Impeaching Politics: Saturday Reading Habits
If you are reading this, you may be in danger. You may be in danger of reading too much politics. Much of the content published here at the Kuyperian Commentary is political in nature and the odds are good that political content drew you here. That is well and good (in fact, tell your friends), and I have no desire to impugn anyone’s sense of civic duty, but I have noticed that often consumption of political news and political commentary is not something done in moderation. As a case in point, consider the people in your social media networks. We can all think of the friends who “just aren’t that into politics” and those who are posting and tweeting political graphics, statistics, rants, etc. a dozen or more times a day (unless you are that friend, in which case, like a Mr. Collins, you may not realize it). It could be argued that one has to read a great deal from a variety of sources to get a balanced picture, but one could also balance bourbon with vodka and not end up sober. Now, I don’t want to take the bottle away, just put some food in those stomachs.
These comments go to press on a Saturday, the day when the period of man’s labor meets and eventually gives way to the Sabbath of our Lord. Civic discourses are labors like any others, and as with any labors the Sabbath is a time to be rested, fed, and equipped in order to undertake them adequately. So, if you cannot in good conscience moderate your political consumption, I encourage you to take at least this one time each week to rest from your labors and to read more widely. C.S. Lewis wrote, in his famous preface to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation,
“Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period.”
His comments refer to the dangers of over-reading from writings of a particular period, but could just as truly apply to over-reading in a particular discipline or arena at the expense of others. In which case it is not enough to balance the Wall Street Journal with the American Conservative, and the American Conservative with Russel Kirk, and Kirk with Kuyper, etc. One great difference between a political thinker and a politics wonk is wide reading. So, with a view to becoming more effective versions of the former and vanishing/banishing the latter, here are a few thoughts and suggestions regarding eclectic reading.
1. Read Literature
Give time to Shakespearean plays like Coriolanus and Julius Caesar. The payoff will be a whole lot of insight into demagoguery, tyranny, patriotism, et al that can’t help but be relevant to considerations of American politics, Rand Paul, Barack Obama, etc.
2. Read Poetry
Poetry trains us to simplify complicated matters. The poet does that when he writes (in the hands of Donne or Emily Dickinson, death is a far more manageable concept with far less sting), and the reader does that when he interprets. If it is the glory of kings to search out a matter, poetry is the discipline of biblical kingly wisdom.
3. Read Biographies
The best insight into Man is men. That is, one way to better understand the human character (a keen political power) is to study individual men. And, as even the ancients knew, the study of particular lives is a valuable moral education—as you discover virtues to emulate and vices to repudiate.
4. Read Incarnationally
Take the paper or, better yet, a literary publication like Books & Culture or Poetry Magazine (see pt. 2); pick up a hardback while your kindle recharges. Web publications, all digital texts in fact, lack the Trinitarian characteristic of dimension—height, depth, and breadth. Words on a screen lack special definition and fixity, while words on a page have become incarnate and bound to a place and time. Our greatest civic duties and greatest opportunities for Christian labor are all found at the parish level. Reading the printed word is an important exercise in recognizing that we have more power over and responsibility to the things close enough for us to touch, grip, wash, or kiss.
What am I reading on Saturdays?
Norman Sherry’s The Life of Graham Greene
– the official biography of one the 20th century’s most significant religious novelists
The Crisis of Western Education, Christopher Dawson
– a thorough summary of the western liberal arts tradition and modern setbacks
Deep Exegesis, Peter J. Leithart
The Odyssey, trns. Robert Fitzgerald
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
– my wife and I are currently reading this aloud to each other.
Bonus reading lists:
The fine folks over at Poetry Magazine (they aren’t paying me, I promise) have begun collecting reading lists from their contributors each month, and you can see the most recent here.
Or, if you’d like a list of what not to read, Jimmy Fallon’s got you covered.
Sean Johnson would like you to know (in the interest of full disclosure) that his vocation is chiefly literary, and that he really does want you to keep reading Kuyperian Commentary.