Books, 10/20

CUA has collected some of the shorter writings of Yves Congar on the Holy Spirit.

James Chappel appears to advance the thesis in his new book, which is being published by Harvard, that the Catholic Church renounced her anti-liberal sympathies after seeing herself mirrored in Nazism.

The eminent Jesuit historian John O’Malley has written a book on the first Vatican council.

Joseph Epstein has another collection of essays.

It would appear that John Searle’s recent disgrace has not prevented Harvard from undertaking to publish his next book, which sounds mostly the same as several of his other books.

An intellectual biography of Ibn Khaldun.

St Augustine Press has brought together some of the collected essays of Vaclav Benda.

Oxford is reprinting their selections of many English authors, such as John Donne and Thomas Browne.

Routledge is reprinting a social history of prosecutors and informants in imperial Rome.

Jennifer Summit and Blakey Vermeule have co-authored a book on the ancient debate between action and contemplation.


The Brain of Gore Vidal

Some years ago when I was trying to decide for myself whom I would call the Great American Writer, I read a lot of and about Gore Vidal. I have since realized that no such Writer exists, and most of what I read about Gore has mercifully passed out of memory.

I am glad that I remember one passage, however, from the diaries of Jay Parini, about a meeting Parini orchestrated in Oxford between Vidal and the famous clown Isaiah Berlin. The passage is reproduced here. When Vidal came to visit him one term, Parini, knowing that his friend “liked meeting people with a reputation for intelligence and wit,” arranged for an evening with the “great historian of ideas.” The curtain rises:

After a long dinner at high table at Christ Church — roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, and string beans followed by lemon tart — Gore and I sit with Isaiah Berlin in the hushed Senior Common Room under a portrait of John Locke, one of the most illustrious of former students of the college.

In the tradition of Oxford, I get a bottle of port from the drinks table, although Gore wonders if there is any Scotch. There is, of course. Berlin looks at him sternly.

“That’s John Locke,” I say, nodding to the picture. “He was here in the middle of the 17th century. They pray to him every night after dinner.”

Berlin has intimidated Gore throughout the evening: I’ve never seen that before. He wore a look of childlike amazement on his face throughout the meal. Of course everyone in Oxford considers Berlin the best talker in the university, possibly in Britain. His lectures are flawless performances, without notes, full of quotations that he has memorized verbatim. He seems to have read everything, exuding a wisdom and calm that Gore has rarely encountered.

“I’m sure you know, Gore, that Locke influenced Jefferson,” says Berlin. “Called him the most important man in history, with Bacon and Newton his closest rivals.”

Gore shuffles through memory, looking for the correct notecard. “I think he quoted Locke in the Declaration of Independence,” he says.

“Indeed,” says Berlin. “He was among the first to see that the separation of Church and State was essential in a sane republic.”

“I would get rid of the Church altogether,” Gore says.

“No! We need the Church. I’m a Jew, but I like the fact that people pray. It opens them to an experience beyond the self.”

“Do you believe in God?” Gore wonders.

“That depends, as always, on one’s definition. We’d be very small in this universe without the idea of God.”

“Locke argued for tolerance,” I put in. “He’s the father of tolerance, when it comes to religious belief.”

Berlin nods eagerly. “We’re all liberals, aren’t we? We owe that to our man here.”

“Me?” Gore teases.

“Of course we mean you,” says Berlin. “You’re our guest tonight.”

I can think of nothing more devastating to say about him than what is contained in this portrait.

Sheed & Ward Presents: Dr. Carl Schmitt

In 1923 Carl Schmitt published an essay entitled Römischer Katholizismus und politische Form. A few years later the British Catholic publishing house, Sheed & Ward, run by Frank Sheed and his wife Maisie Ward, was looking to start a new series called Essays in Order. The series was to continue in new form what had been, a few years before, Order, a journal of Christian humanism, which had published articles from Christopher Dawson, C.C. Martindale, E.I. Watkin, Martin D’Arcy, Jacques Maritain, Erich Przywara, Etienne Gilson, Maurice Blondel, and the like. Frank Sheed proposed turning it into a series, a sort of Catholic book-of-the-month club, with each short volume written to be read by the intelligent lay reader in an evening or two.

