In the summer of 1787, the nascent American experiment reached a point of crisis. Meeting inside Independence Hall amid the stifling Philadelphia heat, delegates to the Constitutional Convention could not agree on a scheme of representation for a new national government, among other contentious issues.
Straussians love to talk about their conversion stories, which typically involve revelations in undergraduate courses taught by disciples of Leo Strauss. “The class was on the Nicomachean Ethics,” begins the generic form of this story. “We didn’t get past Book I.” My introduction to Strauss was less revelatory.
In response to the awarding of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan, reporters and bloggers anxiously mused, “Are song lyrics poetry?” As musings go, this one is wooly and threadbare as grandfather’s cardigan, offering little more than terms of exclusion; “Get out of my anthology!” shouts Pop-Pop at the neighborhood kids. A question that yields more insight, but that also takes longer than a blog post to answer, might be “Where is the poetry in song lyrics?”
You’ve seen or heard the famous passage from Edmund Burke, of course. How could you not? “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”—and what a line it is. So balanced and Burkean. So pithy and wise. So applicable to any moment when people on our side (obviously the good guys) seem divided and ambivalent while folk on the other side (a.k.a. the bad guys) pursue their nefarious schemes unhindered. The line is so good, it seems almost petty to point out that Edmund Burke never actually said it.