War, education, leisure, Soros, Roe and more

Seven Days on the Roads of France, June 1940

Within the past few days, I finished Seven Days on the Roads of France, June 1940 by Vladimir Lossky. I should get to Lossky’s theological masterpiece, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, within the next few months.

Meanwhile, selected highlights from his account of fleeing Paris ahead of the Nazis, hoping to enlist and fight them. As indicated by my added emphasis, I thought his reflections on war, in the chapter "Day 1," were timely as, by some accounts, we’re headed into dark times or worse:

Preface to the original French edition of 1998, by Nicholas Lossky

To begin with, it must be made clear that for this Russian Orthodox theologian – who remained very authentically Russian in many respects – France was not, as it was for many émigrés, simply a land of asylum. To be sure, it was that; but above all, in this case it was a land chosen quite deliberately. Indeed his great love for the country began in childhood. It came first of all from his governess ….

On the notion of dogma from an Orthodox perspective, [Olivier] Clément writes as follows: “For Orthodoxy, Lossky insists, a dogma is not an attempt to explain a mystery or even an attempt to make it more comprehensible. Rather, it seeks to encircle the ineffable and to compel the mind to surpass itself by a clear minded sense of wonder and adoration. […] Thus a dogma is not a solution to a problem but the protection of a mystery, in the Christian sense of Revelation of the unfathomable, the inexhaustible, the personal. In defining a dogma, the sole aim of the church is to preserve the possibility for each Christian of participating in revelation with his whole being; that is, of communicating with the very life of the One who reveals Himself.“

Day 1: Thursday 13th June 1940

Those who resigned themselves to staying in their homes, their streets, their quartier, their city – now become a prey to enemy invasion – were right. Equally right were those whose conscience dictated that they should set out on the great adventure of the open road.

“We shall conquer,“ we were told, “because we are the strongest, because we are the richest. We shall conquer because we have the will to do so.“ As if bons d’armement in themselves could bring about victory. As if war were nothing other than a vast industrial undertaking, a mere matter of capital. Such a war – a war of equipment and weaponry, inhuman, materialistic – yes, we have no doubt lost such a war. We must have the courage to say so. What is more, France could never have won such a war. Otherwise, she would no longer have been France, preeminently humane. If she had won such a war – one without a human face, a war of equipment (the kind of war being presented to us) – she would have lost the most precious thing she possesses, the essential characteristic of her very being. She would have lost that which makes her France, that which differentiates her from every other country on earth. (emphasis added)

There was another heresy, too -spiritual, this time – one which sought to superimpose itself on the materialism of the ‘war of equipment’ argument, to infuse into it an artificial soul. This was the ideology of a ‘holy war’, ‘crusade’. It came in several varieties: the struggle for democracy, for freedom, for human dignity, for western culture, for Christian civilization, even for divine justice itself. I say ‘heresy’ because such ideas, often just in themselves, were not based on lived experience. They did not well up from a deep, wholesome spring, which alone could have transformed them into ideas having a motivating force. Moreover, such words rang false, like all abstractions. They rang false above all since they sought to present as absolutes, concepts and values that are secondary, relative … No, war is not waged for absolute values. This has been the mistake of all so-called ‘religious’ wars, and the main cause of the atrocities associated with them. Nor is it waged for relative value that one endeavors to turn into absolutes, nor yet for abstract concepts which have been lent a religious character. Even if one were to set against the idol of a ‘pure race’ the more benign idol of Law, Liberty and Humanity, they are still idols – concepts that have been personified and made into absolutes. This would still result in a war of idols. The only just war – in so far as a war may ever be styled just – is a war for relative values, for values known to be relative. A war in which man – a being destined for an absolute end – sacrifices himself spontaneously and without hesitation for a relative value that he knows to be relative: his native soil, his land, his country. It is the very sacrifice that acquires a value that is absolute, incorruptible, eternal. (emphasis added)

Day 3: Saturday June 15th

Suddenly I was struck by the sound of a hoarse, muffled voice. I was not alone, after all. A tall old man with a stoop, wearing an old-fashioned fin-de-siècle frock coat, was waving his arms about, threatening and cursing someone. He had a fine face, the look of a well bred provincial gentleman, a devout and God-fearing type. I drew nearer to see who he was so angry with. He was going round the cathedral, stopping before each statue of a saint. It was to them that he was addressing his curses, his cries, his threats. “Alors, quoi?” Damn it all, then! Don’t you want to help us? Can’t you help us?“

I left the cathedral, quite overcome. You really need to have a faith that was deep and sincere, a genuine inner freedom before God and his Saints, to be able to talk to them like that. No, he wasn’t a madman. Rather, a noble Christian soul, seized with despair and bitterness, pouring out his pain to the Saints, who remained motionless and silent, guides of the divine ways that are so painful for us to follow.

Day 4: Sunday 16th June

[R]evolutionaries are always in the wrong since, in their juvenile fervour for everything new, in their hopes for a better future and a way of life built on justice, they always base themselves on theories that are abstract and artificial, making a clean sweep of living tradition which is, after all, founded on the experience of centuries.

Conservatives are always wrong, too, despite being rich in life experience, despite being shrewd and prudent, intelligent and sceptical. For, in their desire to preserve ancient institutions that have with stood the test of time, they decry the necessity of renewal, and man’s yearning for a better way of life.

The Royal Court, grouped round the Imperial Chapel and, seized with theological fervour, sought to ensure the triumph of a novel teaching concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit. Pressure from the Frankish empire caused this strange teaching to triumph in the West. After resisting for a while, the Popes were in the end obliged to alter the traditional, sacred text of the Creed. From then on, schism from the Eastern Patriarchates became inevitable. (Byzantium, on the other hand, never experienced such an extreme case of Caesaropapism.)

