Friday, March 25, 2016

(Good) Friday Book Review: Seven Deadly Virtues

By Kit

We can name most, if not all, of the seven deadly sins: lust, greed, wrath, envy, pride, sloth, and gluttony. But how many of us can name the seven virtues? Let’s be honest, if most of us were asked we would probably give something akin to those embarrassing man-on-the-street interviews where the person is asked to name the nine (currently eight) Supreme Court justices and they pop out answers like Judge Judy or, if the interviewee is older, maybe the judge from Night Court.

So, let’s name them: Justice, Prudence, Temperance, Courage, Faith, Hope, and Charity, or Love.

Now let’s be honest, the virtues don’t get the recognition the sins do because, well, sin is cooler than virtue. Virtues are boring. But in the hopes of bringing virtue back to some level of public awareness, The Weekly Standard’s Jonathan V. Last has round up about 18 conservative writer for a book called The Seven Deadly Virtues: 18 Conservative Writers on Why the Virtuous Life is Funny as Hell. Seven of whom, eight if you count P.J. O’Rourke’s brief introduction to the section, discuss the seven virtues with the rest providing insights into a variety of other, “Everyday virtues” such as Simplicity, Integrity, and Perseverance.

Now, within conservatism there are two strains of thought; libertarianism and traditionalism. Libertarianism, or classical liberalism as the non-pot smokers might prefer to be called, focuses on the importance of freedom for the individual and the rights and liberties, political and economic, he should be allowed by society. The traditionalist, on the other hand, focuses on the importance of virtue both for the individual and for society. Given my dropping of the word “virtue” in my definition of traditionalism, you can probably guess into which strain this book falls.

As with all books in the traditionalist strain, there is a streak of pessimism, beginning with Last’s list of what he describes as the 7 modern virtues (Freedom, Convenience, Progress, Equality, Authenticity, Health, and Nonjudgmentalism) which he says are not in themselves bad but vastly inferior to the classical virtues they have supplanted. This streak continues with Michael Graham’s almost fire-breathing rant on the decline of fortitude in modern society. But it’s not all rants that threaten to burn off your kindle. You also have Jonah Goldberg’s melancholy lament on popular culture’s disregard for Integrity, instead praising a sort of Nietszchean morality where moral principles are not things driven by nobler goals, such as justice or protecting the weak, but are crafted by the individual himself to suit his own personal goals and as such may be amended at his leisure. They give him the pretense of a moral code but the flexibility that comes without one, which means he doesn’t really have one at all.

But if I have given the impression that this book is nothing but a weeping, raging Jeremiad on the immorality of modern society then I should apologize because the book is also quite funny. The subtitle of the book, after all, states the book is about “Why the Virtuous Life is Funny as Hell,” which implies at least some amount of humor. And humor the book has in abundance. Jonah Goldberg’s essay may be a rather mournful dirge on how integrity has been supplanted by a “whatever you want” morality but Jonah Goldberg could not write a mournful dirge without throwing in at least a few funny references to either Star Trek or the Simpsons.

After all, Last points out in his forward that Robespierre, a man who, with the aide of a certain Madame Guillotine, used terror to try and instill virtue within French society, probably didn’t have much in the way of a sense of humor about virtue. And there is humor throughout the book, giving it some of it’s best moments such as Larry Miller’s amusing argument for theism in “Faith” that, though it is nowhere near as mature as those of C.S. Lewis, should certainly make all but the most hard-hearted atheist smile and wonder. There is also David Burge’s (Iowahawk on Twitter) meditation on what he’s learned about Hope from his family of Chicago Cubs fans.

At the beginning of this review we admitted that while we can name all or most of the sins we stumble on the virtues. Which makes a book such as this much-needed. One virtue, or even two or three, are not enough. We must have all the virtues. When Prudence, Justice, Temperance, Courage, Faith, Hope, and Love are working hand-in-hand with themselves and the “everyday” virtues we display the best of ourselves and humanity. We become a bit closer to what we were meant to be.

Available on LINK

Have a Happy Easter.


Anonymous said...

Whenever I think of The Seven Sins I immediately think of Paul Lynde's zinger on Hollywood Squares:
Peter Marshall: Pride, anger, covetousness, lust, gluttony, envy, and sloth are collectively known as what?
Paul Lynde: The Bill of Rights.

AndrewPrice said...

I like the title: Seven Deadly Virtues... virtues that will get you killed. I suppose that would include (1) using your blinker during rush hour, (2) vegetarianism, (3) Bible thumping, (4) pacifism, (5) excessive truthfulness, (6) volunteerism, and (7) one more... ;-)

AndrewPrice said...

In all seriousness, I have one HUGE problem with conservatives and that is that they are so fricken negative. Why do conservatives want to believe (1) that everything is falling apart and (2) that it was somehow magically different in the past? Both are delusionally wrong beliefs, yet so many conservatives want them to be true. I don't get it.

Kit said...

The title is a reference to a song from the Broadway musical, Camelot, I think.

Anthony said...

I read the sample. Well written but as with most works of philosophy/morality its too abstract for me.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, I was just joking! :)

AndrewPrice said...

Speaking of vice, I have to say that I don't believe the Cruz rumors. Cruz does not appear to be a man who would enjoy sex, nor can I imagine a lot of women wanting to engage in said activity with him. He comes across as petty and nasty.

Allena-C said...

Thanks for the book review, Kit!

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