Dr Jerald Block’s analysis of computer addiction points towards a different but related danger. The seductiveness of the virtual world depends on addicts glorying in their isolation – a solitary revolt against society that may become pathological. It is as if Westerners were retreating into a fantasy world rather than face the real one.
So let us celebrate our civilisation in all its precariousness. For a contemporary monument to an intellectual hero of the Enlightenment, consider Alexander Stoddart’s brooding bronze of Adam Smith, just erected in Edinburgh and featured here. Or turn to Hugh Trevor-Roper’s diaries, where he recounts his anticlimactic return after investigating the last days of Hitler in 1945-46. He is, however, reconciled to Oxford – a convivial, if philistine, branch of civilisation that is still visible today in John Fuller’s Toast to James Fenton. This fine example of occasional verse offers a bravura tribute by one poetic virtuoso to another – using the word both in its modern sense of technique and its older sense of connoisseurship.
This convivial (though not bibulous) spirit is apparent also throughout the Dialogue between Simon Gray and Charles Spencer. They see the theatre as part of social rather than intellectual life, but playwright and critic deplore the timidity of the dramatic establishment. Gray castigates the “very easy sort of liberalism” that is “fearless in attacking Christianity” but dares not deal with Islamism. Trilling would have agreed – but his kind of liberalism is now an endangered species.