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All wisdom begins in wonder, and this delight kindles a desire for truth that leads us on a quest for the really real -- the source of being itself. Hence, the philosophical impulse, albeit often manifested in atheistic and irreverent stumblings in the dark of human ignorance, begins and ultimately ends in theology -- communicating and communing with our origin and goal. We men are rational animals who seek to know. We are agents of truth who want correct answers to questions that we must ask. From the noblest objects of contemplation to the seemingly insignificant everyday trivialities of life, we attempt to unravel perplexing knots. Limited, blind, and distracted, we nevertheless struggle for wisdom. This is our lot, and it is also our glory.
Monday, April 18, A.D. 2016
What One May Do with Cash

When I was growing up, the adults in my world seemed pretty unanimous in thinking that defacing a dollar bill in any way was against the law. Later, I started noticing more and more writing on bills, and I eventually concluded that the illegality of defacing currency must involve counterfeiting. “Call Brandy for a good time” or “Cheeseheads Rule!” clearly are not attempts to trick anyone about the value of the bill upon which they are written. I assumed that those tut-tutting adults were just generalizing a specific prohibition from confusion. So, I read the following article on McClatchyDC about what Americans may do with their dollar bills with much interest: “Ben & Jerry’s co-founder tempts Secret Service by stamping messages on money.”

As I read the story, I thought about how such controversies should be the meat and potatoes of politics. For both sides (the Secret Service and have reasonable positions that are grounded in our law and traditions, though each proceeds from and focuses on a particular perspective and interest. Issues and disagreements like this are intrinsic to human society. Unfortunately, they seem so petty to us latter day Americans because our political arguments have shifted toward fundamental principles. In the Kulturkampfalter, our society debates its very understanding of the Good; the dominant American beliefs about morality and human nature are “to be decided.” This is a sign of profound national sickness. In a healthy society, Ben Cohen’s challenge to the Treasury would be front page news.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, April 18, Anno Domini 2016
Tuesday, April 12, A.D. 2016
Pieper on Leisure

Jane Clark Scharl revisits Josef Pieper’s sensible words about work and leisure in “Josef Pieper’s Guide to Getting Over FOMO” in the Intercollegiate Review. I did not recognize “FOMO,” but Scharl graciously informs us that it means “fear of missing out.” It’s the less confident acronym for neurotics; type A folks use YOLO. Scharl explains Pieper:

In his book Leisure: The Basis of Culture, Pieper writes, “In order to gain a clear notion of leisure, we must begin by setting aside the prejudice . . . that comes from overvaluing the sphere of work.”

According to Pieper, we believe, mistakenly, in the philosophy of “total work,” which maintains that happiness can be achieved by work. Work he defines as anything “unleisurely”—literally any activity that has its end in the material world. We live today as if work were the most important thing we can do. From grade school up, we go school so we can get into college and get a good job, and then be happy and fulfilled.

But despite the urgent demands of bodies and matter, Pieper reminds us that we aren’t completely material. Humans have intellects, which can transcend matter through reason and reflection. So in order to be truly fulfilled (or fully filled, if I may), we must look for happiness in something that can likewise transcend matter—something other than work. That quest for happiness outside of work is called leisure.

For millennia, leisure was at the core of Western culture (and arguably an Eastern tradition, though that’s for another day). Whether we acknowledge it or not, Pieper says that “leisure is the centerpoint about which everything revolves.” But by the time he wrote his book in 1947, the philosophy of “total work” had pervaded Western society and degraded the concept of leisure to mean “doing nothing” or “free time.” We think of leisure as a void between periods of work, which we can use either to rest from work or fill with the “rewards” of our labor: stuff or experiences that work made possible for us.

But that’s an impoverished view of things. Leisure is far from idleness. Rather, it is the fullest of all time, because unlike work, leisure is dedicated to fulfilling the transcendent part of us. Pieper says leisure includes “relaxation” and “effortlessness,” because it requires us to be fully active, affirming “the universe and [our] experiencing [of] the world in an aspect other than its everyday one” (emphasis mine).

