Monday, October 03, 2005

Felix Dies Natalis

Happy birthday, Josh!
His party photos remind me of delightful autumn days in Ithaca, when having a party outside is still possible – the afternoon temperate, the evening invigoratingly chilly. Down here it cools off a bit by around one in the morning. (Roger in a goatee – as Yul Brynner says in The King and I, "is a puzzlement"!)

Today, it turns out, is my own birthday, and it’s been a weekend of low-key but very satisfying celebration: dinner out with friends Friday, another set over last night, a diet-busting lunch today at the local New York-style deli. Among a plethora of wonderful and much-needed gifts (a Monty Python and the Holy Grail Black Knight action figure with detachable limbs – “It’s only a flesh wound!” – and finally my own copy of This Is Spinal Tap) are a lucious stack of new books, some of them now out of their shrink-wrap:
Adam Smith, The Theory of the Moral Sentiments
ditto, Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres
The Struggle for Liberty: Seventeenth-Century English Political Tracts, in two volumes
Henry Home, Lord Kames, Elements of Criticism, in two volumes
ditto, Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion

All of these volumes – well-edited and quite beautifully produced – are publications of the Liberty Fund, a “conservative” in the old sense (libertarian and free-market based, rather than kleptocratic, theocratic, and anti-intellectual) foundation based in Indianapolis, and funded for I guess perpetuity by the fortune of one Pierre Goodrich (and after him, his widow’s). They have more money than Poetry magazine, by a long shot.

And so far as book lovers are concerned, they spend that money well.* The Fund has published a paperback edition of the U of Edinburgh P’s wonderful complete Adam Smith, Hume’s collected essays and his six-volume History of England (beats the hell out of Simon Schama for readability), and are in the process of putting out a 40+ volume series of “Natural Law and Enlightenment Classics” (from which the Kames volumes above come), which will include Hutcheson, Pufendorf, Grotius, and practically every other Enlightenment philosopher who isn’t already available in easily obtained editions. The books are a delight to hold and read, and they’re (best of all) CHEAP. ($12 is the going rate for a well-bound paperback – compare that to the average university press book, which runs around $20-25 these days.)

Goodrich, the “angel” of the foundation, was apparently a demon for “great books” approaches to attaining one’s culture, but Liberty Fund’s list goes somewhat beyond what one would expect for a “classics” publisher, and well beyond what the neocons would like us to read. Let’s face it: Hume was no firebrand of revolution, but what he had to say about established religion, and faith in general, would give Antonin Scalia a conniption fit. If one has a zillion dollars sitting around and no-one to leave it to, I can think of a lot worse ways to have disposed of one’s fortune than to establish the LF.
Birthdays are always a time of stock-taking for me, and for the last few years have been a time of mild depression and drowsy dumps. This time around has been okay: I’m hoping for the best.
And how could I forget: the heartiest of congratulations to the expanded household of Msgr. Peter O’Leary as they welcome a new addition, young master Lucian, born 30 September!

*I can’t comment on the constant seminars and discussion groups the foundation runs; while they seem to have attracted some suspicious press on the left, in general the seminars seem to be more or less conceptual think-tank gatherings devoted to promoting economic knowledge and free markets. More a soft Ayn Rand than Ralph Reed.

1 comment:

E. M. Selinger said...

Happy Birthday, Mark! Have I missed it again, old friend and young thang? Deepest apologies, sir (my cap sweeps down as I say it, or a tug on the forelock if that will do), and I must say, in the immortal words of Bridget Jones, "Very good start to year!"

(Hmmm... Actually, Bridget said "VB start to year," not VG. But consider yourself toasted heartily all the same.)


P.S. Where did you get that handy letter-recognition HTML code? Not that my friends in the penis-enlargement community really want me to know....