The Morality of Laughter

F. H. Buckley
A serious look at the meaning of laughter through the ages


"The last few decades have seen a welcome revival of scholarly interest in how we should live. But in an age of relativism that asks us not to be judgmental, the idea that laughter signals inferiority will seem very old-fashioned. And so it is."

With that unapologetic salvo, F. H. Buckley, in this entirely entertaining book on the serious subject of laughter, takes the side of the guardians of good taste in the battle against the soulless forces of modernism.

For those who favor grace over grotesquerie, a so-called new classicism has emerged in recent years as an antidote to what many thinkers, conservative and otherwise, view as a perilously cynical decline in standards. But whether the arts need just a shot of beauty or the aesthetic equivalent of a heart transplant is still uncertain. What is clear, however, is that they've become a target.

Buckley's smart bomb? Laughter, which turns out to be not only the best medicine for living the good life, but the necessary preemptive strike in what the author sees as the fight to regain our sense of humor and beauty—even moral rectitude.

"The loss of a sense of humor," believes Buckley, "has impoverished academic discourse, where nonsensical theories that could not survive the test of ridicule are now taken seriously. Before adopting a fashionable idea, we ought first to enquire whether it twigs our sense of humor."

F. H. Buckley is Associate Dean and Executive Director, Law Economics Center, George Mason University School of Law.

Praise / Awards

  • "F. H. Buckley's The Morality of Laughter is at once a humorous look at serious matters and a serious book about humor."
    —Thomas S. Hibbs, Boston College, Crisis Magazine, May 2003

  • "Buckley has written a fine and funny book that will be read with pleasure and instruction."
    —Dermot Quinn, Seton Hall University, First Things, August-September 2003

  • ". .. written elegantly and often wittily. . . ."
    —Gerald Owen, National Post, April 26, 2003

  • ". . . a fascinating philosophical exposition of laughter. . . . In what he describes as a 'very conservative' project, Buckley outlines the role of laughter in strengthening the virtues, and also in correcting vices (including the overreaches of fashionable intellectuals)."
    —Michael Potemra, National Review

  • "One of the most engaging aspects of this book is Buckley's revelation of humor in unexpected places. . . . Despite its philosophical aims, The Morality of Laughter abounds with amusing anecdotes and observations."
    —Laurie Morrow, National Review Online, May 8, 2003

  • "There are so many good things in this book, but I'm not sure they really need to be placed in an overall theory. If one is needed, then the superiority theory is as good as any and it has the merit of being a goad to egalitarians. . . . The author does not need his theory to achieve what the book achieves, which is to confront us with the neglected importance of humor. This is really his theme and his treatment of it is a triumph. Laughter is crucial for the good life and the good society. And there is laughter to be had while reading the book."
    —Digby Anderson, Social Affairs Unit, London, New Criterion, September 2003

  • "F. H. Buckley's examination of laughter and its moral associations is an illuminating and valuable study. . . ."
    —Kelley L. Ross, Proceedings of the Friesian School, 2003

  • "Mr. Buckley shows that laughter is not simply a physiological tic or a vacation from earnestness. On the contrary, it is a potent civilizing force, binding together jester and audience, on one side, and upbraiding the butt or victim of the joke on the other. . . . [H]e deftly dramatizes the humanizing potential of humor: its ability to expose hypocrisy and other 'comic vices' even as it nurtures a variety of 'comic virtues,' not least a supple sense of the appropriate. . . . The Morality of Laughter is at once a wise and highly amusing book."
    —Roger Kimball, Wall Street Journal Online, June 3, 2003

  • ". . . a useful reminder that a cheery society is a healthy one."
    —Beith Henry, Weekly Standard, May 5, 2003

Look Inside

Copyright © 2003, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 256 pages.
  • 3 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2010
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-02272-4

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