Magnum opus

At my retirement reception very recently, a colleague I’ve known since Junior High School quoted a quip of mine he remembers from, I believe, an 8th grade math class. “Do you remember that?” he pressed me.

He violated lawyer rule #1: If you don’t know the answer, don’t ask the question.

Well, I’m pretty scrupulous so I admitted that I did not remember it, and then, in lawyerly fashion, made him even more crestfallen by doing what we tell clients not to do in depositions: I volunteered that “your reminder has failed to refresh my memory about it,” (“refreshing memory” being a lawyerly tool whose merits and abuses I’ll not discuss).

Gosh, after all, it was just a smart-ass quip (not the slick toothbrush by that name), amounting to “thank you, but I’m too proud to say it that way” — and it was 56 years ago to boot!

Two authors I tend to read, though, quote themselves a lot: Rod Dreher and Ryan T. Anderson.

With Dreher, it’s especially easy to understand why. He has a brutal writing schedule and blogs prolifically. Having really thought through a topic for a book like the Benedict Option, why should he repeatedly need to paraphrase himself? It’s less a matter of egotism than of efficiency (with a bit of book promotion to boot).

With Anderson, whose recent career has been methodically demolishing the day’s leading sexual dogmas (his latest major title is *When Harry Became Sally,” a tome on trangender mania), I sometimes wonder if it’s more “How long, O Lord, how long, must I go back and wallow in this nonsense!”—like a conscientious censor after a day of screening blue movies.

A third author, none of whose books I’ve read, though I’ve read, audited and watched many interviews, does the same thing for, I think, a more narcissistic reason. That author is Camille Paglia.

I admire the heck out of her, my approximate contemporary, but recently noticed her ability to quote, say, some cutting quip she uttered sotto voce in grad school 45+ years ago is really a marvel. She must have been rehearsing that as part of her iconoclast persona ever since! Her persona is her magnum opus, I think, but she’s got some legitimate academic chops or my name is Rube.

Dreher and Anderson are quoting their recent works. We’ll see if they’re quoting those works in another 30-45 years. I intend to continue enjoying all three of these stimulating “friends,” uncertain, however, that I’ll be quoting them many years hence.

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Peter Principle update

Do you know the Peter Principle?

1

Image Journal has a new editorial team, with James K. A. Smith taking the helm as the new editor in chief. That’s a bit of head-scratcher to be honest. Everything I’ve read by him on poetry and fiction is pretty much what you’d expect from a well-read theologian writing on poetry and fiction. That’s not a slight. Theologians and critics tend to approach texts in different ways, even if they might arrive at some of the same conclusions. For the critic, style is argument. For the Protestant theologian—and I’m generalizing here, so forgive me—style mostly contains argument. I can’t say this is always the case with Smith. He certainly has something like this view regarding form when it comes to liturgy, but I have never thought of him as being particularly interested in style in writing or in the forms of poetry or the novel. Anyway, he has a strong team under him, it seems, and I am sure he will bring in new readers. Good luck to the whole crew!

Micah Mattix’s Prufrock newsletter for October 18.

2

This item aggregates downers — I guess they’re “uppers” if you exult in Trump hatred instead of just shaking your head and saying “heaven help us.”

It is a sign of the times — the kind involving the seven-horned beast, and the rain of fire, and the end of days — that recent news has been dominated by Kanye, Stormy and the misogynist boor who is president of the United States. It would be a circus if it were not a crime scene, complete with credible accusations of financial corruption, obstruction of justice and campaign collusion with a hostile foreign power.

… I do think [the charge of fascism is] basically mere alarmism, yes. We have a president whose shallow malevolence is matched only by his bottomless incompetence. But that’s not fascism. It’s more weakness than strength.

And yet, it is impossible to listen closely to Trump without hearing echoes of fascist language and arguments. He describes a form of national unity based on deference to a single leader. He claims to lead a movement that speaks exclusively for American values. He defines this movement primarily through exclusion, by directing bigotry and contempt toward outsiders. He paints the picture of an idealized past, involving pride, ethnic solidarity and national greatness.

