Saturday, 10/14/17

  1. The ’50s weren’t really like that
  2. Reactionary politics
  3. Chastity and celibacy
  4. Weinstein quote omitted
  5. It’s a jungle out there
  6. Retweetable

1

In an uncommonly good installment of the First Things Podcast, Mark Bauerlein interviews Fred Siegel, author in 2014 of Revolt Against the Masses:

This short book rewrites the history of modern American liberalism. It shows that what we think of as liberalism—the top-and-bottom coalition we associate with President Obama—began not with Progressivism or the New Deal but rather in the wake of WWI, in disillusionment with American society. In the 1920s, the first thinkers to call themselves liberals adopted the hostility to bourgeois life that had long characterized European intellectuals of both the left and right. The aim of liberalism’s founders—such as Herbert Croly, Randolph Bourne, H.G. Wells, Sinclair Lewis, and H.L. Mencken—was to create an American version of the aristocracy long associated with European statism.

Critical of mass democracy and middle-class capitalism, liberals despised the businessman’s pursuit of profit as well as the conventional individual’s pursuit of pleasure; and in the 1950s liberalism expressed itself in the scornful critique of popular culture. It was precisely the success of a recently elevated middle-class culture that frightened the leaders of the New Class, who took up the priestly task of de-democratizing America in the name of administering newly developed rights.

The neo-Malthusianism that emerged from the 1960s did not aim to control the breeding habits of the lower classes, as its eugenicist precursors had done, but to mock and restrain the buying habits of the middle class.

Today’s brand of liberalism, led by Barack Obama, has displaced the old Main Street private-sector middle class with a new middle class composed of public-sector workers allied with crony capitalists and the country’s arbiters of elite style and taste.

(Emphasis added — and book bought)

That gives you a taste of the interview, which reminds me of such things as the Book of the Month Club, which in the 1950s had millions of ordinary Americans getting high-class books every month (I welcome the reminder). Moreover, one American in eleven or twelve (!) was tuning into the Texaco Metropolitan Opera broadcasts (I don’t think our home participated, but though Gene Autry was my dad’s favorite singer, our 1950s home was filled with Scheherazade, and Montovani playing Viennese Waltzes, and others I don’t recall). Bauerlein describes a 1957 photo with perhaps 12,000 college students listening to Robert Frost read poetry in a basketball arena or fieldhouse (try to get more than 100 to a poetry reading today).

Such “success of a recently elevated middle-class culture” — the highest popular culture the world has ever known — “frightened the leaders of the New Class,” succeeded in perpetuating a false stereotype of ’50s staleness and stultification (see Andrew Sullivan’s instantiation of that in the next item), in producing a culture obsessed with “rights,” and with historic levels of inequality.

This could be 47 minutes well spent.

2

The trouble with reactionary politics is that it is fundamentally a feeling, an impulse, a reflex. It’s not a workable program. You can see that in the word itself: it’s a reaction, an emotional response to change. Sure, it can include valuable insights into past mistakes, but it can’t undo them, without massive disruption. As any Burkean conservative will tell you, the present is what you work with. “Home is where you start from,” in T.S. Eliot’s words. The reactionary, like the progressive, never fully grasps this, cannot see the connections that require that present actions are most effective when they build on what is, rather than what was, or, for the progressive, what could be.

(Andrew Sullivan, Trump’s Mindless Nihilism, emphasis added) In case you’re wondering, yes, this makes me wonder whether I’m reactionary instead of conservative. Who wouldn’t prefer the latter once it’s pointed out?

More Sullivan:

Trump is careening ever more manically into a force of irrational fury. I watched his infomercial with Hannity Wednesday night and see a sharp decline even from his previously unhinged and malevolent incoherence. He riffed for a while on how the rise in the stock market since he came to office somehow halves our national debt. He asserted, like an American Erdogan, that no citizen can disrespect our flag, anthem, or country … or else. He claimed that the economy — which a year ago was a “total disaster” — is now a staggering overnight success. He boasted of unemployment numbers he described as fraudulent only months ago. In his interview earlier this week with Forbes, he sounds like someone so stoned he can barely parse a sentence, let alone utter a coherent thought, and whose utter indifference to reality still staggers.

