The Right Coast

October 21, 2005
Anscombe kerfuffle (or Brave, brave, brave, brave Sir Simon)
By Tom Smith

This is interesting, regarding Simon Blackburn's savaging of G.E.M Anscombe in a recent London Review of Us.

Couple of points. Check out this quotation: "Her world was Manichean, and, like others in her Church, she was quick to diagnose any hint of dissent as a symptom of darkness and corruption, and therefore to be treated as enmity or heresy." (Anscombe was famous for her uncompromising Catholicism.) It's good to know it's still OK to be an anti-Catholic bigot in the UK. Still, it sounds a little jarring. Compare: "Like other Jews, X thought . . . " "As a Muslim, Y held . . . " But let us get into the spirit of this! As a left-wing British academic, it may be of course impossible to embarrass Blackburn with mere accusations of bigotry against Catholics, and no doubt against Americans either, and quite probably against Jews for that matter. He is after all, a Brit! How am I doing? Am I evincing that rigor of thought and fineness of judgment to which we rightly hold philosophers?

Next, it is amusing to consider how long brave Sir Simon would last against Elizabeth Anscombe were she still alive. She was a controversialist for whom the word formidable doesn't begin to do justice. She would have, as is sometimes said, eaten poor, brave Sir Simon for lunch. And here is brave Sir Simon attacking Anscombe for being a Catholic -- now in contemporary Britain, that really takes courage. What a rock! What a veritable flint of integrity! And in passing, Blackburn does not miss the chance to attack Blair and Rumsfeld (please note, a Jewish name. Is he Jewish? I don't know! He doesn't look Jewish! Sorry -- just practicing!). Where does he get the courage? The daring? He doesn't need to do virtue ethics; we can just watch how he lives! A very model of the virtue of -- sorry, what is it we call that virtue that allows you to attack the reputations of your intellectual and moral superiors after they are dead, when they can't defend themselves, but if they were around to do so, it is perfectly obvious they would have cleaned your clock for you? Did the Greeks have a word for that? Is there a Greek phrase that means, "boy, things have really gone to shit"?

In her day, Anscombe campaigned fearlessly against the bombing of innocent civilians, even during WWII, practiced Catholicism in the heart of a University where Catholics could not even study a hundred years earlier (and where, I can tell you from my years there, were none too popular even in the 1970's), and later protested against abortion, even I believe to the point of going to jail at least once, and to the complete disapproval of nearly everyone in the British intellectual class, about which her indifference was complete. I don't agree with everything she said or did, but she was a large and fearsome intellect, and an utterly courageous soul. If she were alive, Blackburn would be hiding under his chair. And if she were alive, her inveighing against suicide bombing and no doubt killing of civilians in Iraq as well would be peeling the paint off walls.