An Article on Civil Disobedience
April 9, 2006
My friend Melanie in Strasbourg writes, “I just received Harper’s and read this article that might interest you. It is not online but I found a blog that has excerpts: The Green Knight.” The essay is by Curtis White and is called “The Spirit of Disobedience: An Invitation to Resistance,” but more on that in a sec.First off, The Green Knight is a pretty cool blog, overtly Christian and yet deeply reasonable. Sorry to say I find those things don’t often go together these days. (The author calls himself “an unreconstructed liberal, a dual Canadian-American, a High Church Anglican, and a medievalist.”) There are a lot of links to smart places in the blogroll under “US Links,” with inspiring titles like World o’ Crap, That Colored Fella’s Weblog, The Disgruntled Chemist, and Sadly, No! Thus explaining why I won’t get to bed before 1:00 a.m. Sigh.
I appreciate the pains The Green Knight has taken to get some of the subversive ideas from Harper’s into the world outside the newsstand. Go see. Here’s just a tiny snippet or two…
According to our leading wise men, the great contemporary moral and political question of the age is: Are we fundamentally a Christian or an Enlightenment culture?…What's doubly strange is that Americans should follow with such fascination and intensity this old dispute over our national character while entirely ignoring the dominant ethos of our culture for the last two hundred years. It should go without saying that it is capitalism that most defines our national character, not Christianity or the Enlightenment….
And yet for all the inevitability that surrounds the Christian/Enlightenment divide, it should not be so difficult for us to find a third option in our intellectual traditions, even if this tradition seems mostly defeated and lost….This tradition began in Europe with Romanticism and in America with the Concord Transcendentalists…. [Ralph Waldo] Emerson imagined that the world is held together by a spirit that is not of the Church, and certainly not of Reason, but of a direct experience of the world. Emerson made this Romantic idea American, and he gave it first to Henry David Thoreau….
My word, the transcendentalists! Let us bring them back, the long-lost Transcendentalists.
I was recently reminded of Thoreau when, mired in a slough of particularly onerous adulthood, I recalled his saying “most men live lives of quiet desperation.” As a youth I had thought—“Fah, that’ll never happen to me.” Now I think, haha. And I even think, while it’s not a state to be sought, there’s even something admirable in it. (That’s how far the desperation goes, I guess!)