Essays that Matter

Essays that Matter February 6, 2018

Despite enjoying short stories, I’ve never been much of a fan of essays. A good essay leaves you wanting more without providing it. A bad essay is, well, a bad essay. I’ve got to make an exception, however, for Charles Krauthammer’s collection Things that Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes, and Politics.

Drawing primarily on his long-running Washington Post column, Krauthammer has assembled some of his best (and some of his mediocre) from the last three decades in this volume that promises to focus on issues that are timeless, rather than grounded in the immediacy of any given moment. And to some extent, he succeeds in delivering on his promise. While undoubtedly some of the issues are timely rather than timeless, they are nevertheless worth reflection. For example, illegal immigration is in some ways a uniquely American issue. (Yes, I know other nations struggle with it–but not in exactly the same way.) So far as that goes, Krauthammer’s 2006 essay about the need for both a wall and amnesty is an issue that is tied to a specific time and place. A thousand years from now this essay won’t be on the list of must-read political/philosophical works. And yet, a decade and a fifth from its writing the issue is still salient.

Source: Amazon
The same is true for most of the rest of the essays in the book. Race relations, Israeli/Palestinian relations, religion and science, freedom of speech, and even baseball and chess are still relevant to American life.

With that said, I’ll admit some bias for at least some of these essays. Many of them were published while I was coming of age in my political awareness. There’s certainly some nostalgic glow attached to the chance to go back to the debates over the Iraq War (both the early 90s debates and the early 00s debates), and to revisit questions of whether or not a President who perjures himself ought to be impeached. And stem cell research–gosh, who ever thought we’d hear of that again? (Kidding! The issue is still with us…) So take my endorsement for what it’s worth.

Also, take my endorsement with a caveat: I don’t agree with everything Krauthammer says. He definitely leans more libertarian than I do (I’m increasingly content as a cranky conservative). He likes baseball while I just tolerate it. Ditto chess. And of course religiously he and I are on different pages all together.

Still these three decade’s worth of essays provide several hours worth of useful reflection, occasional humor, and thoughtful engagement with the issues that is increasingly rare in our shrill and polarized contemporary setting.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO. He likes to think that he is a thing that matters.


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