Tributes

Interview with Mikhail Gorbachev

By Deal W. Hudson

Mikhail Gorbachev was the final president of the Soviet Union, serving from 1985 to 1991. His policies of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness) led to the end of communism in the USSR and the birth of a new, democratic Russia.

Currently, he heads the Gorbachev Foundation, an international think tank. He sat down with Deal W. Hudson in his office in Moscow, under-neath a large portrait of his late, beloved wife, Raisa.

Deal W. Hudson: The United States and its allies are now at war with terrorism. How do you see that proceeding?

Mikhail Gorbachev: Even as we’re witnessing a new euphoria from the victory over the Taliban, we have to state firmly that resorting to bombing of entire countries and peoples each time we battle with terrorism is absolutely unacceptable. We need to decide this on a case-by-case basis. There are economic, financial, and other means to go about combating this threat.

Do you think, in some cases, the same objective can be achieved through nonviolent methods?

Yes, of course. I was talking to Margaret Thatcher when she called for NATO strikes against Serbs in Bosnia. I asked her why she didn’t use this method of bombing in Belfast with all the problems with the IRA in northern Ireland—even when she narrowly escaped the bombing in a hotel. Why was it all right to bomb the Serbs? I saw her on the TV screen, and she was saying, “Bomb them, bomb them.” My answer was very harsh: I told her not to resort to violence.

What would you suggest?

Recently, I did an interview with a German newspaper in which I pointed out that there are many other nonmilitary options available. I was one of the first to suggest going the financial route. My proposal was to take ten banks that offer support to terrorist groups and revoke their licenses. You can be sure the next day 120 percent of the other banks would change their practices. When the newspaper ran the article, the headline said, “Gorbachev wants to revoke licenses of German banks.” [Laughter]

I understand you met with former President Clinton recently?

Yes, I met President Clinton in Madrid. My relationship with President Clinton was quite strained, if not downright tense. Of course, it was not because of Monica Lewinsky. I was highly critical of his foreign policy. He is guilty for the fact that the U.S. has wasted those ten years following the end of the Cold War.

What should he have done? How did he waste those years? Do you mean against terrorism?

I think he missed out on opportunities to develop a new world order. I discussed this at length with the president of the United States, George W. Bush. I think [the United States and Russia] should have worked more on the NATO issues and the issues of European security. Following the end of the Cold War, little had been done. I think Mr. Clinton, as a freshman in foreign politics, was spending too much time on the little details, and as a result, none of us was ready for the challenges of globalization.

So [Mr. Clinton and I] were the two principal speakers at the Madrid conference, and Mr. Clinton delivered a very interesting address. Put bluntly, he was rather self-critical. I asked, “Why bother with self-criticism? You’re interested in the poverty issue, and something must be done about it.” He said, “It wasn’t really me who caused the growth of poverty, but I didn’t do very much to address it.”

Are you encouraged by the strong relationship between President Bush and President Putin?

Very much so. It would be good if no one paid attention to those who criticize Bush in the United States or those who tend to criticize Mr. Putin in Russia. Mr. Putin has great support among the ordinary people, but some scholars and intellectuals who cater to the party interests of ruling elites try to criticize him. We shouldn’t only talk about the need

What kind of mechanisms do you have in mind?

Take NATO, for example. Russia, together with NATO, is addressing some of the really critical problems of today, and Russia’s contribution to this process is much bigger than that of all those aspiring states who want to join NATO. And it’s going to be this way in the future. If we consolidate this strength, I think we will all benefit. It’s not necessary that Russia join NATO; the main thing is to have a mechanism of cooperation between Russia and NATO. This mechanism should give Russia equal footing not only in the decision- making process but also in discussing all those issues.

Recently, my old acquaintance and friend, Mr. Colin Powell, came to Moscow and said yes, we should give Russia a bigger role with NATO, but we shouldn’t give it the right of veto. I told the secretary of state that he’s moving too fast and that he should warn his allies not to give in. The president should know that if Russia will participate more in decision-making in NATO, then NATO would be guaranteed not to make mistakes in the future.

Putin has the same stance that we had in Malta during our meeting with Mr. Bush: We don’t consider our countries to be enemies. But America does have to understand that just as you have interests—vital interests—that we understand, we have ours as well. If there’s dialogue, if there’s a mechanism, we’ll discuss issues and find mutually beneficial solutions. If NATO is really ready for a partnership, it couldn’t find a better partner than Russia.

Some people say that the United States and Russia are natural allies. Do you agree?

Yes. Objectively speaking, they should be allies. It’s significant that today we can speak of a partnership between the two—that we could be allies. We see both the Russian and American sides working in this direction, So, you are correct.

But there’s work to be done right now. If we don’t consider seriously all Mr. Putin’s proposals regarding domestic and foreign policy, we may miss another chance—because, you know, these proposals are really far-reaching.

Right now, we see new challenges, new problems. We were discussing the problems concerning the anti-terrorist coalition—the war on the Taliban. Of course we’re sure the United States will win this war. Following this victory, there will be euphoria, and we will forget about everything we’ve just gone through. We’ll forget about the main challenges, about what we should really be doing.

You speak of the changes between Russia and the West. What are some of the changes you’ve seen in Russia itself? What were some of the challenges you faced as president?

I’ve often been invited to speak about the transition from totalitarianism to democracy. I think it’s a very interesting subject. In our case, we were all learning to pronounce this term “private property,” and it was almost like a second revolution. In each of my speeches, the members of the Politburo would look for words that in some way or another might be understood as critical of socialism. Those, they tried to replace. You must understand, by 1985, 90 percent of all the Soviet population was born under socialist rule after the October Revolution. They knew nothing of power, private property, and so on. So the main obstacle for Russian progress is our set of preconceptions. Our friends in the West wanted to think that because Gorbachev declared freedom, democracy, pluralism, glasnost, and so on that everything would change overnight.

But for now, without an efficient legal system which is truly able to enforce federal law, Russia will not be able to get back on track with democratic reforms.

How do you see your legacy? What will the history books say about your leadership of the Soviet Union?

There was a very interesting poll conducted by the All-Russian Poll Center. The results of this poll were wonderful. Everyone is for reform now, but they’re arguing about whether we ever needed to start perestroika at all. Forty-two percent of the people think that we needed to start perestroika and 45 percent say we shouldn’t have. This 45 percent who say that we shouldn’t have are mainly senior citizens. So the most active, young, middle-class part of the population say that it was worthwhile.

Another peculiar feature was that even those respondents who said that it wasn’t worth starting perestroika at all say that they are for pluralism—pluralism of ideas, pluralism of parties, pluralism of ideology, and religious confession. So even if they didn’t think perestroika was a great idea, 60 to 80 percent say they’re happy with the changes it brought. Even those who voted against perestroika in this poll—they say that those benefits are good. They support those benefits.

