The great intellectual Jacques Barzun, whose name one automatically associates with Columbia, just 20 days ago celebrated his 100th birthday. He once said about gatherings such as this: “In any assembly, the simplest way to stop the transacting of business and split the ranks is to appeal to a principle.”
That was more than tongue-in-cheek cynicism, of course, because Barzun was eyewitness to a period in history in which ideologies had become brutally coercive. He'd seen how the a priori designs for human arrangements represented by Nazism, Fascism, and Communism had turned nations against each other in the bloodiest possible manner. Those systems, commanded by their own self-referential principles, did split the ranks of humankind. And they did stop the transacting of business.