“Cultural instructions.” Everyone who has handled a package of seedlings has encountered that enigmatic advisory. This much water and that much sun, certain tips about fertilizer, soil, and drainage. Planting one sort of flower nearby keeps the bugs away but proximity to another sort makes bad things happen. Young shoots might need stakes, and watch out for beetles, weeds, and unseasonable frosts. It’s a complicated business.
But at least since Cicero introduced the term cultura animi (“cultivation of the mind or spirit”), such “cultural instructions” have applied as much to the realm of civilization as to horticulture. In this wide-ranging investigation into the vicissitudes of culture in the twenty-first century, the distinguished critic Roger Kimball traces the deep filiations between cultivation as a spiritual enterprise and the prerequisites of political freedom. Drawing on figures as various as James Burnham, Richard Weaver, G. K. Chesterton, Rudyard Kipling, John Buchan, Friedrich von Hayek, and Leszek Kolakowski, Kimball traces the interconnections between what he calls the fortunes of permanence and such ambassadors of anarchy as relativism, multiculturalism, and the socialist-utopian imperative.
With his signature blend of wit and erudition, Kimball deftly draws on the resources of art, literature, and political philosophy to illuminate some of the wrong turns and dead ends our culture has recently pursued, while also outlining some of the simple if overlooked alternatives to the various tyrannies masquerading as liberation we have again and again fallen prey to. This rich, rewarding, and intelligent volume bristles with insights into what the nineteenth-century novelist Anthony Trollope called “The Way We Live Now.”
Partly an exercise in cultural pathology, The Fortunes of Permanence is also a forward-looking effort of cultural recuperation. It promises to be essential reading for anyone concerned about the direction of Western culture in an age of anti-Western animus and destructive multicultural fantasy.
In essays ranging over time, place, and subject, Roger Kimball has produced gems of literary and social commentaries, which constitute an incisive critique of the relativism that afflicts our culture. His book is in the worthy tradition recalled in the subtitle, Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy. – Gertrude Himmelfarb
Roger Kimball is without doubt one of the best cultural observers of our day. The scope of his knowledge and the depth of his insight are alike breathtaking. To read him is to step away from the noise of post-modern bedlam into a place of enduring sense and wisdom. – Andrew Klavan, author of Empires of Lies
Posing as merely a collection of witty and penetrating essays, this book in fact contains the secret to nothing less than the regeneration of America, indeed of the English-speaking culture as a whole. With this work, Roger Kimball can no longer simply be thought of as an insightful and compelling commentator of the social, political and cultural scene, but must now be regarded as an important modern prophet, a philosopher for the future. – Andrew Roberts
Roger Kimball is eloquence personified, and he has written a timely, elegant, and bold defense of the immutable first principles and standards of excellence that animate and define the West. – Tim Goeglein, Vice President for External Relations, Focus on the Family
Roger Kimball’s essays . . . are as wise as they are elegantly written. – Martin Gardner
Roger Kimball is a trenchant and courageous critic of contemporary culture, although his positive values and his historical grasp make him far more than a mere polemicist. – John Gross
Roger Kimball’s mind is uniquely qualified to deal with literary and philosophical matters alike, able to see things from both a critical and a scholarly point of view. His position is conservative but not reactionary, humanistic but not populist, fresh but never trendy.” – John Simon