MARS HILL AUDIO Journal

Volume 19

Guests on Volume 19: Robert Goodman, on economic and moral effects of state-sponsored gambling; Ted Prescott, on modernist artists Brancusi and Mondrian, and why they were attracted to abstraction; Daniel Chirot, on how resentful nationalism and utopian ideologies combine to form Modern Tyrants; Edward Ericson, Jr., on books by and about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; Alan Jacobs, on the portrayal of morals and manners in films based on Jane Austen novels; Charles Sykes, on why schools have abandoned the life of the mind; Allan C. Carlson, on what's wrong with Hillary Rodham Clinton's It Takes a Village; and Thomas Connolly, on music and cosmic coherence.

Part 1

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    Robert Goodman on economic and moral effects of state-sponsored gambling

    The Luck Business: The Devastating Consequences and Broken Promises of America's Gambling Explosion (The Free Press, 1995)

    Robert Goodman believes that the case against the exponential growth of state-sanctioned and state-sponsored gambling can be made apart from a blanket moral condemnation. Goodman teaches environmental design and urban planning, and in 1992 became the director of the U. S. Gambling Study, an organization concerned with offering economic planning advice to policy makers. In his book, The Luck Business: The Devastating Consequences and Broken Promises of America's Gambling Explosion, Goodman argues that governments which turn to legalized gambling in an effort to boost local economies are ignoring a multitude of hidden costs.

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    Ted Prescott on modernist artists Brâncuși and Mondrian, and why they were attracted to abstraction

    "The Gray Tree" (oil on canvas) by Piet Mondrian

    The Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibition of ninety sculptures and related drawings and photographs by Constantin Brâncuși was a rare treat, not only because shows of this scope do not occur often but also as an opportunity to reflect on the ideas of the modernist revolution in art. That opportunity was enhanced by a comprehensive exhibition of the work of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Sculptor and critic Ted Prescott visited both shows and offers some comments about these two twentieth-century artists and their significance in art history. Prescott points out that, at first glance, the work of these two men may not seem to have much in common, but they were truly united by their approach to the world through abstraction.

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    Daniel Chirot on how resentful nationalism and utopian ideologies combine to form Modern Tyrants

    Modern Tyrants: The Power and Prevalence of Evil in Our Age (The Free Press, 1994)

    Like all modern tyrants, Hitler fostered cult-like praise of himself as a supreme, omniscient, omnipresent leader. He appealed to the anger of Germans, shamed by their defeat in World War I, and he rekindled their pride in their sense of a natural superiority as a people. He also claimed to have an ideology necessary to build a utopian society. According to Daniel Chirot, these promises made Hitler a prototypical tyrant. In his book, Modern Tyrants, Chirot dismisses the easy explanation that Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and other lesser dictators were simply madmen. The subtitle to his book suggests a moral rather than a pathological argument: The Power and Prevalence of Evil in Our Age, and one of the reasons for the prevalence of this particular form of evil, Chirot argues, is the shape of modern nationalism.

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    Edward Ericson, Jr. on books by and about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    Invisible Allies (Counterpoint, 1995)

    One of the prophets who has most sagely described the outlines of Soviet tyranny is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose smuggled writings did more to awaken awareness in the west of the evil of totalitarianism than any other work. Solzhenitsyn was a lone voice, but his voice could never have been heard were it not for the assistance of a network of heroic individuals who took incredible risks to preserve and transmit Solzhenitsyn's manuscripts. Solzhenitsyn's memoir of these brave companions was published in the West under the title Invisible Allies. Edward Ericson, Jr., long a student of Solzhenitsyn's work, edited the single volume abridgment of the Gulag Archipelago.

Part 2

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    Alan Jacobs on the portrayal of morals and manners in films based on Jane Austen novels

    Gertrude Himmelfarb's The Demoralization of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values (Knopf, 1995) explores further, through numerous historical essays, the relationship between morals and manners in society.

    Several movies in 1995 were based upon the novels of Jane Austen. Critic Alan Jacobs addresses the way in which the manners and morals so central to these works are included or excluded when the stories are reworked for the big screen. For example, Austen's ever-present narrative voice is difficult to transfer to a movie version. Jacobs also fears that the entire framework of morals in Austen's day will become almost foreign to the modern audience, who may see these morals as alien and ridiculous. According to Jacobs, one who seeks good role models of manners and morals today will tend to view the whole process as a rare occasion, the social equivalent of dressing up in formal wear or making a fashion statement.

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    Charles Sykes on why schools have abandoned the life of the mind

    Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can't Read, Write, or Add (St. Martin's Press, 1995)

    Charles Sykes, author of Dumbing Down Our Kids, discusses the way in which school administrators and teachers are failing to educate children properly in America because they have neglected to focus on the importance of language as the best means of approaching reason, knowledge, and objective truth. He claims that the American educational establishment is one of the most anti-intellectual movements in all of society because the philosophy of those responsible for the training of our children tends to be more therapeutic than educative. These concerns, which he summarizes as an "attack on learning," often seem to outweigh the importance placed upon establishing true educational disciplines. In fact, some parents have relinquished the teaching of basic life skills to the schools, teaching for which they themselves used to be primarily responsible before they became "too busy."

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    Allan C. Carlson on what's wrong with Hillary Rodham Clinton's It Takes a Village

    It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us (Simon & Schuster, 1996)

    The nature of relationships between parents, their children, and various institutional experts is at the core of the recent book by Hillary Rodham Clinton, It Takes a Village. The sentiments Clinton wants to draw from the proverb that gives the book its name include a rejection of individualism and a recognition that families exist in a social context that is larger than their own values. Allan C. Carlson, who has written extensively on the effects of modern culture on the family, believes that It Takes a Village merely reiterates some long-standing confusions about the family and the state.

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    Thomas Connolly on music and cosmic coherence

    Mourning into Joy: Music, Raphael, and Saint Cecilia (Yale University Press, 1994)

    Human nature, as part of the larger creation, responds to music, because music and its effects are built into the nature of things. Music historian Thomas Connolly has for some time been interested in the stories associated with St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. He discusses how music, apart from being one among many ways to express our humanness, is in essence the one true method of exemplifying the relationship between God and man. He points out that scientific development was possible only in the West, where people believed in a logical, rational ordering of the world. Thus, the West has been the best place for music to flourish, since music is fundamentally about this same order and harmony. In his book, Mourning into Joy, he refers to this idea when he says that music is "our warrant of coherence," meaning that through music, humans affirm the coherence that exists within the world and beyond ourselves.