I’m especially encouraged by the fact that 80 to 82 percent of all those respondents, when asked what kind of Russia they’d like to see in the future, say that they want a free, democratic country. So I think I’ll live to see that day. Mine is the usual fate of reformers: Either we get killed or our contribution is acknowledged only 50 years later.

Published at Crisis Magazine, February 1, 2002

A Video Interview About Jacques Maritain

In 1993 James and Tyra Arraj interviewed me about the French philosopher Jacques Maritain as part of their excellent documentary, “Understanding Maritain: The Man Who Loved Wisdom.” I was teaching at Fordham University at the time and had been president of the American Maritain Association for several years.  The first book I had published was co-edited with Matthew Mancini, Jacques Maritain: Philosopher and Friend, Mercer University Press, 1987. Maritain, as I describe, had been central in my conversion to Catholicism in 1984. For those who want a solid introduction to Maritain, I can strongly recommend the Arraj documentary, which can be seen here.

Why I Can Be Friends With Liberals, Democrats, and Pro-Aborts

By Deal W. Hudson

I’m writing this in response to comments made over the years about friendships I’ve maintained with persons who are diametrically opposed to many of my core values. Most of these comments have the tone of disapproval, others just sound flummoxed with me.

Let me say from the start that my reason is not conversion. Such an ulterior motive would make such a friendship one of utility, not a true friendship, to use Aristotle’s hierarchy of friendship. In the Book VII of his Nicomachean Ethics, he distinguishes between friends who are bonded by shared pleasure, the lowest; those who find each other useful; and true friends who share a common vision of life.

I’m sure the diligent reader just noted that I created a huge hurdle for myself to jump, namely, how can I be friends with those, who I said above, do not share my “core values”? Doesn’t this constitute an impossibility according to Aristotle’s criteria?

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Jacques Maritain (1882-1973)

Since I regard myself as someone whose mind and heart has been shaped by the tradition from Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas to Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson, I take this challenge seriously. In order to answer it, I have been made to reflect upon those specific friendships, both past and present, to find, if I could, what “common vision” we may have shared.

What came immediately to mind was the acceptance and respect I shared, and still share, with these persons. Several of them, in addition to being liberal Democrats, have been homosexual, which I thought important to mention, though I didn’t want to put it in the headline.

Such was the case of my friendship — call him “W” — of over 40 years with a man whose eulogy I delivered only a few years ago. We shared a love of Flannery O’Connor, who had been a personal friend of his, as well all things literary and musical. I spent hours at his piano singing show tunes while he thundered away, magnificently. I still miss him.

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Evelyn Waugh ( 1909-1966 ), author of Brideshead Revisited

When issues of faith, sexuality, or politics came up, our conversations were always direct but civil and punctuated with great guffaws of laughter, usually provoked by his puncturing of my inflated ego. But W never hinted at any disapproval of my conversion to Catholicism at age 34 — he also loved the convert, Evelyn Waugh — or the help I offered to George W. Bush — a man he didn’t love — in his campaigns and years in the White House.

Unlike many liberals nowadays, W did not look upon me as a moral inferior for being conservative, Catholic, or Republican. He did not assume I was a racist or felt disdain toward the poor. Oh, W would correct me sharply if I said or did something out of line, but I accepted the rebuke as a lesson given by a man whose judgment I respected and whose love I trusted.

What I have said of W can be applied to all my friendships with “liberals, Democrats, and pro-aborts.” There is, in fact, a “common vision” that stands behind the differences about politics, religion, and morality, and at the heart of the vision is acceptance, respect, and love, the truest love of willing the good for the other.

Another dimension to that common vision is a sharing of the greatness of the world and its culture — music, poetry, fiction, film, ideas, history, travel, and mutual friends. After all friends do not simply sit and stare at each other, quite the opposite, they look out at the world together and share in its delights.

At this point the reader might be thinking that I have ignored the looming question of how I could share a “common vision” with, say, a pro-abort. My answer is to say that not all who support abortion do so with the virulence of a pro-abortion activist. Not all who call themselves feminists despise conservative men who smoke cigars and play golf. Those friends of mine who are abortion supporters respect my view and those of other pro-lifers. They agree to disagree, but do so in way not to dismiss the subject from conversation but to admit their minds are still open on the subject.

Me

The author at peace in Scotland.

The same can be said of liberals and Democrats: few of them are as unpleasant as the liberals on TV and radio who cannot address any difference of opinion without a mocking, scornful tone of voice. I cannot share a common vision with anyone, on the right or the left, who treats others with instant disrespect because of a label, whether of their party affiliation, religious belief, sexual orientation, or taste in music.

At the heart of liberal scorn is the belief that “all the rest of us” are their moral inferiors, which makes friendship impossible. I fear that conservatives are developing the same attitude toward liberals — that they hold a monopoly on the moral high ground. This may be the main reason I have felt less at home lately in what’s left of the conservative movement.

The gradual politicization of American culture since the resignation of President Nixon in 1974 — driven by the endless victory laps of the media — has made “across the aisle” friendships less and less likely, especially in the area I live around Washington, DC.

And since it has become a habit “to google” a person after you meet him or her, before pursuing further contact, many possible friendships never get off the ground. That person you found delightful at a concert, or a bookstore, a party, at church, or standing in line at the grocery store turns out to a wretched “Republican” or “Democrat,” or whatever label makes him or her an “untouchable.”

Friendship faces a difficult future, I fear. It’s for this reason I offer this explanation of what has appeared to some a disconnect between who I am and who I call “my friend.” Perhaps the “common vision” that grounds a friendship is larger, and more nuanced, than we think.

Published at The Christian Review, December 20, 2015

How the Beatles, My Great Aunt, and Debussy Changed My Life

By Deal W. Hudson

It was the spring of 1970 when Paul McCartney announced he was leaving the Beatles. I had already grown discontent with pop music, the frenetic discord of Jimmy Hendrix touched no part of a young man brought up on Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, and Broadway show tunes. The Beatles, to my ear, wrote songs that expressed tonal continuity with the music I had grown to love.

My first year at the University of Texas, 1968, I set up an Akai tape deck on the desk of my dorm room and next to it laid a pile of reel-to-reel recordings of my favorite crooners. In my closet hung a row of Oxford cloth button down shirts next to my grey, blue, and brown wool pants. My penny loafers were kept shined, and when it grew cool in Austin I would put on my grey herringbone jacket bought for me by my great Aunt Lucile in London the previous year.