Thus Essays in Order was born. One of Dawson’s contributions to the series, Christianity and the New Age, remains in print. Contributions were solicited from all over Europe; in Germany, from Theodore Haecker, Karl Adam, and Carl Schmitt. Christopher Dawson wrote up an introduction, and thus Schmitt’s essay came to be translated for the English reading public. The Necessity of Politics was printed as the fifth volume in the new series.  In the US it was packaged with two other essays from the same series and published under the title Vital Realities.

The Sheed & Ward edition had been for a long time out of print; its translation has long been considered superseded by Gary (“G. L.”) Ulmen’s 1994 translation. In the translator’s preface to his edition (working from the third German edition of the text, published by Klett-Cotta in Stuttgart in 1984),  Ulmen comments on the Sheed & Ward translation:

An unauthorized translation of Schmitt’s essay was published by Sheed & Ward in London in 1931. Long out of print, it appeared in a series, Essays in Order: No. 5, under the somewhat misleading title: The Necessity of Politics: An Essay on the Representative Idea in the Church and Modern Europe. Although no translator is named, the introduction was written by Christopher Dawson. At the time Dawson, a Catholic, was Lecturer in the History of Culture at University College, London. Interested primarily in the relation between religion and culture, specifically Catholic theology and Catholic life, he quickly recognized the significance of Schmitt’s essay. But his introduction does not evidence a very clear understanding of Schmitt’s thesis, even with respect to the concrete historical situation of modern Catholicism. More to the point, Dawson’s translator was neither technically nor conceptually fit for the task. The translation is so inaccurate, the style so indifferent, that it it is worse than useless because it distorts Schmitt’s meaning.

Evidently Ulmen did not look close enough; the translator, listed in many places (for instance, in most of the book’s reviews, such as in The Downside Review[1]), was a certain Elsie (“E. M.”) Codd.[2] How odd, then, to find Ulmen in the next three paragraphs:

Another, more recent unauthorized translation of Schmitt’s essay has been published in mimeograph under the title: The Idea of Representation: A Discussion (Washington, D.C.: Plutarch Press, 1988). The translator is identified only as E. M. Codd, but the editor who introduces the work, Simona Draghici, identifies herself as “a European-American social scientist who among other things holds a Ph.D in sociology from the Univers ity of Texas at Austin.” Not incidentally, she is also the editor-in-chief of Plutarch Press. She informs the reader that “her interests in the comparative studies of social institutions have led her more recently to the analysis of the recurrent phenomenon of civilizational [sic] decline.” Her introduction can most generously be described as fanciful, when not factually incorrect. It seems likely that it was the editor who fabricated the chapter titles to Codd’s translation, since the last and most grotesque, “Whereto Humanity[?],” corresponds to her notion of “civilizational decline,” although such Spenglerian attributes are far from Schmitt’s thinking.

As for the Codd translation, there are fewer inaccuracies than in the Dawson volume, although stylistically and grammatically it reads like the work of someone for whom English is a second language. But the misunderstandings are still sufficient to make the translation more problematic than useful . A few examples will suffice. At the beginning of Schmitt’s essay, Codd translates the word Vaticanum as simply “the Vatican,” which misses the point entirely, since the term refers to the First Vatican Council of 1869-1870. This Council changed fundamentally the relation between Church and state with the doctrine of papal infallibility, and this doctrine is essential to an understanding of Schmitt’s concept of “political form .” At another place, the philosophical category of “indifference point” is translated as “neutral zone”; and still another, where Schmitt asserts that Roman Catholics appear to love the soil in a different way than Protestants, Codd has ”Catholic countries” having a different relation to the soil than “protestant lands.” In the same context, Schmitt says that the Huguenot or the Puritan has a strength and a pride that is often “inhuman,” as compared with the human character of the Catholic concept of nature, which Codd translates as “super-human.”

Much of Schmitt’s meaning in this essay relies on such nuances, which the Codd translation by and large misses. There are, of course, many other problems, some of them quite amusing, such as Codd’s characterization of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as “two West Germans,” and the reference to Bakunin in this same connection, which he renders thus: ”everything in the anarchistic Russian revolted against the ‘German Jew who on top of it all hailed from ‘Treves [Trier].'” But perhaps the most serious failing is the translator’s haphazard treatment of the word and concept of form, which play such a significant role in Schmitt’s essay.

