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Home/Rod Dreher

Hero New Yorker: ‘That’s NOT OK, Cupid!’

The online dating app OKCupid came out this summer with a new advertising campaign, talking about all the different kinds of lovers it serves. Here’s another:

These things appeared on the subway in New York City. Imagine having to answer the questions: “Mommy, what’s a submissive? Daddy, what’s a pansexual?” Etc. The pornification of the public square seems irreversible.

Well, an angry New York woman had enough, and went crazy on the D train. Look at this hero:

By the way, OK Cupid is also doing politics:

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Generation Greta: Too Afraid To Live

Generation Greta

The Lancet recently released a study involving ten countries around the world, of young people’s (aged 16 to 25) stance towards the future in light of climate change. It was pretty distressing. For example, 39 percent say that they are not sure about having children. Huge numbers — almost half of young Americans surveyed — agree with the statement “humanity is doomed.”

Ben Sixsmith, writing on his excellent Substack (this entry is for subscribers only, but you should become one), says that some degree of existential pessimism is inevitable:

Once mankind developed the capacity for self-destruction, the sense that our luck could not endure forever was baked into our consciousness. How can our tools grow more powerful, and more accessible, without being misused? “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall,” said Anton Chekov as a rule for writing, “In the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.” The same logic of grim inevitability leads many of us to wonder about our final page.

I remember the winter day — probably it was 1979, when I was twelve — when I was sitting in my father’s Bronco, driving across a wet field on our way back from a morning of deer hunting. I had worked out somehow that it would take a Soviet nuclear-armed missile 19 minutes to reach us from its launch pad. We were always 19 minutes away at any moment from certain doom. I told that to my father, whose answer was something like, “Don’t worry about it.” I knew instantly that he had no answer for me, because there was no reassuring response. It was such an electric moment because it was the first time I knew that there were some things in the world outside of the control of grown-ups.

My father told me years later that he had been in the US Coast Guard during the Cuban missile crisis, and that his crew had been prepared by their commanders for nuclear war. They really did think this was going to happen. Can you imagine what that felt like? Well, I can to some extent, because I spent the early 1980s very scared about a nuclear holocaust. But my dad and his crew really did think it was going to happen right then. What a gift it has been to those born after the end of the Cold War, that they could grow up without this fear. Of course a nuclear war could still happen. Russia still has its weapons, as do we … and as does China, and a handful of other nations. But the palpable fear disappeared with the Cold War.

This is to say, in part, that this kind of existential doom felt by the young today feels familiar. One difference, though, is that there was no certitude that a nuclear war would happen. As more and more data come in, the certitude grows that the climate is shifting in ways that will make life on this planet more difficult. On the other hand, a nuclear war is all but unsurvivable (and those who did survive would envy the dead). We have the capacity to use our intelligence to adapt to whatever climate change throws at us. It’s not going to be easy or pleasant, but life can go on, if we want it to. What is interesting to me is the seeming unwillingness of so many young people (in the survey) to fight for the continuation of life.

Think about it: my father’s generation was born into a catastrophic economic crisis, the Great Depression. What brought that crisis to an end was a terrible war, World War II. What brought that war to an end was the use of the atomic bomb. Four years later, the Soviets had the bomb too, and my father graduated high school and entered a world in which the possibility of nuclear annihilation was a fact of life.

And yet he, like everyone else of his generation, carried on. The Baby Boom was underway. People had lots of children, despite it all. Nuclear apocalypse is a much worse thing than climate change, and yet people back then had hope, and expressed that hope in the willingness to create the next generation.

What has happened to us? What have we lost that the people of my father’s generation, and older generations, had, that gave them resilience?

People of my father’s generation were the last ones to be formed by the Before Times — that is, by the remnants of a Christian culture. The Sixties marked what Philip Rieff called the “triumph of the therapeutic” — a mode of being that had arisen in the early 20th century, but which conquered the culture in the Sixties. In 1966, Rieff published his great book The Triumph of the Therapeutic, which was absolutely prophetic. Here are two relevant excerpts; emphases are mine:

I, too, aspire to see clearly, like a rifleman, with one eye shut; I, too, aspire to think without assent. This is the ultimate violence to which the modern intellectual is committed. Since things have become as they are, I, too, share the modern desire not to be deceived. The culture to which I was first habituated grows progressively different in its symbolic nature and in its human product; that double difference and how ordained augments our ambivalence as professional mourners. There seems little likelihood of a great rebirth of the old corporate ideals. The “proletariat” was the most recent notable corporate identity, the latest failed god. By this time men may have gone too far, beyond the old deception of good and evil, to specialize at last, wittingly, in techniques that are to be called, in the present volume, “therapeutic,” with nothing at stake beyond a manipulatable sense of well-being. This is the unreligion of the age, and its master science. What the ignorant have always felt, the knowing now know, after millennial distractions by stratagems that did not heighten the more immediate pleasures. The systematic hunting down of all settled convictions represents the anti-cultural predicate upon which modern personality is being reorganized, now not in the West only but, more slowly, in the non-West. The Orient and Africa are thus being acculturated in a dynamism that has already grown substantial enough to torment its progenitors with nightmares of revenge for having so unsettled the world. It is a terrible error to see the West as conservative and the East as revolutionary. We are the true revolutionaries. The East is swiftly learning to act as we do, which is anti-conservative in a way non-Western peoples have only recently begun fully to realize for themselves.

