In the war of the mind, students need to master the tools of grammar, logic, and rhetoric that have been painstakingly developed since antiquity. They need the intellectual courage developed through real engagement with minds better than their own.
In a time when crime and inflation are rising together, when independent nations are threatened by massive powers eager to consume them, and when dispassionate public discourse seems impossible, it’s bracing to remember the fairness and generosity that make justice and good judgment possible.
In the last few months, two friends have highly recommended a book by Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. Amazon lies in wait for readers like me, of course, so I now have it in hand. Trueman begins by asking how this sentence—“I am a woman trapped in a man’s body”—could make sense in the contemporary world and even elicit sympathy from ordinary people, whereas a generation or two ago it would have been met with pure incredulity. Trueman’s account takes him back into the thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and then through Marx, Darwin, Freud, Nietzsche, and others of contemporary importance, such as Judith Butler. I am still in the early chapters, but I can already add my recommendation.
His arguments aside, what strikes me with unusual force is Trueman’s articulation of his approach, because it goes to the heart of an institution like Wyoming Catholic College. In his introduction to the book, Trueman explains what he does as a historian of ideas: “it seems to me that giving an accurate account of one’s opponents’ views, however obnoxious one may consider them to be, is vital, and never more so than our in our age of cheap Twitter insults and casual slanders. There’s nothing to be gained from refuting a straw man.” Perhaps it’s the almost universal absence of this attitude in the public sphere that makes Trueman’s fairness seem startling. After listing thinkers and movements inimical to his own position, he says that he has tried to be “as careful and dispassionate as possible. Some readers might find this odd, given my personal dissent from much of what they each represent. But truthfulness is not optional. My hope is that I have represented the views of these groups and individuals in such a manner that, were they to read this book, they might demur to my conclusions but at least recognize themselves in my account of their thought.” [my emphasis]