Odd because, of course, we know that the 1988 Plutarch Press translation is identical to the 1931 Sheed & Ward translation, both having been translated by Ms. Elsie Codd: there are no differences between them. One wonders whether Ulmen read the Sheed & Ward translation at all, or whether he simply thought that no one would investigate his passing disparagement. In any case, he seems to have read the Codd translation in its 1988 printing; I leave it to the reader to decide whether the examples he cites justify his “more problematic than useful” verdict.

It is interesting to note that while Schmitt’s text was first published in Hellerau by Jakob Hegner Verlag in 1923, it was quickly improved and reprinted, in 1925 by Theatiner-Verlag in Munich, with the imprimatur.

I have decided to reprint the Sheed & Ward edition of the book myself for any interested readers. It is available here.


[1] Book Review: Essays in Order (1 May 1932). The Downside Review, Vol. 50, Issue 2, pp. 312-314.

[2] Alain de Benoist (1 January 2003). Carl Schmitt – Bibliographie seiner Schriften und Korrespondenzen. De Gruyter. pp. 9–. ISBN 978-3-05-008201-1.

New Books, 9/25/17

Marilynne Robinson’s newest collection of essays.

An appreciation and reconstruction of Elizabeth Anscombe’s moral philosophy.

Hugh Trevor-Roper’s writings about Nazi Germany.

The late Umberto Eco has decided to release a posthumous collection of essays.

Bob Pasnau’s book on epistemology.

A new book on premodern biblical exegesis.

Gabriel Reynolds’s book on the biblical foundations of the Quran.

Roger Scruton has written yet another book about conservatism.

Peter Green’s Odyssey translation is now forthcoming, following his Iliad.

More essays: Joseph Epstein’s.

Neo-Aristotelian perspectives on modern science, edited by Bill Simpson, Rob Koons, and Nicholas Teh.


Josef Pieper on Carl Schmitt

Now that I’ve had the honor of appearing in the pages of the Catholic Herald, writing on the second volume of Josef Pieper’s autobiography, I thought I’d share an excerpt from the first volume, No One Could Have Known:

At this time Carl Schmitt was also a frequent guest in Schranz’s house. Naturally I knew the “Third Reich’s constitutional lawyer” as (to his irritation) he was called, from my days as a law student. “Sovereign is he who gives judgment in the exceptional case”—phrases such as that were not easily forgotten. But until now I had not got to know the man any more closely. I was well aware of the inconceivably flagrant anti-Semitic statements he had made in the first years of the Nazi regime, and I did not see how any argument could justify them. Suddenly, however, he was sharply attacked in an article on constitutional issues in the Schwarzes Korps, the weekly paper of the SS, which threw him from the saddle. Overnight he had been dismissed from all Party offices. Since then, Dr. Schranz said, one could talk sensibly to him once again. —It was in fact a delight to his sparkling conversation. I immediately understood the fascination, for good and evil, that must have radiated from this academic teacher. But to attack his polished theses one needed considerable courage in facing banality. On the very first evening I asked him why, in his book on “the concept of the political” he had not written a syllable about the bonum commune, since the whole meaning of politics surely lay in the realization of the common good. He retorted sharply: “Anyone who speaks of the bonum commune is intent on deception.” Of course it was no answer; but it had the effect of initially disarming his opponent.

This man’s cynical attitude toward the world could probably be traced back to his earliest experiences. “ ‘Elite’? —That is a group of people who have the highest incomes and pay no taxes!” He seemed to delight in such formulations. He practically never spoke about his own experiences. Only once did he turn to me, as if he felt I needed enlightening in these matters, and say: “I know them all, these brown-shirted powers-that-be. Don’t imagine that any of them gives a fig for the famous Weltanschauung when it comes to holding power!” He also loved continually to apply irony to the “merely academic-humanistic world” as he mockingly put it; he had nothing but scorn for people who study the history of ideas and who, for instance, think they can interpret the “teaching” of the Stoa without adverting to the fact that a man like Seneca lived continually in danger of his life at Nero’s court and formulated his “philosophy” in that setting. I think that Carl Schmitt’s real strength lay in depicting such concrete historical situations. One unforgettable night, for instance, somewhat affected by our host’s excellent wine, he spoke of the difference between land and sea, between the law of the offshore and the law governing things found on terra firma; between a land fortress, which can honorably hoist a white flag, and a warship which, though landlubbers may regard it as a “floating fortress”, can never capitulate like fortresses on land, but only has the choice between victory or annihilation.

