Depth in the Shallows

Month: June, 2017

Horizon Lost

Paradise Gained

Lost Horizon by James Hilton 

James Hilton (1900-1954), novelist and Academy Award-winning screenwriter, is perhaps best remembered, if he is remembered at all, for his novel Goodbye, Mr. Chips. It is a shame, really, since Lost Horizon is an especially enjoyable book. Written in the tradition of the best adventure novels, it tells the tale of four people who, by circumstance, end up on the same plane. The plane is hijacked and the group is taken to Tibet where they seek shelter at a lamasery called Shangri-La. As you might guess, the remainder of the tale is concerned with what happens to the group while at this utopia and the changes that overcome them. Hilton tells a very entertaining story, with an eye for exotic detail and the nuances of personalities under stress. It is high adventure for those with low energy. Little is required of the reader, but much is gained. The quote below, despite its fictional context, offers us something to think about in our own day.

“We believe that to govern perfectly it is necessary to avoid governing too much.”


The Science of Goodness

The Good Science

The Life and Work of Peter Augustine Lawler

Peter Lawler (1951-2017), writer, blogger, political philosopher, scholar, and professor of Government at Berry College, died last week. Nationally known as a member of the President Bush’s Council on Bioethics, he was a regular on the lecture circuit. His range was wide, his intellect intimidating, and his contribution to a postmodern understanding of the human condition both challenging and refreshing. No cliches or reactionary rants here. He was a clear thinker, cogent writer, and in the Age of Groupthink, Lawler was fiercely independent. He had much more to say, and is gone too soon, but we have more than a dozen books, hundreds of essays, and an internet trove of thoughtful blog posts to read. He left us with a treasure.

Perhaps what most will encounter when they first read Lawler is the idea that we, despite the apparent evidence, do not live in a post-virtue age. Virtue, as he has it, is a necessary part of the human condition. Virtue is the path God has chosen for us, and it is infused with, and rounded by, love. We all choose the virtues or the vices everyday of our lives. Denial of the existence of virtue is not proof of its non-existence. Thus, we do not live “after virtue” as some have argued. We are stuck with it.

“So we’re stuck with virtue as human beings. There are natural reasons for that. We’re hardwired for virtue, so to speak, because we’re hardwired for a kind of language and or speech that opens us to the truth about ourselves and our world that no other animal can acquire. And we really can’t change our hardwiring in a way that will make us both human and happy—and we want both—without virtue.
So we need, above all, a science of virtue that incorporates what we know through natural science, philosophy, theology, and the humanities generally. We need to get over the modern error that the best way to get ourselves happy is to free ourselves from our natures. And we need to get over the error that by nature we’re pretty much one species or one mechanism among many.”

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