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My great Aunt Lucile Morley of Austin, TX

When Aunt Lucile met me in London at the end of my summer tour of Europe which she had given me as a Christmas present, she was not pleased with my attire. She hailed a taxi and told the driver, “Selfridges“! She led me into the men’s shop and told the attendant she was going to buy me new clothes and he could “dispose” of what I was wearing. Aunt Lucile insisted on adding an umbrella, which no “gentlemen” should be without. Once on the street, she was distressed that I didn’t know how to walk properly with an umbrella — she said, “Tap the sidewalk on every third step,” and I did, eventually.

Aunt Lucile lived in one of the historic houses in Austin, next to the Treaty Oak and the Coca Cola bottling plant. During my four years at UT, I served as her yard boy and as a waiter at her receptions and dinner parties. When she fed me breakfast after mowing her yard, she would lay out silver, china, and immaculate linen, in spite of the fact that I was sweaty and wearing gym shorts, tennis shoes, and a T-shirt.

My great Aunt had been a professional singer between the two world wars, singing mostly in Europe. She had sung the “Negro Songs” of H. T. Burleigh on the same program with Irish tenor John McCormack at Royal Albert Hall for the Queen Mother of England. In the summers, she sang with the well-known composition teacher and composer, Nadia Boulanger, at her American School at Fountainbleau. She was the one person in my family who appreciated my interest in, and passion for, literature, philosophy, and the arts. Years later, she was the only family member who read my dissertation on romanticism, concluding, “You’ve been a bit hard on the romantic poets, haven’t you?” And, yes, I had.

Back to the Beatles and my musical disorientation that followed. A few months after their breakup, I had just finished mowing my aunt’s lawn when she brought me a towel and a glass of water, and suggested I introduce myself to her new tenant who lived in the apartment on the side of the house. “She’s a new music teacher at the university, I think you should meet her.” I was anxious to get back to my apartment, but whatever Aunt Lucile wanted, she usually got. So I went around to the apartment door and knocked. A pretty young woman answered the door. I explained who I was and was invited in and offered a glass of delicious lemonade.

When she asked, I told her I was a junior philosophy major at UT. Then she asked what kind of music I liked. After I had shared my complaint about the direction of pop music, she asked if I had ever heard any classical music. I had heard some Gershwin, I told her, and had attended an opera as a high school student, but nothing had really left a big impression. “Well,” the young professor said, “tell me what you like in music.” “Melody,” I said. She went to a large stack of albums, pulled out a record, and put it on the turntable.

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French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

The music I heard over the next few minutes changed my life. It was so beautiful, the most beautiful music I had ever heard, and I sat transfixed until it ended. She saw my reaction, smiled, and said, “That was “Prelude to the Afternoon of Faun” by the French composer, Claude Debussy. I asked her if she had any more music like that, and she put on some Ravel and then some Wagner. I knew then that I would go immediately to the University Co-op and buy these recordings. I thanked her — I hope to this day she knew just how much I was in her debt.

At the Co-op, I bought a Debussy LP conducted by Pierre Boulez and played by the New Philharmonia Orchestra, along with some Ravel and an album of Wagner overtures. That day began a lifelong passion of exploring the entire history of classical music, every epoch and every form, from both played and sung, chamber music and orchestral, opera and oratorio, songs and choruses. Over the next ten years, I collected the entire standard repertoire and had started looking into the lesser known later romantics such as Delius, Vaughn Williams, Finzi, Hanson, and Pfitzner. At the end of my three years at Princeton Theological Seminary, I went on an opera tour of Europe with Aunt Lucile, the highlight being “Lohengrin” at Bayreuth and “Der Rosenkavalier” at the Munich Opera.

By the time I started teaching at Mercer University Atlanta in 1979, I knew enough to teach Music Appreciation in the prison program at the Atlanta Federal Prison. Being an amateur, I played my student/prisoners what moved me and found it moved them as well. Several cried when I played the Penitential Psalms of Lassus and, especially, “Pavane for a Dead Princess” by Ravel. My class was almost entirely African-American from cities on the East Coast, but the music built a bridge between us that made of all sad when the class came to an end.

What provoked these memories was the death of composer/conductor Pierre Boulez at age 90 whose recording served my entryway into the vast universe of great music we, perhaps wrongly, call “classical.” I’m startled when people ask me why my musical tastes are so “narrow” (I haven’t listened to pop music since 1970). I am still discovering wonderful music (Norwegian Ludwig Irgens Jenson (1894-1969) for example) that makes me realize I will be on this musical journey until the day I die. Thanks to my Aunt Lucile, her tenant whose name I, sadly, cannot remember, Claude Debussy, and Maestro Boulez, my life has been inestimably enriched.

Published at The Christian Review, January 12, 2016

The Day a Red Bird Sang St. Thomas Aquinas

I was coming to the end of my first year as a college professor at Mercer University Atlanta. I was still a Southern Baptist though I had been wrestling with that affiliation since being introduced to St. Augustine at Princeton Theological Seminary.

One of the greatest Protestant theologians, Soren Kierkegaard, had provided the base motif of my dissertation, a critique of Romanticism. But after dismantling the Romantic pretenses to spirituality, as I thought then, Kierkegaard had not offered me the tools to put my worldview back together. (The target of my dissertation had actually been my own pretensions.) Nothing much was left after seeing through the limitations of aestheticism and ethical earnestness.

Kierkegaard

What was left of the Romantic in me, however, still yearned to view the totality of things, the truth behind the appearances. This desire comported with my fledgling knowledge of the Catholic faith which had been acquired through the agency of two friends at Emory University where I spent three years getting my Ph.D. Like a Gothic cathedral, the Catholic faith appeared to teach the fundamental connectedness of things. Faith, rather than being a leap into the abyss, could be assisted by reason both before and after conversion.

That spring day I put a chair in the back yard under a bird feeder and went inside to find a suitable for book to read and relax. I noticed the red spine of a paperback by St. Thomas Aquinas on the top shelf. It contained the Question 2, the Treatise on God, from the Summa Theologiae (Gilby trans.), which I had been assigned to read at Princeton but had failed to do. Feeling pangs of guilt, I took it down and decided to settle my debt with that class on Medieval Theology at Princeton.

It look me a while to realize that St. Thomas always started out stating positions he did not agree with, but once I got a handle on reading the article form I found him easier to read than I had anticipated. Then I got to the section in God’s goodness (ST 1a.2) and, specifically, to the question, “Whether all things are good by the divine goodness?”

I’ll be honest and say that this led me to think about myself and ask whether I was good. The tradition of Christianity I knew best did not have a very positive view of human nature. The propensity to sin — human fallenness — took St. Paul’s notion of carnality, in thinking and behavior, to its extreme. In practical terms that creates a negative attitude towards oneself, especially towards one’s sinful practices.

