Thousand Small Sanities

Adam Gopnik – staff writer at the New Yorker, Canadian by birth, intelligent and articulate person – has written a lovely and thoughtful and frustratingly disorganized book about politics: A Thousand Small Sanities: the Moral Adventure of Liberalism.

Bottom line? Perhaps the need to be like a rhinoceros rather than a unicorn, to mention one of Gopnik's many metaphors. The world is complex and imperfect, humans are fallible, stuff happens, and we have to keep trying to do better. It's important to recognize more than one side of every issue, acknowledge limitations, and have empathy for others. Sharing is nicer than hoarding. Absolutism, on either Left or Right, brings trouble. "Grown-up people can count to two."

There's goodness aplenty in A Thousand Small Sanities – glittering asides, philosophical allusions, captivating mini-profiles of John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor, George Eliot and George Lewes, Adam Smith and David Hume, Charles Darwin, Michel de Montaigne, and many more. What there isn't, alas, is much structure to the arguments. Maybe that's a self-referential meta-comment on "liberalism" itself? More likely it's a sign of passion on the author's part (or haste on the publisher's). An index in the back and a roadmap in the front might have made the book more practical, though less poetic. A modern On Liberty it's not.

(cf review and commentary in The Guardian, Wikipedia; cf. Worth of a State (2008-04-02), Secular Conscience (2009-02-17), ...) - ^z - 2021-09-05