The great Jewish playwright William Shakespeare knew everything (and okay, not all scholars agree he was Jewish but, let’s face it, that’s the only thing that could explain it!). When Martin Luther touched off the Reformation by hammering his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg (next to the “Tear off Number for Guitar Lessons” and “Volkswagen for Sale” notices), he set loose the process that would fragment the authority of moral and spiritual truth. From then on, it was inevitable that men who once took Jesus at his word when he said, “I am the Truth,” would now raise the banner of Pontius Pilate with its proud declaration, “What is Truth?” You may say, hey, that’s not a declaration. Shut up.
Anyway, Reb Shakespeare dramatized the all-too-likely outcome with a little play he liked to call “Hamlet.” Because that was its name. Hamlet, returning from university in, you guessed it, Wittenberg, can’t tell the truth from a hole in the ground. As such, he is perfectly placed to prefigure virtually every stupid French theory that will ultimately grow out of the 16th century’s crisis of authority. Most importantly, he demonstrates the inevitable rise of relativism with his famous pronouncement, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
When Hamlet says this he is pretending to be mad — because Shakespeare understood that relativism is not just madness, it’s make-believe madness because no one who professes it really believes it. And yet many an academic in the centuries to come would say virtually the same words while pretending to be sane.
Enter Roger Kimball. Our brilliant PJMedia colleague and New Criterion poohbah has been exposing the stupidity of relativist thought and defending the verities of western culture at least since his excruciatingly wonderful Tenured Radicals, a book that made such mincemeat of our professoriate it actually made me feel bad for them.
Now, Roger has returned with The Fortunes of Permanence, Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia, an exquisite collection of linked essays that pits the wisdom of the ages against the relativist idiocy of the age. The writing’s great, the thought is terrific, the subjects are fascinating and Roger is the best company in the world —even when he’s only there on paper when it’s a lot harder to get him to pick up the tab. Best of all, when you’re reading Kimball, you know you’re getting the thoughts of a man who knows just about everything.