March 7, 2011

A Question of Tone





A musician may have mastered the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic elements of a composition, but if he cannot produce tones of the appropriate timbre and texture, he will undermine rather than promote his purpose.
By contrast, the most banal of tunes in the hands of a great instrumentalist or vocalist might mesmerize millions and have an audience greater than its worth.  In an important sense, then, we perceive a performance’s texture “before” (esthetically, not temporally) we hear the notes, so much so that if we don’t like the former, we are biased against the latter.  We may consequently misjudge the musical content in which we might have delighted were another to deliver it to our senses.
Sometimes, however, cacophony simply signals the activity of a tone-deaf composer.
No one who has read more than a few pages of Christopher A. Ferrara's The Church and the Libertarian can take it seriously as a “fraternal appeal” to Austro-libertarian Catholics.* Two thorough readings of it have convinced me that it is such a bad book, morally as well as stylistically, that it arguably ought to be ignored rather than critically reviewed.
Its tone is continuously inflammatory, its arrangement of material lopsided (the second section being longer than the first and third combined), and his use of sources tendentious.  The last-mentioned trait includes either unawareness or evasion (it’s hard to decide which) of evidence relevant to his topic but inconvenient to his purpose.
Even while rummaging through memories of my Marxist days, a period ranging from thirty-five to forty years ago, I cannot recall ever having encountered between two covers such a barrage of uncharitable construction, sarcasm, gratuitous assertion, name-calling, motive-questioning, playing to the gallery, assumption of facts not in evidence, digressive appeal to unqualified expert opinion, citing overvalued credentials, stereotyping, redefining key terms, abuse of scare-quotes, innuendo, misleading references, and theatrical laughter. I could support this impression with any three consecutive pages of the reader’s choosing. Passages from the writings of Herbert Aptheker in his worst mood rival it, but even that historian-cum-propagandist never sustained his invective for hundreds of pages.  (See my “Herbert Aptheker: My Communist Mentor.” )
In other words, reading it will likely be a chore for any one not predisposed to the author’s point of view.  The only thing that is clear after more than three hundred pages is that Mr. Ferrara is angry that any Catholic, and especially his erstwhile collaborator Thomas E. Woods, would enter into the thought of Murray Rothbard and allow it to interact with his faith.**
* “. . . however forcefully its arguments are presented in places, is also meant as a fraternal appeal to Catholic proponents of the errors at issue, that they might abandon all error and return to the path the Church has marked out for them and for every soul that seeks true happiness in this world and the next.” (5)
** In a video interview Mr. Ferrara said that both “love for what the Church teaches” and “deep, serious and . . . righteous anger . . . about a certain kind of sophistry that has taken hold of the Church today, the sophistry of the so-called modern libertarian movement and its advocacy of radical laissez faire as the basis for social order” motivated him to write the book under review.” A Lake Garda Interview with Chris Ferrara, July 20, 2010.  You Tube.