Saturday, November 8, 2008

Nobility of Spirit or Know-Nothingness

[Updated at the end of the post, Sunday] With the New Zealand election upon us and the US election still reverberating, I've been attracted to the idea of an - ironically enough - slim volume called Nobility of Spirit: A Forgotten Ideal by Rob Reimen. Super book-blogger Mark Sarvas - 10,000 hits a day! - has recommended it highly (look in the right sidebar of his blog - or scroll down here where I quote it in full).

From my internet perch here at the ends of the earth, Barack Obama seems to be someone who remembers what 'Nobility of Spirit' is all about. Of course it's hard to tell, being a pane of bullet-proof glass and a satellite dish away from it all, but the United States seems to have lifted its head up higher and prouder now, seeing itself as - overnight - a nobler beast.

In the depths of a New Zealand election, on the other hand, our parties are still nosing around in the gutter. Labour's nasty little advertisements about John Key have lacked all nobility. As a steady Labour/Green voter, I have been disgusted by them, enough so I started to wonder if the Labour part of my vote (candidate) shouldn't go elsewhere. It won't. There are other things at stake.

But I will try and get hold of Rob Reimen's book. The author is the president and founder of the Nexus Institute, a European-based humanist think-tank and Mark Sarvas says:

'Nobility of Spirit ... stands as the most stirring redoubt against the ascendant forces of know-nothingness that we've come across in a long time.

A full-throated, unapologetic defense of the virtues of Western Civ – in which "elite" is not and never should be a dirty word – this inspiring exploration of high art and high ideals is divided into three sections: The first looks at the life of Riemen's great hero Thomas Mann as a model for the examined life. The second imagines a series of conversations from turning points in European intellectual history, populated with the likes of Socrates, Nietzsche and others. The final section, "Be Brave," is nothing less than an exhortation to dig deep, especially in times of risk.

The notion of nobility of the spirit might strike some modern ears as quaint but it seems more desperately necessary than ever before, and there are worse ways to read the accessible Nobility of Spirit than as a crash refresher in the Great Thinkers,
free of academic jargon and cant.

As a meditation on what is at stake when the pursuit of high ideals is elbowed aside by the pursuit of fleeting material gain, however, Nobility of Spirit might well be the most prescient book we've yet read on what's at stake in the current election cycle and in the developing global situation. Agree or disagree with Riemen's profound, ambitious and high-minded plea, you will be thinking about his words for a long time. It's been ages since a work of non-fiction moved us this way. Read it. Discuss it. Argue about it. '

Late Breaking News: I voted and have my sticker to prove it. So has my 20-year-old son - it was his first time. I was deeply moved to be in the booth next to him and to think of him looking down the names and the parties making his decision. His decision.

Lovely piece from one of my favourite bloggers Denis Welch about the transformation of the ordinary person into a citizen for a day.

Later Breaking News: Some Thoughts on the Election

A National Government. One of the least-experienced Prime Ministers this country has had replacing one of the most committed and able.

'The pursuit of high ideals is elbowed aside...'

We had a good election night at David and Pam's with a small but select range of voters hunched over the TV and a delicious vegetarian lasagne: National/National, Labour/Act, Labour/Labour, Labour/Green ... so I don't want to condemn the decision the country made.

It was made by my friends and family and other people I know.

I wish, though, there had been more Green voters, more Labour voters, fewer National voters...I wish people hadn't thought, like the Mad Hatter, it was 'time for a change'.

Of all times.

When it would surely have been better to keep the able at the helm. When we need 'Nobility of Spirit' to counter all that's yet to come.

What does John Key know about being a Minister let alone about being PM? Ah, remember them:

'...the ascendant forces of know-nothingness...'


a cat of impossible colour said...

Those new Labour ads are dreadful. It made me quite angry seeing the blatant tugging-at-heartstrings of the one with the woman and her baby.

Voted this morning! Hooray. I love seeing our neighbourhood transformed into a community for a day.

This book sounds wonderful, I shall seek it out.

Fifi Colston said...

Chris Trotter's piece in the Sunday Star Times said it all for me today...

Mary McCallum said...

Thanks Fi - didn't see it, I'll get it out of the recycling.

dbjj said...

just finised the nobility of spirit a few days ago. It was a little difficult read in think, but it was really good. Inspiring, but not arrogant.