Day 5: Monday 17th June

Faced with Latin Christianity and its tendency to abstractions, to homogenization and sterilization; faced with a pagan and only too concrete pan-Germanism founded upon a mystique of “blood and soil“ that seeks to refashion the world according to its creed, France could then become a focus of regeneration for Western Christianity in a Europe that is becoming de-Christianized.

"Not very concerned with how much money you make when you grow up … where you go to college"

Genuine red-pilling from a classical educator:

Welcome to your sophomore humanities class.

This year, we will be reading early modern literature, which is roughly the seventeenth century through the nineteenth century. I have some fairly lofty goals for this class and I hope you do, as well. To be honest, when this class finishes nine months from now, I won’t know if I have accomplished any of those goals. I will need more time. Perhaps when you are forty or so, which is how old I am, we will both know whether this class has done you any good.

It will take at least this long to determine if I have accomplished my goals because I am not very concerned with how much money you make when you grow up, which means that I am not all that interested in where you go to college. Many of my students still labor under the delusional belief that if they can just get into the right college, they will be successful. If you are primarily concerned about getting good grades so you can get into the right college, you’re worrying about the wrong things, because beyond the age of 22 or 23, what matters is not grades, but whether you’re good at doing something that matters and whether you can be content doing that thing for the next thirty years. If the only thing you’re good at doing is getting good grades, your life is going to fall apart after you graduate college ….

Joshua Gibbs. Read it all.

We get leisure all wrong

Leisure is useful—but only insofar as it remains leisure. Once that time is viewed as a means to improve employee morale and higher growth, then leisure loses the very quality that makes it so potent. As Pieper wrote, “Leisure is not there for the sake of work.” Leisure is doing things for their own sake, to pursue what one wants. We should fight the urge to reduce it to a productivity hack.

We yearn to “make the most of” our free time, so we are constantly giving our evenings, weekends, and vacations over to our self-advancement. Labor-market precarity and the growth of the gig economy have sharpened these incentives. Pure leisure now feels like pure indulgence.

If leisure is justified by its contribution to other social ends—innovation, productivity, growth—it stands to lose any perceived worth as soon as it comes into conflict with those goals. An eventual clash between the two will always be settled in favor of work. The result is 768 million hours of unused vacation days. And even when employees take time off, they feel an urge to log in to their work email between dips in the ocean.

Krzysztof Pelc, ‌Why Your Leisure Time Is in Danger

When all your colleagues are, by definition, prickly progressives

George Soros’ Open Society Foundations are restructuring:

The tensions boiled over at the all-staff meeting in early May. On the eve of the voluntary buyouts, executives took part in a video call, in which staff members shared their misgivings and grievances.

After looking at a series of slides prepared by Bridgespan, which painted the organization as less streamlined than Gates or the Ford Foundation, with large numbers of staff approving lots of small grants, employees called out executives for their handling of the restructuring, according to several staff members who participated in the call and transcripts of both the video call and the simultaneous chat, where things got even rougher.

One commenter in the group chat called the process “unaccountable, and unscientific.” Another referred to the “frustration with respect to racism and sexism and other forms of oppression that are alive and well within the institution.”

Lie down with progressives, rise up with vague charges against you.

How to overturn Roe

“It grinds my gears when people say what’s been done here is genius, novel or particularly clever — it was only successful because it had a receptive audience in the Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit,” said Khiara M. Bridges, a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley, referring to the conservative-leaning federal appeals court that also weighed in on the Texas law.

“If you want to overturn Roe v. Wade, you create a law that is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s precedent and someone will challenge it and you work it through the federal courts,” she said. “You don’t create a law that is designed to evade judicial review.”

The Conservative Lawyer Behind the Texas Abortion Law – The New York Times

The second paragraph is, in a nutshell, why the Texas law is a sideshow and the real action (currently) is the Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks.

Ah, California!

“Enslavement of both adults and children, mutilation, genocide, and assault on women were all part of the mission period initiated and overseen by Father Serra,” declares Assembly Bill 338, which passed both chambers by wide margins and now awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature. None of that is true. While there is much to criticize from this period, no serious historian has ever made such outrageous claims about Serra or the mission system, the network of 21 communities that Franciscans established along the California coast to evangelize native people. The lawmakers behind the bill drew their ideas from a single tendentious book written by journalist Elias Castillo.

Abp. Salvatore J. Cordileone and José H. Gomez, ‌Don’t Slander St. Junípero Serra

This sort of self-important nonsense, California, as much or more than envy, is why the rest of us make fun of you.

Shorts

  • Because of the divorce from the historic Church, Evangelicalism has sought for a new way to satisfy the need for materiality. This is why such believers have welcomed pop music and rock-n-roll into their churches. It is why emotion is mistaken for spirituality. It is why sentiment is substituted for holiness. Sincere feeling is the authenticator. Instead of icons of Christ, whose piercing stare calls you to repentance, the Evangelical can go to a Christian bookstore and buy a soft-focus, long-haired picture of Jesus. He’s a “nice” Jesus, but it is hard to believe that He is God. (Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy)
  • The project, begun at the time of Constantine, to enable Christians to share power without being a problem for the powerful, had reached its most impressive fruition. If Caesar can get Christians there to swallow the “Ultimate Solution,” and Christians here to embrace the bomb, there is no limit to what we will not do for the modern world. (Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens)
  • The perfect fictitious charity benefit, for "Rich People Who Wish To Help Poor People Without Having To Be In Physical Contact With Them," joins up with the perfect limerick for a well-nigh perfect blog post from Garrison Keillor.
  • Seekers of religious exemptions to vaccine mandates demonstrate that there is literally no limit to what folly you can "prove" from motivated reasoning recast as "personal bible study." Vaccine Resisters Seek Religious Exemptions. But What Counts as Religious?
  • It is a signal characteristic of “hermeneutic philosophy” to say we can no longer believe in something rather than arguing that it is false. (R.R. Reno, Return of the Strong Gods)
  • As parishioners, we believed that Christ had come to give us abundant life, yet the nature of that abundant life was conceived as simply more of what we already had as pleasure-seeking, comfort-loving Americans. (Robin Mark Phillips, Confessions of a Recovering Gnostic)

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.

