A virtue of intolerance

the opening sentences of M. T. McClure’s review in The Journal of Philosophy of W. T. Stace’s A Critical History of Greek Philosophy (1920):

Clarity is often a virtue of intolerance. A man with convictions knows precisely what he believes and is able to measure the worth of ideas as any want of conformity unto or transgression of his standards of belief. Mr. Stace is a man with convictions. He knows exactly what he means by philosophy and writes a “critical” history of Greek thought in the light (or darkness) of this meaning. The style and manner of presentation are extraordinarily simple and clear. There are more monosyllables to the paragraph than in any philosophical treatise with which I am familiar. Lucidity is the chief merit of the book. As a contribution to historical scholarship it is altogether unimportant.

With more temperament than information

Walter Lippmann in the New Republic reviewing Harold Stearns, Liberalism in America (1919), December 31, 1919:

The theater in which events have taken place is so vast and the factors so complex that a complete diagnosis is not yet possible. But it is possible to come much closer to the problem than Mr. Stearns has come. His book seems to me the work of a man who has attempted to write about a very great historical event with more temperament than information. His bibliography tells the story and so do his citations. They move entirely in the realm of interesting opinion, of things that a man might notice by reading some magazines and newspapers and books during the war and talking much with a circle of friends who had the same irritations as he himself.

Why would you know that?

Arthur Krystal’s profile of Jacques Barzun in The New Yorker, on the occasion of his hundredth birthday:

Sooner or later, all of Barzun’s acquaintances experience their own “just Jacques” moment. Two years ago, while working on a piece for this magazine, I called Barzun to find out whether Lord Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary during the First World War, had said that the lights were going out all over Europe before hostilities had actually begun. Barzun asked if I was referring to him in my article as “Lord Grey.” I said I was, since the attribution was always the same. Barzun cleared his throat. “Well, you know, he wasn’t a lord when he said it. He didn’t become Viscount of Fallodon until 1916.” For the first time in thirty-odd years of conversation, I exclaimed, “Why would you know that?” He replied, mildly, “It’s my business to know such things.”

Over and over

Garry Wills in an exchange with Sean Dorrance Kelly and Hubert Dreyfus, regarding Wills’ review of their book All Things Shining, New York Review of Books, 2011:

They vaguely dance away from all that with a dismissive claim that I am talking history and they are talking philosophy—as if philosophy were a warrant for making false statements, over and over.

 

The intoxication of unprecedentedness

Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion, 1958:

The gnostic challenge was one expression of the crisis which the general culture experienced. To understand Gnosticism as such a challenge is part of understanding its essence. To be sure, the insights which its message propounded for the first time stand in their own right. But without the Hellenic counter-position upon which it burst, Gnosticism would not have been of that significance in the world history of ideas which it assumed as much by historical configuration as by its intrinsic content. The stature of what it challenged gives it some of its own historic stature. And its being “first” with those insights, and “different,” and filled with the intoxication of unprecedentedness, colors its view no less than their utterance.

Too comfortable in his own skin

Arthur Krystal on Jacques Barzun and Lionel Trilling:

As students and instructors at Columbia they had only a nodding acquaintance. Barzun, tall, fair-haired, Gallically handsome, was self-assured and interested in history, theater, music, and detective stories. Trilling, shy, intense, on the short side, was keen on Freud, Marx, and American fiction. To a budding and brooding intellectual like Trilling, the young Barzun seemed too comfortable in his own skin; there was no angst, no alienation. “Such awareness as we first had of each other,” Trilling recalled, “was across a barrier which had about it something of a barricade.” Meanwhile, in Barzun’s eyes, Trilling seemed “content to do well, with little exertion, in what he liked and to stumble through the rest.” Upon learning they would be paired up, neither one jumped at the prospect.