well.

In the end, there was no place for his moderate views in Sub-Saharan Africa of the 1970s and '80s. Caught between the left--which consisted of power-hungry natives who played upon Western white guilt in order to establish their own personal kleptocracies and Westerners who burnished their progressive credentials by supporting such regimes because they were run by black Africans--and a right that feared dispossession and used violence to preserve its status, people like Fr Lewis were prophets who went laregely unheeded by those they came to warn. As the 70s became the 80s and Rhodesia became first Zimbabwe-Rhodesia and then Zimbabwe, "conditions on the ground," as they say, began to deteriorate--first for the whites, as Mugabe gained power, and then finally for everyone, as it became clear that he was consolidating his power far beyond the mandate of the Constitution. It saddened Fr Lewis to leave in such circumstances, but after an adult life working in Africa, he returned to England by way of South Africa, where he and Gladys, his beloved wife of many years, retired. They eventually came to stay at a retirement home for Anglican clergy, St Barnabas' near Solihull, not very far from the home of their son Anthony, who regularly visited them.

I came to know him in the mid-70s, when, because of his friendship with my father, he would visit our home in South Carolina, sometimes alone and sometimes in the company of other Rhodesians, always engaged in traveling the United States in order to spread news of what was actually happening in his part of the world. He was convinced that if only Americans could learn the truth of the situation--that the civil war in Rhodesia was in fact not a struggle of white against black, as claimed by the liberal Western media, but an integral part of the Cold War struggle of freedom against Communism--then America would end the crippling sanctions and allow Rhodesia to survive and evolve into a model nation in which white and black could share power and live peacefully together.

But he was an idealist, though an idealist of the best kind--a large-hearted, good-natured man of God, who genuinely loved Africa and those who lived there. He had thought that good work would be rewarded, and that the Rhodesia he imagined and worked for could come to exist because it would have been such a good and peaceful place, but he did not reckon on the heart of darkness--on the ambitions of such as Robert Mugabe, who, like all tyrants, was willing to destroy his nation and the lives of countless people who lived there in order to fulfill his will to power. Indeed, Fr Lewis must have come late in life to realize the limitations of his idealistic view, for he wrote a book, privately published, in which he recounts his adventures in Africa and the sadness he felt over the violent loss of the world in which he worked. He called the book Too Bright the Vision? a title that seems to capture both his optimism and his disillusion at its passing. It is a wonderful book, good natured and, in places, lyrical, as it bears witness both to a life of adventure and of idealistic integrity. Indeed, he was a fine writer, who produced a newsletter that he wrote single-handedly trying to spread the news of his organization, the Rhodesia Christian Group. Alas, the final number came last year; it was written not by Fr Lewis but by his children, and it recounted how he himself had died, not long after his heart was broken by the death of his wife.

I will forever remember a man who came to have a large influence on my life. He was the first liturgical Christian whom I knew; I remember being fascinated by his regular practice of saying morning and evening prayer by himself in his room when he stayed with us. On his last trip, I occasionally joined him. We also would take long walks together, on which he would challenge my thinking: it perhaps meant little enough to him, but for a young person cutting his intellectual teeth, his mild correction of my assertion that a particular dog we encountered was mean came as something of a revelation. It forced me to think about the differences of humans and animals and set me on the long road to the traditional idea of the differences between animalia and the Aristotelian animalis rationale (to say nothing of Swift's animalis capax rationis suggested by the attitude of the West to Fr Lewis' adopted homeland of Rhodesia). He regaled me with stories of his undergraduate days at Oxford, where he had as professors in the English course both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. He was in the small group of students to whom Lewis read the draft of The Problem of Pain, and he recounted to me an anecdote of C.S. Lewis on the platform at Oxford awaiting a train to London that has been collected in none of the biographies, since he was the only witness of the event.

More than such insights and more than any sense he imparted to me of having a privileged childhood because it contained first-hand contact with people of such caliber, knowing Fr Lewis taught me that my own father was not the only person in this world with unsullied integrity. There are any number of people who walk among us as examples. They have high ideals, and unlike too many, they live by them, even if it costs them--socially, professionally, financially. Those who as the cliche puts it go along to get along have their reward of a dull life lived in security. But they will always seem rather shabby by contrast to those who genuinely live the high ideals they profess. Such a one was Fr Arthur Lewis, who was something of a latter-day Quixote. He did not indeed go about the world like Cervantes's knight with a Rueful Countenance, but he preached and taught with joy, and his life well lived points to a spirit that took delight in this world and inspiration from the world beyond.