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St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274)

As I read through St. Thomas’s reply to his own question, I came to the final paragraph, “Everything is therefore called good from the divine goodness, as from the first exemplary effective and final principle of all goodness.” And as I read a red bird started to sing standing on the bird feeder overhead — it seemed as if the words of the Saint and the song of the bird merged into one. That day not only did I discover the source of my own goodness but I experienced a heaven-sent joy mediated by the beauty of this bird and the song.

What had stunned me was this: the goodness I possessed, and all creation possesses, could not be taken away from me, or destroyed by my own agency, even my sins and vices. It was goodness, St. Thomas says, added to my being by the Creator. Even the fallen angel, Lucifer, could be said to possessing goodness through he lives eternally separated from God. The connectedness of things was grounded in God’s own goodness which He chose to share with His creation.

Some might smile and think that the moment I describe was imagined, or was the product of young man struggling with his own penchant toward Romanticism, finally merging it with the teaching of a medieval doctor of the Church. I’m not given to mystical experiences, per se, but I’ll never doubt what was given me that day, a moment of sensual beauty and intellectual clarity that led me into the Church and rerouted my life completely.

I couldn’t let my Saint’s day pass without paying him tribute and expressing my gratitude.

Published at The Christian Review, January 28, 2016

My Son, The Gorilla!

By Deal W. Hudson

Golf prepared me for manhood. My Dad made sure of it. “This is my son, the gorilla,” he would say to his buddies on the first tee of Ridglea Country Club in Ft. Worth. “He can hit it a hundred miles.” For a kid of 12 or 13, that’s plenty of pressure.

So in the early-morning dew, I would set my feet on the grass and address the ball. The familiar “dollar, dollar, dollar” bantering would grow silent and all the eyes would turn to me.

“Jesus,” I thought, “just let me hit it solid, somewhere. Anywhere!”

I’m older now, and I realize everyone was rooting for me then, hoping I could fulfill my Dad’s expectations. Every now and then I would look up after my swing to see the ball arching its way toward the middle of the fairway, safe from the traps on the right and the out-of-bounds down the left side.

But more often, the result of my nervous backswing would be a dribble into the first cut of the rough or a pop-up that would barely make it onto the first few yards of the fairway. My Dad and his friends would pretend not to notice my shame. In time, I learned to assume the same poker face, to ignore the mistakes that threaten to infect future swings.

After the dribble or pop-up, I recall getting really good at hitting 260-yard 3-woods to within short-iron distance of the first green. I always noticed how these prodigious second shots would quickly revive the spirit of our foursome, as if the grown-ups wanted to be assured that they really had a “gorilla” in their midst.

But Dad wouldn’t stop there. He liked putting pressure on me as much as he liked me to succeed. As a former World War II bomber captain and airline pilot, Dad wasn’t affected by pressure. In fact, he seemed to thrive on it. The more important the putt, the more likely he would make it. He seemed to suddenly wake up, all his senses and energy would focus on the one task, and the ball would rattle in the bottom of the cup.

I always thought he put pressure on me simply to help me grow up. There were times it made me angry, and there were times it kept me from playing good golf. Dad and I would come home from the course and my mother would take one look at my face and say, “He got to you today, didn’t he?”

“Yes, he had,” I thought, but I never admitted it.

I was nearly 50 when I now realized something perhaps Dad didn’t even know at the time. Pressure is not necessarily the enemy of golf (or life) but can be its friend. That’s the lesson I learned from watching Dad hole all those 20-footers to win a $3 nassau. He made pressure into a kind of inspiration, a spirit — pressure became his good daimon.

My Dad was no philosopher; he couldn’t explain to me what happened, or how he did it. Like the cowboy stars of old, he could only show, not tell. But I’m glad I eventually figured it out for myself, although it took me a long time. I should have know those father-son antics on the golf course had deeper soundings.

A few times he asked me if I wanted to become a professional golfer, but I had other, more intellectual, aspirations. Dad watched in despair as I traced my route through graduate school to university teaching, and then, much to his relief, into the publishing business.

During my 15 years of teaching philosophy, golf was just about the only thing my Dad and I had in common. Golf kept us friends. As every golfer knows, if you take your personal differences, your financial or marital troubles out on the course, you might as well not be there. So, for 20 years we could talk and laugh on the golf course, even if we were barely speaking after we got off it.

Over the years the tables slowly turned between Dad and me. I learned to handle the pressure, and would often discover his knack for inspiration. We often played his course in Houston, the venerable Champions, owned and run by the champion Jack Burke, Jr., a philosopher of golf if there ever was one. And every summer we teamed up to play in the member-guest at the country club in Rockland, Maine.Father:Son

Two summers before he passed away, my Dad, who was in his 70s and still played to a 12, had an attack of nerves. It was the first time I had ever seen him routinely miss 2- and 3-foot putts. The only time he had ever missed short putts before was when he was fooling around, never in competition. For the first time in our golfing history, it was my short game keeping us in contention. We had come full circle; we both knew it, but we didn’t talk about it. Men just don’t.

After that match, I realized we had become better friends, because of his missed putts. Golfers often curse and complain that the game exposes everything about you, that golf leaves you nowhere to hide. We had received a blessing in the naked moment of those missed putts. It was almost the final chapter of how golf had make us known to each other: a son’s youth to his father, a father’s age to his son. And, because of this, we not only stayed friends, we became better ones.

I went back to Ridglea Country Club in Ft. Worth after my father’s passing just to take a quick look at the place where I learned to play golf. I noticed the first tee had been moved to the right so it faced directly at both the traps down the right side of the fairway and the out-of-bounds on the left. I thought of all those nervous teenagers teeing off with their dads who must be finding it even harder to hit the fairway than I did.

Published at The Christian Review, May 30, 2016

Meeting Mother Angelica

Deal W. Hudson

Published December 1, 19995

She walks so slowly on her crutches she seems fragile, an impression that doesn’t last for very long. Mother Angelica is made of something as tough as the steel she leans on. This Poor Clare nun from Ohio has single-handedly built a multimillion-dollar television and radio complex on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama, and created one of the most successful, influential Catholic broadcasting networks in the world.

I had little idea what to expect when I arrived at EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) for my interview on Mother Angelica Live. From previous broadcasts I knew my host could be direct and acerbic on the subject of the Church. But I wasn’t prepared for the woman I met, especially her humor, savvy, subtlety, and penetrating insight into the spiritual life.

In the course of my new editorial duties at Crisis I have gone for advice to many top business executives. Mother Angelica could stand toe-to-toe with any of them. She possesses an incisiveness that makes one wish for perfect recall, because some of the best things she says are off-camera.

