Mostly tales of decline

Czech conservatives are worried about us

Rod Dreher speaking with Czech friends in Prague:

They all follow us closely. It is hard to overstate the prestige the US has long had here, because of our opposition to Soviet communism. My experience is only anecdotal, of course, but it was disconcerting to see the pained puzzlement in the faces of my Czech friends. They really do fear that America is tearing itself apart. What could I tell them? I think so too. The transgender thing, I find, is the most mystifying to Central Europeans. They struggle to understand it as a phenomenon, and really struggle to understand why a society like America’s would celebrate this disorder, and even privilege it.

… I was sharing this yesterday with a Czech friend back in the US, a man who hated Communism so much he fled to America when he was young. This man said, “We live an a patently evil world and at the end it was the US — not the USSR — who made it possible.”

If he were a standard leftist saying that, it would be one thing. But he’s not. He’s a fierce conservative and Christian who really did think America was a land of hope. He married and had kids in America. He is living through disillusionment now, but knows that he doesn’t have the luxury of despair. He is preparing for very hard times ahead, and reminds me from time to time that he’s actually more pessimistic than I am. It’s probably because he lived through Communism, knows what it’s like, and knows that the ideological madness that has America in its grip is going to play out in similar ways. In fact, he was a nominal Christian until the Great Awokening made him aware that the only way through what is here, and what is to come, is through a deeply committed, sacrificial relationship to God.

Weimar America

Strauss was himself a conservative revolutionary in his youth, supporting the antiliberal right during the era of Germany’s Weimar Republic. When the most extreme of the right-wing parties — Adolf Hitler’s virulently anti-Semitic National Socialists — rose to power, Strauss (a Jew) fled the country, first to France, then to England, and finally to the United States …

That is a lesson that Strauss’ devotees at the Claremont Institute, who delight in pouring rhetorical gasoline on the country’s many smoldering civic conflicts, have actively unlearned. Unless they failed to grasp the point in the first place. Either way, they’ve ended up where Strauss’s quest for wisdom began, knee-deep in the pestilential swamps of the radical right, as Laura Field’s masterful essay amply documents.

Damon Linker, commenting on Laura K. Field, What the Hell Happened to the Claremont Institute? (The Bulwark). The devolution of the Claremont Institute into a bunch of low-down, lying Trumpist trolls is really tragic, but with "conservative" intellectuals giving up on our system and vowing to smash it, we may not have seen the worst yet.

I initially wondered what the Bulwark would do with Trump voted out of office, but so many Trumpistas remain enthralled that I don’t think the folks there need to be sending out resumés.

Priorities

A majority of American fourth- and eighth-graders can’t read or do math at grade level, according to the Education Department. And that assessment is from 2019, before the learning losses from pandemic school closures.

Recently, the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, announced that they had jumped on the bandwagon. At its annual meeting earlier this month, the NEA adopted a proposal stating that it is “reasonable and appropriate for curriculum to be informed by academic frameworks for understanding and interpreting the impact of the past on current society, including critical race theory.” More, the organization pledged to “fight back against anti-CRT rhetoric” and issue a study that “critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society.” There was no proposal vowing to improve math and reading test scores, alas.

Jason L. Riley, Critical Race Theory Is a Hustle

Culture war over fault for the culture wars

I channeled Andrew Sullivan claiming that the Left is more responsible for the culture wars than is the Right, but I have come to realize that it’s a complicated question — not that I (or Sullivan) was wrong (he is outstanding and you should read him), but that there’s more to it.

Thomas Edsall first cast the scales from my eyes. His column links to all four columns (Drum, Linker, Noonan and Sullivan) that had previously toyed masterfully with my confirmation bias.

Tim Miller of the Bulwark had me chuckling enough that I thought I was reading Jonah Goldberg, but Goldberg actually refuted Miller.

Your answer probably will depend in large part on whether you re-frame "who started the culture wars" as "who most zestfully prosecutes the culture wars?"

I’ve long known a witticism I should have recognized as the key from the beginning: Cet animal est tres mechant; quand on l’attaque, il se defend. Or as Goldberg puts it:

It’s called a culture war for a reason. Just as culture is about more than the aggregate opinions of voters, it’s also about more than the shenanigans of politicians. And I don’t think any reasonable observer of our culture can dispute that the majority of people and institutions that control the commanding heights of the culture are well to the left of the average American (and even the Democratic Party) … One reason Democrats seem more reasonable in their cultural warfare is precisely because they have the wind at their back. The media, academia, and Hollywood all provide cover for Democrats in myriad ways.

Burden of proof

In science you can be as perfunctory as you like as long as you are saying what everyone else is saying, but if you are saying something different, you need, reasonably enough, to be as explicit about your evidence and as empirically based as possible. That way you are open to challenge, and that is how science progresses.