Three especially for Churchmen

How should we live?

  • First, live as though in the coming of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated into the world and the outcome of history has already been determined. (Quit worrying)
  • Second, love people as the very image of God and resist the temptation to improve them.
  • Third, refuse to make economics the basis of your life. Your job is not even of secondary importance.
  • Fourth, quit arguing about politics as though the political realm were the answer to the world’s problems. It gives it power that is not legitimate and enables a project that is anti-God.
  • Fifth, learn to love your enemies. God did not place them in the world for us to fix or eliminate. If possible, refrain from violence.
  • Sixth, raise the taking of human life to a matter of prime importance and refuse to accept violence as a means to peace. Every single life is a vast and irreplaceable treasure.
  • Seventh, cultivate contentment rather than pleasure. It will help you consume less and free you from slavery to your economic masters.
  • Eighth, as much as possible, think small. You are not in charge of the world. Love what is local, at hand, personal, intimate, unique, and natural. It’s a preference that matters.
  • Ninth, learn another language. Very few things are better at teaching you about who you are not.
  • Tenth, be thankful for everything, remembering that the world we live in and everything in it belongs to God.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Violence of Modernity

I’ve probably shared these before, but I review them monthly for my own sake, so I thought you might benefit, too. In fact, I just reviewed the full blog post and all of it is excellent.

Zero-sum church

From an institutional perspective [Pope Francis’] move [against the Latin Mass] arguably appears perverse: Here you have a Western church conspicuously lacking in public zeal, religious vocations, large families, liturgical seriousness … and yet the leaders of the church have decided to act punitively against a small minority that, whatever its highly-debated growth rate, clearly is a locus for intense forms of piety and practice. It’s as if a major auto manufacturer whose big brands were all struggling decided to kill off one of its few profitable lines of cars, because it only turned a profit in a niche market and wasn’t big enough to subsidize the whole. A strange decision …

… but under the psychological conditions created by decline also an understandable one. In a general corporate climate of diminishment and disappointment a small form of success invites resentment: If the small brand isn’t capable of subsidizing the whole, then why are its engineers and salesman wasting their talents on its niche market, when they should be contributing to saving the larger company? Shouldn’t they be expected to chip in where the need is greatest, in the main brands — by analogy, big, empty diocesan seminaries and struggling Novus Ordo parishes and schools — instead of concentrating their talents serving a more intense but (it’s assumed) self-limited market?

In the specific case of traditionalism, it was that sense of relative stability that helped pave the way for the Latin Mass’s return from its 1970s exile, for the permissions issued by first by John Paul and then more sweepingly by Benedict. And then it’s the subsequent weakening of both conservative and liberal Catholicism — the former pushing more right-wing Catholics tradward, the latter making tradness appear more of a threat to a necessary acceleration of the Vatican II revolution — that’s given us the sharpened conflicts between traditionalism and Pope Francis, and now the attempt at outright suppression.

Ross Douthat, ‌The Latin Mass in the Zero Sum Church (first two ellipses in original; hyperlink likely paywalled).

My reaction to Pope Francis’ suppression of the Latin Mass (after reading some articulate howls from its proponents) was "doesn’t Francis see that this move tends to eradicate the Catholicism of his own youth and tends to the schism of those who won’t give it up?!" After reading Douthat, my reaction is "Of course he knows that. He wants a Novus Ordo Catholicism purged of Latin Mass Catholicism. He even said the Novus Ordo is now the exclusive Lex Orandi of the Church, and that he may be remembered as the Pope who split the Church."

In retirement, I have little occasion to bump into highly traditionalist Catholics (and a round of well-warranted litigation by my firm on behalf of the siblings of one of them estranged us even before I retired). But I read a few of them, and with Covid and Afghanistan and seeming national collapse of the U.S., and now the suppression of the Mass they love by a Pope they are obliged to obey, this is not a happy time to to be an American Latin Mass Catholic.

Always in the wrong

Revolutionaries are always in the wrong, since, in their juvenile fervor for everything new, in their hopes for a better future, and a way of life built on justice, they always base themselves on theories that are abstract and artificial, making a clean sweep of living tradition which is, after all, founded on the experience of centuries.

Conservatives are always wrong, too, despite being rich in life experience, despite being shrewd and prudent, intelligent and skeptical. For, in their desire to preserve ancient institutions that have withstood the test of time, they decry the necessity of renewal, and man’s yearning for a better way of life.

Both attitudes carry within themselves the seeds of death. Is there, then, a third way? Another destiny for society than of always being subject to the threat of revolutions which destroy life, or reactionary attitudes which mummify it? Or is this the inevitable fate of all terrestrial cities, the natural law of their existence?

In fact, only in the Church can we find both a Tradition that knows no revolution and at the same time the impetus towards a new life that has no end. Her theory (understood in the true sense of the word, namely “vision”) is based on a constant experience of Truth. Which is why she is in possession of those infinite resources upon which may draw all who are called to govern the perishable cities of this world.

Vladimir Lossky in Seven Days on the Roads of France, his account of fleeing the Nazis from Paris as he and his father had previously fled the Bolsheviks. (Via Fr. Stephen Freeman). I’ve ordered the book.


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.

Actual ruminations

I’m aware of my tendency to blog like a mere aggregator or curator, but today, for whatever reason, I slowed down and thought.

Living consciously within limits

On the 15th of each month, a reminder pops up to read my maxims (they actually come from two American Orthodox Priests, one living, one reposed). Sometimes I don’t get around to it until, say, the 17th.

