Wednesday, April 22, 2015

a Teddy Roosevelt quote about critics and 1910 speech, ruminations on whether Driscoll could be "the great man", some background to a popular quote

This was going to go up April 23, 2015 to make for an official anniversary.  But it's lengthy enough that it might as well go up the night before.

The internet being what it is there's apt to be a Roosevelt quote out there about critics you have likely seen.  We'll get to it in time but as Wenatchee The Hatchet has made a modest hobby of documenting the life and times of the corporation that has come to be known as Mars Hill that Roosevelt quote's going to be worth discussing in its political, economic and military context.  There are those who ignorantly and unthinkingly circulate Roosevelt quotes as if they could apply to a potentially resurgent Mark Driscoll.

The popular re-quote will emerge soon enough in a suitably red-letter quoted format, but the stuff that isn't in red shouldn't be overlooked. Note that the class being addressed by Roosevelt is implicitly and explicitly pretty upper crust and the speech concluded noting the greatness of the republics of the United States and France.  It was a speech to and for elites and that might be worth keeping in mind as a caveat as to its interpretation and application.  Moreover, there's a red-letter Roosevelt quote coming along in it that may be popular for certain fans of a certain resigned megachurch preacher to invoke without a fuller understanding of the speech.  Roosevelt's comments about critics presuppose the necessity of the orator and the journalist.  If we were to translate and transpose Roosevelt's words and ideas for our time it would be to note that there should be journalists and there should be bloggers and that they must be measured and considerate and not wield their power without caution.

It's important to bear in mind that Roosevelt admonished those of high social and economic standing to not look down on those who worked "Joe jobs" but to consider their welfare as a reason to be active in politics.  There were those who would need a hand up to be helped up and those who would lie down should be left where they lie, and so on, but these kinds of matters have to be kept in mind as the larger context from which the red-letter quote circulating has so often been wrenched.

Anyway ... first let's note the setting of the speech from which you may have seen a certain pithy quote.  The speech was delivered, where?

from a speech delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910

So, France.  And the nature of the audience .... ?

It is well if a large proportion of the leaders in any republic, in any democracy, are, as a matter of course, drawn from the classes represented in this audience to-day; but only provided that those classes possess the gifts of sympathy with plain people and of devotion to great ideals. You and those like you have received special advantages; you have all of you had the opportunity for mental training; many of you have had leisure; most of you have had a chance for enjoyment of life far greater than comes to the majority of your fellows. To you and your kind much has been given, and from you much should be expected. Yet there are certain failings against which it is especially incumbent that both men of trained and cultivated intellect, and men of inherited wealth and position should especially guard themselves, because to these failings they are especially liable; and if yielded to, their- your- chances of useful service are at an end. [emphasis added] Let the man of learning, the man of lettered leisure, beware of that queer and cheap temptation to pose to himself and to others as a cynic, as the man who has outgrown emotions and beliefs, the man to whom good and evil are as one. The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer.

Okay, right there we should note that Mark Driscoll has at no point qualified as either an inheritor of old wealth or as a public intellectual.  Further, Driscoll's Irish ancestry is such that he is certainly never going to fit the bill of the audience of the Roosevelt speech, French landed gentry and intellectuals, to go by the people whom Roosevelt said he was addressing. If you miss this preparatory element in Roosevelt's speech then the nature of "the critic" that comes up later will be easy to miss.  There's a context for Roosevelt's statement that assumes a public role for the wealthy and intellectuals that anchors "the critic" comment.

Roosevelt continued:
... A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticise work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life's realities - all these are marks, not as the possessor would fain to think, of superiority but of weakness. They mark the men unfit to bear their part painfully in the stern strife of living, who seek, in the affection of contempt for the achievements of others, to hide from others and from themselves in their own weakness. The rôle is easy; there is none easier, save only the rôle of the man who sneers alike at both criticism and performance.  ...

That might seem like a lot of set up, but since journalistic coverage has deigned to traffic in merely repeating that Driscoll's been surrounded by controversy over his leadership style without bothering to note that controversy included discussion of how half a dozen of his books made use of the intellectual property of others without attribution; and how there was this deal to rig a best-seller ist; we need to revisit the reality of controversy surrounding Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll issues on intellectual property first, before getting to the proverbial red-letter stuff. 

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