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Nuovo's latest book takes on politics, philosophy

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Posted on February 18, 2019 |
By John Flowers



victor nuovo DSC_6972.jpg
Independent photo/John S. McCright

MIDDLEBURY — Victor Nuovo had been thinking about making a book out of some of the dozens of essays on political philosophy he’s written for the Addison Independent during the past three years.

Nuovo — Middlebury College’s Charles A. Dana Professor of Philosophy Emeritus — can now scratch the book off his to-do list, thanks to a generous gift from a good friend, Middlebury Coffee Company CEO Paul Ralston.

 Ralston was so impressed with Nuovo’s essays — and their applicability to the 21st century political scene — that he recently underwrote publication of “A Small History of Political Philosophy.” It’s a petite, well-crafted compendium of 32 of Nuovo’s essays, each offering a glimpse of how famous philosophers — including Plato, Aristotle, John Locke and Diderot — wrestled with the implications of free inquiry, religion, rule of law, equality and other issues.

“The book really materialized because of Paul Ralston,” Nuovo, 87, said during a recent interview. “He read the essays in the newspaper. Paul just decided he wanted to (publish the material) and asked for my consent, and of course I was delighted.”

Ralston and Nuovo are dear friends, and have been since the days when Ralston and Betty Nuovo, who’s married to Victor, were Democratic seatmates representing Middlebury in the Vermont House. Ralston regularly hosted Betty as his passenger on the long round-trips from Middlebury to Montpelier. This gave great peace of mind to Victor and to Betty, who until her retirement in late 2016 was the county’s most senior lawmaker.

“He and Betty really hit if off,” Victor said. “They would talk through everything they did (in the House).”

The Nuovos would dine weekly with Ralston and his spouse, Deb Gwinn, a local thespian whom Victor Nuovo calls one of the most talented mimes he’s ever seen.

“They’re quite a team,” Nuovo said of Ralston and Gwinn.

“Our friendship is still close and rich.”

Ralston, an avid reader of biographies and historical writings, became a devoted reader of Nuovo’s essay series in the Independent. He believed the material should have an even wider reach.

“His series on political philosophy seems very relevant now; our politics is in turmoil, and under a lot of change,“ Ralston said.

He saw the essays as a means of conveying to readers, “in very short, succinct ways, some of the principles in the historic journey of political thought.”

After securing Nuovo’s permission, Ralston hired Sue Hoxie — former Addison County Chamber of Commerce director —  to pull together the book, 250 copies of which have been printed by Onion River Press.

She did a masterful job in spite of having had no prior experience leading a literary project, according to Nuovo.

“I have to say, she did it like she’s been a professional for 30 years,” Nuovo said. “She was on top of everything, and thought of everything. She caught things that I didn’t notice.”

Ralston agreed.

 “It needed Sue to make it work,” he said.

Matt Heywood of Middlebury-based The Image Farm designed the book and produced the wonderful cover art — a sketch of a deeply rooted, venerable old tree.

“He came up with the idea of  having ‘a tree of knowledge,’” Nuovo said of Heywood. “It was a very nice process and I felt very fortunate in having people carry it out who really knew what they were doing.”

Ralston persuaded two very prominent Middlebury College officials to write a foreword for Nuovo’s book: President Laurie Patton and her spouse, Shalom Goldman, the Pardon Tillinghast Professor of Religion.

The essays were culled from the many in a series that Nuovo has been writing for the Independent. His writings reference the giants of philosophy and how their work laid a foundation of Western thought and eventually the political framework of nations, ranging from ancient times to the American Revolution.

His essays have drawn local acclaim for making philosophical principles understandable to the common reader, as opposed to just scholars.

“When we first started these series of essays with Victor,” Addison Independent publisher Angelo Lynn recalled, “the focus was to lay out the basis of Western political thought; to help readers better understand the foundation of American democracy. That was over four years ago, and since then we’ve published four series of essays that have ranged from a dozen to over 20 essays each, and which have expanded from that original goal.

“The hope has also been to encourage readers to reflect on the role the individual plays in our democracy,” Lynn continued, “specifically, that it is the role of the citizen to be informed and to actively participate in government at all levels.”

As Lynn suggested, Nuovo’s writings are intended to provoke thought, and they do. The essays also serve as a warning, as Patton and Goldman note in their foreword.

“Victor Nuovo’s essays in this collection are premised on another kind of life and death worry; as in the time of Plato, we are in a life and death struggle for democracy,” reads the foreword. “And if we are not careful, we may lose democracy altogether.

“And Nuovo’s choices (of philosophers) are deliberate; his thinkers all imply that if we do not engage in public philosophy, then the very roots of our democracy are in peril,” they write.

BUSY GUY, BUSY MIND

Aristotle once said, “The energy of the mind is the essence of life.” If that’s true, Nuovo is indeed living life to the fullest.

“A Small History of Political Philosophy” is just the latest in Nuovo’s impressive and growing literary legacy — at an age when most folks are simply content to enjoy a sedentary lifestyle.

Since his “retirement” in 1994, Nuovo has written six books on philosopher John Locke. Nuovo reveres Locke and Lucretius as two of philosophy’s most influential figures.

Nuovo’s 2017 effort, “John Locke: The Philosopher as Christian Virtuoso,” has garnered great reviews. Nuovo calls that book “My final estimate of John Locke.” It explains how Locke’s natural scientific beliefs and Christian beliefs worked together — and sometimes didn’t — in the development of his thought.

It’s safe to say Hoxie learned a lot about Locke while coordinating the effort to produce “A Small History of Political Philosophy.” She sought advice along the way from people familiar with the publishing process. They included Independent Editor/Publisher Angelo Lynn, Jim Gish (a former senior editor in the book publishing world) and noted author Jay Parini.

Hoxie got some valuable tips and a lead to who would become editor of the book: Jeff Price, a Middlebury College alum, and a one-time intern at the Addison Independent.

“It was a community effort,” Hoxie said of the endeavor.

And a major player in that community was Betty Nuovo, to whom Victor dedicated the new book.

“When it comes to politics, practical and theoretical, Betty has been my inspiration and my example,” he said.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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