The Value of Curiosity

Curiosity was thought to be, in the words of English historian G.M. Trevelyan,”the life blood of real civilization.” Frank Buckley laments that”there is less interest now than before,” and has written a new book, Curiosity and its own Twelve Rules for Life, in an attempt to rectify the dearth. If this mission appears to be far afield to get a legal academic, Buckley defies the conventional stereotype of a law professor. In addition to his considerable body of scholarly work, Buckley is a senior editor of the American Spectator, a columnist for the New York Post, and functioned as an advocate of and intermittent speech writer for the President that numerous professors love to despise, Donald Trump.

In light of the exhibited curiosity regarding a host 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 composed numerous legal articles and publications on many different subjects (including a few that I reviewed for Law & Liberty and everywhere ), ranging from a technical critique of the legal system into some rumination on the potential for secession.

His wide-ranging pursuits are on display in Curiosity and its own Twelve Rules for Life, which sounds like a self-help book but isn’t.  In fact, Buckley makes it clear at the outset that his book isn’t”Jordan Peterson’s twelve rules for life. Those were guidelines on the best way best to endure and surmount the challenges of life in a gloomy and chilly climate” Buckley explains his twelve rules of curiosity, in contrast,”are meant for the spirited and fun-loving folks I met when I moved from Canada into the USA.” His book isn’t really a”rule book” at all. The first”rule” that he discusses is”Do not make rules.”

Therefore, what exactly is the purpose of this book? Following a year of pandemic-induced isolation, and in the wake of four years of escalating (and more poisonous ) obsession with partisan politics, Buckley desires us to look beyond connections, turmoil, and societal networking messaging to relish the”world of wonders” accessible for our”pleasure and delight,” if we just open our eyes and allow our imaginations to explore them. As a well-read and high tech (self indulgent ) boomer, also having a younger crowd in mind, Buckley functions as a tour guide into the world of wonder beckoning into the inquisitive.

Buckley takes the reader on a whirlwind (and necessarily abbreviated) poll of topics which aren’t the conventional fare in undergraduate instruction or popular media. The tour starts with the cover artwork, which features The Boyhood of Raleigh (1870) by John Everett Millais.

However, the book isn’t a sterile tract on philosophy–or history. Buckley tells stories about the philosophers, such as a recurring theme of Pascal’s defense against an austere Catholic sect called the Jansenites from the powerful Jesuits. Sometimes accused of becoming an Anglophile due to his affection to the form of government, at Curiosity Buckley shows a appreciation of 20th century French intellectuals, particularly the existentialist Albert Camus, that had been influenced by Pascal. Buckley admires Camus due to Camus’s courage in breaking with collaborators during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II, and in rejecting the fashionable communism of the fellow intellectuals (such as Jean-Paul Sartre) after the war. Buckley manages to create the anecdotes enjoyable, not inside baseball. Curiosity is a old-fashioned liberal arts instruction in a nutshell–humanities for the novice. 

Curiosity is organised as a collection of life lessons (accept risks, courtroom uncertainties, be original, reveal grit, be creative, don’t be smug, etc.) illustrated with examples drawn from Greek mythology, the Bible, Catholic theology, Hebrew culture, literature, movies, humor, history (European, Canadian, and American), along with music. Buckley’s erudite treatment of these themes is richly reminiscent of William Bennett’s virtue-building primers from the 1990s, albeit for a more complex college-age (or old ) audience–fatherly advice for a happy and satisfying adulthood.

Due to Buckley’s wide variety of knowledge, there’s something for everyone. The book isn’t without an occasional governmental aside, either. 

How can people become so incurious? Buckley contends that”We have placed our processors on unpleasant ideologies that, by purporting to explain everything, instruct us to dismiss inconvenient counterexamples…. Curiosity, which used to be a liberal virtue, is increasingly a conservative one, as progressives bury themselves into a distorted universe of risk-free lifestyles, intersectional victims, and cartoon-like villains.” Buckley describes:

On 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 and also the pandemic look sinful. They’ve attempted to reevaluate fault and risk the risk-taker because of his neglect or poisonous masculinity. They’ve escalated into incurious ideologies and sour partisanships that permit them to dismiss the harms imposed on other people…. But it cannot last. However worthy you might think the progressives’ triggers, they’ll bore you at time, unless you are entirely without a flicker of curiosity.

No one should be more interested than the young, but they have been betrayed by America’s colleges, which is where interest goes to expire. Curious people want the freedom to experiment with new thoughts, as you might attempt on new ties before a mirror. That’s not likely to happen if the awakened authorities stand ready to pounce on any deviation from their radical orthodoxy. Victimhood has been weaponized and become a tool of oppression from the flint-eyed progressives on campus and their enablers on college administrative staff.

For instance, he avers that”viewers of CNN and MSNBC appear to have had the curiosity gene removed at birth, so insistent are the politics.”  Curiousity is frequently amusing and always a delight to see.

An whole generation has been affected by pandemic-related hysteria. Curiosity provides a tonic for the religious doldrums.At exactly the exact same moment, Buckley soberly reflects to a serious issue that curious people shouldn’t be scared to face –the possibility of their own mortality. He says “the reduction of religious awe inspiring and a transcendent vision of life and death has caused a banal culture of minimalist concerns and politicized literature and art. Fantastic art is created by people that are interested in what happens when life ends or of this sensation to be made from life if they believe nothing does.”

Buckley devotes the final chapters of this book to his closing”rule”–one that aging boomers will soon fall upon: Realize you’re knocking on the door:

We have seen Facebook accounts proceed dark and old friends… go the way of all flesh, and we’re starting to realize that the exact same thing will happen to people. I await a fascination with what happens upon departure and a new religious awakening. And that will be my generation’s ultimate gift to the Zeitgeist. Following the drugs and sex and rock roll, after undergoing every older vice and inventing a couple of new ones, just 1 thing stays, and that’s a religious revival and a return to conventional morality.

Buckley ends the book with these poignant words:

Our culture asks us to anesthetize our fascination with what awaits us about passing…. Even as God created Eve curious, I believe the incuriosity of modernity will ultimately prove unsatisfying. We have been created as inquisitive beings and will constantly find answers, especially to the most fundamental questions of our presence. And that, more than anything else, is the reason curiosity things.

Mortality can be a gloomy issue for manifestation, but Buckley’s treatment of this ends on a hopeful note. The last year was tumultuous and stressful for many Americans. Strife, isolation, and stress took a toll on the human state, causing many individuals to become fearful, timid, and lonely. An whole generation has been affected by pandemic-related hysteria. Curiosity provides a tonic for the religious doldrums. In 2020, we discovered exactly how much our health, our joy, our sanity, is based upon it…. There’s only 1 way from this insanity, and that was to let our curiosity shoot us by the hands and lead us.”