It is not that Wills -- who has devoted much of his recent life to St. Augustine -- objects to reading the Western classics, or finding meaning in them. Quite the contrary. What he objects to is the meaning Dreyfus and Kelly claim to find: that choice is an unmanageable burden, and that the reflective interior life should be replaced by impulsiveness. Oh, and that a football game is not only as moving as a church service, but has just as much significance.
He also objects to the bad Classical scholarship Dorrance and Kelly seem to display. For example, they claim that Homer's characters "do not think too hard" about difficult choices; Wills pulls out numerous examples of Homeric characters thinking hard indeed.
More laughably still, they argue that the fall from grace, the loss of this (supposed) Homeric impulsiveness, is the fault of St. Augustine, who "was the first important Christian to interpret Christianity using the categories of Greek philosophy."
As Wills is quick to say,
Anyone who knows anything about either Augustine or Greek philosophy knows that this is nonsense. There were any number of important Christians who did this before Augustine—Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Mallius Theodore, Marius Victorinus, Ambrose of Milan. These people were not only earlier than Augustine, they were acquainted with Greek philosophy more deeply and intimately than he was. They read and spoke Greek, and he did not.
Come to think of it, we're not sure why Dorrance and Kelly imagine that -- had Augustine been what they claim -- his use of Greek philosophy would have created a revolutionary interiority in the first place. Had Socrates no capacity for self-examination? Really?
We'll never know, because this is a book we have no intention of reading. But we want to express our admiration for Wills's choice of taglines. He is appalled by the number of intellectuals who have written appreciative blurbs for the book, and -- referring to Vartan Gregorian's claim that "I couldn't put it down," ends by urging, "Reader, put it down." This would be clever enough if it were no more than a reference to Gregorian. But surely, after so much talk of Augustine, it also casts a glance at tolle lege. As well, of course, as reminding us what one does with a rabid dog.