Before Robert Bork's Slouching Towards Gomorrah and Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, there was Duncan Williams' Trousered Apes. Williams sounded the alarm long before Bork or Bloom, and his critique of the excesses of morbid modernity was both more stylish and more astute.
Trousered Apes was published in Great Britain in 1971, the title taken from a phrase coined by C.S. Lewis to describe those men among us who, rather than subject themselves to the self-discipline necessary to emulate angels, prefer instead to take after animals. Subtitled Sick Literature in a Sick Society, Williams' book conveyed his conviction that "the arts in general are not merely a mirror reflecting social and cultural values, but are, on the contrary, powerful forces which shape and mould the way in which people live and behave."
In the literature, drama, music, painting, film, and television of the 1960s, Williams observed "not only an absence of 'moral control' and 'spiritual order' but in most instances an overt and deep hostility to any such restraining concepts. Morality, however, always involves a sentiment of submission," he insisted, "because it demands the recognition of an authoritative norm, be it religious or secular, external or internal."
Duncan Williams had a ready response for the self-serving sophistry of writers and artists who claim that their respect for Truth requires them to record the violence and ugliness that they see around them. "If . . . Western man is continually subjected to a vision of himself as being violent, animalistic, alienated, mannerless, and uncivilized," he asked, "then is he not being encouraged to identify with such an image and to mold his own outlook and behavior to conform with such an image?"
Williams, needless to say, preferred the literature of the past. "Great literature," he observed, "is that which over the centuries sustained and elevated mankind; it represents a conquest by man over the diverse and bewildering complexities of his own nature and of the world surrounding him. Such art involves a prodigious effort and concentration on the part of its creator and demands a cultivated response from its audience. As such it is exclusive, in terms of those who create it and those who can appreciate it. It therefore constitutes a minority culture . . . detested and feared by the majority of contemporary artists and writers with their egalitarian aims and allegiance."
Bad literature need not, and should not, be tolerated. Contemporary literature that "spreads despair, alienation, emptiness, and spiritual sterility," Duncan Williams advised, "should be challenged since it is contrary to the survival of the species. Man is more than a physical animal," Williams insisted. "He needs, above all, Hope to endure."