When Savages Exult in Selfies, What’s a Statesman to Consider?

“Oh horrible, horrible, most horrible,”
as a Chorus in Greek Tragedy might chant:
midst a “storm of multitudinous tears.”
Rockets raining on civilians, maidens and mothers raped,
tortured, beheaded, babies too, others kidnapped,
and the dead desecrated, one corpse so mutilated turned out to be two … pieta! …
and all the while the terrorists brandish the flesh
of families in homes, students in schools, and patients in hospitals,
as shields,
and our President criticizes, eloquently it is true,
what for years he has been appeasing prodigiously.

All of it has me wishing Israel will make sure Iran never gets nukes, and that the whole dolorosa region be liberated from the rule of old men who murder girls for smiling in public, for as Meredith observed, “Where the veil is over women’s faces, you cannot have society.”

However, this triple trouble also has me looking for a Statesman, listening to the Good Fellows at Hoover, reading Sasse, Hanson, and Helprin, and with the Bees at Babylon, yes sometimes smiling, but also turning to Statesman Charles Hill’s Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft and World Order. Its umbrella thesis, that literature is the best preparation for Statesmanship, is supported by a treasury of recommendations of seventy-plus works so as to understand our epoch, from the Peace of Westphalia on. Professor Charles gives just enough on each work, to let the reader decide what to take up next, and want to take up all.

Currently, I’ve turned to books he judges best on the Near East, and first among them Muriel Spark’s Mandelbaum Gate, set in the Holy Land, ever riven by holy hates, in the summer of 1961 during the trial of Eichmann.  In the story, caution, moderation, and “more talks” is represented by diplomat Freddy, and passion, spitting aside luke-warmness and defying evil, is embodied in school mistress, Barbara, pilgriming to the Christian sites bravely, because being “half-Jew,” to avoid disclosure and death, she must pose as a deaf and veiled servant. The novel makes one want to visit those sites, especially Mt. Tabor, fear to, and ask whether a Statesman might ever see to it that “They that mourn” be “comforted”?  “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head,”  How then might that homeless teacher, or one in His mold, ever be a Statesman?   The others Hill recommends are: Kim, Seven Pillars of Wisdom and Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.

How fortunate one of our elite universities—Yale—let my friend Charles teach, and how unfortunate he’s not alive now to support fellow teachers who also “spend too much time teaching students,” and if need be, also opposing students, and teachers, keen on slaughtering the innocent, by declaring, as the Servant in Lear does: “Hold your hand …  better service have I never done you than now to bid you hold.”

Photo by RnDmS — Adobe Stock — Asset ID#: 408938534


  • Michael Platt

    Dr. Michael Platt studied at Harvard, Oxford, and Yale, and taught at Dartmouth, Heidelberg, and the University of Dallas, where he recently returned to give ten lectures in the venerable “Shakespeare’s Politics” course. Every Tuesday, his Friends of the Republic seminar, of mostly former students, meets in study. His recent "Mighty Opposites: Machiavelli and Shakespeare Match Wits" asks: Can there be a Christian Statesman? For more, visit Friends of the Republic: friendsoftherepublic.com.

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