book cover imageDarwinian
by David Stove. With
an introduction by Roger Kimball
(Encounter Books, 345 pp.,

The Australian philosopher David Stove, who died in 1994, was
largely unknown in the United States until Roger Kimball, of
the New Criterion, began writing about him and publishing
his essays. Stove has all the qualities of a first-class essayist:
pellucid style, an acute mind, and a hatred of cant of any kind.
His conservatism was of a Humean, rather than a Burkean, bent,
and he wielded his philosophical skepticism across a range of
issues. In his native land, Stove has long been controversial
for his writings on aboriginal issues, feminism, political correctness,
and other subjects.

This collection treats a similarly sensitive topic, one of much
greater concern for Americans: Darwinism. Darwinian Fairytales is
a sharp polemic against those who would seek to make Darwin and
his propositions bear a weight they cannot sustain. Stover is
no defender of intelligent design, and does not seek to advocate
for any position save common sense; like the best debaters, he
ranges freely across the Darwinians’ own ground, taking
their work seriously and showing how some of their conclusions
cannot possibly be true. Darwin’s conclusions about evolution
and adaptation make the most sense, in the main and as a starting
point. But reality is more complex and present-day Darwinists’ advocacy
of “altruistic” genes and the like ultimately fail.
Stove, like the British philosopher Mary Midgley, treats the
subject seriously and with a deep knowledge of the literature,
and he delivers deadly blows on the likes of E. O. Wilson and
Daniel Dennett. Anyone interested in the current debates over
evolution should read this book.

This book is a must read for everyone seeking a deeper understanding
of the American tradition, but especially for conservatives.
Bill Kauffman has traveled along most of the familiar twentieth-century
intellectual paths, from aide to Senator Moynihan to the libertarian Reason magazine,
from a paleoconservative fellow-traveler to the generally neoconservative
American Enterprise Institute. But he has at last found his home,
among the various American misfits, radicals, visionaries, and
reactionaries he discusses in Look Homeward, America.

Kauffman describes his vision as “Jeffersonian decentralist” and
describes himself as a “fanatic localist.” It is
all that, and more. It is a rebuke alike to contemporary American
mass consumerism, angry paleoconservatism, and “movement” conservatism
too much in love with its own ideas to see how America really

Kauffman, in a sense, is continuing a project begun by Russell
Kirk. As with Kauffman, Kirk was always more at home with the
oddball than the straight-laced, and tended to take delight in
the eccentricities of real Americans. But Kirk was often criticized,
not always justly, for not specifying the “tradition” he wanted preserved.
Through these studies of such “holy fools and backyard radicals” as
Dorothy Day, Gene McMcarthy, and Grant Wood, Kauffman opens our
eyes to a tradition that is all around us, but which has been obscured
by strip-malls and diversity training.

To the chagrin of intellectuals
both on the left and the right, in Kauffman’s America, there
are no grand “isms” that serve to justify taking children
away from parents and to destroy communities in the name of democracy
or progress. There are no great causes other than raising families,
developing your individual talents and souls (if so inclined),
being kind to your neighbors, and having work that is both fulfilling
and not all consuming, in surroundings that are scaled for real
men and women. This is America, in a real sense, how it used to
be, with its warts, problems, and its occasional nightmares. Sometimes
perhaps Kauffman sees history with intellectual-colored glasses,
and elevates a certain type of community living that, as the restless
history of Americans’ movement shows, has not been for
everyone. As Look Homeward America shows, though, in
compelling argument and artful prose, such a place is far more
deserving of loyalty than the global state designed for us by
the ideologues.

book cover imageFlannery
O’Connor and Edward Lewis Wallant: Two of
a Kind,
by John V. McDermott (University Press of America,
77 pp.).

This short study is a comparison on the themes and art of Flannery
O’Connor (for more about whom see Michael Jordan’s
review in this issue) and Edward Lewis Wallant (1926–1962),
a writer who remains relatively unknown, despite critical praise
during his lifetime and since.

McDermott, a professor of English at Suffolk County Community
College who has written on writers ranging from Ionesco to Hawthorne,
identifies three themes he finds common to the work of Wallant
and O’Connor, aside from their equally small bodies of
work (Wallant wrote only four novels, and O’Connor two,
with a clutch of short stories). They were both concerned, he
writes, with “man’s quest for satisfaction of the
soul, the mystery of man’s being and reason for his existence,
and the necessity of suffering.” Although O’Connor
was Catholic and Wallant Jewish, through studies of the latter’s
novel Wise Blood and Wallant’s 1963 novel The
Tenants of Moonbloom
(recently republished, with an introduction
by David Eggers), among other works, McDermott shows that each
shared a vision that was oriented to uncover what was universally
true about human existence, though in O’Connor’s
case this was more tied to a particular religious tradition than
McDermott indicates for Wallant.

These themes are buttressed by a series of brief chapters analyzing
the common techniques O’Connor and Wallant used in their
work. For example, McDermott notes that both authors used elements
of the grotesque and humor to illustrate their beliefs about
redemption and suffering. Two of a Kind is an interesting
attempt to join two important American writers.

book cover imageHonor: A History, by James Bowman (Encounter Books,
382 pp., $25.95).

When the Founding fathers pledged their “sacred Honor” to
the success of the Revolution, they were invoking a familiar
concept, and one readily understood by their eighteenth-century
contemporaries, who themselves were steeped in a culture of honor
with roots in antiquity. But no longer; honor cannot now be discussed
without ironic, postmodern quotation marks, as if the very idea
cannot be discussed without a smirk. But honor—the old-fashioned,
brutal, and quite clearly premodern kind—still rules much
of the earth.

James Bowman, former American editor of the Times Literary
and a scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy
Center, has written an important and timely study of the idea
of honor, both in the West and abroad. As he notes in the opening
chapters, many cultures are still mired in horrific cycles
of honor killings, ritual rape, and lawless violence. For those
in the West, it is important to understand honor and the role
it plays in many societies, including our own. Indeed, for
those conservatives uneasy with the Bush administration’s
justifications on attacking Iraq, Bowman here makes a persuasive
case based on notions of national honor that can usefully be
contrasted with the views of antiwar conservatives.

While the West too has an honor culture, inherited from Greek
epic, Roman social relationships, and Germanic self-regard, it
is unique in that its honor culture has contained within it a
critique of honor, rooted in part in Christianity’s rejection
of violence and its central message of individual salvation centered
in a suffering God. This dual heritage created, by the early
Middle Ages and then again in a different way in the Victorian
era, a culture of honor that expressed a concern for one’s
good name not in martial deeds or public display of aggression,
but individual sincerity and the preservation of conscience.

But, as Bowman shows in clear prose style and an impressive
range of referents, that culture has been destroyed through a
misplaced ideological devotion to equality, the rise of celebrity
culture. He is particularly good at dissecting the mass media’s
all-consuming need, since Watergate, for “scandals” to
destroy the good name of anyone who thinks himself better. Bowman
concludes the book with a call to rescue honor from its detractors,
both for the sake of sanity and, given the threats that face
the West, perhaps the survival of our very civilization.