Scharl’s discussion of Pieper reminds me of the recent examinations of Common Core in the Intercollegiate Review and of how the new educational guidelines reduce childhood education to vocational training. A old style Marxist might suspect that the wealthy just want to dull the minds of the people while simultaneously training them to be efficient workers—well shaped cogs in the economy’s production machine. Yet, I fear that the truth is even worse—for the elite appear to want the same reduction of education even for their own schools—for their own children. Naturally, they want finer trappings with a pedagogical orientation toward higher earning vocations, but they remain committed to the belief that education equals vocational training. Gone are the days when the mighty captains of industry supported the cultivation of the human spirit (not to mention the more proper elite of the ancien régime). The industrialists of yore benefited from liberal education and had to have a broad grasp of the West’s history, controversies, achievements, and failings. Even had they come from secular families, they would have known more about the Christian religion than contemporary theology majors. Notwithstanding their possible tendencies toward philistinism, the culture at large would have impressed the importance of beauty and refinement on them so that they would have at least attempted to comply for appearance’s sake. Today, our commercial titans go to Silicon Valley, which is full of brilliant men whose interests and horizons largely correspond to their work. The t-shirt wearing, tieless man-children who pontificate at TED Talks after having read one Malcolm Gladwell book or having volunteered for a charitable stint in the Third World think themselves intellectual eagles, but they know less about the nature of man and of civilization than the schoolboys at Yale a century ago. The current plutocrats are themselves products of a degenerate society; while rich and powerful, they are spiritually emaciated and are too tunnel-visioned—indeed, too ignorant—to influence and lead the nation wisely.

For example, though his mother supported the Seattle Symphony, Bill Gates scoffs at traditional philanthropy to support the fine arts and humanities. Gates has given charitably for medical research and epidemiological missions, which are fine goals. Survival is a good thing, but flourishing is better. Yet, flourishing is too frivolous, too marginal for our latter day plutocrats to support. For the new elite is utilitarian in their morality, materialist in their metaphysics, and worse than Marx in their understanding of man and of the potential for human excellence. There are obvious exceptions, but our society’s technocratic managers’ coarseness and striking ignorance of matters beyond their specialized fields surprise and frighten me. The spiritual squalor of America’s rich matches that of its feral poor and compliant, complacent bourgeoisie—all is a consumerist wasteland where the nomads delight only in gadgets and in the meanest of pleasures.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, April 12, Anno Domini 2016
Friday, April 8, A.D. 2016
American Constitution Is the (Laid) Egg

A blessed synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel to you!

I’d like to share a short excerpt from L. Scott Smith’s essay, “America’s Lost Sense of Community”: “Is American Community the Result of Its Constitution?” The main point:

The truth of the matter is that America’s sense of community is not now, nor has it ever been, predicated upon the Constitution. Robert A. Dahl, Yale University political science professor, notes that a constitutional system is a reflection of a people’s identity and needs “to be tailored to fit the culture, traditions, needs, and possibilities of a particular country.” For this reason he maintains that the American constitutional system “is probably not suitable for export to other countries.” He points out that, although our Constitution and the institutions it created were in place for over a half century, the Civil War still occurred, thanks to “the extreme polarization in interests, values, and ways of life between the citizens of the slave states and those of the free states.” The professor observes that he “cannot imagine any democratic constitution under which the two sections [North and South] could have continued to coexist peacefully in one country.

If the American people are the chicken and their Constitution the egg, then for Professor Dahl the chicken came first. It will not do to ascribe the sense of community ot the power of a single solitary document, even one that is foundational. A scheme of government, including a declaration of rights, is a reflection of a people’s traditions, habits, mores, and customs, and arises from deep within their very soul.

The founding stock created the American regime according to their own values. Let’s call that W.A.S.P. privilege. The various immigrant groups in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries brought their own ideas about community and governance, and the country transformed as a result. The New Deal depended on those New People. The drastic demographic changes of the last fifty years are having their effect, as well—slowly transforming us into the Brazil of North America. It ought not to be necessary to remind people that São Salvador looks a lot different from Boston.

Today my father told me that he had listened to an interesting lecture by Steven Pinker wherein the professor defended the American tradition of free speech. I responded by saying how sad it was that a noted intellectual has to defend the “controversial” notion of free speech in contemporary America. Yet, America today is not the America of yesteryear, and the change is not simply or even principally a matter of generational change. A people makes a nation; change the people, and you change the nation. By electing a new people, the American elite are creating a new country—what Lawrence Auster called America 2.0. I suspect that such was the plan all along—the plutocrats of Brazil have far less obstacles in controlling their fragmented society, a significant portion of which consists of habitually servile and occasionally violent halfwit proles ready to run amok when an elite faction requires a crisis that will not go to waste. How our managerial class must envy those white masters of the brown masses. As long as they can escape the occasional bloody coup and calm proletarian rage with just enough pão and carnavais (only enough to placate the mules—one wouldn’t want to waste resources), they have it so much easier—without that annoying Anglo-Saxon insistence on due process or that Germanic civic engagement that complicates inside business dealing, which the Protestant types quaintly call “corruption.” So, let’s flood the country with hordes already tamed by the husbandry practices of oligarchic societies while we prevent a negative reaction by the natives through dishonest but effective brainwashing. As the butcher trains livestock to behave complacently to make his job easier, so the elite have convinced Americans that “diversity” is a great good—good for the butchers, that is. Divide and conquer 101. Welcome to the America of the future (or, more precisely, a possible future, which will occur unless radical measures are instituted).

