Roger Kimball (born 1953), an American art critic and social commentator, is the editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the publisher of Encounter Books. Kimball first gained prominence in the early 1990s with the publication of his book Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Higher Education. He currently serves on the board of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, the board of Transaction Publishers and as a Visitor of Ralston College, a start-up liberal arts college based in Savannah, Georgia. He also served on the Board of Visitors of St. John's College (Annapolis and Santa Fe).
Early life and education
Kimball was educated at Cheverus High School, a Jesuit institution in South Portland, Maine, and then at Bennington College, where he received a B.A. in philosophy and classical Greek. After graduating, Kimball attended Yale University, where he earned an M.A. in 1978 and an M.Phil. in 1972 in philosophy.
Kimball lectures widely and is a contributor to newspapers and journals, including The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Spectator, The New Criterion, The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Sun, Modern Painters, Literary Review, The Public Interest, Commentary, The New York Times Book Review, The Sunday Telegraph, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, and The National Interest. Kimball also blogs at The New Criterion's weblog Armavirumque and since the autumn of 2007, at Roger's Rules a weblog hosted by PJ Media.
Some of Kimball's work as a writer is polemical, directed against what he sees as the politicization and "dumbing down" of Western culture and the arts. Many of Kimball's essays in The New Criterion, and in books including Experiments Against Reality and Lives of the Mind, focus on figures from the Western canon whose work he feels has been neglected or misunderstood. These figures include G.C. Lichtenberg, Robert Musil, Walter Pater, Anthony Trollope, Milan Kundera, and P. G. Wodehouse, as well as philosophers and historians such as Plutarch, Hegel, Walter Bagehot, George Santayana, David Stove, Raymond Aron, and Leszek Kołakowski. Kimball, in the words of the critic Wilfred McClay, has gradually turned "The New Criterion into an organ dedicated to the recovery of the West’s longer cultural heritage. In the process, he has made The New Criterion a voice not only for the seriousness of high modernism but also for the necessity of the Permanent Things."
Kimball also writes regularly about art. He has written essays on artists including Delacroix, Vuillard,Robert Motherwell, Frank Stella, and Robert Rauschenberg. Recently, some of his essays have called for renewed attention to Classical Realism and other contemporary art movements that champion traditional values and techniques of representational art.
In 2012, Kimball edited The New Leviathan, a collection of essays that discuss a variety of political topics from "the folly of ObamaCare to the politicization of the Justice Department and the disastrous efforts to nationalize our education system." Many prominent conservative intellectuals serve as contributors including John R. Bolton, Richard Allen Epstein, Peter Ferrara, John Fund, Victor Davis Hanson, Andrew C. McCarthy, Betsy McCaughey, Michael Mukasey, Glenn Reynolds, Kevin D. Williamson, and more.
Kimball endorsed Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
First published in 1990, Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education was updated in 1998 and again in 2008. The most recent third edition includes a new introduction by Kimball as well as the preface to the 1998 edition. The book critiques the ways in which humanities are taught and studied in American universities. The book takes the stance that modern humanities have become politicized while seeking to subvert "the tradition of high culture embodied in the classics of Western art and thought". Kimball maintains that yesterday's radical thinker has become today's tenured professor carrying out "ideologically motivated assaults on the intellectual and moral substance of our culture".
The book is deemed controversial due to its specificity and a perceived one-sided conservative bias, with the New York Times Book Review's Roger Rosenblatt noting, "Mr. Kimball names his enemies precisely...This book will breed fistfights." When it was first published, some of its critics aligned Tenured Radicals with Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students and former Secretary of Education William Bennett's Report on the Humanities in Higher Education.
Donald Lazere wrote in The Los Angeles Times, "Kimball's own defense of impartiality seems almost designed to prove the leftist case--from his lurid title and tone to his blind hatred of apparently anyone and everyone on the left, to his failure ever to raise the question of possible biases in his own views and those of his sources, who are uniformly conservative allies. His acknowledgments include the John M. Olin Foundation and the Institute for Educational Affairs 'for their generous help in the earlier stages of this project.' Yet Kimball does not address the issue of whether sponsorship by such corporate-front foundations might compromise his own objectivity and disinterestedness, or that of all of the other academic and journalistic enterprises (including New Criterion) funded by conservative special interests."
