The Elegant Variation on Nobility

This slim volume by the president and founder of the Nexus Institute, a European-based humanist think-tank, stands as the most stirring redoubt against the ascendant forces of know-nothingness that we’ve come across in a long time. A full-throated, unapologetic defense of the virtues of Western Civ – in which “elite” is not and never should be a dirty word – this inspiring exploration of high art and high ideals is divided into three sections: The first looks at the life of Riemen’s great hero Thomas Mann as a model for the examined life. The second imagines a series of conversations from turning points in European intellectual history, populated with the likes of Socrates, Nietzsche and others. The final section, “Be Brave,” is nothing less than an exhortation to dig deep, especially in times of risk.

The notion of nobility of the spirit might strike some modern ears as quaint but it seems more desperately necessary than ever before, and there are worse ways to read the accessible Nobility of Spirit than as a crash refresher in the Great Thinkers, free of academic jargon and cant. As a meditation on what is at stake when the pursuit of high ideals is elbowed aside by the pursuit of fleeting material gain, however, Nobility of Spirit might well be the most prescient book we’ve yet read on what’s at stake in the current election cycle and in the developing global situation. Agree or disagree with Riemen’s profound, ambitious and high-minded plea, you will be thinking about his words for a long time. It’s been ages since a work of non-fiction moved us this way.

The Elegant Variation is a Literary Weblog by Mark Sarvas