I complained during the interview about the preaching one typically hears at Masses in this country. Then, feeling awkward about the priests who might be listening to the broadcast, I asked her if I was being “too hard.” Her reply brought hearty laughter from everyone in the studio, and relief to me — “You can’t be too hard on this program!”

Later, in the studio’s kitchen where everyone gathers for good-byes, after Mother personally greets nearly everyone in the audience, we continued to talk about preaching. Mother talked to me about the Cure d’Ars, what a weak preacher he was, but how multitudes of people would come to his Masses and line up at his confessional. Instantly I knew why I had been uncomfortable with my comments about preaching: the problem with my criticism wasn’t its harshness, it was simply misplaced.

The sacramental worship of the Catholic Church mercifully removes the spotlight from the celebrant as a brilliant rhetorician or even a charismatic personality. It frees the celebrant to be precisely that, one who celebrates the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This is one of the central reasons I was first drawn to the Church, and it took an encounter with Mother Angelica to remind me of it. Old habits, as they say, die hard.

Meeting Mother Angelica has that kind of effect on people. Spend an afternoon talking to the people who work with her and it is difficult not to be infected with a certain back-to-basics euphoria. From the remarkable president of EWTN Bill Steltemeier, through the producers, to the radio technician who gave me the tour of WEWN, their mountain-top radio station, everyone I met was cheerfully devoted to Mother and the cause of EWTN. From Ohio and New Jersey, and across the South and Southwest, they have come to work for Mother, all of them sharing her belief that “God will provide.”

Anyone who watched EWTN’s coverage of the pope’s visit to the U.S. or listened to it on WEWN will appreciate the network’s possibilities, including the 24-hour AM/FM that is soon to follow. EWTN’s reporters and commentators simply outclassed and outcovered everyone else. Plans are under way to televise the pope’s upcoming visit to South America. When I asked Bill Steltemeier about the cost of broadcasting all those hours from another continent, including the costs of translation, he told me story after story of launching projects well in advance of raising the necessary capital. The words “Mother says” are their only business plan.

It is no accident EWTN has sprung up and taken root in the South. Its tone, like its founder, is enthusiastic and evangelical; no attempt to be the urbane, detached cosmopolitan here — just two-fisted Catholic intelligence reminding people to take full advantage of the grace they have been given.

As I was getting ready to leave for the airport, I looked out the window of the Madonna House where I was staying to see one of the extern sisters, fully draped in her traditional habit, walking down this suburban Alabama street carrying a huge yellow gladiola. I couldn’t help but wonder if sights like these had become such a commonplace in this predominately Protestant neighborhood that the neighbors had stopped noticing them. I hope not.

I found in that image something that captured the core of Mother Angelica’s ministry: she has brought an old-style Catholicism to the heartland of America. Her viewers aren’t simply responding to the firmness of her pre-conciliar tone, which they surely appreciate, but they can also see the flower in her upraised hand. This flower represents the beauty and the joy of the Church she celebrates without apology.

Marion Montgomery’s Summa: A Journey through the American Mind

Deal W. Hudson
Readers may already be familiar with the name Marion Montgomery. For many years his articles have appeared regularly in Modern Age, Hillsdale Review, This World, and Chronicles, and Crisis recently published his comment on “De-construction and Eric Voegelin” (June 1988).

But the growth of Montgomery’s reputation has been spurred by the publication in the early 1980s of his massive trilogy, The Prophetic Poet and the Spirit of the Age (presently being reprinted by Sherwood Sugden and Company). Mentioning the trilogy by its proper title can draw a blank stare, while the catchy titles of the individual volumes — Why Flannery O’Connor Stayed Home, Why Poe Drank Liquor, and Why Hawthorne Was Melancholy — are usually recognized.

This, unfortunately, has obscured the real intent and significance of his achievement. Certainly these volumes consider O’Connor, Poe, and Hawthorne, but the whole trilogy, as its title indicates, is after much more. Its 1,400 pages contain nothing less than a “prophetic” Thomistic critique of the American “popular spirit,” as it has evolved from the New England Puritans and Transcendentalists to the present legion of modernists.

Montgomery writes in the Preface:

“We shall consider whether, in consequence of the triumph of opinion over reasoned judgment, a consequence of ideological illusions practiced upon the community of man this past four or five hundred years in the interest of gathering power over nature and man — the popular spirit of our age has reached a condition whereby each man must be his own ideologue; whether indeed he insists upon being so as a “natural right”; and whether there is rescue from the isolation of that position.”

That such a project is unique in American studies, cultural and literary criticism, as well as in Thomism, makes Montgomery’s trilogy distinctive; that he brings it off in a compelling fashion earns The Prophetic Poet and the Spirit of the Age pride of place on bookshelves next to Cornelio Fabro’s God in Exile, Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, and Friedrich Heer’s Intellectual History of the West. Their application of Christian realism in diagnosing the rise and fall of Western culture is directly comparable to the method and scope of the trilogy. This parallel with works whose foci are European also indicates the gap that Montgomery has filled for his audience: a critical reading of American culture, founded upon the Catholic realism of classical and Christian Europe, which attends to the specific spiritual development of America.

Montgomery is a scholar who, beyond being deeply read in the classics, clips his daily newspaper, a habit which provides the trilogy a richness of illustrative detail normally not found in books of similar conceptual reach.

The trilogy attests to Thomism’s continuing vitality: Montgomery has brought St. Thomas to America like no one else before him. In doing so, he has provided an entree into our own inherited past. By providing a map to the spiritual terrain of American literature, Montgomery makes it possible to rediscover the American classics — Hawthorne, Emerson, Poe, James, Pound, Eliot, Faulkner, Nathaniel West —in the light of the Anglo-European Catholic culture to which many Catholics have for years felt bound. For this, Americans owe a lot to Montgomery.

Like Flannery O’Connor, whose witness inspired the trilogy, Montgomery speaks with a distinctly Catholic voice from the heartland of the Protestant South (he worships in an Anglo-Catholic church). Widespread recognition of O’Connor’s writing came slowly because she “stayed home.” When Montgomery says of O’Connor, “Being a Southerner does not in fact set her in a separate world,” he speaks also of himself.

Slowly, the worth of his contribution is being recognized. Gerhart Niemeyer has paid him tribute in the Center Journal (“Why Marion Montgomery Has to Ramble,” Spring 1985). Christendom College held a major symposium on the trilogy, the papers from which were subsequently published in The Hillsdale Review (Spring/Summer 1986). His commentators agree that Montgomery’s voice is not just another in the chorus decrying the woes of the modern world. Montgomery breaks through the impasse created by mere angry protest and supplies what Niemeyer calls a “spiritual therapy.” It is therapy on a high intellectual and broad historical plane. Note Montgomery’s comment on O’Connor’s view of Southern manners:

Let us say that manners are what we discover in community as an aid to the individual member in those moments when his good will falters and best thought weakens. It is the poetry of being beyond the literal words or gestures that embody manners. Manners let the soul catch its breath in the difficult journey of the world where at every moment one may lead himself astray…. To deliberately abandon or reject that deportment of being in nature which we call manners, which order our fallible inclinations, is to willfully enter the jungle, no matter how attractively chrome-plated or path-paved that jungle.

