Welcome to Winter. We’re really in for it from at least the Great Lakes to the Great Plains.
To see ourselves as others see us
I ask Oizumi why he is so drawn to this country. “I like to go places where there are people with a real history. In Korea, that same tribe, that same culture has been there for a very long time.” “Well,” I say, “Europe has a long history too.” “No way! That place is frightening.” “Frightening?” “Yes. I went to Italy, Spain, Milan, Florence, and all the buildings were made from stone—the churches, the castle walls, and ramparts. Now, how did they make that? That would take a tremendous amount of energy. In those days there were no bulldozers. Everything was done by hand. A place with that many stone buildings would have needed some kind of slavery system to build them. When I saw that I thought, Wow, Asia was still relatively peaceful back in the olden days.Andy Couterier, The Abundance of Less.
That kind of serendipitous blind-siding is why I try to keep from reading in a rut.
Solidarity — in peace as in war
When rationing ended in Britain in 1954, there were those who felt that something important had been lost. At one point, the Labour Party had argued for indefinite rationing. The commonality of shared suffering, it seemed, was a stronger bond than the commonality of shared prosperity. Interesting that.
No one was nostalgic for the war itself. The fighting, bombing and the certainty of death and injury were gladly left behind. But the common bond of a common effort remained a lively part of a generation’s memory. The stories only ended when they were laid to rest. The nostalgia, I think, was for the commonality, an experience that banished loneliness and gave meaning to even the smallest actions. The prosperity that followed was hollow. For what purpose do we now shop?Fr. Stephen Freeman
Serving God or Truth, Beauty and Goodness
[A] look back at the archives of this newsletter in 2022 reminds me how much knowledge, both intellectual and spiritual, I gained from reading Iain McGilchrist, Hartmut Rosa, and so many others. The evil in the world can sometimes feel overwhelming, but there are so many good people trying to serve God, or at least serve Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, and pouring our their hearts and minds in that labor.Rod Dreher, Lift Up Your Head to Receive the Light.
I like that: good people trying to serve God, or at least serve Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. That rings so true to me!
To Rod’s list, I’d add Andrew Sullivan (with one big gay marriage caveat), Bari Weiss (ditto, though she writes about it only rarely), Jesse Singal, Damon Linker and Freddie DeBoer, only one of them a Christian. I’ve benefitted from reading all of them, though a few seem to have started repeating themselves or churning out Substack posts without much real enthusiasm or fresh insight. That’s a hazard of writing to deadline for a living, it seems.
A word about Rod. I first encountered him
decades ago (it only feels like decades) around 2010 in his book Crunchy Cons, and began following his doings. I’ve read each of his books since then, even the ones that made me cringe or scratch my head. I’ve attended a conference where he was a keynoter and chatted with him briefly there.
But I’ve stopped reading what he writes for American Conservative magazine; there, he makes bank on stirring up “conservative” contempt for progressive oddballs and attention-grabbing extreme gender nonconformists. I wish he’d quit. I don’t listen to his podcast (I even forgot it existed). And at the moment, I doubt that I’ll buy his newest book, because I fear he’s bitten off more (re-enchanting the imagination) than he can communicate. I only read his “Diary” on Substack.
2022 saw the end of his marriage, after (he now reveals) ten years of bad family turmoil. If you don’t follow him, I’d not particularly recommend that you start just now, as he tends still to obsess about that, as divorced people, with a keen sense of personal failure, tend to do.
But I also would caution against reading what anyone else writes about his divorce because there are apparently people making bank on sheer speculation, Rod and his wife having agreed not to discuss the details of what led to divorce beyond that neither was involved in extramarital relations. (Pro Tip: If you want to break into internet virality, try attaching yourself to someone further up the food chain and spreading slanderous rumors about them.) I’m enough of a sinner to have injected my imagination into their marriage and developed a little narrative of my own about how things went wrong and who was to blame, but thank God I’ve had the decency not to share it, and I try not to return to such speculation even privately.
In short, Rod’s a very flawed, and presently quite broken, person with a gift for writing. But I’ve followed him so long that I consider him a friend. In fact, we’re kin not only because he’s also Orthodox, but because we’re both flawed (DUH!). You need not do likewise, but don’t try to get me to criticize him harshly and in general.
Pro David Frenchism
As long as I’ve resorted to writing about people I read, let me touch on an emerging favorite: David French (he to whom the lesser-known Sohrab Ahmari attached himself, thus achieving virality). It’s a heck of an honor to be the illiberal right’s poster boy for classical liberalism — the guy they’d have tarred and feathered and “rode out of town on a rail” 150 years ago.
