The Sum Total of Human Happiness, by James V. Schall, S.J.
Early in The Sum Total of Human Happiness, Fr. James Schall writes, "If we ever have the exhilarating experience of truth in our souls, we cannot but seek to tell others of it." The line is autobiographical. This book is energized by Schall's joy of knowing. His learning is profound because knowing is a moral imperative for him, but it is ultimately a matter of joy. And joy is infectious.
His charming but profound reflections present questions that are not Catholic, but answers that are, steeped in sources as diverse as Hilaire Belloc, Plato, Tolkien, and even Charlie Brown, among others—including Samuel Johnson, from whom he got the title. An Aristotelian to the core, Schall always begins with experience. Thus the central thesis of the book is "that everything that is should receive its proper acknowledgment." That includes the recognition that what is (i.e., creation) is good.
This is important because "the drama of our existence is not merely that we are, but that we can respond to what is as if it might not be." This latter response is the source of evil in human behavior and, in institutionalized form, the foundation of modern ideology. In graduate school many years ago, I asked a friend, who was enthusiastically expounding on Hegel, how he would live if what Hegel said about the nature of reality were true. He was startled by the question and had no answer. For Schall, how we ought to live exactly depends on what we know-on what we should know. Of course, one can know the truth and reject it, "as if it might not be." Yet the only way back from this path, as indicated in the book's opening quotation from Augustine is that, "when we return from error, it is by knowledge that we return."
—Robert R. Reilly
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This article appeared in the Spring 2007 issue of the Claremont Review of Books