Fascism may not describe what Trump has done, as opposed to what he says. But what he says matters and can create its own dangerous dynamic. It is possible for a leader to be incompetent and still profoundly corrupt the people who follow him, undermining the virtues — tolerance, civility and compromise — that make democratic self-government work. It is possible for a foolish leader to leave the imprint of fascism on a portion of his followers ….

Michael Gerson (in part quoting an unnamed “conservative leader”).

Michael V. Hayden, a former C.I.A. director who served under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said that Mr. Trump could be coaxed into believing objective reality, but that it “is not the instinctive departure point for what Donald Trump does.”

“It’s something else — it’s feeling, emotion, preference, loyalty, convenience of the moment,” Mr. Hayden said. He quoted a former speechwriter for Mr. Bush, Michael Gerson, about Mr. Trump: “He lives in the eternal now — no history, no consequences.”

Maggie Haberman. I didn’t used to think of left liberals as defenders of objective truth, nor of Evangelicals as indifferent toward it, but times change.

In the first 18 months of his administration, those who pointed out that he’d made a good decision, or failed to castigate him enough, were sometimes accused of “normalizing” Mr. Trump. But normalizing him wasn’t within their power. Only Mr. Trump could normalize Mr. Trump, by enacting normality and self-possession. He could have opted for a certain stature—the presidential stage, with its flags and salutes, almost leads you by the hand to stature. But he hasn’t.

Peggy Noonan.

3

Our clamoring after Christian “rock stars” — paired with the sheer volume of content those in the spotlight are expected to produce — has created the perfect environment for slipshod attribution and theft of content from lesser-known authors.

Mary DeMuth at Religion News Service.

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Thoughts on Complete Education

Your work and career are a part of your life,” he said when I met with him and the Santa Fe president, Mark Roosevelt. “Education should prepare you for all of your life. It should make you a more thoughtful, reflective, self-possessed and authentic citizen, lover, partner, parent and member of the global economy.” I love that assessment — the precision, balance and sweep of it.

Frank Bruni, writing about St. John’s College (emphasis added). During his visit to the Santa Fe campus and his eavesdropping on some classes:

Three dynamics stood out.

The first was how articulate the students were. Something wonderful happens when you read this ambitiously and wallow in this many words. You become agile with them.

The second was the students’ focus. A group discussing Homer’s “Iliad” spent more than 10 minutes on the phrase — the idea — of someone having his “fill of weeping.” If digital devices and social media yank people from one trumpet blast to the next, St. John’s trains them to hold a note — to caress it, pull at it, see what it can withstand and what it’s worth.

The third dynamic was their humility. They weren’t wedded to their initial opinions. They weren’t allowed to be. And they moved not toward the best answer but toward better questions. In the “Iliad” and in life, is there any catharsis in revenge? Any resolution in death? Does grief end or just pause? Do wars?

Jack Isenberg, a senior, told me that St. John’s had taught him how much is unknowable. “We have to be comfortable in ambiguity,” he said.

What a gift. What an education.

(Emphasis added)

It’s now official: if I get huffy and drop the New York Times again, Frank Bruni is part of what I’d miss, along with his more conservative brethren Ross Douthat and David Brooks. (Heck, I already miss Brooks because he’s on “book leave” or some durn thing.)


I added emphasis to the preceding item for a reason:

The end of education for the religious-minded person might be seen, depending on his or her particular religion, as, say, the salvation of one’s soul, the glorification of God, the attainment of holiness or enlightenment, that is, something distinctly transcendent or spiritual. For the secular-minded person, it might be career preparation, the material betterment of humanity, self-fulfillment, that is, something distinctly temporal and material … [B]oth extremes and those in between consider education as primarily a means to these all-important ends. For this reason, they tend to characterize the transmission of knowledge and skills as the right and only model for education, with right answers, whether spiritually or materially regarded, and the most useful skills, aimed at the good of the soul or the good of the world, the only proper curriculum.