As I read them today, it occurred to me that they give a decent idea of how an Orthodox mindset should cash out in “practical” life (if only we weren’t always missing the mark).

I do try to live by them (that’s why I review them monthly). Even falling short, it’s a much saner way to live than not trying at all.

On a closely-related note, I read an article just now (as I write) that I thought good enough to save and index: Dedication: In Praise of the Long-Haulers. It uses the term "stickers," in contrast to "boomers," a contrast I’d seen before.

But this time, in conjunction with indexing, I decided to make "sticker" a tag in my system and to look for like articles. My system was crawling with them. For instance:

Granted, my system (a kind of database) is kind of young, after a computer crash garbled its predecessor. So I may have just been on a "making-a-virtue-of-Covidtide-necessity" binge of rootedness ruminations. But I think these really are the kinds of people I most admire, and that I’m gradually become more stickerlike myself.

Maybe this just means I’m getting too old to fight or rally in the streets.

Abortion back on the docket

The [U.S. Supreme] court said Monday it would review next term whether all state laws that ban pre-viability abortions are unconstitutional. The court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade declared that a woman has a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy in the first six months of her pregnancy when the fetus is incapable of surviving outside the womb.

The test case is from Mississippi, which bans most abortions after 15 weeks, significantly before fetal viability. A panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative in the country, blocked enforcement of the law, finding it in conflict with Roe v. Wade and subsequent abortion decisions.

NPR

The news, you may have noticed, is often over-hyped. This story really isn’t, whatever the ultimate outcome, because SCOTUS took the case even though there is no "Circuit split."

There is no Circuit split (inconsistent results from different U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal) because under existing precedent, laws like Mississippi’s are clearly unconstitutional as unduly burdensome on the (court-created) right to abortion. The Supreme Court seldom takes discretionary review of issues on which all the Circuit Courts are agreed, and when it does, it’s thought to be likely that the court itself is doubting its precedents (or universal Circuit Court interpretation of those precedents).

So this case, more than any other since Planned Parenthood v. Casey thirty years ago, really could be the Big One. And if you think that a major change in the Supreme Court’s view on abortion would not be a bit deal, you haven’t thought it through or you have a crazy-high threshold for "big deal."

For more detail, including the already-diminished relevance of Roe v. Wade, see The Morning Dispatch for Tuesday or listen to Monday’s Advisory Opinions podcast.

While we’re on the topic, this item:

During a congressional hearing last week, … Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, repeatedly denied the existence of a federal ban on barbaric partial-birth abortions that has been law for 18 years …

… In his confirmation hearings, Becerra dodged questions about his stance on partial-birth abortion, deflecting with repeated claims that he would “follow the law” as head of HHS. Now Becerra outright denies the existence of a statute that has been around for nearly two decades.

… Becerra can hardly plead ignorance on this topic. As a freshman congressman, he voted against the ban

National Reviews (incendiary partisanship elided)

So what’s with Becerra’s denial? Is he just hair-splitting because he doesn’t like the "partial-birth abortion" label? The author anticipated that:

As for Becerra’s parroting of the abortion lobby talking point that partial-birth abortion “is not a medical term,” neither is a heart attack, but almost everyone understands what one is.

An entertaining bootleggers-and-Baptists moment

Mr. Sanders has become the chief obstacle to his party leaders’ hopes of restoring the full federal tax deduction for state and local taxes, known as SALT, capped at $10,000 by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco calls the loss of that deduction “devastating.” Likewise New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who vowed that “one of the first things” he would do as majority leader would be to see that the SALT cap is “dead, gone and buried.”

But not Bernie. Asked directly on “Axios on HBO” last week whether he supports this effort, Mr. Sanders proudly raised his progressive colors: “You can’t be on the side of the wealthy and powerful if you are going to really fight for working families.”

It’s making for an entertaining bootleggers-and-Baptists moment, with two opposing camps—low-tax Republicans and the leader of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing—finding themselves in the same foxhole. Each wants to keep the SALT cap, but for very different reasons.

WSJ

I had forgotten the delightful colloquialism "bootleggers-and-Baptists" moment.

Congresslechers and Cicadas

Joel Greenberg, a former county tax collector with strong ties to Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, pleaded guilty Monday to federal crimes including sex trafficking a minor. The New York Times reported last month that Gaetz himself is under federal investigation for possible sex trafficking crimes.

The Morning Dispatch. Joel Greenburg "pleaded guilty" and agreed to cooperate. If Matt Gaetz is guilty and not too sociopathic to know it, he should be getting very, very uncomfortable.

But if his goal is getting laid by as many undiscriminating women as possible, he’s had a relatively good run — as has Garrison Keillor:

[C]ompared to the male cicada who, after seventeen years underground, has one sexual experience, dies, and never gets to see his progeny, my life is a fairy tale.

The cicadas are out for survival of their species — survival is victory. Father David touched on this in his homily on Sunday and quoted the verse in 2nd Corinthians: We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. “Struck down but not destroyed” describes cicada existence pretty well. As for being “persecuted,” we Episcopalians have it pretty easy. Flocks of cicadas are carried by the wind over Manhattan and a few land in Central Park and some in flower pots on terraces and our persecution, believe me, is minimal.

Then I went forward for Communion and saw slight movement on Father David’s vestment sleeve as he held out the wafer to me and said, “The body of our Lord,” and I saw an insect on his extended thumb, perhaps a dying male, and he said, “Hang on,” which he’s never said before during Communion and I flicked the cicada away. “Thank you,” he said. “And also to you,” I said.

At my age, I no longer worry about Noah and the Ark and all those folks knocking on the door begging to be let in. I haven’t read Job in years. The city is noisy, the numerosity is staggering, crazy people yell at you, I don’t belong here but then neither do most of the others. And there have been times on the uptown C train, packed into a car with people on all sides standing within inches of each other and still not touching, avoiding eye contact, when I’ve thought, “We are all one in God and He loves us dearly,” and known it is true. It’s hard to explain this to Midwesterners. You have to be there.