On the whole, however, these discussions never banished the uneasy feeling that what was interesting was given priority over what was true. I recalled the old dictum that the truth that nourishes and the brilliance of formulations seem to be incompatible. —All the same, when I heard of the witty elegance with which Carl Schmitt had managed to get himself an early release from internment after the war, it struck me as the kind of tribute that intellectual superiority—however “purely formal” it may be—can appropriately exact. Before the Russian commission he maintained that his allegedly Nazi past would have to be understood after the pattern of von Pettenkofer’s experiment. The examining officer, although apparently an educated man, naturally had no idea what he was talking about. Around the beginning of the century Max von Pettenkofer, a German scientist, put forward the thesis that infectious diseases were not caused by the bacillus alone; what was decisive was the human being’s susceptibility to disease. To prove this thesis, he drank a glass of water containing a whole culture of the cholera bacillus—and indeed, remained in good health, Carl Schmitt’s conclusion was this: “You see, I did the same thing. I have drunk the Nazi bacillus, but it did not infect me!”—which, of course, if it were true, would really and truly have made his conduct inexcusable. But they laughed in bewilderment and agreed to his release. That is, assuming the story was not invented and put about by Carl Schmitt himself.

Evidently even today (1968) the octogenarian has hardly changed. In the latest edition of the German Who’s Who one reads that his “hobby” is collecting “unusual rhymes and unreal conditional clauses”. I am afraid that that, too, is more “interesting” than true.

New Books, 9/13/17

Anthony Kaldellis and Niketas Siniossoglou have put together what looks like an amazing resource: the Cambridge Intellectual History of Byzantium.

Diarmaid Maculloch has attempted to write, currently for UK readers only, a rehabilition of the evil tyrant Edward VI.

Scalia Speaks, a collection of the late justice’s speeches, edited by his 8th child Christopher and his former law clerk Ed Whalen.

Nino and Me, a memoir of the Bryan Garner’s friendship with the late justice.

Chris Wickham’s OUP volume on medieval Rome is being released in paperback.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is releasing an essay collection, vaguely organized around the years of the Obama presidency.

Ron Chernow’s next effort will be a gigantic (1,100 pages) biography of Grant.

Some autobiographies: Joe Biden, Gucci Mane, and Russell Brand.

Gordon Wood’s new book studies the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Charles Darwin is the subject of A.N. Wilson’s next critical biography.

And another biography: this doorstop treatment of FDR.

Yet another collection of Martin Amis’s shorter writings.

New Books, 9/12/17

The Clerk of Oxford, Eleanor Parker, has written a book on the Vikings in England. Thomas Williams has also written one on the same topic.

The Carl Schmitt publishing industry continues apace with its next title Ex Captivitate Salus: Experiences, 1945 – 47.

Terry Eagleton’s next short book is apparently about the crucifixion.

A book about suppressing the Jesuits.

Adrian Goldsworthy’s next book will discuss Hadrian’s Wall.

Another big book about Islamic Spain.

It appears the sad ghost of Meister Eckhart will continue to haunt us for the foreseeable future.

The more-affordable paperback edition of this volume on Aristotle’s influence on St. Thomas’s theology is due out soon.

Another massive N.T. Wright book about Paul: this one’s the biography.

A book about the early modern European efforts to learn about and translate Islamic texts.

And what is Aleppo?

Jörg Rüpke’s big history of Roman religion has been translated.

The title here sort of says it all: Before Voltaire: The French Origins of “Newtonian” Mechanics, 1680-1715

There seem to be lots of new pop histories of the War of the Roses out this decade. Here’s another.

Here is a book about the Amazons—yes, the warrior women.