In this view, questions and questioning are important, but only when they give rise to and are aimed at definite answers. And liberal-arts disciplines, such as logic and literature, are generally a good thing to learn, but only when directed to securing desirable spiritual or worldly goods. In this way, the priority of answers, especially the right answers, and useful skills, in a school’s curriculum and pedagogy tends to render other types of questioning and other, not-so-useful skills obsolete. Open-ended questioning, speculative contemplation, and philosophical enquiry, and those skills that are deemed “useless,” such as a capacity for wonder, an appreciation of the true, the good, and the beautiful, and a grasp of the world as a whole, are either a waste of time and money, or just mere means to obtaining “right” answers and useful skills.

Thaddeus Kozinski, Questions Are Better Than Answers: On the Socratic Method.

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Friday, 9/7/18

1

Evelyn Waugh’s gently satirical Scott-King’s Modern Europe follows the declining career of a classics teacher at Granchester, a fictional English public school. Granchester is “entirely respectable” but in need of a bit of modernizing, at least in the opinion of its pragmatic headmaster, who is attuned to consumer demands. The story ends with a poignant conversation between Scott-King and the headmaster:

“You know,” [the headmaster] said, “we are starting this year with fifteen fewer classical specialists than we had last term?”

“I thought that would be about the number.”

“As you know I’m an old Greats man myself. I deplore it as much as you do. But what are we to do? Parents are not interested in producing the ‘complete man’ any more. They want to qualify their boys for jobs in the modern world. You can hardly blame them, can you?”

“Oh yes,” said Scott-King. “I can and do.”

“I always say you are a much more important man here than I am. One couldn’t conceive of Granchester without Scott-King. But has it ever occurred to you that a time may come when there will be no more classical boys at all?”

“Oh yes. Often.”

“What I was going to suggest was—I wonder if you will consider taking some other subject as well as the classics? History, for example, preferably economic history?”

“No, headmaster.”

“But, you know, there may be something of a crisis ahead.”

“Yes, headmaster.”

“Then what do you intend to do?”

“If you approve, headmaster, I will stay as I am here as long as any boy wants to read the classics. I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world.”

“It’s a short-sighted view, Scott-King.”

“There, headmaster, with all respect, I differ from you profoundly. I think it the most long-sighted view it is possible to take.”

Richard Gamble, To Be Unfit for the Modern World.

2

Midway through Revelation, John sees a pantomime of the Gospel’s beginning, enacted in the sky (Rev. 12). There’s a woman clothed with the sun, standing on the moon, crowned with twelve stars, laboring to bring a boy into the world. Near her is a dragon, ready to devour the infant …

We’ve seen plenty of sea monsters over the past few centuries, from the de-Christianization purge of the French Revolution to the personality cult of today’s North Korea. Even cuddly liberal house pets can turn into monsters. But oppressive political regimes aren’t the only threat. The dragon always calls monsters from the sea and monsters from the land, monsters of the state and monsters of the church.

Easy examples come to mind: Compromised German churches under the Nazis; Orthodox priests double-timing as KGB agents. But there are land beasts closer to home: Churches that support the fascism of the new sexual regime and persecute traditionalists; churches that cheer on every American war without asking whether it’s just or unjust; churches that serve as court prophets of humanistic internationalism; churches that serve as court prophets of humanistic nationalism.

Revelation unmasks the satanic monsters that lurk behind the veil of power, and it reminds us that sea monsters are never alone. Whenever a thuggish state tramples on the faithful, there will be thuggish pseudo-saints nearby, piously cheering it on.

Peter J. Leithart

3

Any discussion of the family must presuppose that it can be defined. That definition until recent times has always been accepted to be the natural or traditional family. It’s not possible to talk about alternative families, different kinds of families without first having a primary model.

Family First (New Zealand) board member Bruce Logan, quoted by Carolyn Moynihan.

Family First faces loss of charitable status because it advocates for the traditional family, whereas New Zealand now has thrown open “family,” which means that Family First advocates (drum roll) discriminaaaaaation! How could that possibly be a permissible charitable purpose.

QED

4

Someone wrote the other day:

Unlike the many, many online commentators who are extremely performative in their iconoclasm (yet somehow always managing to comfort the powerful), [Fredrik] deBoer is truly orthogonal to established ideologies.