But it’s the impossible reactionary agenda that is the core problem. And the reason we have a president increasingly isolated, ever more deranged, legislatively impotent, diplomatically catastrophic, and constitutionally dangerous, is … because he’s a reactionary fantasist, whose policies stir the emotions but are stalled in the headwinds of reality. He can’t abolish Obamacare … He hasn’t built a huge wall across the entire southern border … Ditto ripping NAFTA to shreds … Or attempting to ally with Russia against the E.U. … Or removing NBC’s license … Or deporting 11 million people. Or pretending that climate change is not happening. Or a massive tax cut on the wealthy ….

These are not conservative reforms, thought-through, possible to implement, strategically planned. They are the unhinged fantasies of a 71-year-old Fox News viewer imagining he can reconstruct the late 1950s. They cannot actually be implemented, without huge damage. And so he resorts to executive sabotage — creating loopholes in the enforcement of Obamacare to undermine the entire system. Or he throws a temper tantrum because Obama’s Iran Deal is actually working as promised, and attempting to undermine that as well. At this point, the agenda is so deranged and destructive almost every sane senior member of his cabinet is trying to rein it in.

(Emphasis added)

3

What drove Eric J. Iliff to this incandescent insight apparently was not what has led me to substantially the same convictions — convictions which are greeted with more complete incomprehension than almost anything else I ever say or write. Perhaps his words will resonate better than mine:

[Chastity] is a much more subtle concept [than celibacy], I believe. It denotes continence within one’s life, which involves the moral lifestyle within which one lives…. Celibacy as a gay Christian is a choice…. BUT, but, but, chastity should be what ALL Christians strive for and ultimately all fall short of, because “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Chastity would involve directing one’s heart towards God with all one’s senses, not just the genitals. One’s eyes, hands, mouth…would all be involved in chastity. It involves “holy aloneness” before God, and isn’t to be despised. [Chastity] is a universal calling for all Christians, gay or straight ….

The terminal ellipsis is where Iliff and I part paths, for he didn’t believe that all gay Christians must be celibate.

De mortuis nil nisi bonum. He’s no longer here to defend his position, so I’ll not attack it. Requiescat in pacem. Memory eternal!

4

Here was an item about Harvey Weinstein, but I’m so tired hearing about him that I decided that even a good quote would be to much too impose on you.

5

It’s getting ugly out there for journalists.

  • From the White House reactionary:

David French elaborates:

Contrary to the stereotype of journalists who live in the Beltway and spend their nights at those allegedly omnipresent “cocktail parties,” I live in rural Tennessee, deep in the heart of Trump country. My travels mainly take me to other parts of Trump country, where I engage with Trump voters all the time. If I live in a bubble, it’s the Trump bubble. I know it intimately.

And I have never in my adult life seen such anger. There is a near-universal hatred of the media. There is a near-universal hatred of the so-called “elite.” If a person finds out that I didn’t support Trump, I’ll often watch their face transform into a mask of rage … It’s as if millions of Christians have forgotten a basic biblical admonition: “Be angry and do not sin” ….

  • From the Senate friends of feticide:
  • And from a Hoosier legislator:

At least two of these three examples involve idiots with no respect for the speech and press clauses of the First Amendment. The third probably is just an overgrown kindergartener (i.e., kindergarten-level moral reasoning: “how would you like if if someone did that to you?”) sticking it to journalists who want licenses for guns.

6

Retweetable:

Memo to Values Voters Summit:

Theological hot take: “Merry Christmas” is supposed to sound like a universal invitation that quells fear, not a taunt that incites it.

— Wesley Hill (@wesleyhill) October 13, 2017

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.