Montgomery moves back and forth between the worlds of the philosopher and the poet with ease, saying he falls “somewhere between Faulkner’s poet and Plato’s philosopher, committed at times to metaphor, at other times to definition.” His facility at connecting these different worlds of discourse seems so natural and unforced that you are left wondering why this kind of “undulating conversation,” as Niemeyer describes the trilogy, has fallen into disfavor. Montgomery’s courage to move beyond the accepted limits of literary criticism, without descending into the murky depths of deconstruction, reminds one that Samuel Johnson once called literary criticism “good talk about books.”

Montgomery’s ability and willingness to undertake such a project naturally provokes interest in his background. He had the good fortune to study English literature at the University of Georgia in the late 1940s, after his military service. Those who are familiar with the history of American letters will remember that Georgia had enjoyed close ties to Vanderbilt’s Fugitives and Agrarians since the 1930s. The legacy of Donald Davidson, Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, and Andrew Lytle was strongly represented on the Georgia faculty by William Wallace Davidson (Donald’s brother), John Donald Wade (founder of the Georgia Review), and Robert Hunter West, who became Montgomery’s early mentor and lifelong friend.

Thus situated, Montgomery was near the center of one of this country’s most important intellectual and literary circles (witness the influence of Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren while on the English faculty at Yale in the 1950s). He enjoyed personal friendships with many of them and with Flannery O’Connor as well. Only last year did Montgomery leave the University of Georgia, having been a member of the English faculty for over 30 years.

While a graduate student he was introduced not only to the classicism, literary discipline, and cultural criticism of the Fugitive-Agrarian movement but was also introduced to Aquinas, Dante, the Neo-Thomists, and other Catholic authors. Montgomery and his wife Dorothy met weekly for several years with other couples from the department to study these texts in a group they called “St. Thomas and Rabbit Hunters.”

Reading St. Thomas in the context of his Fugitive-Agrarian education, Montgomery began to see the similarity of their concern for the recovery of our “ordinate relation” to being. Thomas’s metaphysics of esse, “a sort of static energy in virtue of which the being actually is, or exists,” established for him a larger context in which to pursue Fugitive-Agrarian concerns.

Whereas some readers are tempted to view Montgomery as the last of the Fugitive-Agrarians, he calls himself an “enlarger upon them.” The reason for his continued interest in Fugitive-Agrarian literature and ideas can be understood from a statement made by one of its early leaders, Stark Young: “We defend qualities not because they belong to the South, but because the South belongs to them.” These qualities include an affirmation of history and tradition, of the family and community, a distrust of urbanization and the claims of technology, the social role of the poet, and the universal need of a religious faith.

Thus, Montgomery’s ties to the Fugitive-Agrarian tradition are far from sentimental or reactionary. Tara, mint juleps, and ante-bellum gowns only draw his fire: “History, when it is preserved in its viable form, is in people, not in things, in clothes or buildings on which attention is focused by idle holiday curiosity or with a vague sense of guilt for the neglect of heritage.” What Montgomery finds prophetic in the writings of Davidson, Tate, and Ransom, he also found in Thomas Aquinas and Solzhenitsyn, both of whom he has had the good humor to describe as “Southerners.”

Why? Because together they have sought to protect being from those who would deny its otherness, the integrity of its existence apart from the mind, and to establish a genuine stewardship of creation grounded in a well-ordered love of what is given. In order to explain the “spiritual dislocations” that have perverted our relationship to being, Montgomery, following Eric Voegelin, employs the names of the ancient heretics, primarily the Gnostics and Manicheans.

The bulk of his trilogy traces the American versions of these two heresies, each leading from a metaphysical denial of being to a denial of the human body and its role in the order of knowledge and the formation of virtue. These heresies deny the necessary function of the senses as instruments of knowledge and the necessity that virtue be embodied in actions repeated over time.

It is not the scope of these three volumes alone that makes them difficult to describe in a short space. If Montgomery were busy running his authors like grist through an ideological mill toward a pre-established outcome, summarization would be easy. Montgomery, however, loves his subjects too much to treat them as grist. He turns them round and round for his reader’s gaze. His generous scrupulousness becomes a source of enjoyment; it provides the unexpected turn, the personal aside, the unforeseen comparison, and, as I have said, the embodiment of his analysis in concrete detail.

For example, in his discussion of “The New Sentimentality: Man as Wind-Up Mouse,” Montgomery brilliantly connects the best-known character in O’Connor’s fiction, the Misfit (from A Good Man Is Hard to Find), with Hannah Arendt’s portrait of Adolf Eichmann — who represents “the banality of evil”— along with Charles Manson, the Jonestown massacre, and, of all things, transactional analysis. “A little time,” he writes, “a little distance, and a magnitude of effect in time and place make for dramatic speculation on the question of evil. But the same questions, seen in our immediate present, lacking the authority of history’s spectacles, those large accomplished effects, are likely to strike one as merely trivial.”

Chapter after chapter (and it is no accident that each volume contains 31) of such counterpoint between idea and historical consequence may at first seem like mere “rambling,” until one realizes how used to the constricted range of academic writing we have become in our reading habits. Don’t be fooled by the casual, almost offhand tone of his writing. Montgomery has brought his art to these books, in addition to this prudence and his speculative insight (theoria). As he told me, you have “got to make the watch before you can wind it,” to which we might add, “and tell the time.”

The trilogy is packed with major and minor characters. Aquinas, Voegelin, Eliot, the Fugitive-Agrarians, all play an equally important role in Montgomery’s argument, second only to Flannery O’Connor. Dante, Eliade, Faulkner, Maritain, Nietzsche, and Teilhard de Chardin are discussed throughout the O’Connor volume, while Bergson, Baudelaire, Heidegger, Pascal, and Sartre surround the discussion of Poe. The treatment of Hawthorne’s melancholy takes the reader backwards to John Locke, Jonathan Edwards, and John Winthrop, and forward to George Santayana, Nathaniel West, and Henry James. Here we also receive the answer to O’Connor’s question,” Why did Henry James like England better than America?” Montgomery notes that “there [James] discovers a devotion to form still pervasive in the rarer reaches of the intellectual community; it is with subtle English manners, examined as an outsider, that James is concerned . . . But one does not find James concerned with the mystery upon which Miss O’Connor found manners to depend.”

