Friday, October 20, 2017

Nobody Expects the Spanish Disquisition

Chiron giving young Achilles his lyre lesson. Roman fresco from Herculaneum, 1st c. C.E., in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, via Wikimedia Commons.

David Brooks ("The Essential John McCain") would like us to believe he is on intimate terms with a book by the Spanish philosopher Javier Gomá Lanzón, La Ejemplaridad Pública, 2009, of which no English translation has yet been published, and Gomá's thoughts on the topic of paideia, the ancient Athenian idea of education for citizenship:

We’ve reached a point in which the tasks of paideia have been abandoned and neglected. “One could say,” Gomá writes in his book “Public Exemplarity,” “that we are looking for the ideal of a virtuous republic composed of citizens relieved of the burden of citizenship.”
It’s not working out. Gomá continues, “In a time of freedom such as ours marked by subjectivism and vulgarity, a tolerance not tempered by virtue will lead inevitably toward barbarism.”
I can just about verify that the quotes are genuine and Englished well (from remarks on the book in the blog of Josep Lozano, a social sciences lecturer at the international biz school ESADE at Ramon Llull University in Barcelona), and I could learn a good deal about the book itself from the author's own summary of it in an essay in English published in 2009, "In Praise of Naïvety", but that's really as far as I can get in today's David Brooks Plagiarism Watch. It's just baffling. I'm imagining a whole Jesuitical cabal working this one, maybe with the involvement of David Brooks's cheerful Doppelgänger Arthur Brooks, who has Spanish connections and has sometimes been said to act as David Brooks's spiritual instructor.

Brooks himself gives us no clue; he just throws the name out in his opening graf as if it's something everybody knows—

As the brilliant Spanish philosopher Javier Gomá Lanzón reminds us, most moral education happens by power of example. We publish the book of our lives every day through our actions, and through our conduct we teach one another what is worthy of admiration and what is worthy of disdain.
—and it isn't. "Reminds us" indeed.

That concept of exemplarity, of spreading virtue with the tales of Great Men, is of course very Brooksish—it's the whole concept behind The Road to Character, with its potted little biographies—and Senator McCain is a terrific subject to hold out to youth with an only moderately censored story (Brooks alludes to Sarah Palin and the Keating Five scandal, but not to all those plane crashes or the horrible treatment of the first wife). In general there's not enough new in this column to bother about.

He's sort of wrong about paideia, calling it "the process by which we educate one another for citizenship" as if it were a kind of drumming circle instead of a class in which the old address the young (as you can tell from the root παιδ- meaning "child"). When he blames Herbert Marcuse for the election of Trump I'm obviously not going to dignify that with an argument. But the mystery of where he lifted Javier Gomá from is going to haunt me. If you think he actually read the book in Spanish or even looked at it I've got a bridge to sell you. It goes to Character.

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