Garrison Keillor, The impending crisis of exploding cicada data

And one clip without comment

Top Republicans on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors blasted fellow Republicans pushing additional audits of the 2020 election results as conspiracy theorists and grifters. “We ran a bipartisan, fair election. That’s every piece of evidence that I’ve ever seen put in front of us,” said Clint Hickman, a Republican supervisor. “We are operating on facts and evidence presented to this board.” The county’s top election official, Stephen Richer, also a Republican, called new claims of irregularities from former President Donald Trump “unhinged.”

The Morning Dispatch


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.

A banquet of tasty morsels

No man or woman is an island, and no one should aspire to be one, either. That, at the core, is the claim of illiberalism, post-liberalism, or any of the other names given to the movement that pushes back against individualism as an ideal. The liberalism of Locke, deeply woven into American culture and political philosophy, takes the individual as the basic unit of society, while an illiberal view looks to traditions, family, and other institutions whose demands define who we are.

It always confuses me that illiberalism is taken as a belligerent ideology – both by its detractors and some of its proponents – as though it were rooted in strength and prepared to wield that power against others. It is con temporary liberalism that begins from an anthropology of independence, and presumes a strength and self-ownership we do not in fact possess.

A world that holds up independence as the ideal offers us two rival duties: to obscure our dependence and to be resentful of it. No woman can lightly assent to the illusion of autonomy. Because a baby is alien to the world of self-ownership, every woman’s citizenship in that imaginary republic is tenuous. A world of autonomous individuals can’t acknowledge both woman and child simultaneously. The sheer amount of work it takes to stifle fertility, put eggs on ice, or pump milk for a baby not welcome outside the home makes it clear that there is something untruthful and sharp-clawed at loose in the world.

Fear and hatred of weakness and dependence wound the dependent most obviously, but are poison to all, even the people who are strong at present. Without repeated reminders that the broken are beloved, how can we remember who God is?

Our physical weakness is a training ground for our struggles with moral weakness. There is no physical infirmity we can endure that is more humiliating than our susceptibility to sin. The elderly woman with tremors that leave her unable to lift her cup to her lip is not, in the final sense, weaker than any vigorous young man who finds he must echo Paul and admit, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom. 7:19).

To give an honest accounting of ourselves, we must begin with our weakness and fragility. We cannot structure our politics or our society to serve a totally independent, autonomous person who never has and never will exist. Repeating that lie will leave us bereft: first, of sympathy from our friends when our physical weakness breaks the implicit promise that no one can keep, and second, of hope, when our moral weakness should lead us, like the prodigal, to rush back into the arms of the Father who remains faithful. Our present politics can only be challenged by an illiberalism that cherishes the weak and centers its policies on their needs and dignity.

Leah Libresco Sargeant, Dependence: Toward an Illiberalism of the Weak, Plough Quarterly.

I admire the heck of of Leah and expect to read her with pleasure until the day I die.


[I]t is her “Declaration of Conscience” speech for which [Margaret Chase Smith] is best remembered. It was 1950 and she was increasingly disturbed by Sen. Joe McCarthy’s anticommunist crusade. In February he’d made his speech in Wheeling, W.Va., charging communists had infiltrated the U.S. government at the highest levels. He claimed to have 205 names of known communists; in later statements he put the number at 57 and 81.

The base of the party found his opposition to the communist swamp in Washington electrifying. His wildness and disrespect for norms was seen as proof of authenticity: He’s one of us and fighting for us.

Smith was anticommunist enough that Nikita Khrushchev later described her as “blinded by savage hatred,” and she was certain communism would ultimately fail. But you don’t defeat it with lies.

She always listened closely when McCarthy spoke. Once he said he was holding in his hand “a “photostatic copy” of the names of communists. She asked to see it. It proved nothing. Her misgiving increased.

She didn’t want to move against him. She was new to the Senate; he was popular in Maine. She waited for her colleagues. They said nothing.

Finally she’d had enough. On June 1, 1950, she became the first Republican to speak out. On the way to the chamber Joe McCarthy suddenly appeared. “Margaret,” he said, “you look very serious. Are you going to make a speech?”

“Yes,” she said, “and you will not like it.”

When history hands you a McCarthy—reckless, heedlessly manipulating his followers—be a Margaret Chase Smith. If your McCarthy is saying a whole national election was rigged, an entire system corrupted, you’d recognize such baseless charges damage democracy itself. You wouldn’t let election officials be smeared. You’d stand against a growing hysteria in the base.

You’d likely pay some price. But years later you’d still be admired for who you were when it counted so much.

Peggy Noonan, Who’ll Be 2020’s Margaret Chase Smith?

I also admire the heck out of Peggy Noonan, but we’re too close to contemporaries for me to expect her writing to outlive me.


I don’t know if I was oblivious, or just too avoidant of National Review during his tenure there, or if being there forced him to write things he didn’t entirely believe, but I am rediscovering Jonah Goldberg since his co-founding of The Dispatch. This excerpting captures the full gist of what I think is a powerful argument:

You aren’t a conservative if you believe in conspiracy theories.

[T]he incompatibility of conservatism with conspiracy theories is … fundamental. One of the central tenets of conservatism is the idea that society is too complex to be easily controlled by a despot or even cadres of well-intentioned social engineers and bureaucrats, or what Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism, dubbed “sophisters, calculators and economists.”

The “sophisters, calculators and economists” had real power. They had the power to make laws, and to order police and armies to enforce them.

And yet we’re supposed to believe that conspirators—globalists, the deep state, lizard people or, as QAnon would have you believe, blood-drinking pedophiles—can pull off whatever they want in total secrecy and with no formal power?