Posted by Joseph on Friday, April 8, Anno Domini 2016
Thursday, March 31, A.D. 2016
Perverse Pedagogy

Last month, I offered several articles from Salvo Magazine that dealt with contemporary ailing academic life in “The Mod Quad.” Today, I present a selection of Salvo‘s articles about earlier education. I recommend them, especially “Daycare Denial” and “School Deform.” They both cover disturbing developments in our quite troubled times. From “Daycare Denial: Inconvenient Truths about Childcare Subvert the Very Best Intentions” by Marcia Segelstein:

When Saubier and her fellow daycare workers learned that a new child would soon be coming, “we braced ourselves for the tormented cries of a confused child who would soon be spending his or her days with us.” She stresses that crying in daycare is not limited to the child’s first few days. “Children are continually crying in daycare,” she writes, “because there is often no one available to pick them up when they fall, wipe their noses when they have a cold, kindly show them that hitting and biting is wrong, or tenderly change their diapers.”

I found one of Saubier’s stories especially poignant:

One winter, while on the playground, I passed by a group of two-year-olds. One was stumbling around in the cold, crying, and I put out my arms to him to see if he wanted to be held. Not knowing me at all, he still came to me and I stood there holding him a bit. He put his head on my shoulder and I regretted having to put him down. Soon there were three others at my feet asking to be picked up. I remember thinking that it was really pathetic that these little ones were begging to be held by someone they did not know. I held each one quickly before returning my attention back to the infants in my care.

. . . Parents, experts, and even politicians often defend and promote daycare with the claim that it helps children learn how to socialize. But based on her firsthand experiences, Saubier has a different take on the kind of socializing daycare cultivates. “Socializing in daycare fosters aggressive behavior simply because children are forced to go into survival mode once deposited among so many other children who are at a self-centered, ‘me’ stage developmentally,” she writes.

From “School Deform: How Common Core Promotes Cultural Engineering by Killing the Imagination” by Robin Phillips:

The architects of Common Core have spoken candidly about what they see as the goal of education, and it is not education at all, but training. What they want from the next generation is not better people but better workers, and Common Core offers the environmental conditioning for producing them.

This differs greatly from traditional classical education. America’s founders understood that a healthy democracy requires that citizens learn to think critically, to ask questions, and to develop well-ordered faculties of reason and imagination. Citizens who were inculcated in the ways of sound thinking would be able to preserve the riches of our cultural heritage. This was the same vision articulated by Plato, who argued in The Republic that the highest goal of all education is knowledge of the Good.

By contrast, when the architects of Common Core tried to describe the goal of education, they were unable to articulate anything higher than “college and career readiness” and “21st century literacy” for a “global economy.” To them, students are little more than units pegged for a future workforce whose productivity will keep America competitive with emerging economies like China and India. As Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins warned on the Catholic Vote website, Common Core “is a workforce-development scheme that treats the individual as human capital, to be shepherded where needed in aid of a centralized, corporatist economy. Schools are factories where children are trained, and the teachers are their supervisors.”

Please read both articles in their entirety. It disgusts me to see such complacency toward this new inhuman educational regime, especially by educators whose very vocations are compromised and degraded by efforts like Common Core. How is it that teachers, administrators, politicians, and parents, from the Left and the “Right,” have allowed this to happen? Either they actively support the killing of the mind, which I find horrific but possible, given the Zeitgeist, or they just don’t care. For one reason why they might not care, see “On Compulsory Mis-education: Teaching the Young to Despise Their Heritage” by Cameron Wybrow. How sad of a society we have become.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, March 31, Anno Domini 2016
Tuesday, March 29, A.D. 2016
ETI in the Sky

Today marks the third anniversary of Lawrence Auster’s untimely death—very sad. I miss reading his View from the Right, and I frequently wonder how Auster would comment on the passing scene. May his memory be eternal.

In honor of Mr. Auster, who frequently wrote about quirky, interesting side topics, I present a suitably out of this world article from Salvo, “ETI in the Sky: What the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life Means for Us.” The article’s author Hugh Ross surveys the disappointing results in the search for extraterrestrial intelligent life—disappointing, that is, to those of us who had hoped or expected to find some trace of non-human civilization “out there.”

