Monday, September 12, 2011

Cozzens and Hobsbawm

Two of my favorite authors are American conservative novelist James Gould Cozzens and Leftist historian Eric Hobsbawm. They come from opposite ends of the political spectrum, yet have much in common which makes them both a worthwhile reading experience. They both think with intense clarity-- they're from an era where intellectual clarity was a given. Both have a high level of intelligence which enables them to see and understand the world in its particular but also as a whole. The systems which comprise civilization are to them not a blur. They see the "Machine" from different viewpoints-- but at least they see it.

Most of all what makes both men important writers is their honesty. Honesty which makes them upfront about their biases, which enables the reader to allow for that slant, that bias, and adjust assessment of what they say accordingly. It's an honesty which allows Hobsbawm in The Age of Extremes to explain how the Soviet Union's "really existing socialism" was unfit for a late-Twentieth century world. An honesty which compels Cozzens in Guard of Honor to show the corruption and incompetence within a U.S. military bureaucracy which he's attempting to laud.

Understanding reality is like looking at a mountain. To truly know the mountain you can't see just one face of it. You need to see it from a number of different perspectives. This means reading and understanding a variety of viewpoints. The viewpoints are worth knowing if they're expressed with honesty, clarity, and intelligence-- a rare thing nowadays.

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