Archive for the ‘John Fleming’ Category

Sunday gratitude: Cheap Highs

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

Dr. Fleming is thankful,

I want to introduce a new tool bar button based in one of the old Anglican prayers—“All the Blessings of This Life”.

Read his meditation here.

Dr. Fleming goes to The Cloisters

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

A few years ago I audited Dr. John V. Fleming’s class on Chaucer, a most wonderful treat, since he’s not only the foremost scholar on the subject but also a great guy. He graciously gave me a poscast interview (transcribed here 1 2 3) a year or so later. Like many of his students, we’ve kept in touch over the years.

Recently, Dr. Fleming went to The Cloisters to listen to Pomerium’s Renaissance music concert that included Spem in Alium. Read his brilliant account here.

Dr Fleming goes on location

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Princeton professor and world-traveler John Fleming is staying at the flat that was the setting for one of the all-time big real estate movies, Last Tango in Paris,

And, apparently, all this happened right here in my daughter’s building. For all I know in the very room from which I now report it to you! You can understand the headiness of it all for a mere medievalist.

Go read his essay.

And no, the tango the extras danced in Last Tango is not good Argentinian tango, it’s ballroom.


What the NYT missed about Robbie George

Thursday, December 24th, 2009


The Sunday NYT had an interesting article on Princeton University’s professor Robert George, The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker.

Professor George uses the ages-old process of human reason for his theological and moral arguments that retired Princeton professor John Fleming referred to in our conversation two years ago,

Fausta: And if I remember correctly, St. Augustine emphasized reason as a means of getting closer to God.

John Fleming: Absolutely. We’re used to the idea that there’s some great divide or conflict between faith and reason. This idea, in a sense, grew in the Late Middle Agesn when Thomas Aquinas and other great theologians of that period had to deal with the rediscovery in the Latin West of Aristotle and a system of moral theology that seemed to be totally independent of the Christian revelation.

But, say, for Augustine, and for most of the early fathers of the Church, there was no conflict between faith and reason because faith seemed, on the basis of their empirical experience, a reasonable proposition. So, although Augustine would never do what Thomas Aquinas did, which is to sit down and in academic fashion try to prove the existence of God, you find in the Confessions and elsewhere lines of argument that basically are doing the same thing: argument by design. Some of this is highly relevant to theological controversy even today.

The NYT article seems to miss that very important point. However, Ryan Anderson, writing at The Corner, points out

Without a doubt, George and the other so-called “new natural lawyers” are innovative, but their innovations are in the service of reviving and refining what Isaiah Berlin called the central tradition of Western philosophy, the tradition that runs through Aristotle and Aquinas. Rather than manufacturing novel philosophical theories, George and his colleagues see themselves as appropriating and building on the wisdom of the ages to tease out the purposes and meanings of various social practices. In other words, this is philosophically critical conservative thought at its best.

This is most apparent in George’s arguments over abortion and sexual morality. Few citizens could explain to a sophisticated skeptic’s satisfaction why all people deserve the equal protection of the laws, or why cold-blooded murder is wrong. When the question is put to them, their likely response is that “they just do; it just is.” The right to life for the adult is just one of those self-evident propositions. So, too, with equal protection. You either see it, or you don’t.

Philosophers like George help make explicit the implicit judgment of the ordinary citizen. We ought not to murder adults because they possess intrinsic worth by virtue of the kind of creature that they are — rational and free animals. They are beings possessed of a rational nature. We ought to provide equal protection of the laws to all people because while they may vary in their gifts and talents, at their core all people possess the same fundamental dignity; each life is thus equally worthy of protection and promotion. But what is true of human beings in mature stages of development, George observes, is no less true of them in earlier developmental stages. What is true of the adult is also true of the unborn child. Any basis for distinguishing the two would, his arguments show, be unjustly arbitrary and have abhorrent logical consequences. The conclusion is straightforward: No human being may legitimately be harmed or denied the equal protection of the laws on account of such morally arbitrary features as age, size, stage of development, or condition of dependency. Championing the embryological science that conclusively demonstrates that the developing embryo and fetus is a whole member of the species Homo sapiens, George simply applies the same moral reasoning implicit in our Western legal and political tradition to the contemporary question of the dignity and value of unborn human life.