This concern for mystery takes us to the heart of Montgomery’s trilogy. It is a mystery witnessed to by the silence of Aquinas, the “Ash Wednesday” of Eliot, the grotesques of O’Connor; a mystery sinned against by James’s aestheticism, by Poe’s Manichean denial of the body, by Emerson’s attempt to restructure being; and by Hawthorne’s inability to break free from idealism. Mystery, as Jacques Maritain taught, can be approached, though not encompassed, by thought.

A mystery is supra-rational, but not irrational. Montgomery takes the reader toward what can be known and felt of the mystery that expresses itself in and through what Voegelin calls the “in-between” nature of human existence. Gnosticism and Manicheism both seek to escape the “tensional” nature of life; they fail to see the esse (thatness) behind the ens (what-ness).

Metaphysically confused from the start, modern heretics have gradually reduced all of creation to mere products of thought, of consciousness. Thus established as what Voegelin calls “gnostic directors of being,” they void the problem of evil and pursue in this world the perfect beatitude they deny in the next. Montgomery locates the entry point of this millennialist utilitarianism in the Puritan mind, represented in Winthrop’s image of “a shining city on the Hill.”Montgomery observes:

“One may discover here a shift from St. Augustine’s careful concern for the difference between the City of Man and the City of God, a shift which in its subsequent consequences following the Plymouth landing has secularizing consequences beyond Winthrop’s anticipations.”

Indeed, for Montgomery it was Emerson who translated this Gnostic Puritanism into a full-blown secular program for the restructuring of human existence, “a closed Eden,” within the individual human mind. Commenting on the hostile reception given to Solzhenitsyn’s speech at Harvard, Montgomery writes: “Emerson, we must insist, is a considerable force in that establishment [Harvard] —a Gnostic thinker whose influence we have yet to overcome.”

One only has to listen to the gurus of the “New Age” telling us that we “can create our own reality” to realize how strongly that influence continues to be felt. Hawthorne, living down the road from Emerson in Salem, was not taken in by the growing influence of the latter’s abstract optimism, detached as it was from an immediate encounter with the world of particularity. Hawthorne preferred the surroundings of his “town pump” to Emerson’s creation of the “New Man” in the utopian “city on the hill.” But Hawthorne failed in his prophetic attempt, through his adoption of allegory, to escape the growing narcissistic mood and to recover his love for the world as given to the senses.

Poe, however, can hardly be said to have attempted a step in the right direction. He explicitly rejected the manipulative empiricism of the eighteenth century, particularly its nadir in utilitarianism. But “the anemic, lost soul in that new world dreamed into being since the Enlightenment seems indispensable to Poe.” Instead of recovering the vitality of the world, Poe sought refuge in a supremacy of the intellect that excludes the outer world altogether. Poe reversed the direction of Locke’s epistemology: instead of a tabula rasa receiving a world of perceptual impressions, Poe’s mind created the world on its own; his symbolism operates as a mental mirror rather than a window.

Montgomery describes Poe as countering the absurdity of the Enlightenment by ushering in the Absurd — “He may even be called obscene, practicing a sort of necrophilia upon the dead body of the world.” Thus, his status in the trilogy as a “prophetic poet” seems ironic compared to Hawthorne, and certainly compared to O’Connor.

The vision that Montgomery finds in Poe, one that strains toward “a spot of time, a still point, a moment of grace,” gazed, nevertheless, more in the direction of the deified Self, in the direction of Heideggerian and Sartrean existentialism, rather than toward the prophetic recovery of “old but forgotten things.”

Readers of the trilogy will immediately notice that Montgomery regards Flannery O’Connor as the prophetic poet of twentieth-century American letters. Montgomery’s treatment makes this a highly plausible claim. Whether the literary establishment will listen is another matter.

The popular “Catholic” novelist Brian Moore, reviewing the newly issued Library of American edition of O’Connor’s works (New York Times Book Review, August 21, 1988), went out of his way to call her work “not great.” Not only was his remark inappropriate on such an occasion but it also betrayed, along with a touch of envy, a “we’re- beyond- this-kind-of- thing” attitude toward O’Connor’s straightforward Catholic orthodoxy.

If you haven’t read O’Connor, Montgomery will send you in search of her collected works; if you have read O’Connor, you will want to begin re-reading. Montgomery knew Miss O’Connor well. They exchanged letters; she praised his fiction. After her death, Montgomery spent many hours in her library at Georgia College in Milledgeville reading the books she had collected and noting her comments and underscoring. In Montgomery’s hands Flannery O’Connor emerges as both a “major” writer and critic, a “realist of distances” whose philosophical and spiritual understanding was not limited, but rather enlarged, by both her Southernness and her Catholicism.

As Montgomery explains in his chapter entitled “Getting to Know Haze Motes: Nietzsche as a Country Boy,” it is to O’Connor’s Wise Blood we should look for an explanation of why existentialism was so easily assimilated in American high and low culture: “You don’t have to have attended the Sorbonne to be an existentialist.” Next to her collected essays, Mystery and Manners, and her letters, The Habit of Being, there is no better place to discover the remarkable mind behind the fiction than in Why Flannery O’Connor Stayed Home.

Long before he wrote his trilogy, Marion Montgomery had established his reputation as a literary critic and as a novelist and a poet with four novels and three books of poetry to his credit. In 1974 his last novel, Fugitive, was published by Harper and Row. His first books of criticism appeared in 1970: Ezra Pound: A Critical Essay and T.S. Eliot: An Essay on the American Magus, for which Allen Tate wrote on the jacket, “I have learned for the first time how to read ‘Ash Wednesday’ and ‘Prufrock.’”

These were followed by The Reflective Journey Toward Order: Essays on Dante, Wordsworth, Eliot, and Others (1973), which Montgomery considers a prelude to the trilogy, and a second study of Eliot, Eliot’s Reflective Journey to the Garden (1978). Then came The Prophetic Poet and the Spirit of the Age (1980-84), followed in 1987 by a book which could be called its “afterword,” Possum and Other Receits for the Recovery of “Southern” Being, resulting from the invitation to deliver the thirtieth Lamar Memorial Lectures at Mercer University.

For those who are interested in a shorter, more accessible introduction to Montgomery, I recommend starting with his forthcoming Concerning Virtue and Other Modern Shadows of Turning: Preliminary Agitations. Based upon a series of 1982 lectures sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Concerning Virtue discusses the Socratic question of whether virtue can be taught, and in the process restates many of the major themes found in the trilogy.

This book will appeal to those who are put off by the rather dense, intricate pattern of intellectual cross-references in the trilogy, in Possum, and in The Reflective Journey Towards Order. Like Possum, Concerning Virtue extends the argument of the trilogy even further into the fabric of American life, featuring as its centerpiece a provocative expose of “Ralph Nader as Gnostic Puritan.”

