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Der Untergang des Abendlandes

Having heard my father, a student of Husserl, frequently referring to ideas imbibed during his residence between the wars in Freiburg and Leipzig, I used to tell my students that the truth could only be expressed in German. Naturally, they took this to be just another of my unfunny jokes and smiled Cheshire-ly. But I meant what I said, hence the title of this post.

When a journalist (Robin Wright) who is the author of many books on Arab politics and the recipient of numerous awards (including a MacArthur Foundation Grant, popularly known as the “Genius Award”) is heard in a television interview (MSNBC, August 22, 2011) ignorantly and solecistically mispronouncing the verb mete in the phrase mete out justice to rhyme with met instead of meet, can one simply chalk this up to imperfect learning? No, one cannot and should not. Over and above the fact that this mistake is yet another example of bookish words no longer being the coin of the formal spoken realm, extemporaneous public discourse in America being only the palest simulacrum of anything approaching eloquence, the decline in speech culture among educated persons is the surest sign of a fundamental failure of thought, the kind that prefigures cultural collapse. Spengler would no doubt have agreed.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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