Here’s a simple fact: The more you know about how government actually works, the less likely you are to believe anyone is actually in control. The idea that secret cabals could blow up the World Trade Center or steal the election, with the active participation of hundreds or thousands of conspirators, is beyond laughable when you consider that passing a budget is often beyond the capabilities of those “in charge.”

One of Buckley’s top priorities in fashioning modern American conservatism was that it be a worldview grounded in realism. Conspiracy theories aren’t grounded in anything beyond the vaporous phantasms of paranoia. They can certainly be “right-wing.” But conservative they’re not.

Jonah Goldberg, Conspiracy Theories Are Incompatible With Conservatism


There was no chance in the world that in the autumn of 2001, I would have seen the towers fall and thought, ah-ha! this was a sign to us that we should behold the evil capacities inside ourselves, and repent. Would anybody?

Rod Dreher, Why Does God Show Us Evil?

Yes, some would. I know because I did. Then in January 2005, I repudiated the GOP when Dubya did an anti-repentance, declaring as President of the World’s Savior-Nation that we were going to eradicate tyranny from the world.

That others did not see this was the source of my now-consistent belief that the self-willed blindness of our land leaves us past the point of no return: that nothing will bring us to repentance, and that nothing good will come of our hubris. (The 2016 Presidential Election was another warning we refused to heed.)

The only open question is how our decadence will play out. For instance, who foresaw a pandemic playing out as this one has? (Some foresaw pandemic, and warned of it, and prepared plans that Trump seemingly ignored, but did they foresee the economic shut-down, the isolation, the acedia?)


I’ve been with my spouse for almost 15 years. In those years, I’ve never been with anyone but the mother of my son. But that’s not because I am an especially good and true person. In fact, I am wholly in possession of an unimaginably filthy and mongrel mind. But I am also a dude who believes in guard-rails, as a buddy of mine once put it. I don’t believe in getting “in the moment” and then exercising will-power. I believe in avoiding “the moment.” I believe in being absolutely clear with myself about why I am having a second drink, and why I am not; why I am going to a party, and why I am not. I believe that the battle is lost at Happy Hour, not at the hotel. I am not a “good man.” But I am prepared to be an honorable one.

Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Coates is, I believe, an atheist. I have never understood where atheists find bedrock on which to build their ethics. But I’m glad most do find it. The world would be a grimmer place if they didn’t.


We long ago gave up the wish to have things that were adequate or even excellent; we have preferred instead to have things that were up-to-date.

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

We live in a time when technologies and ideas (often the same thing) are adopted in response not to need but to advertising, salesmanship, and fashion. Salesmen and saleswomen now hover about us as persistently as angels, intent on “doing us good” according to instructions set forth by persons educated at great public expense in the arts of greed and prevarication. These salespeople are now with most of us, apparently, even in our dreams.

The first duty of writers who wish to be of any use even to themselves is to resist the language, the ideas, and the categories of this ubiquitous sales talk, no matter from whose mouth it issues. But, then, this is also the first duty of everybody else.

Wendell Berry again.


As Nietzsche put it, “no price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself.”

My Journey from Born Again Christian to the Church of Woke—And Halfway Back Again – Quillette

This tickled me because “owning yourself” (a/k/a “self-own”) is the eventuality of following Nitezsche’s advice.


The term “democracy,” as I have said again and again, does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces that you dislike—it can easily be transformed by them. If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God) you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.

T.S. Eliot, via The Crack In The Tea-Cup

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Local Culture, Christopher Lasch

I’ve frequented the Front Porch Republic website since its introduction. A few years ago, the front porchers started a magazine, Local Culture, which has ranged from very good to excellent.

Some selections from Volume 2, Number 2, devoted to Christopher Lasch:


When an interviewer in 1973 asked him about the widespread emergence of “intentional communities,” [Wendell] Berry cut to the quick. “I’m much more interested in the results of accidental communities that have formed by fate and fortune and circumstance. The intentional community seems to me a rather escapist idea, sort of a new version of the white citizen’s council. I thought that’s what we were trying to get away from.” Clearly he had no intention of making sure his counterculture bona fides were up to date. “No community is suitable,” he added. “There’s plenty wrong with them all. I could construct an airtight argument for not settling in my own community. The fact is that I’m spending my life constructing an argument for being here.”

Eric Miller, A Better Stand, Local Culture:A Journal of the Front Porch Republic (Volume 2, Number 2)

Chew on that wonder for a while. Only after I did so did I see that “cut to the quick” (not Berry’s phrase) was probably not a mis-used figure of speech, but more like “went to the root of the question.”


The neighborhood is more truly cosmopolitan than the superficial cosmopolitanism of the like-minded.

Christopher Lasch, quoted in Local Culture:A Journal of the Front Porch Republic (Volume 2, Number 2).


After having his views attacked from all sides, it was occurring to him that, despite their fierce competition, the most influential thinkers on the left and the right shared a deep and fatal flaw, one baked into the logic of liberal modernity. Though they argued about means, both left and right presumed the eventual inevitability of a manmade happy ending.

David Bosworth, Revolt of the Elite, Revenge of the Resentful (Christopher Lasch in 2020) Local Culture:A Journal of the Front Porch Republic (Volume 2, Number 2)


Veering blindly between “wistful pessimism” and “fatalistic optimism,” Americans tended to celebrate the false prophets, those who saw a sunny future flowing ineluctably from capitalism’s sanctioning of “insatiable desire.”

Eric Miller, A Better Stand, Local Culture:A Journal of the Front Porch Republic (Volume 2, Number 2)


The tragedy of so-called Trumpian “populism” may well place that worthy word on the shelf for a long time. But no matter: If the way of Lasch and Berry gains ground, its members will give it the names it needs.