Counterfactuals always are dangerous, but I suspect I’d be a lot friendlier to post-liberalism/illiberalism today had I not kept on reading French (who writes in the same vein as David Bahnsen, below).
In other words, I’m broadly (if not fully) aware of the shortcomings of classical liberalism, but I see no better alternative for life in a pluralistic reality. If we decided that pluralism was the problem and succeeded in eliminating it, especially in favor of some version of “Christian America,” that could well mean eliminating me, because the dominant Christianities in this culture are so very different from Orthodoxy.
Indeed, were it not for his classical liberalism, I’d not want to live in a Christian America with French as tsar. I’ve begun turning away from his religious musings because they just don’t “speak to me,” and it’s hard to imagine that they once would have. But on politics and the intersection of religion/philosophy and governance, he’s been a boon.
Offered without comment:
Anger is less an emotion than an armor against feeling emotions. In most cases, we would be better off acknowledging the emotions from which anger seeks to protect us.Damon Linker, citing Matt Yglesias
Why are they whistling a new tune?
[H]ow should those of us who, for years, have repeatedly warned Republicans about Trump view those who have finally done an about-face, in some cases mimicking the very criticisms that Never Trumpers have been making since the start of the Trump era?
We ought to welcome their turnabout. This is, after all, what many of us have been urging them to do. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone should have the chance to correct those mistakes, including onetime Trump enthusiasts. Just as important, purging Trump from America’s political landscape can only happen if the Republican Party first purges him from its ranks. If people who once supported Trump are, at last, willing to cast him aside, that is all to the good.
But we shouldn’t see a moral awakening where there is none. The reason many longtime Trump supporters are deserting him is because they believe he is a loser, and an impediment to their quest for power.Peter Wehner
Emotion blackmail as usual
Someone in the Indiana legislature is apparently planning to introduce what the press insists on calling a “Don’t Say Gay” Bill in January, when the legislature convenes.
I disclaim any knowledge of whether we have much or any problem in Indiana with age-inappropriate instruction on sexuality. And I’m aware of the argument that any instruction on sexuality in public schools usurps the role of parents. What this bill reportedly does is forbid any instruction in sexuality in K-3 and forbid any instruction that isn’t “age-appropriate” thereafter.
But what really gets to me is the all-too-predictable emotional blackmail that followed from Chris Paulsen, CEO of Indiana Youth Group:
“The damage even having the bill introduced will cause to young people is immeasurable,” Paulsen said. “We will see youth die by suicide because of this. I think it’s that dire and I’m sad that lawmakers don’t realize their actions have really bad consequences, even if the bill doesn’t pass.”Indianapolis Star/USA TODAY NETWORK (emphasis added)
I call bullshit on the parts I emphasized.
Heckuva way to defend and uphold the Constitution
“I want to thank Judge Benitez. We have been saying all along that Texas’ anti-abortion law is outrageous. Judge Benitez just confirmed it is also unconstitutional,” Newsom said in a statement Monday. “The provision in California’s law that he struck down is a replica of what Texas did, and his explanation of why this part of SB 1327 unfairly blocks access to the courts applies equally to Texas’ SB 8.”Politico
California Governor Gavin Newsom, thanking a federal judge for striking down a California gun law that mirrored a Texas abortion law, which gun law he supported.
Maybe I’m too literal-minded — no, make that “I’m often too literal-minded” (I have a hypotesis on what I am) — but it’s hard for me to see how Newsom’s support of a law he knew was unconstitutional isn’t a violation of his oath of office.
No option for rule by Angels
In a piece for National Review, frequent Remnant guest David Bahnsen pushes back on arguments made by First Things editor Rusty Reno against free markets and in favor of using political power to ensure virtue. “The cabal of new-right market skeptics are stuck with the age-old problem identified by the Founders, and yes, by 20th-century giants such as Friedman and Hayek: We have no option to be ruled by angels,” Bahnsen writes. “The doctrine of the Fall does not merely inform our understanding of the original sin plaguing individuals and families, but also and especially the state itself. That an individual left unchecked and free of moral enlightenment may suffer in weak discipline and low taste is both true and tragic. But that a civil magistrate granted the power Reno envisions for it represents a more potent and damaging fruit of original sin is, indeed, the testimony of history. On this point there can be no refutation. I prefer that the low-brow permeation of social-media obsession die a holy death, yet inviting the ghosts of 20th-century past to regulate consumer preferences strikes me as a ghastly trade-off.”
[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.
Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge
To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.
Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry
The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.
You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.