That packs in quite a lot, and it seems like a good description of why many folks want to encounter deBoer.

Thursday, he did it again, in self-care is just another set of expectations you’ll never realize. It defies my summarization, but it seems to me that we’d miss a lot if we thought only about self-care when we read it. It applies to more than that, as I assume he intended.

5

We sang many hymns together. For the most part, our hymns served collectively to frame what would prove to be the centerpiece of our Sunday services: the sermon that—I now recognize—replaced centuries-old liturgical worship with something akin to a classroom whose lessons were punctuated by a soundtrack.

The hymns employed within that frame, by and large, fell into two categories: preparation for the sermon and altar call. Most were sentimental and didactic, speaking to the choir—as it were—while pretending to speak to God. That is also how most of our public prayer worked—with the pastor overtly addressing God while more pointedly admonishing the flock.

In any case, one hymn stood profoundly apart from the others, as it seemed to me more like prayer than any other utterance we made; it was, moreover, a prayer that I found myself praying as I sang the words. That hymn, “Be Thou My Vision,” therefore has always moved me.

Poet Scott Cairns, in Image Journal.

6

Deneen said he lead at Notre Dame a class on the idea of utopia, from ancient days until now. At the end, he polled the class to ask them which society of those he presented would they least want to live in, and which they would most want to live in. They all said 1984 is the one they wouldn’t want to live in. But which would they choose? A handful chose the world Wendell Berry presents in Hannah Coulter. But about half the class said Brave New World.

“It was stunning that they saw it as a utopia,” Deneen said. “That’s liberalism succeeding, and that’s liberalism failing.”

Rod Dreher (emphasis in original).

Notre Dame (My emphasis).

This came to mind as I read Nicholas Zinos, Erotic Love and the Totalitarian State, which agrees with me that Huxley got sex in dystopia better than Orwell, and who introduced me to One Evening in 2217, a 1906 classic available as part of a collection of Red Star Tales: A Century of Russian and Soviet Science Fiction, in English translation.

I find Brave New World scarily prophetic — so far, more so every time I read it.

7

It is perfectly necessary and routine for hired and appointed officials to give advice that runs contrary to a president’s wishes and instincts. It is perfectly legitimate to try to guard any president against his worst defects of judgment and character, and such stories are the stuff of all White House memoirs. And it is necessary for advisers and attorneys to warn a president about the constitutional and moral limits that should restrain his ambitions.

What is disturbing about the Times op-ed author is that he or she admits not to doing the above, but to actively subverting the agenda of the president on policy questions that were hotly debated and thrashed out publicly in the campaign, questions on which this adviser’s side arguably lost the popular debate.

And yet, one shouldn’t feel too bad for Trump. It is President Trump’s inability to hire and staff his campaign and his administration with competent and ethical people willing and able to translate the ideologically heterodox promises of his campaign into workable policy that gives this resistance staying power, and that constantly humiliates him in the press. Trump has not hired enough of the best people. He’s hired too many self-flatterers, grifters, and people who proudly identify with the swamp. If he can’t get out of his own way, no one else will either.

Kevin D. Williamson

8

If you prick him, does he not explode? If you stroke him, does he not purr?

The testimony of the tell-alls is remarkably consistent. Some around Trump are completely corrupted by the access to power. But others — who might have served in any Republican administration — spend much of their time preventing the president from doing stupid and dangerous things.

Michael Gerson, We are a superpower run by a simpleton.

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Thursday, 9/6/18

1

The sole reason that there are still secular laws on the books that prohibit and punish pedophilia is that Christianity came to dominate culture in the West through evangelization. The only reason that we have accepted homosexuality in culture and in law is the increasing de-Christianization of the culture in the West. As we become even more secularized (i.e., repaganized), pedophilia will soon be accepted, just as homosexuality, abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia have already been embraced.