Eric Miller, A Better Stand, Local Culture:A Journal of the Front Porch Republic (Volume 2, Number 2)


Let’s begin by considering the sentence “We must follow the science.” It is one we have heard, in various forms, repeatedly since about the middle of March 2020 via the various propaganda platforms that saturate our lives: the electronic billboards, the websites, the TV ads, the Tweets and Instagram posts. No sentence better captures the core convictions and commitments of our well-educated, well-heeled, and well-regarded.

Think of the parallel commands never heard. No one who is today in a position of cultural authority ever says, “We must follow our guts.” No one says, “We must follow tradition.” No one says, “We must follow our religious leaders.” No one says, “We must follow the poets.” No one says, “We must follow what the majority decides.” No one says, “We must follow those who have displayed wisdom.”

Importantly, no one in a position of cultural authority even says, “We must follow no one but ourselves. No one can legitimately set limits on our behavior!”

No, the widely held, seemingly unchallengeable cultural belief is: We must follow the science.

Jeremy Beer, Limits, Risk Aversion, and Technology, Local Culture:A Journal of the Front Porch Republic (Volume 2, Number 2)


Liberal technocrats deal with this contradiction by the simple, and surprisingly successful, expedient of giving every injunction, taboo, and prohibition the name of freedom. As we shall see, this ironic and disguised posture makes our dilemma difficult to overcome.

Jeremy Beer, Limits, Risk Aversion, and Technology, Local Culture:A Journal of the Front Porch Republic (Volume 2, Number 2)


The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Explaining myself

I posted last night some clippings from commentary on the U.S. Presidential debate of September 29, after almost four weeks’ absence and talk of ending the blog.

Problem 1 is that Wordpess, my platform, has been making “improvements” again. I’ve generally used its native editor, and they’ve replaced it with a monstrosity called a “block editor,” which is perfectly indecipherable. It wasn’t worth the effort to learn it since it’s a patently absurd way of writing essay-like things for people to read. [UPDDATE: As I subsequently tried to find a lighter graphic theme than War Correspondence had affected, it appeared that WordPress, or bloggery in general, is focused on commerce, photomontage, and other non-essay activities.] 

Problem 2 is not really a problem at all: even at my advanced age (500 dog years), I’m learning new tricks far more rewarding that mastering a stupid editor, such as not wallowing so much in news and commentary. This was made possible by spiritual adjustments which are best summarized by the advice of Fr. Stephen Freeman (for years, and especially here) and the late Fr. Thomas Hopcko. I’ve said for years that my epitaph should be “Darn! Just when I almost had it figured all out!” — a pathetic joke for a Christian, but an accurate reflection of how I was living. This annus horribilus has been a good one for taking stock of things and changing them as needed, and I can finally consider a better epitaph because that old one doesn’t fit any more.

If you think that’s too much information or a digression, it’s not: It means I’ve had less to say because I’m less “well-informed” and less in need of “venting” about things.

There may be more, but the third factor, the one facilitating my return to blogging, is the realization that I need not use WordPress’s stupid editor. I’ve acquired MarsEdit, on which I composed last night’s blog and am composing this one. It’s worth learning for me.

So I have the blogging tools I need but less to vent about. For that reason, I’ll almost certainly not return to daily blogging, and the conceit of warring against the deathworks already is feeling stale. I may return to the Tipsy Teetotaler name and a brighter graphic theme.

Finally, I commend to you Rod Dreher’s new book, Live Not by Lies, which I got on the Tuesday release date and finished yesterday — a relatively ferocious pace for me (facilitated by not wasting time on ephemeral news — see, it all connects). I think Dreher is fundamentally right about the future for cultural conservatives, but I’m partial to a Christian (Lutheran) reviewer who suggested that we may be heading for more open and literal warfare between Social Justice Warriors on the Left and “Traditionalst” atavists on the Alt-Right, with sane Christians mostly suffering collateral damage rather than being the targets of the SJWs.

* * * * *

Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

and

You shall love your crooked neighbour

“With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

* * * * *

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.

Miscellany

Surveillance capitalism creeps me out.

I don’t control my lights, door locks, or anything else by speaking commands to my 1st-generation Amazon Echo. Indeed, I shut the microphone off about a year ago and I only use it like a table radio — direct streaming or bluetooth from my phone — and controlled from the Alexa app on my phone, not by voice.

When Echo dies, it will either not be replaced or will be replaced with a streaming radio with better sound quality (though Echo isn’t too bad). And no voice control.

There is no way I’m going to wear a pair of Alexa-powered Bose earphones, wandering around in “public” but in my own little world inside my head, isolated from the world except for asking it “how do I get shiny hair?” when I see a slick Afghan Hound.

Nor Echo frames.

* * *

I’m partial to the hypothesis that living in unreality (in which I’d include virtual reality) creates ennui.

I noticed recently, though, that most articles of the “digital detox” genre are focused on productivity, not on humanity let alone holiness. I’m told that Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism is different. I hope so, because after I catch up on a little backlog of magazines, it’s my next book (on Kindle, of course — so sue me).

Indeed, much of my reading lately seems to evoke gentle regrets: “Gosh, I could have lived this better way if only I’d been wiser.” There’s a reason for the saying “Too soon old, too late smart.”

Notice I said “gentle,” not “bitter.”

A magazine that frequently gives me gentle regrets is Plough, from the Bruderhof community. I think Mother Jones and my secular “alternate lifestyle” magazines will be going unrenewed, Plough renewed.

* * *

Meanwhile, I’ve taken a deep breath, installed Freedom, and instructed it to help my self-control by cutting me off from the internet and from various apps at times of day when I am resolving to do something other than sitting on my arse with a computer on my lap.

* * *

I had an Impossible Burger once. It was surprisingly burgerlike.

But Michael Pollan says “if it comes from a plant, it’s food; if it’s made in a plant, it’s not food.” Heck, you don’t even save calories and fat grams with Impossible Burger. If I want burger taste, I’ll buy a burger.

Except maybe when I’m dying for meat in Lent. Once or twice, tops. I think it was Lent 2019 when I tried one.

