One of my heroes is Alois Podhajsky. Podhajsky was the Austrian colonel who, during WWII, focused his considerable energy and passion on...horses. It's almost enough to make one laugh, or even get angry. There is the world, tumbling down, all too many innocent people dying and being killed everywhere in horrible ways, the great powers battling, good and evil duking it out. And this fellow, drafted by the Anschluss into the de facto status of a soldier on the wrong side, thinks and works entirely toward the end that the Lippizan horses of Austria, the Spanische Hofreitschule of Vienna, and the ancient art of dressage shall not perish from the earth. Is this not Quixotic, not to mention trivial?
But I don't think so. And I love to read Podhajsky's several books on his life and on dressage. Not that I can ride dressage, nor ever will be able to. But there is something inexpressibly restful in contact with a person who has the single eye, the vocation, the vision of a thing valuable in itself, not valued for some utilitarian end, that he has seen and to which he has dedicated his life.
I'm not sure whether this vision should be labeled "liberal" or "conservative." Indeed, one of its chief virtues is that it is apolitical. It is highly unfortunate that an apolitical dedication to the true and the beautiful is now labeled "conservative" and used, especially in the university, as a term of insult and an attempt at manipulation.
This is the first of two posts on things valuable in themselves. This is the feel-good part, the easy part. Here I want to list some such things and to ask readers to do the same. My list has more man-made than natural things. That is partly a matter of chance and partly not. There is something peculiarly satisfying about certain human activities and the accomplishments of human art and endeavour. There is also something uniquely valuable about good things that come to us as gifts without the exercise of any special skill of our own. In Part II, I plan to raise the more disturbing question, "How does a dedication to things valuable in themselves become corrupted, or how can it corrupt the person so dedicated?"
But for now, here are a few, a very few, of my favorite intrinsically valuable things:
the music of Bach
the paintings of Vermeer
"The Winter's Tale"
savoury beef stew with orange peel
the Book of Common Prayer
the Spanish Riding School
a human child
a little girl's hair
a clean house
a tough and interesting logical proof
Readers, go for it. Add yours below, while thinking about the question to be posed in Part II.