Sunday, March 4, 2007

15 down, 35 to go

I read Rerum Novarum and The Bridge of San Luis Rey over the week. The first gets 5 stars, as does the second.

RN gets the stars because, hey, it's a papal encyclical full of vitaminey, juicy goodness. The BSLR (as I've taken to calling it) is merely a great short novel on five eighteenth-century Peruvians who die when a bridge collapses.

A friar, Brother Juniper, assumes that they died either because they are extremely evil or because they are extremely good. To prove it,he catalogues their known deeds to find out whether their good deeds outweighed their bad. The end result is a huge book of doubtful orthodoxy and negligible value. The narrator goes into greater detail, recounting their lives and the effect their deaths had on those who knew them. Three of the five who die have disordered affections for other people, and they die right after taking some decision to destroy that affection and replace it with charity. The two others were innocent people damaged by their disordered affections, who ironically provoked the others into charity.

The conclusion is that charity - suffering for another's good - is the only affection that justifies life. Not a bad book for Lent.

By the way, I'm almost finished The Wealth of Nations. Smith just showed his colors as an Enlightenment liberal when he announced that SCIENCE! (to use Mark Shea's term) taught to the people would prevent "enthusiam" and "fanaticism," by which he means the attitude of peope before 1688 and after 1789. All in a discourse on religion which, truth to tell, only is justified insofar as religion is connected to politics.

All the same, most of Smith's book is not ideology, but very sensible economics. Put another way: on economics he's right, unique, and blazes new trails; on everything else he's a mirror of the 18th Century, quite as cracked as that century was.

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