Montgomery is far from finished. What would be the fitting finale for most scholars, the trilogy appears to be only a deep gathering of breath, but one many of us will be studying for years. Closely upon the heels of Concerning Virtue will follow Montgomery’s Words, Words, Words, based on the Younts lectures given at Erskine College, in which he enters the fray, created by Allan Bloom and E.D. Hirsch, over the deterioration of the liberal arts curriculum and the responsibility of the university to society.

Nearly forty years ago Marion Montgomery published a verse that has subsequently proved prophetic:

In February Freeze

I am beginning to think of the possibility of song:

These too froward flowers in a cold abstraction

have burst grossly outward.

Black tissues will grey in a slough of March’s ease-

ful deceptions.

Still, I am beginning to think of the possibility of

singing:

These dead flowers’ risk, vision in praise of possible

song.

[from The Gull and Other Georgia Scenes, 1969]

Published MAY 1, 1989

A Christian Man of Letters Departs

Deal W. Hudson

Published July 23, 2002

You may not have heard of him, but a Christian man of letters, one of our greatest, just passed away. A native of Georgia and educated at its University, Marion Montgomery was a prolific writer. His works include three novels, short stories, poetry, literary and cultural criticism, a trilogy on Flannery O’Connor, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe, and a number of books that applied the Thomistic tradition to contemporary culture and the great works of American literature.

Montgomery’s earliest works bear the stamp of the “Fugitive-Agrarian Movement,” whose central figures, such as Donald Davidson, Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, and Andrew Lytle became major figures in the literary world of the 40s and 50s. Marion Montgomery was a product of this movement’s second generation. But, when his fiction and poetry never received the attention it deserved — and still deserves — he turned his attention to the critical and interpretive works that earned him a national reputation and small but devoted group of admirers.

I was privileged to visit Marion and his wife Dot many times at their home in Crawford, GA before I moved to the East coast. We had a reunion of sorts when I devoted four of my “Church and Culture Today” shows on EWTN to interviewing Marion, and I hosted him several times as a speaker at meetings of the American Maritain Association.

I recall that late scholar Ralph McInerny from Notre Dame had great regard for Montgomery’s work, as did so many others who sought to bring the Thomistic tradition into contact with literature and culture. Montgomery may have been called a “Hillbilly Thomist” but his learning was broad and deep — it cut to the core of Western civilization, its metaphysical ailments and spiritual confusions.

If you’ve not discovered his books you have quite a treat, no, a treasure, waiting for you. I was privileged to know him and learn from him. One of the best places to start reading Montgomery is his “Possum and Other Receipts for the Recovery of “Southern’ Being.”

Requiescat in Pace, Marion Montgomery, 1925-2011.

A Culture Without Urbanity

Deal W. Hudson

There were nights as a boy I was allowed to stay up late and watch Jack Paar on the Tonight Show which he hosted from 1957-1962. What I remember most about Paar’s style was his warm wit and sly charm but especially his gift for conversation, for creating a rapport and audience with his guests based upon humor, good will, taste, intelligence, and, a word I didn’t know at the time, urbanity.

If you aren’t old enough, or are too old, to remember Jack Paar take a look at this clip from his famous 1962 interview with Judy Garland. His ability to bring the best out of the fragile and brittle Garland attests to his ability to make anyone comfortable in his presence. (See also this compilation of Paar monologues hosted by Hugh Downs.)

As a high school senior, I started watching William F. Buckley’s Firing Line, which started airing in 1966, for similar reasons. Although the conversations were about ideas and politics, Buckley would converse with guests diametrically opposed to his conservatism without the atmosphere being poisoned by rancor — with the exception of Gore Vidal! Buckley’s capacity for friendship across idealogical lines, such as with John Kenneth Galbraith, was grounded, I believe, in the respect his showed them, while often cutting their arguments to ribbons.

Urbanity is a good word for both Paar and Buckley, because their type of detachment was of the urban kind, shared by men and women who have grown accustomed to living, and making friends, at an intersection where many cultures, classes, and ideologies meet. This is not to say that urbanity cannot be found in the suburbs or on the farm, but the need to engage a diversity of viewpoints, ethnicities, and social classes is a necessity of city life. If urbanity can be called a virtue, then it’s the kind of detachment from one’s own taste and values that allows respect to be shown to, and relationships to be formed with, virtually anyone.

There’s little urbanity in American culture at the present moment — relationships like media, the arts, education, and much entertainment have become politicized, or even worse, made purveyors of ideology. It’s liberal vs. conservative, Democrat vs. Republican, pro-abortion vs. anti-abortion, pro-gay marriage vs. anti-gay marriage, pro-immigration vs. anti-immigration, Fox TV fans vs. MSNBC fans, and so forth. Within minutes of conversation with someone met for the first time, those polarities inevitably are mentioned in order to determine just “whose side you are on.” If mutual delights were previously mentioned — music, movies, golf — they are promptly forgotten if a divide is revealed. There are exceptions, but they are becoming, to my eye and ear, fewer and fewer.

Whereas in the 80s, conversations took on the appearance of the Phil Donohue show — with its insipid exploration of feeling states — the paradigm of social interaction nowadays is political talk radio. If T. S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was re-written the refrain would be, “In the room the women come and go talking of Obama’s birth certificate.”

This deficiency cannot be blamed on the Left or the Right — we are all to blame for letting politics ruin our manners and damage our capacity for friendship. Aristotle would call this situation a reduction of all friendships to that of “mutual use” rather than pleasure or, much less, the pursuit of the same good. Mutual use serves to bolster us in our opinions, corroborate whatever it is we believe is right, justify our hatreds, and insure we never change our minds about anything.

Thoughtlessness is the chief characteristic of such society; conversations become regurgitations of the pundits we praise for the purpose of publicly confirming our tribal allegiance. Social occasions have become so boring they usually descend into recalling the most horrific story from the day’s Drudge Report, or its equivalent. I was saved from such a scene recently when I was introduced to an elderly Texas oil magnate who was marvelously articulate on the subject of Stetson hats, about which we formed an immediate bond.

It occurred to me only recently that one of the reasons I wear plus-fours on the golf course is directly related to the crassness I have described above — there’s hardly an occasion when someone comments on my offbeat garb who does not turn out to be interesting as well as affable. My 20’s golf dress appeals to those whose fields of vision have not been narrowed to the “headline news” or morning stories on Fox & Friends. Only yesterday I exchanged cards with a Mr. Smith, no kidding, from Greenville, SC with a marvelous smile and a few more years than I on his frame, who I will soon be visiting at his home. I have no idea of his politics or political affiliation — it won’t matter.