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

Exploiters versus nurturers

The exploiter is a specialist, an expert; the nurturer is not. The standard of the exploiter is efficiency; the standard of the nurturer is care. . . . The exploiter wishes to earn as much as possible by as little work as possible; the nurturer expects, certainly, to have a decent living from his work, but his characteristic wish is to work as well as possible.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

"Religion"

I am in the camp that sees fundamentally religious impulses behind ultimate commitments and even civic pieties. That means I don’t think it’s possible for a nation to be truly neutral unless it’s truly adrift, bereft of any sense of mission (and probably dying as a result).

As Marty uses it in this case, the term “religion” refers not to ritually putting one’s hand over one’s heart and reciting a pledge of allegiance to a piece of cloth endowed with totemic powers. The term religion applies only to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ refusal to do so. And yet the violence against the Jehovah’s Witnesses is exhibit A in Marty’s warning about the violent tendencies of religion.

William T. Kavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

For the first 40 years of my life, opposing commies was more or less our national religion. I’ve faulted the Republicans for not finding any inspiring replacement for that, but the recent illiberal ejaculations from that party’s luminaries kind of makes me long for when they were adrift rather than powering toward crypto-fascist shores.

Adiaphora

Billionaires in Space

Just about the only thing I find cool about billionaires racing each other to "space" is that Purdue-trained astronauts — women, actually — were one-third of the actual astronauts for Richard Branson. The worst part is our inability to leave the billionaires up there.

Feckless conservatives: Aw Shucks versus Chest-beaters

Conservatives were handed a political gift they did not win and do not deserve—the disaster of the Left’s ascent. The activist Left’s policy agenda is widely disliked. Its positions veer between unreasonable (Defund the Police), unlivable (indulge looters, larcenists, and vandals), unsustainable (open the borders), and untenable (transwomen are women). Almost no one actually agrees with any of this. But rather than find common cause with moderates who would join the fight, Chest-Beating Conservatives would rather heap contempt on moderates, score points for Team Red, and sully themselves in rudeness.

The Aw Shucks Conservatives meet the Left reluctantly and meekly, praying like hell the other side will forfeit. (It won’t.) They allow themselves to be convinced that the current madness will burn itself out, or that they could not possibly respond to even the most outlandish of Woke claims—like whether biological men’s participation is healthy for women’s sports—without a PhD in kinesiology. They dream that America will come to its senses.

The Chest-Beating Conservatives at least do not underestimate the task at hand. But they lack discipline and restraint and occasionally even seem to revel in ignorance. They find their personification in Marjorie Taylor Greene, the greatest thing to happen to the Left since Roy Moore.

Abigail Schrier, Want to Save America? Don’t Act Like a Conservative

(She said it so well. I wish I could agree unequivocally.)

The Diversity Industry

Almost Four Decades After Its Birth, The Diversity Industry Thrives on Its Own Failures

With a title like that, I’m not altogether certain I need to read the article.

What 007’s creator thinks of him

“I have a rule of never looking back,” Ian Fleming said. “Otherwise I’d wonder, ‘How could I write such piffle?’”

The Failures That Made Ian Fleming via Arts & Letters Daily

Woke illusionists

Is is just me, or do the most woke corporations share the least common denominator of making their stuff with Chinese labor? D’ya think they’re trying to distract us?

"Human Infrastructure" sickens me

Apart from “human infrastructure” being a political coinage to make the Democrat/Progressive wish list more palatable, I find its implication that we mostly matter for economic production to about as pretty toxic as calling someone "a vegetable."

Oil

“Oil is the lifeblood of modern civilization.” I would like to rephrase that sentence to this: “Nothing about modern civilization is normal, ever, in human history, because it runs on oil.”

Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal

Stories

I had lunch today in Budapest with a visiting anthropologist who told me that the older he gets, the more he realizes how little that we can actually know — which is another way of saying how mysterious life is. He also said that he is increasingly frustrated by academic thought that believes it can pin everything down — and if something can’t be pinned down, it can’t be said to have existence. This is not true, said the anthropologist (who is not a religious man, he told me), but scientists and academics don’t have the humility to admit it.

In Prague, Kamila Bendova told me that she read Tolkien in communist times to her children, “because we knew that Mordor was real.” We should tell the story of the Golem of Prague because in the same sense, we know that golems — things we arrogantly create to serve us that end up seeking to destroy us — are real. Science won’t tell us that; myth will.

Rod Dreher, The Golem of Prague

Updates

  • A premier sociologist of religion is not buying that mainline Protestants now outnumber Evangelicals. He explains why here.
  • I was reading along and nodding vigorously at Abigail Schrier’s latest (see above) when I realized that she wasn’t saying anything fundamentally different than Aaron Renn’s "liberals play to win and conservatives should, too." So I’ve re-subsubribed to Renn’s Masculinist podcast, making a mental note to suppress my annoyance with the way he presents some things — but also to keep my guard up.

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s