Experiments Against Reality
Experiments Against Reality: The Fate of Culture in the Postmodern Age is a book criticizing the literary and philosophical foundations of postmodernity. Examining the work of Eliot, Auden, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault and more, Kimball critiques the ways in which these writers deal with what he views as the intellectual and moral deterioration of modernity. He also laments the state of modern culture, focusing his analysis on the realms of contemporary art and academia. Kimball argues against nihilist, deconstructionist, and anti-enlightenment perspectives prevalent in modern theory, contending that objective truth is an important tenet of any discourse.
As one review put it, "Kimball’s writings offer weapons of resistance to such indoctrination" and "they set a traditional criterion: the lessons of history, ordinary experience, beauty, reality." The New York Times Book Review calls Kimball a “scathing critic…whose tirades are usually justified” and whose “intellectual rigor is refreshing”.
In 2003's Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity, Kimball turns a critical eye towards what he sees as modern art's avant-garde assault on tradition. He argues that the most invigorating action in today's modern art is a quiet affair that takes place out of the limelight and celebrity that have become part of the art world. In a series of essays and reviews, he touches on numerous subjects including minimalism, the Barnes Foundation, and the Whitney Museum of American Art and examines artists including Vincent van Gogh, Edward Burne-Jones, Gustave Moreau, Picasso, Renoir, Matisse, Paul Klee. Mark Rothko, and more.
The book has enjoyed positive critical reception from a variety of publications. The Tennessean called the book's reviews "lucid mini-educations in the exercise of taste" and in The Weekly Standard, Thomas M. Disch wrote that "Kimball knows his business...His reviews make me hungry to see what I've missed" and that "Kimball is an honest hater: deadpan in delivery, deadly in his accuracy".
Rape of the Masters
Published in 2004, The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art is a critical account of contemporary academic art history and its infatuation with "theory" and the "transgressive" at the expense of aesthetic appreciation and a traditional view of the ennobling resources of art.
While Kimball’s previous works (Tenured Radicals, The Long March) were dedicated to exploring the alleged consequences of the advent of political correctness in universities and its effects for the Humanities more generally, The Rape of the Masters focuses on the impact of PC ideology in art history and art criticism.
The book includes an array of case studies of such an impact in chapters that discuss Michael Fried on Gustave Courbet, Anna Chave on Mark Rothko, David M. Lubin on John Singer Sargent, Svetlana Alpers on Peter Paul Rubens, Griselda Pollock on Paul Gauguin, race-minded professors’s take on Winslow Homer, and finally Martin Heidegger and Meyer Schapiro on Vincent van Gogh.
Kimball argues that one of the main sources of this phenomenon may be found in the influence of German Marxists Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin, whose essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Kimball writes, "has become a kind of sacred text in literary and art historical studies," since it shifts the interest away from the object of art itself to its use as an instrument for transforming or defending the political and economic system.
Historian Paul Johnson observed in a review of the book: “For art teachers with strong left-wing views, but whose grasp of the essentials of art history, including a passionate love of fine art, is shaky, this pedagogic trick came as a godsend. Instead of teaching art they could teach whatever they liked, bringing in at will their views on politics, economics, sex, gender, and religion."
Though conceding that the aim of the book is “primarily negative: to equip the reader with a nose for balderdash and absurdity”, Kimball stresses that “it aims at the same time to encourage the beneficent, pleasurable, civilizing elements that have traditionally been accorded to our encounters with good art.”
He then concludes with his sober view of the role of the art critic: “ the most a critic can do is to remove the clutter impeding the direct enjoyment of art [...], to clear away the underbrush that obscures the first-hand apprehension of works of art."
The Fortunes of Permanence
In The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia, published in 2012, Kimball discussed the cultivation of the mind and spirit with regard to inherited cultural instructions. In the book, Kimball argues that this cultivation is a spiritual enterprise of the utmost importance to political freedom.
