Paul Elmer More
After his short career as an academic, he worked as a journalist on The Independent, the New York Evening Post and The Nation. He started on his Shelburne Essays in 1904; they were to run to 11 published volumes, drawing on his periodical writing, and were followed later by the New Shelburne Essays, in three volumes from 1928.
In his literary criticism, More generally upheld the classical English authors who display, as he put it, a "deep-rooted sense of moral responsibility"—Shakespeare, Johnson, Trollope, Newman—while also accepting those lusty writers of France and America who cannot help but be a little too honest. As Francis X. Duggan notes, "the immorality More most objects to, the most serious offence an artist can commit, is not the obvious one of obscenity or suggestiveness, but a falsification of human nature, the denial of moral responsibility".
He wrote several books after his retirement from journalism, including Platonism (1917); The Religion of Plato (1921); Hellenistic Philosophies (1923); and his last published work, the autobiographical Pages from an Oxford Diary (1937). His Greek Tradition, 5 vols. (1924–31), is generally thought to be his best work.
During the last 15 years of his life, More wrote several books of Christian apologetics, including The Christ of the New Testament (1924), Christ the Word (1927), and The Catholic Faith (1931). As Byron C. Lambert notes, "More's final mission was profoundly religious and what he wanted to leave to the world".
Nevertheless, although Russell Kirk judged him "the twentieth century's greatest apologist", More is little read by Christians today. In Lambert's view, the reason is that More's "Christianity was altogether too idiosyncratic for most Christians". "[T]oo exotic to be intelligible and too conditional to be authoritative", he lacked the power of "unabashedly orthodox" writers like C. S. Lewis or G. K. Chesterton "to bring Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and even fringe believers together in a way that is the surprise of divided Christendom".
That said, the man of whom Russell Kirk wrote, "as a critic of ideas, perhaps there has not been his peer in England or America since Coleridge," has much to offer the discriminating Christian reader. Kirk cites, for instance, More's insight into the "enormous error" of secular humanists. As is evidenced by the Reign of Terror of 1793-94 or the tens of millions killed by 20th century atheist regimes, when the religious impulse is replaced by "mere 'brotherhood of man,' fratricide is not far distant." More wrote that the one effective way of "bringing into play some measure of true justice as distinct from the ruthless law of competition...is through the restoration in the individual human soul of a sense of responsibility extending beyond the grave." The alternative is a society "surrendered to the theory of ceaseless flux, with no principle of judgement except the shifting pleasure of the individual."
More saw the loss of Christian culture as entailing intellectual as well as moral collapse. He once remarked to Alfred Noyes that "the ability to think clearly and deeply has been vanishing from all sections of the modern world except those that have some grasp of the philosophy of religion, as it has been developed through two thousand years in the central tradition of Christendom".
More lived in Princeton, New Jersey. He died on March 9, 1937, at the age of 73.
- Domitrovic, Brian. "Paul Elmer More: America's Reactionary" Modern Age 45 (Fall 2003), pp. 343-349.
- Duggan, Francis X. Paul Elmer More. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1966, p. 57.
- Lambert, Byron C. "The Regrettable Silence of Paul Elmer More", Modern Age 41 (Winter 1999), pp. 47-54.
- Kirk, Russell. The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, Seventh Revised Edition. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 1985, pp. 423-4. ISBN 0-89526-171-5.
- Noyes, Alfred. The Edge of the Abyss. London: John Murray, 1944, p. 53.
- Dakin, Arthur Hazard (1960). Paul Elmer More. Princeton University Press.
- Davies, Robert M. (1958). The Humanism of Paul Elmer More. New York: Bookman Associates.
- Lambert, Byron C. (ed.) (1972). The Essential Paul Elmer More. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House.
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