The same is true for marriage. Yet the Times is particularly keen to push the view that George has developed and sold a new conception of marriage. But a social practice such as marriage has its own intrinsic rationality, based on the nature of the human person and the goods that fulfill people. This rationality is usually only implicitly grasped, frequently thought to be common sense and self-evidently true. As a result, it becomes embodied in legal, political, and religious institutions. As George and I argued a few years ago in NRO, none of these institutions created marriage. Rather, they all recognized this pre-political (and even pre-religious) natural institution and provided it with legal support and religious solemnization. George’s philosophy seeks to articulate the implicit rationality in these social and legal practices to explain and make explicit why marriage — the moral reality that our traditions track — has the structure that it does and is relevant to the political common good in the way that it is.

While he certainly would not have been installed in one of Princeton’s most celebrated professorial chairs without having produced more than a few important insights and powerful original arguments, his contributions build on the wisdom of those who have gone before — Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, Locke and Montesquieu, Coke and Blackstone. They are certainly contributions that justify the Times in calling him “the Conservative-Christian Big Thinker.”

Indeed, it is a philosophy for our time.


In a lighter mode, the NYT also missed that Prof. George also plays the banjo:

Plato, Arisotle, and dueling banjos.

Dr. Fleming is blogging at Gladly Lerne, Gladly Teche, a wonderfully learned and entertaining weekly (Wednesdays) must-read.

A master at his craft

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Dr. Fleming procrastinates, brilliantly.

Dr Fleming’s book in today’s WSJ

Monday, August 17th, 2009

Geoffrey Wheatcroft reviews John Fleming’s book, The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books That Shaped the Cold War,

The View From the Inside
The enduring testimony of Communists who lost faith.

Although the Cold War was a “great game” played out on the field of diplomacy, a conflict between military superpowers that sometimes turned hot, it was also the 20th century’s war of religion: a clash of beliefs and a battle of the books. This mortal combat ­between Communism and liberal democracy produced a vast literature, some books famous in their day, some ­famous still.

Now John V. Fleming has had the excellent idea of telling the story of four of them, and the result is the readable and fascinating “The Anti-Communist ­Manifestos.” It may be all the better because Mr. ­Fleming, an emeritus professor at Princeton, isn’t a modern historian by trade but an authority on medieval literature who knows how to read a text and its context. His four manifestos are “Darkness at Noon,” Arthur Koestler’s novel about the Soviet show ­trials, and three memoirs: “Out of the Night,” by the pseudonymous “Jan Valtin,” a mysterious ­Communist ­agitator; “I Chose ­Freedom,” by the ­Soviet defector ­Victor Kravchenko; and “Witness,” by Whittaker ­Chambers, best known to history as the man who ­accused Alger Hiss of ­espionage.

These books are, of course, chosen from a long ­potential list that could include eyewitness accounts of the early Soviet ­regime—like Bertrand ­Russell’s “The Practice and ­Theory of Bolshevism” (1920) and Emma Goldman’s “My Disillusionment in Russia” (1923)—or George Orwell’s “1984.” Orwell’s book has just passed its 60th birthday and has been described as the most influential novel ever written.

But Mr. Fleming’s quartet has a linking theme. All his authors were anticommunists who had once been ­Communist activists. They wrote about what they had seen from the inside.

Go read the rest of the review, and better yet, buy The Anti-Communist Manifestos and read it.

Dr Fleming blogs at Gladly lerne, gladly teche.

Dr Fleming, new kid on the blog

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Dr John Fleming, whom you may remember from our podcast a while ago, is now blogging!

His blog’s Gladly Lerne, Gladly Teche, where you’ll find his learned and witty writing on Communism, culture, society, and his 1993 pick-up truck.

On his pick-up truck, he writes,
Triumph at Baker’s Basin

According to one cynical view the two secrets of a happy life are, first, to identify genuinely modest goals and, second, to cultivate very low expectations in their pursuit. In other words, “Dream the possible dream.” From this point of view my past week must be judged a succès fou. I succeeded in having my pickup truck inspected and validated by the State of New Jersey.

In the mail:
Dr Fleming’s new book, The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books That Shaped the Cold War is coming out this month and is already available through Amazon. You can order it here:

You must read his post on Anthony Blunt, Tragic, to be Blunt, while you wait for your copy of the book to arrive.

Rewriting Medieval history

Monday, February 18th, 2008

This morning Siggy forwarded his post, “What if the Muslim armies hadn’t been stopped at the French border?”. Siggy refers to Joan Acocella’s review in the New Yorker of David Levering Lewis’s book God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215.

Siggy points out,

It is true that the Arabs oversaw a great advances in medicine, mathematics, philosophy and science. There is no question they were to have a tremendous influence in the world as we know it, but that is not the story.

The Golden Age of the Arabs did not occur in Arab lands.

There would have been no Golden Age for Islam had Muslims not been in contact with Jews and Christians.This glaring truth still holds true today.