This is a massive, massive crisis in and for the Church because a deeply-embedded worldwide homosexual network among our priests, bishops, and cardinals is actively engaged in bringing about the full de-Christianization of the world by preying on boys between 12-18, literally recreating Greco-Roman sexual culture in our seminaries and dioceses. If you want to know what it was like in the sordid sexual days of ancient Greece and Rome, just read the Pennsylvania Report.

That’s a rather horrible irony, isn’t it? The very men most authoritatively charged with the evangelization of all the nations are full-steam ahead bringing about the devangelization of the nations. In doing so, these priests, bishops, and cardinals at the very heart of the Catholic Church are acting as willing agents of repaganization, undoing 2,000 years of Church History.

Benjamin Wiker, From a Moral-Historical Perspective, This Crisis is Worse Than You Realize (H/T Rod Dreher).

For some reason, my personal reaction to male homosexuality has always been “Meh.” Don’t ask me either to think fondly about it or to join those who vocally express revulsion for the characteristic acts.

Yes, I can explain why, from a Christian standpoint, homogenital acts are morally wrong. You can find my answer, ironically, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2357, which says it better than I could.

So I take seriously analyses like Wiker’s; they just don’t stir my blood. That’s probably a character defect.

Of more interest to me, on a person-to-person level, is that I believe that the moral law is, to a significant extent, so written on the heart that we can’t not know it. I’m interested in Romans 1:18-32 not to “slam” people in debate but to plead with them (preferably privately, where confusion about “personal dignity” is less likely to cloud thought) to forsake behavior that will trouble their consciences and draw them away from God. Since we ultimately are meant for union with God, behavior that draws us away is the most “massive, massive” mistake of all.

2

One of the first ways you can discern whether to dismiss a protester, pundit, or politician as a serious person is whether they pay any attention at all to The Handmaid’s Tale as some sort of allegory for our times. The president is a libertine philanderer who pays off porn stars and playmates, but somehow we’re about two steps from Gilead. Yet sure as the night follows day, the Handmaids showed up to Kavanaugh’s hearing ….

David French, The Democrats’ No Good, Frivolous, Ridiculous Day.

3

I guess Anonymous won’t make it into a Nike commercial “believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”

Mark W.

What the hell good did he expect this article to do, for the country? The author must have known it’d make Trump utterly wild and he’d quadruple down on hunting leakers and not trusting his advisors – so if the author really believes what he’s doing is necessary, why has he gone public knowing that this article will provoke Trump in such a way as to make this ‘management’ much harder?

GR

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Monday Mélange 9/3/18

 

1

The narrator provides us with one final parcel of information that he has learned about Bartleby, a rumor he has heard that before the young man entered his employ, he worked in the dead letter office in Washington, D.C.:

Conceive a man by nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness, can any business seem more fitted to heighten it than that of continually handling these dead letters, and assorting them for the flames? For by the cart-load they are annually burned. Sometimes from out the folded paper the pale clerk takes a ring:—the finger it was meant for, perhaps, moulders in the grave; a bank-note sent in swiftest charity:—he whom it would relieve, nor eats nor hungers any more; pardon for those who died despairing; hope for those who died unhoping; good tidings for those who died stifled by unrelieved calamities. On errands of life, these letters speed to death.

Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!

James Gardner, in a “Masterpiece” review of Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener.

2

[E]ven a silent and secluded Benedict sends a message. Italian friends have told me that The Benedict Option has become for many in Italy a refuge from the Francis stuff. I find that discouraging, to be honest, because I did not write the book with an anti-Francis agenda in mind, and don’t want it to be taken as anti-Francis. Nevertheless, Father Antonio Spadaro, SJ, a major Francis mouthpiece, and Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago have both publicly denounced the book and the idea as counter to Pope Francis’s vision, so what can I say? My book is certainly infused with the spirit of Ratzinger, who I think of as the second Benedict of the Benedict Option.

An interesting blog of Rod Dreher, drawing parallels between the first Benedict’s retreat from a “dangerous and godless gulf” and the reported motivation behind Benedict XVI’s resignation — the loss of a Vatican battle over cracking down on the likes of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

However his resignation came about, there’s reason for hope in his continued relevance:

Years ago, when I was in college, I read Thomas Merton’s great autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain. In it, Merton, who wrote it as a new Trappist monk, talked about the World War II years, and said that maybe the entire world was held together by the prayers of monks hidden away in monasteries.

