Frank Buckley laments that”there is less interest now than previously,” and has written a new novel, Curiosity and its own Twelve Rules for Life, in an endeavor to rectify the dearth. If this mission appears far afield to get an authorized academic, Buckley defies the traditional stereotype of a law professor. In addition to his considerable body of work, Buckley is currently a senior editor of The American Spectator, a columnist for the New York Post, also functioned as an advocate of and occasional speech writer to the President that many academics like to despise, Donald Trump.
In light of the exhibited curiosity regarding a range of different topics, Buckley’s foray into curiosity isn’t surprising. He is a prolific author and flexible scholar. While teaching in George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School (since 1989),” Buckley has written several legal articles and publications on various subjects (like a couple that I examined for Law & Liberty and elsewhere), ranging from a technical critique of the legal system to a rumination about the possibility of secession.
His wide-ranging interests are on screen in Curiosity and its own Particular Rules for Life, which seems like a self-help book but isn’t. Actually, Buckley makes it clear at the beginning that his book isn’t”Jordan Peterson’s twelve principles for lifetime. These were guidelines about how to endure and surmount the barriers of life in a bleak and chilly climate.” Buckley explains his twelve principles of curiosity, in contrast,”are intended for the more spirited and fun-loving folks I met after I moved from Canada to the United States.” His book isn’t really a”rule book” at all. The first”principle” that he discusses is”Don’t make principles .”
Therefore, just what is the purpose of this book? Following a year of pandemic-induced isolation, also in the aftermath of four decades of escalating (and more poisonous ) obsession with partisan politics,” Buckley desires us all to look beyond connections, chaos, and societal networking messaging to savor the”world of miracles” available for our”enjoyment and delight,” when we just open our eyes and allow our imaginations to explore them. As a well-read and cultured (self indulgent ) boomer, and also having a younger crowd in mind, Buckley serves as a tour guide into the world of wonder beckoning to the curious.
Buckley takes the reader on a whirlwind (and necessarily abbreviated) survey of topics that are not the standard fare in undergraduate instruction or favorite media. The tour begins with the cover art, which comprises The Boyhood of Raleigh (1870) by John Everett Millais. Buckley has a fascination with art history, and punctuates his story with vignettes about Gothic architecture, Pre-Raphaelite painters, Hieronymus Bosch, and Aubrey Beardsley. Buckley also comes with an interest for Blaise Pascal, whom he describes as one of the”greatest thinkers of all time.” Pascal’s name pops up in virtually every chapter, together with–less often –Ludwig Wittgenstein, Immanuel Kant, Aristotle, John Stuart Mill, and other philosophers.
However, the book isn’t a dry tract on doctrine –or history. Buckley tells stories concerning the philosophers, including a recurring theme of Pascal’s defense of an austere Catholic sect called the Jansenites from the powerful Jesuits. Occasionally accused of becoming an Anglophile because of his affection to the form of government, in Curiosity Buckley displays a appreciation of 20th century French intellectuals, especially the existentialist Albert Camus, who had been affected by Pascal. Buckley admires Camus because of Camus’s guts in breaking collaborators during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II, also in rejecting the fashionable communism of the fellow intellectuals (such as Jean-Paul Sartre) after the war. Buckley manages to make the anecdotes enjoyable, not inside baseball. Curiosity is a old-fashioned liberal arts instruction in a nutshell–humanities for the newcomer.
Curiosity is structured as a collection of life lessons (accept risks, court doubts, be original, show grit, be creative, don’t be smug, etc.) illustrated with examples drawn from Greek mythology, the Bible, Catholic theology, Hebrew civilization, literature, and movies, comedy, history (European, Canadian, and American), and music. Buckley’s erudite treatment of these subjects is richly reminiscent of William Bennett’s virtue-building primers from the 1990s, albeit for a more complicated college-age (or old ) audience–fatherly advice for a joyful and fulfilling adulthood.
Owing to Buckley’s wide selection of understanding, there’s something for everyone. The book isn’t without an occasional political apart, possibly.
How did we become so incurious? Buckley contends that”We have put all our chips on unpleasant ideologies that, by purporting to describe everything, teach us to ignore inconvenient counterexamples…. Curiosity, which was a liberal virtue, is a conservative one, as progressives encircle themselves in a distorted universe of risk-free lives, intersectional victims, and cartoon-like villains.” Buckley describes:
About the occasions, Trump-haters and Trump-lovers shriek past one another, like furious apes locked in a cage. In 2020, they made curiosity about anything besides Black Lives Issue or the pandemic seem sinful. They’ve attempted to banish risk and fault the risk-taker because of his neglect or poisonous masculinity. They’ve descended into incurious ideologies and sour partisanships that permit them to ignore the harms imposed on others…. But it cannot last. However worthy you might think the progressives’ causes, they will bore you in time, unless you’re wholly with no spark of curiosity.
Nobody should be more interested than the youthful, but they have been betrayed by America’s colleges, which is where interest goes to expire. Curious individuals require the freedom to experiment with new ideas, as you may try on fresh ties in front of a mirror. That’s not going to occur if the woke police stand up to pounce on any deviation from their revolutionary orthodoxy. Victimhood was weaponized and become a tool of oppression from the flint-eyed progressives on campus and their enablers on faculty administrative personnel.
As an example, he avers that”viewers of CNN and MSNBC seem to have experienced the curiosity gene eliminated at birth, so repetitive are the politics.” Curiousity is usually amusing and always a joy to see.
An entire generation was scarred by pandemic-related hysteria. Curiosity supplies a tonic for its spiritual doldrums.At exactly the same moment, Buckley soberly reflects on a critical issue that curious people shouldn’t be afraid to face –the prospect of their own mortality. He states that”the loss of religious awe inspiring and a transcendent vision of life and death has led to a banal tradition of minimalist concerns and politicized literature and art. Excellent art is made by people who are interested in exactly what happens after life ends or of the sensation to be made from life should they believe nothing “
Buckley devotes the closing chapters of this book to his closing”principle”–one that aging boomers will probably fall upon: Realize you’re knocking on the door:
We have seen Facebook accounts move dark and old friends… go the way of all flesh, and we are beginning to realize that the same thing will occur to people. I await a curiosity about what happens upon departure and a new religious awakening. And that will be my generation’s final gift to the Zeitgeist. Following the drugs and sex and rock ‘n’ roll, after undergoing every old vice and inventing a few new ones, just one thing stays, and that’s a religious revival and a return to traditional morality.
Buckley ends the novel with these poignant words:
Our civilization asks us to anesthetize our curiosity on what awaits us about departure…. Even as God made Eve curious, I think the incuriosity of modernity will finally prove unsatisfying. We had been created as curious beings and will always seek answers, particularly to the most fundamental questions of our presence. And this, more than anything else, is why curiosity matters.
Mortality may be a grim issue for reflection, but Buckley’s treatment of this ends on a hopeful note. The last year was stressful and tumultuous for many Americans. Strife, isolation, and anxiety took a toll on the individual state, causing lots of people to become fearful, fearful, and lonely. An entire generation was scarred by pandemic-related hysteria. Curiosity supplies a tonic for its spiritual doldrums. In 2020we learned just how much our health, our joy, our sanity, depends upon it…. There’s just one way from this insanity, and that was to let our curiosity take us from the hand and lead us.”