Notes on Christianity
and Ideas

Issue 14
June 2001

Published by Theodore Plantinga

In this issue ....

Can boyhood recover from the feminist makeover of our society? Christina Hoff Sommers dares to defend some unpopular ideas. Click here to read "Will the Boys Become Men?"

It's no longer "You are what you eat" but "You are what you wear." Naomi Klein fills in the bigger picture. Click here to read "Not Nobody: A Brand-Name Approach to Identity"

Click here to read "Giving God a Helping Hand -- and All the Glory Too" This essay originated as a presentation to the Philosophy Department of the University of Guelph in March of 2001.


Don't take the term literally. I don't plan to turn pages for you. What I mean to do in this space is comment on materials in the world of the printed page -- brief book notes, observations about periodicals, and perhaps a comment on an event.

Hegel would like this book. Do you recall how Hegel had gotten it into his head that contrary movements or impulses in the life of the spirit and culture must eventually coalesce (achieve a synthesis), only to be challenged eventually by a new antithesis? Well, if Hegel has a website of his own (and I seriously doubt that he does, since he's dead), he is surely using it to recommend David Brooks' book Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000). The Bobos (a fusion of the bourgeoisie and the bohemians) of Brooks' title are the dominant force today in the world's dominant country -- surely a manifestation of the Weltgeist.

To Brooks, the rise of the Bobos is good news: "Bobos have begun to create a set of standards and mores that work in the new century. It's good to live in a Bobo world" (p. 270). In the title he even uses the word "paradise." But is this world or paradise for everyone? Brooks has lots of amusing sections that will tip you off that you are not a genuine Bobo in case you do such-and-such. (I don't qualify as a Bobo, by the way.) One does not get the impression that we will all become affluent Bobos in the end. I am reminded of the old adage that the USA is a wonderful country to live in -- if you are rich.

Brooks is almost too clever and funny for his own good. Many of his descriptions and vignettes are nothing short of hilarious. One gets the impression that he is writing pure satire. Yet the book has a serious thesis and purpose -- to celebrate the triumph of Bobodom, that fusion of Romanticism (rebellion) and the conventional spirit that used to dominate the business class (long condemned by bohemians as "bourgeois"). He also speaks of it as a fusion of the 1960s (the decade of protest and the counter-culture) and the 1980s (the decades of prosperity and -- dare I say it? -- greed).

Brooks' weakest chapter is the one on spirituality. Perhaps Bobos are not looking for their reward in the life to come. Could anything top what they have already attained and enjoyed? The kingdom of God has dawned among them, but they are too modest to crow about it.

In short, Brooks has written an amazing, many-sided, and very entertaining book. Highly recommended. But it needs to be seasoned with a dose of Naomi Klein.

A kiss-and-tell book. Philosophers are supposed to be too high-minded to be interested in kiss-and-tell stories. But once in a while we make an exception. Take this business of Ayn Rand and "Objectivist" philosophy, which styles itself as "moral philosophy," extolling the virtue of selfishness. For those interested in the inner and personal side of this curious way of thinking, Nathaniel Branden has written an engaging account of his relationship with Ayn Rand, Objectivism's mercurial founder, in the form of a book entitled My Years with Ayn Rand (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999).

Rand used to salute Branden, twenty-five years her junior, as her "intellectual heir." Since they were lovers as well as intellectual collaborators, the "kiss-and-tell" appellation does fit. But of course there is much more to the book and to the story of their stormy relationship. For example, I think of Branden's admissions concerning the cult-like aspects of the movement initated by Rand (see pp. 226-7).

So where does Branden stand today? On the one hand he is disillusioned because of Rand's furious response to their romantic disengagement. On the other hand, he maintains that he still believes in a good deal of what the two of them once championed together. On what he thinks today, see especially pages 216 and 374-5. Branden developed his talents in the direction of psychology and has written a number of books in the field, whereas Rand stuck to philosophy and novels. Thus he can justify his current differences with her partly in terms of specialization.

Branden's book is also interesting as source material in that it can help us with the question how ideas get accredited and discredited through the lives and failings of those who first espouse and defend them. In the case of some thinkers (e.g. Kant) biographical information seems largely irrelevant to assessing their ideas, but there are also thinkers who can hardly be understood apart from their personal life stories (e.g. Heidegger). Surely Rand would have preferred to remain in the former category. But there is always the kiss-and-tell possibility. And since she died before Branden's book came out, she is not likely to favor us with a rebuttal.

A real philosopher. The great philosophers were drawn from a great many walks of life. But for the last two centuries or so, many of them have been philosophy professors in universities. And some of those officially accredited philosophers have taken to declaring that thinkers outside the academy should not be recognized as "real philosophers." A short-sighted attitude, in my view. Bryan Magee would surely agree. Magee is a writer, television broadcaster and politician in England. Well schooled in philosophy, he also writes about the subject in a very illuminating way. What's more, he dares to call himself a "philosopher," even though he is not a professor. This he does via the title of a lengthy book entitled Confessions of a Philosopher (London: Phoenix, 1997). He does not have a high view of the professors: "In the course of my adult life I have encountered more serious interest in real philosophy outside the profession than in it." [p. 114]

In my judgment, he richly deserves the title "philosopher." The book is partly intellectual autobiography, partly commentary on the place of philosophy within culture (especially the British scene), and partly exposition of the great thinkers. His favorite philosophers are Kant, Schopenhauer and Popper. And he does not think much of "Oxford philosophy" or the insistence that philosophy consists of linguistic analysis.

It's a long book (592 pages) and too rich to be summarized. It is highly recommended, especially for people involved in philosophy in some intensive way, whether as professors or as real philosophers of Magee's ilk. Happy the country that can claim such an illuminating thinker as Magee among its politicians and broadcasters.

General information

This electronic journal is my way of keeping in touch with friends, colleagues, former students, and so forth. It does not have a regular publication schedule. Feel free to download it and pass it around. You may even wish to send me a comment; I do not guarantee a response to each communication. If you wish to repost anything in this journal, please let me know. If you care to print something in paper form, this can also be arranged, provided that I retain the copyright so that I will remain free in my use of the material. Please regard the materials in Myodicy as copyrighted by me, except in the case of articles written by someone else. What is written in Myodicy should not be regarded as reflecting any official position or policy of Redeemer University College.

Theodore Plantinga
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