3

Since the authorities announced on Aug. 22 that Cristhian Bahena Rivera, a farmworker from Mexico, was charged with first-degree murder in her death, politicians and pundits have used the arrest to push for stronger immigration laws.

In a column in The Des Moines Register on Saturday, her father, Rob Tibbetts, encouraged the debate on immigration. “But,” he added, “do not appropriate Mollie’s soul in advancing views she believed were profoundly racist.”

The Register on Friday published a column by the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., in which he blamed Democrats for Ms. Tibbetts’s death and said claims that conservatives and Republicans were politicizing her death were “absurd.”

Melissa Gomez, New York Times.

You might as well ask bears not to shit in the woods, Mr. Tibbetts. And that steaming pile? “Fake news!” “Absurd.”

4

Oh, the horror!

Rolling Stone accuses the Education Secretary of ‘listening to the men’s rights groups she’s met with’.

Cockburn at Spectator USA.

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Vignette

[H]uman freedom, properly understood, tries to resist the forces of utility that devalue human beings.

[Patrick] Deneen said he lead at Notre Dame a class on the idea of utopia, from ancient days until now. At the end, he polled the class to ask them which society of those he presented would they least want to live in, and which they would most want to live in. They all said 1984 is the one they wouldn’t want to live in. But which would they choose? A handful chose the world Wendell Berry presents in Hannah Coulter. But about half the class said Brave New World.

“It was stunning that they saw it as a utopia,” Deneen said. “That’s liberalism succeeding, and that’s liberalism failing.”

(Rod Dreher, emphasis in original)

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Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Adult literature

I suspect that Hemingway could have sexed up this discreet paragraph had he not been a writer as good as, well, Hemingway:

The last year in the mountains new people came deep into our lives and nothing was ever the same again. The winter of the avalanches was like a happy and innocent winter in childhood compared to that winter and the murderous summer that was to follow. Hadley and I had become too confident in each other and careless in our confidence and pride. In the mechanics of how this was penetrated I have never tried to apportion the blame, except my own part, and that was clearer all my life. The bulldozing of three people’s hearts to destroy one happiness and build another and the love and the good work and all that came out of it is not part of this book. I wrote it and left it out. It is a complicated, valuable and instructive story. How it all ended, finally, has nothing to do with this either. Any blame in that was mine to take and possess and understand. The only one, Hadley, who had no possible blame, ever, came well out of it finally and married a much finer man than I ever was or could hope to be and is happy and deserves it and that was one good and lasting thing that came of that year.

On rereading this, I note that Hemingway and Hadley, in the early years of their Paris stays, lived next-door to the hotel at which I coincidentally will be staying when I visit.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Resilience

Today’s identity politics . . . teaches the exact opposite of what we think a liberal arts education should be. When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world. By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a utilitarian or as a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or as a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any given question or problem.

But what do we do now? Many students are given just one lens—power. Here’s your lens, kid. Look at everything through this lens. Everything is about power. Every situation is analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult. It’s a fundamentalist religion. It’s a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety and intellectual impotence. . . .

There are two more paragraphs in this Wall Street Journal “Notable & Quotable” from Jonathan Haidt, the last sounding a hopeful note about America’s resilience.

I, too, see signs that the great ship of culture is swinging around on some of the issues that concern me, as, for instance, younger people begin re-populating our walkable cities, many of them choosing not to own an automobile.

There’s no government edict to depopulate the suburbs, and the fears (justified) of peak oil are abated. But as if by instinct, people are behaving as if they grok this little slice of fossil-fuel reality, whether or not they articulate it.

I suspect that some shift will happen, too, in America’s recent tendency toward secularization, though I can’t claim to know how the shift will come about, or just how the new landscape will appear.