* * *

Did I mention that I came of age in the 60s? And was an Audio-Visual Dept. geek?

* * *

I just saw San Francisco 49er defender #2 helping a Green Bay Packer runner to land on his back rather than the top of his helmet when undercut by San Francisco 49er defender #1.

There is magnanimity in the world. Especially from teams that are up 20-0 in the first half.

 

* * * * *

All Christian readers could benefit from listening to the podcast The Struggle Against the Normal Life. It’s a short (11:05) detox for our toxic faux Christian environment.

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.

Book Report 2019

My total book reading for 2019 was 39 books. Highlights include three “classics”:

The Abolition of Man and Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power are always highlights, and I re-read both regularly.

I just completed book 39, and it was another highlight: Charles L. Marohn, Jr., Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity. It might even merit re-reading, though its “timeless” wisdom is of a different timelessness than Lewis or Pieper.

Some excerpts from Marohn:

Let me summarize: in exchange for 26 years of tax relief, the community was able to get an out-of-town franchise restaurant to abandon their old building and move three blocks up the street where they tore down a block of buildings and replaced them with a development that is 44% less valuable than the development pattern of what was removed. By any financial measure, this is a bad investment, yet cities everywhere routinely do this exact kind of transaction.

(Page 134)

Middle-class housing subsidies and transportation spending are the bread and circuses of modern America. Americans express a preference for single-family homes on large lots along cul-de-sacs because that’s the lifestyle we subsidize. We’ve been willing to bankrupt our cities and draw down the wealth prior generations built, in order to provide that subsidy. It can’t go on forever.

(Page 145)

Planners like to describe neighborhoods with both homes and neighborhood-friendly businesses as “mixed use.” Our ancestors would simply have called them “neighborhoods.”

(Page 163)

[After noting that local governments not infrequently mistake insolvency for a mere cash flow problem.] A local government must be obsessively intentional, organized and disciplined to discern it true financial status.

I gave a presentation to a group of bond analyst from one of the large ratings agencies. I showed them how public balance sheet didn’t reflect the extent of municipal liability, that cities had under-reported amounts of maintenance obligations totaling many times the reported pension shortfalls. The analysts were stunned, professed this was new to them, and asked a lot of good questions. Then they informed for me that it wouldn’t change anything about how they rated bonds because cities don’t default on their debt – they have not defaulted en masse since the Great Depression – and that track record superseded all other considerations.

(Page 190-91)

At the national level, I tend to be libertarian. Let’s do a few things and do them very competently.

At the state level, I tend to be a Minnesota version of conservative Republican. Let’s devolve power, use market and feedback where it drives good outcomes, and let’s do limited state interventions when we have a broad consensus that things would be better by doing it. Let’s measure outcomes and hold ourselves to a high standard.

At the regional level, I tend to favor a more progressive approach. Let’s cooperate in ways that improve everyone’s lives. Let’s work together to make the world more just.

At the city level, I’m fairly progressive. What do we need to do to make this place work for everyone? Let’s raise our taxes, and put sensible regulations in place, to make that a reality.

At the neighborhood level, I’m pretty much a socialist. If there’s something I have that you need, it’s yours. All that I ask is that you do the same in return for me and my family.

At the family level, I’m completely communal. Without hesitation, I’ll give everything I have so my family has lives that are secure, happy, and prosperous. I expect nothing in return.

(Page 210)

We’re all Detroit, just a couple of decades behind. Then we’re back to living humanly — that is, making small bets, winning or losing small, learning from both wins and losses, and in general building antifragility, like we (other than Detroit) had until the postwar suburban sprawl was thrust upon us.

Next year I hope actually to hit 52 books, my unattained goal for this year. I think the news in 2020 will be so distressing, dominated as it will be by Presidential politics, that ignoring it more, in favor of books that might make me wise, will be relatively easy.

To that end I’ve recently discovered a podcast and an alternate view of the digital New York Times that expedite getting the necessary news, the latter by letting me focus on the real news of the day without digging through NYT’s “most viewed” and otherwise boosted stories day after day after day.

* * * * *

Sailing on the sea of this present life, I think of the ocean of my many offenses; and not having a pilot for my thoughts, I call to Thee with the cry of Peter, save me, O Christ! Save me, O God! For Thou art the lover of mankind.

(From A Psalter for Prayer)

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

Adult fiction

I used to say that an “adult movie” was one where the lights went out after the kiss because adults knew what would happen next. I wish I had thought it up on my own, but its source, forgotten, was not my own creativity.

Wendell Berry is similarly discreet:

Billy perches himself in the branches of a box elder that stands above the car’s mysterious hideout. When the car arrives this time, Billy watches as the man takes the back seat out of the car and sits on it with his lady friend. The only way to describe what happens next is by quoting the narrator: “What followed Billy had seen enacted by cattle, horses, sheep, goats, hogs, dogs, housecats, chickens, and, by great good fortune he was sure, a pair of snakes. And so he was not surprised but only astonished to be confirmed in his suspicion that the same ceremony could be performed by humans.”

Jeffrey Bilbro, of Wendell Berry’s new short story The Great Interruption: The Story of a Famous Story of Old Port William and How It Ceased to be Told.

There’s much more to the story than that, of course, this being Wendell Berry after all. The “more” is hinted at by the part of the title after the colon.

The good folks at Front Porch Republic, of which Bilbro is a part, also have a new Journal, Local Culture,  the premier issue of which I began last night. It’s very good, providing if nothing else a reprieve from the tyranny of the urgent, our current “urgent” exercising all-too-tyrannical a hold over my attention most of the time.

* * * * *

The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

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.

Blue-Collar Lifeworks

  1. Keep Craft Alive
  2. SkillsUSA

H/T Kevin D. Williamson (possible paywall). See also Matthew Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft.

That is all.

* * * * *

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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).