Perhaps, pessimism is unwarranted; Ross’ conclusions are based on assumptions that may not be justified. I don’t know; I’ll defer to the scientists in their judgment. Yet, I do question how we can confidently expect alien life and civilization to follow our own model. Isn’t it conceivable that the conditions for intelligent life elsewhere need not be the same as the conditions for such on earth? Furthermore, one of Ross’ points is based on the idea that an advanced alien civilization would harness local solar (stellar?) power in a particular way. Cosmic-sized cultural imposition of a decidedly Baconian-Cartesian flavor, no? So, I remain agnostic on the issue, though Ross’ article did make me a bit sad. For all the splendors of our world, it is disappointing to consider the universe so limited in its manifestations of life.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, March 29, Anno Domini 2016
Thursday, March 24, A.D. 2016
Mark Christensen on Moving Past Liberalism

Mark Christensen has an interesting article on Social Matter: “The State Reborn: Abandoning a Liberal Mythology.” Christensen reviews Italian fascist criticism of liberal political theory. From the essay:

The conclusion is simple: the nature of the state is that sovereignty is conserved. Due to its role as the central sovereign power, the state – or rather, the people who make it up – must develop a common set of normative values in order to operate. Because the state cannot brook opposition to its legitimacy to rule, it must therefore promote and inculcate these values in the population. Liberalism’s distinguishing feature – that it imposes no common good on its citizens – is revealed as a sham. Secularism is not neutrality; it is how the state defends the faith of Social Progress against its more mystical competitors.

As Kristor and others like to say, there is always an established religion. Contemporary Westerners, however, appear unaware of their own devotion to their tribe’s sacred idols.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, March 24, Anno Domini 2016
Wednesday, March 16, A.D. 2016
Horowitz on the Mob

David Horowitz provides sage counsel for Republicans concerning the election: “How Not to Fight Our Enemies.” I would like to believe that it is common sense and common decency that one ought not to indulge bullies, ne’er-do-wells, and the mob. Alas, the American media and political establishment have proven otherwise. We live in an age of wicked lies and unbelievable stupidity.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, March 16, Anno Domini 2016
Tuesday, March 15, A.D. 2016
Prolife per Bonald

I recommend Bonald’s article on the Roman Catholic prolife scene: “I’m not pro-life; I’m anti-abortion.” It is characteristically sensible. Bonald raises a great point for those Seamless Garment types:

. . . No one complains that environmentalist organizations don’t devote any of their attention to making health care affordable, or that the National Rifle Association has no plan to end homelessness, or that the Anti-defamation League isn’t doing anything to fight pornography. There are a lot of ills in the world. Doesn’t it make sense that we allow a division of labor, with multiple organizations to tackle different issues, each one drawing the support of those who–for whatever reason–feel particularly passionate about a particular issue? If someone decides to spend his life introducing lower-class kids to Shakespeare, or something like that, would we reproach him for not also having a scheme for world peace? Why, then, are we so hostile to someone wanting to devote his attention to what he believes is mass murder? In any case, it’s not true that anti-abortion activists qua individuals have no interest in other issues. The question is whether anti-abortion organizations qua organizations should have such interests. I say the answer is no.

Demanding pro-life organizations take on a raft of other issues would surely compromise their main purpose. It unnecessarily divides people who agree on abortion but disagree on other issues. What’s my plan for eliminating the scourge of unsupported unwed mothers? Shotgun weddings. Should I demand the folks at The Distributist Review get on board with this before we work together against abortion? Only if I don’t really care much about abortion. More importantly, the original purpose of restricting abortion would quickly get sidelined by the other issues. If we can’t criminalize abortion until all expectant mothers have the support they need, then criminalizing abortion has stopped being a genuine policy position and become an eschatological hope. Even if we decide to pursue both ends in parallel, abortion would quickly be dropped, because organizations would start admitting members who don’t take the “pro-life” position on abortion but make up for it by being “pro-life” on many other issues.


Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, March 15, Anno Domini 2016
Tuesday, March 8, A.D. 2016
Mahoney on the Healthy Boundaries of Democracy

Daniel J. Mahoney has an insightful essay in the Intercollegiate Review: “The Healthy Boundaries of Democracy.” A selection:

“Progressive” thought is defined by the view that liberty and equality are unproblematic, and that the great task before democratic peoples is to maximize them, to make the world ever more “democratic” and egalitarian. The solution to the problems of democracy is said to be more democracy, as the philosopher John Dewey famously proclaimed at the beginning of the twentieth century. True democracy must move to the left, becoming ever more inclusive, tolerant, egalitarian, and relativistic. To realize the democratic ideal, we must reject antiquated truths and insist on extreme equality and unlimited personal choice (think “the right to choose” or the self-reinvention central to “gender theory”). In this view there is no such thing as loving democracy (or liberty and equality) too much.