No, God never promised that the gates of hell wouldn’t prevail against the Church anywhere, howsoever temporarily, but I doubt that America’s becoming so unfaithful that Africa must send missionaries with the Gospel any time soon. (To echo Jonathan Haidt, though, I have very low confidence in my optimism about this.)

But I am bearish on Evangelicalism (if you hadn’t noticed). Coincidentally (providentially?), Michael Gerson has some supporting commentary both for resilience in general but with specific bearishness on Evangelicalism:

It is sometimes assumed (including by me) that the presidency sets a moral tone for the nation, influencing what society considers normal and acceptable in a kind of trickle-down ethics. But the sexual harassment revolution emerged from society in spite of — or even in defiance of — a president who has boasted of exploiting women and who stands accused of harassing more than a dozen.

This is a reminder that the moral dynamics of a nation are complex, which should come as no surprise to conservatives (at least of the Burkean variety). This is a big country, capable of making up its own collective mind. Politics reaches only the light zone of a deep ocean. It is a sign of hope that moral and ethical standards can assert themselves largely unaided by political, entertainment and media leaders ….

[R]apid shifts in social norms should be encouraging to social reformers of various stripes. Attitudes and beliefs do not move on a linear trajectory. A period of lightning clarity can change the assumptions and direction of a culture.

I elided some comments about how the country is moving to a better place on sexual harassment, because of that I’m quite skeptical, for reasons I’ve mentioned in recent blogs. But Gerson has a big Evangelical fish to fry:

And where did this urgent assertion of moral principle come from? Not from the advocates of “family values.” On the contrary, James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family (now under much better management), chose to side with GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama against his highly credible accusers. “I have been dismayed and troubled,” Dobson said, “about the way he and his wife Kayla have been personally attacked by the Washington establishment.”

It is as if Dobson set out to justify every feminist critique of the religious right. Instead of standing against injustice and exploitation — as the Christian gospel demands — Dobson sided with patriarchal oppression in the cause of political power. This is beyond hypocrisy. It is the solidarity of scary, judgmental old men. It is the ideology of white male dominance dressed up as religion.

This is how low some religious conservatives have sunk ….

Dobson isn’t just “religious.” He’s Evangelical. As is Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s angry son, a reliable voice in support of guys like Roy Moore. I know of at least one other Evangelical scandal that could explode, involving a substantially fraudulent CV of a prominent Evangelical apologist. I’m not sure why it hasn’t exploded yet.

Some places remain, though, where student are given lenses other than “power”:

Imagine a beautiful garden in the midst of a gray, industrial, bleak city. The city’s architecture is functional only, given totally to the making of money or to the most ephemeral, when not downright base, forms of entertainment. This city is all big box store and mega-super-cinema-plex. But the garden is lovely, lush, and inviting. It is full of beautiful growth and well-crafted stonework. It is a place for true recreation and joyful exercise. And it is ancient, passed down through generations of city-dwellers as a place of relief and regeneration.

What would you think of the generation that let that garden die?

What would you think of a people who intentionally destroyed it?

In short, the main reason Western civilization, with an emphasis on “Great Books,” deserves a prominent—indeed, the prominent—place in the curriculum of the Christian university is stewardship ….

(Benjamin Myers, The Christian University: Steward of Western Civilization) At Myers’ university, there’s a required 15 credits in Western Civilization. Bully for them! Myers:

Let us not cheapen the noble goal of exploring world cultures by pretending that three hours in Polynesian folklore is as good as fifteen hours in Western civilization, when we really just want to open up twelve more hours for the study of management or sports nutrition.

Remember the old quip—I think it was from William F. Buckley—that the problem with liberals (“progressives” probably would have been more apt) is they can’t begin to describe the utopia in which they’d finally be conservative because all at last was well?

I cannot overemphasize how important it is that universities and liberal arts colleges like Myers’ be left unmolested because those who would homogenize education and stamp out unfashionable truths are themselves unstable chasers-after ephemera and delusions. This has been my conviction for nearly 50 years.

Have you read A Canticle for Leibowitz, by the way?

Resilience. I like that hopeful word. It’s a nice balance to my usual doom and gloom.

* * * * *

“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.