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Medicinal Metals, a Play about Conservatives, and Against Moralistic Rhetoric

First up: Rod Dreher recommends Will Arbery’s “breathtaking” new play Heroes of the Fourth Turning: “Decades from now, if social historians wonder what it was like to be an American conservative in this tumultuous era, they will consult Will Arbery’s breathtaking new play Heroes of the Fourth Turning for profound insight. I have not seen the play, but I read the script last night, and I kept thinking: this really can’t be this good, can it? It is. People like me — politically and religiously conservative — don’t expect to encounter contemporary art about ourselves. Reading Heroes brought to my mind the one other time in my life when I encountered serious art that was about my people: discovering the short stories of Flannery O’Connor in high school.”

The Royal Shakespeare Company cuts its eight-relationship with BP short. Some person who has a very strange view of art and co-directs an organization called “Culture Unstained” said the decision was “fantastic news.”

Anthony Sattin reviews William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company: “In three of his previous books, Dalrymple brought us the gloriously detailed stories of Britons who fell for Indians or India; of the last King of Delhi in what the British call the Indian Mutiny and the Indians call the First War of Independence; and of the First Afghan War. The East India Company was a major player in each of those stories, but now Dalrymple has brought the Company center stage. And here there should be a warning: the spotlight reveals truths you might find very uncomfortable, which is exactly what revisionist history aims to do.”

The puzzle of Delacroix’s violent Lion Hunt: “That Delacroix himself was in love with the subject – dangerously, scandalously – is part of the story. ‘My painting is a turpitude,’ he said to a young admirer. There is always a thin line, that is, between showing violence and ‘aestheticising’ it, and it is never certain what the effect of either will be. But again, what kept me looking and thinking in front of Delacroix at his best was (and remains) the mobility – the strangeness and humanity – of his treatment of the theme. ‘The sensation of the terrible,’ he wrote in his journal in 1857, ‘and, even more, that of the horrible, is not to be borne for very long … The terrible in art is a natural gift like that of grace … Shakespeare alone could make spirits talk.’”

The story of medicinal lithium: “Lithium is a silvery-white metal that is so light it can float on water and so soft it can be cut with a butter knife. Along with hydrogen and helium it was produced during the Big Bang and so formed the universe before the emergence of the galaxies. It is employed to harden glass and to thicken grease, but its best-known industrial use is in the manufacture of rechargeable batteries. Lithium salts are found in considerable quantities in brine and igneous granite and the element is present in trace quantities in the human body. Lithium is also one of the few metals – along with platinum for cancer, gold for rheumatoid arthritis and bismuth for dyspepsia – that are used as medicines. In 1949, a 37-year-old Australian doctor called John Cade produced a paper reporting that lithium quietened patients suffering from acute manic excitement. He reminded readers that lithium salts had been commonly used in the 19th century to treat gout and other disorders believed to be associated with high uric acid levels but had disappeared from the pharmacopoeia due to safety concerns. He then went on to describe a series of preclinical experiments he had carried out in a disused kitchen that had led him to consider lithium as a treatment for both manic depression (now often called bipolar disorder) and epilepsy.”

Essay of the Day:

Can politics be too moral? That seems like a dumb question given the current state of governing and political discourse. But in National Affairs, Greg Weiner argues that the answer is yes:

“On July 10, 1919, the chaplain of the U.S. Senate, Reverend Forrest Prettyman, opened the chamber’s day on a world-historical note, praying that ‘the God of our fathers will lead us on and fulfill the great design in us as a Nation.’ After dispatching some routine business, Vice President Thomas Marshall introduced the guest whose appearance prompted the chaplain’s millenarian tone: Woodrow Wilson, president of the United States and ‘first citizen of the world,’ fresh from his triumph at Versailles, the first chief executive since George Washington to visit the Senate and personally deliver a treaty.

“His case for the Treaty of Versailles and its centerpiece, the League of Nations — the latter of which had already been under assault in the Senate for months — was mostly workmanlike. It was not until the peroration that Wilson’s tenor did justice to the grandiosity of Prettyman’s invocation. The cause of the war was now not mere national interest, as it had been when Wilson sought a declaration of war in 1917 on the grounds of Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare. The war was now a moral crusade: ‘It was our duty to go in, if we were indeed the champions of liberty and of right. We answered to the call of duty in a way so spirited, so utterly without thought of what we spent of blood or treasure…so wrought out of the stuff of all that was heroic, that the whole world saw at last, in the flesh, in noble action, a great ideal asserted and vindicated, by a nation they had deemed material and now found to be compact of the spiritual forces that must free men of every nation from every unworthy bondage. It is thus that a new role and a new responsibility have come to this great nation that we honour and which we would all wish to lift to yet higher levels of service and achievement.’

“In his vaunted closing, Wilson declared that ‘[t]he stage [was] set…by the hand of God….We cannot turn back. We can only go forward….The light streams upon the path ahead, and nowhere else.’

“Wilson was known as a moralizer of Olympian proportions. Robert Nisbet recounted in The Present Age: Progress and Anarchy in Modern America that ‘[v]irtually everything [Wilson] touched became instantly transformed into an Armageddon.’ All the features of Wilson’s moralism are evident in the 1919 Senate speech: There was no moral choice other than the path Wilson wanted to take, no prudential discretion; only the ‘light’ on his path or the apparent darkness encasing any other. A prudential matter of statecraft became a moral crusade, with God called into its service. There was no limit to the blood or treasure that would be expended to succeed. That premise of limitless commitment was itself absurd. But even when the aim was purportedly achieved, the fact of success itself rechanneled moral energies to ‘yet higher’ goals.

“This is the essence of moralistic politics. It is different from politics oriented toward moral ends.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Wildenhof Chapel

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about the author

Micah Mattix is the literary editor of The American Conservative and an associate professor of English at Regent University.  His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Pleiades, The Washington Times, and many other publications. His latest book is The Soul Is a Stranger in this World: Essays on Poets and Poetry (Cascade). Follow him on Twitter.

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