The great barrier Rieff.

Author:Pence, David
Position:Letter to the editor
 
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Stephen Webb seemed to be a good choice for reviewing Philip Rieff's Sacred Order/Social Order (October). Professor Webb has seriously grappled with the command structure of Christianity in his The Divine Voice. He has also shown himself to be an insightful historical and cultural critic in his spectacular book American Providence. Webb is uniquely perceptive and articulate, yet something is always missing from his books, as from a Tom Wolfe novel--brilliant exposition but always a conclusion unworthy of the work.

Webb's review of Phillip Rieff, however, causes no such ambivalence. It is utterly inadequate from start to finish. It is not a good sign for FIRST THINGS that a superb review appears online at the New Republic (see Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn); one wonders if the magazines have done some transgressive cross-dressing in honor of the formidable Dr. Rieff. My suggestion is that the editor of FT or someone older than the very promising but apparently too busy Webb write an article that seriously engages the author of the Triumph of the Therapeutic. Let me point out three of Webb's inadequacies and four broad avenues opened by Rieff but left as roads not taken by his reviewer.

"Third culture is everything that infuriates the Freudian scholar," says Webb. No, third culture is well defined and is the deliberate attempt to live as if God does not exist. This is not the pagan world of first culture, which recognizes the spiritual but cannot understand it. The deliberately transgressive third culture, which is the dominant culture in the megastates of Europe and America, is historically unprecedented. Let's put it less hyperbolically for Webb: The twentieth century has been a disappointing hundred years for a human race that has already heard the Divine Word.

Fate, Faith, and Fiction are the motifs of the three world types. This has nothing to do with the three worlds of economic order that apparently popped into Webb's mind as he rushed through the "difficult reading" of this book. It is not true, as Webb claims, that Rieff is in any way "beholden to a fundamentally Freudian framework." Rieff understands Freud quite well and has rejected him quite definitively. Rieff accuses Freud of killing the Jews before Hitler did. If Webb had read The Jewish Century by Yuri Slezkine, he would have known the horrible story of the wide-scale flight from God by Russian Jews and the murderous embrace of the communist apostasy. If Rieff is found "ran-ting,"...

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