I must clarify that I have not read the book, but one statement in the book review stands out:

The Muslims came to Europe, [Lewis] writes, as “the forward wave of civilization that was, by comparison with that of its enemies, an organic marvel of coordinated kingdoms, cultures, and technologies in service of a politico-cultural agenda incomparably superior” to that of the primitive people they encountered there.

As any modern Medievalist will tell you, the Europeans of the period extending from the eigth to thirteenth centuries were not a primitive people. During that period, Europe developed banking, postal systems, many of the techniques presently used in organic farming, textile industries, and a network of monasteries that preserved the knowledge of the Ancient World for all mankind. Two years ago I did a brief debunking of a list of top 20 Muslim inventions, which included the fact that

The first Arabic-language medical treatise was written by a Christian priest and translated into Arabic by a Jewish doctor in 683.

Additionally, during the Middle Ages Europeans developed the creation of the modern state, the Western university, and the concept of reason as a means of developing a moral theology.

If the book review is accurate, Lewis appears to build his thesis on the concept of the European Middle Ages as the Dark Ages of a primitive people, a concept that has been thoroughly debunked by modern historians.

The fact that Medieval Europe was not a primitive society is not a moot issue: it stands as the basis of the concept of modernity with the emphasis on the worth of the individual. During my conversation with Dr John Fleming, Dr Fleming stated on the conflict between a collective “we” and an individual “I”,

Now, that was a tension in Medieval society, but it was resolved at the intellectual level, at least, by the end of the radical freedom of the will that came with Baptism.

F The rise of individualism during the Middle Ages is the start of the Modern Age, as I understand it.
JF: Well, that’s right, and of course we all look in the mirror of history in the sort of way that Narcissus looked in the pool, that is to say, we can always see ourselves, so there is a great tendency to try to impose upon the past those categories with which we’re comfortable, and one of the features of this is that individuality, or as the scholars now prefer to call it, subjectivity, the idea of an I who has a deep personal sense of individuality; one of the current features of scholarship is to keep pushing this back.

It used to be thought that, well, this phenomena appears only in the High Italian Rennaissance, other people said, “oh no, you have it in the 14th Century”, now we find it in Abelard and Heloise in the 12th Century, and so on. But in general terms, what you say is true.

(You can listen to the entire podcast here. For a transcript, follow the links here)

The book review continues,

They did Europe a favor by invading. This is not a new idea, but Lewis takes it further: he clearly regrets that the Arabs did not go on to conquer the rest of Europe. The halting of their advance was instrumental, he writes, in creating “an economically retarded, balkanized, and fratricidal Europe that . . . made virtues out of hereditary aristocracy, persecutory religious intolerance, cultural particularism, and perpetual war.”

Present-day Europe has moved well away from all these trends.

My question, then, is what areas in the world are now economically retarded, fraticidal, making virtues of hereditary aristocracy, persecutory religious intolerance, cultural particularism, and perpetual war?


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Dr. Fleming reviews Beowulf

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

My son, who has been corresponding with Dr. Fleming (who is visiting France), just informed me that Dr. Fleming wrote a review of Beowulf for The New Republic:
Good Grief, Grendel
There are poor adaptations of great works of the past–and then there is the latest film version of ‘Beowulf.’

The film’s signal originality, and the occasion of its most grotesque travesty of a great poem, is its “vision” of what should have been the second and most terrifying monster: Grendel’s mother, who dwells in the depths of a haunted pool. But that’s no monster, that’s Angelina Jolie–and, boy, swiche wenche was never ere now found in mere, tarn, lagoon, or hwaelsweg, let alone in the giant fishbowl dreamed up by our director. In light-hearted mood, medieval scholars debated such questions as this: “If you are to be married to a mermaid, which half do you want to be fish?” Zemeckis appears to have the implied problem all figured out, since Grendel’s Mom has been most fecund in her many matings with, apparently, every king in town. We have always known who Beowulf’s father was. We now learn that actually, like poor old Job, he is a brother to dragons. This is too silly for words, but, alas, not for pictures.

You got to read all of it – he’s at his best!

You will also enjoy my podcast interview of Dr. Fleming from last March, which I also transcribed.

Here’s the Beowulf trailer:


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Did you listen this week?

Friday, March 16th, 2007

This week my Blog Talk Radio guest was Dr. John Fleming

Click here for the podcast:
blog radio
I did a transcript of the interview which you can read here. Just follow the links.

My guest next Monday, March 19 at noon will be journalist and science writer Michael Fumento, who has reported as an embed in Iraq.