Diagnosing a breakdown.
Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?
A moral philosopher and a walking trove of literature’s wisdom walk into a radio conversation together. The question for one hour is the bleak time we’re all living in, this sea of troubles we don’t have a name for. The violence is shocking: the war far away, the shots close to home; the spectacle of kids, like ours, running for their lives. The pandemic is still pestilential. The climate crisis is still existential. Our wisemen are Cornel West, the lay preacher, and David Bromwich, great reader and teacher. I’m asking where do they go – in history, in themselves – for a firm footing and guidance in a storm?
And here we are on the darkling plain that the sage Matthew Arnold imagined, “swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, / Where ignorant armies clash by night.” We wake in Memorial Day week, 2022, in the land of assault weapons, a world of pandemic and climate breakdown, feeling we are living somewhere between the Age of Anxiety and the End of Times. We’re in a test of spirit and soul, when some people turn to religion, others to poetry. Our guests are the philosopher Cornel West at Union Theological Seminary, who has styled himself a blues man in the ivory tower, and David Bromwich, Sterling Professor of English at Yale, ranging wide in recent books titled Moral Imagination and American Breakdown. Cornel and David are dream diagnosticians of the American condition, in good times and bad.
This is the latest installment of In Search of Monsters, our limited-series collaboration with the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer Professor of Philosophy & Christian Practice at the Union Theological Seminary.
Sterling Professor of English at Yale.