What could possibly be wrong with such an uncompromising commitment to the “democratic” ideal? To begin with, progressivism (and extreme libertarianism) forgets the goods, habits, and traditions that make a free society cohere. Elsewhere I have called them the “conservative foundations of the liberal order.” These goods—healthy family life, a moral code rooted in religion and natural law, prudent and far-seeing statesmanship, the rule of law, a respect for legitimate institutions, love of truth—were largely taken for granted by the Founders of the American republic. As the philosopher Michael Polyani put it in the 1960s, the best of the liberal tradition, including the American Founding, presupposed an “authoritative traditional framework” that could protect, nourish, and inform “the new self-determination of man.” Liberalism, properly understood, presupposes the continuity of civilization. It undermines itself if it demands “liberation” from all moral restraints.

At its best, liberalism must include a self-consciously conservative dimension. Rational self-mastery and the freedom to choose, goods cherished by liberals and conservatives alike, do not mean that individuals are radically independent, that they are completely sovereign over themselves and the world. Progressivism is that crucial moment when liberalism succumbs to an ethic of absolute autonomy, when it liberates human beings from an order of nature or justice above the human will. It is that moment when liberalism subverts itself by negating the goods that truly allow it to flourish.

I considered myself a classical liberal as a teenager, but I began to reject the Anglo-American liberal tradition during my first month at college. While I value certain aspects of liberalism, I cannot see how one may have the tempered liberalism that Anglosphere “conservatives” frequently champion as the best political arrangement. Liberal regimes appear to unfold according to their basic principles, which esteem human equality and liberty and deny the existence and/or the intelligibility of the (natural) human good. Because such principles conflict with reality, liberal regimes are inherently unstable. So, the mixed regimes of nineteenth century Britain and America that the English speaking Right holds up as exemplars of strong societies were not balanced, constitutional orders but rather a stage of social decay with many admirable but fleeting qualities. History appears to confirm this insight of political theory in that there has always been a significant presence of radicals in the modern English speaking world. Consider the Unitarians of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the multitude of sects and communes in the nineteenth century, the rhetoric and ideals put forth by abolitionists and suffragettes—indeed, there is nothing new under the Daily Kos sun. The glaring exception appears to be “homosexual ‘marriage,’” as I cannot find any precedent for it before the last century. Yet, the revolutionaries have been attacking traditional Christian marriage since the misnamed Enlightenment. In every way, it seems that the wackydoodle fringes just have to wait for the larger society to “catch up” with their progressive stance. Indeed, their positions are progressive—because their features characterize a more advanced stage in liberal evolution. Leftists mistake this particular evolution for the general advance of human civilization (the existence of which I seriously doubt), but they are correct in judging the “correct side” of liberal history.

Thus, I doubt that conservatives can salvage liberalism or its pantheon, including the chief among its gods, democracy. Abandon the trap; reject the bait—hook, line, and sinker. Let us rather orient ourselves according to what sage men call perennial wisdom and swim in the currents of the ages.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, March 8, Anno Domini 2016
Thursday, March 3, A.D. 2016
The God Confusion

R.J. Snell has a brief but important article in the Intercollegiate Review about the nature of God and how that theological issue has affected the West: “The God Confusion: An Ancient Dispute in the Modern Heart.” I have addressed the same point several times on this site, starting with “Square Circle.” The rational order of the universe reflects God rather than constrains him. Nature is not a threat to omnipotence but a manifestation of such.

I should note that I have since softened my stance about the square circle; I am no longer sure that God could not make a square circle. This change has nothing to do with theology—I still affirm the same theological point. Rather, it has to do with the limits of human understanding. From our perspective, it is clear that a square cannot be a circle—and vice versa. Yet, it seems possible that there could be some possible coherence of the shapes at another level of understanding. I do not wish to indulge postmodern attacks on our knowledge; fie, fie, fie upon such a suggestion! However, as I have noted before, the flatland principle seems quite reasonable to me, given the general myopia and widespread ignorance of mankind. Imagine how geometry might appear to a two dimensional perspective. Several Euclidean rules would strike a two dimensional mind as ridiculous, and we see a similar relationship between hyperbolic geometry and the Euclidean tradition. It seems obvious that the distinct natures of the square and the circle rule out a square circle, but, contra my post from seven years ago, we do not comprehensively and exhaustively understand geometry. Intellectual humility does not necessarily lead to po-mo misology—or even to its more respectable Kantian precursors.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, March 3, Anno Domini 2016
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