In the book, Kimball stresses classical education's democratic character, in opposition to the variety of education promoted by "university egalitarians," who devote classes to “pop novels, rock videos and third-rate works chosen simply because their authors are members of the requisite sex, ethnic group, or social minority.″
Following its publication, the book has been reviewed by individuals including Andrew Roberts, who wrote, “Burke’s timeless messages about the importance of institutions, customs, and habits, and about the fragility of cultural excellence — so easy to lose, so incredibly hard to regain — are meshed by Kimball with Tocqueville’s lessons about the central dialectic of democracy, the eternal seesaw between equality and liberty.“ In another review, Wilfred Mcclay pointed out Kimball’s display of a disposition similar to what Jacques Barzun’s called ″cheerful pessimism″: ″there is no one on the contemporary scene that has come to embody that spirit more fully and energetically than Roger Kimball.″
Czech President Václav Klaus described the book as "completely unified and 'unwavering'." Michael Uhlmann wrote that "the publication of The Fortunes of Permanence confirms Roger Kimball's status as America's foremost cultural critic."
List of works
- The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia, St. Augustine's Press: South Bend, 2012.
- The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art, Encounter Books: San Francisco, 2004.
- Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity, Ivan R. Dee: Chicago, 2003.
- Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse, Ivan R. Dee: Chicago 2002.
- Experiments Against Reality: The Fate of Culture in the Postmodern Age, Ivan R. Dee: Chicago 2000.
- The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America, Encounter Books: San Francisco, 2000.
- Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education, HarperCollins, New York, 1990; revised edition, Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 1998; third, expanded edition, Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 2008.
- Brazilian Edition of Tenured Radicals: ″Radicals in the Universities: How politics has corrupted higher education in the United States of America″ (Peixoto Neto Publishing House, 2010) ]
As editor and contributor
- "The Consequences of Richard Weaver," Foreword to an expanded edition of "Ideas Have Consequences" by Richard Weaver University of Chicago Press: Chicago 2013.
- "Mental Hygiene and Good Manners: The Contribution of George Santayana," in "The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy" and Character and Opinion in the United States, edited by James Seaton, Yale University Press: New Haven, 2009.
- Counterpoints: 25 Years of The New Criterion on Art and Culture, co-edited by Roger Kimball & Hilton Kramer, Ivan R. Dee: Chicago, 2007.
- Lengthened Shadows: America and Its Institutions in the Twenty-first Century, co-edited by Roger Kimball & Hilton Kramer, Encounter Books: San Francisco, 2004.
- The Survival of Culture: Permanent Values in a Virtual Age co-edited by Roger Kimball & Hilton Kramer, Ivan R. Dee: Chicago 2002.
- The Betrayal of Liberalism: How the Disciples of Freedom and Equality Helped Foster the Illiberal Politics of Coercion and Control, co-edited by Roger Kimball & Hilton Kramer, Ivan R. Dee: Chicago, 2000
- The Future of the European Past co-edited by Roger Kimball & Hilton Kramer Ivan R. Dee: Chicago 1997.
- Against the Grain: The New Criterion on Art and Intellect in the Twentieth Century co-edited by Roger Kimball & Hilton Kramer, Ivan R. Dee: Chicago 1994.
- The New Leviathan: The State Versus the Individual in the Twenty-first Century. A Collection of Encounter Broadsides, edited, with an introduction, by Roger Kimball and a foreword by George Will, Encounter Books: New York 2012.
- Athwart History: Half a Century of Polemics, Animadversions, and Illuminations: A William F. Buckley Jr. Omnibus, co-edited by Roger Kimball and Linda Bridges, introduction by Roger Kimball, Encounter Books: New York 2010.
- The Age of the Avant Garde: 1956-1972, by Hilton Kramer, introduction by Roger Kimball, Transaction Publishers: New Brunswick, 2008.
- The Treason of the Intellectuals, by Julien Benda, introduction by Roger Kimball, Transaction Publishers: New Brunswick, 2006.
- Art in Crisis, by Hans Sedlmayr, introduction by Roger Kimball, Transaction Publishers: New Brunswick, 2006.
- Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity, and Other Fables of Evolution, by David Stove, edited and with an Introduction by Roger Kimball, Encounter Books: New York, 2006.
- Diversions And Animadversions: Essays from the New Criterion by Alexander Coleman, edited with a preface by Roger Kimball, introduction by Denis Donoghue, Transaction Publishers: New Brunswick, 2005.
- Physics and Politics: Or: Thoughts on the Application of the Principles of 'Natural Selection' and 'Inheritance' to Political Society, by Walter Bagehot, edited and with an introduction by Roger Kimball, Ivan R. Dee: Chicago, 1999.
- Against the Idols of the Age, by David Stove, edited and with an introduction by Roger Kimball, Transaction Publishers: New Brunswick, 1999.