And:

As cultures change, so do the modal types of personality that are their bearers. The kind of man I see emerging, as our culture fades into the next, resembles the kind once called “spiritual”—because such a man desires to preserve the inherited morality freed from its hard external crust of institutional discipline. Yet a culture survives principally, I think, by the power of its institutions to bind and loose men in the conduct of their affairs with reasons which sink so deep into the self that they become commonly and implicitly understood—with that understanding of which explicit belief and precise knowledge of externals would show outwardly like the tip of an iceberg. Spiritualizers of religion (and precisians of science) failed to take into account the degree of intimacy with which this comprehensive interior understanding was cognate with historic institutions, binding even the ignorants of a culture to a great chain of meaning. These institutions are responsible for conveying the social conditions of their acceptance by men thus saved from destructive illusions of uniqueness and separateness. Having broken the outward forms, so as to liberate, allegedly, the inner meaning of the good, the beautiful, and the true, the spiritualizers, who set the pace of Western cultural life from just before the beginning to a short time after the end of the nineteenth century, have given way now to their logical and historical successors, the psychologizers, inheritors of that dualist tradition which pits human nature against social order.
Undeceived, as they think, about the sources of all morally binding address, the psychologizers, now fully established as the pacesetters of cultural change, propose to help men avoid doing further damage to themselves by preventing live deceptions from succeeding the dead ones. But, in order to save themselves from falling apart with their culture, men must engender another, different and yet powerful enough in its reorganization of experience to make themselves capable again of controlling the infinite variety of panic and emptiness to which they are disposed. It is to control their dis-ease as individuals that men have always acted culturally, in good faith. Books and parading, prayers and the sciences, music and piety toward parents: these are a few of the many instruments by which a culture may produce the saving larger self, for the control of panic and the filling up of emptiness. Superior to and encompassing the different modes in which it appears, a culture must communicate ideals, setting as internalities those distinctions between right actions and wrong that unite men and permit them the fundamental pleasure of agreement. Culture is another name for a design of motives directing the self outward, toward those communal purposes in which alone the self can be realized and satisfied.
Rieff is not an easy writer to read. What he’s saying here, and what he says in his book, is that we of the modern West are a truly revolutionary culture. We have arrived at the conclusion that there are no higher ideals to organize ourselves around, so the only thing left for us to do is pursue the well being of the Self. This is what he means by a “therapeutic” culture: one whose purpose is to help humankind cope with anxiety. Rieff said that religious man is born to be saved, but psychological man is born to be pleased. This is us. And now, with our young people faced with panic and emptiness, we have given them nothing that allows them to control it. The best we can do is distract them.
I think wokeness — or, I guess we should use the new term, wokism — is a pseudo-religious attempt to control the panic and emptiness of the post-Christian therapeutic order. I have written in Live Not By Lies that the best way to understand wokism is not as a political movement, but as a false religion. This graf from an old Gregory Wolfe essay nails the problem with ideological substitutes for religion:

Marxism does appeal to the alienated, but in precisely the opposite way to the higher religions. The religious sensibility requires faith, an openness to being. The order of being precedes man; man must therefore attune himself to the transcendent, which he experiences as placing him under moral obligations. The tension of faith, in which man struggles between the love of God and the love of self, is what ideology seeks to collapse. The ideologue sees the world as fundamentally evil, and believes that he bears within himself the truth (that is, a secularized divine will) which he must impose on the world. Marxism, as an ideology, arises out of an alienation from being. It is not a longing for the mysterious Giver of being, but a program for asserting power over being. Ideology does not relieve man of his alienation, but heightens estrangement and drives him toward revolutionary action.

Switch “wokism” for “Marxism,” and you will understand. Nevertheless, it is useful to think of wokism in religious terms, because it is meant to play the psychological role that religion once did. It is supposed to restore order to the chaos by imposing humankind’s will on it. Many people who are desperate for a sense of meaning in the current chaos are clinging to wokism because it promises them a sense of meaning, purpose, and solidarity. Older people may not really believe in it, but they submit to it because it’s the way of the world today, and if they want to maintain their position in the system, they convert outwardly, preferring to live by lies than to risk a loss of comfort and status.
I don’t want to say that sense of doom that the young have (re: the Lancet survey) is inappropriate. There can be no doubt that they face tremendous challenges trying to build a life today. We have deprived them of the only real source of hope: the conviction that there is God who orders the universe, and who loves them, and who guarantees that their suffering is not meaningless. To refuse to have children on the principle that it would be wrong to bring them into this world is to surrender hope in the future. It’s an extraordinary thing, given the dismal prospects that most people who have ever lived faced — and yet, they carried on. Not us. We face this global crisis at precisely the time when we in the West, with our global communications reach, have denied ourselves and the world what we all need to endure, even triumph over, adversity.
Hear me clearly: the therapeutic gospel — whether in its left-wing forms (woke Christianity) or right-wing forms (prosperity gospel) is false teaching. If you are in a therapeutic church, now is the time to make plans to leave. If you are not in a church that is teaching you why and how to endure suffering for the truth, then you are not in a church that is preparing you for the world as it is today, and the world very shortly to come.

Here is an instructive clip. It’s about a megachurch pastor whose congregation became “affirming” in 2015. It’s now falling apart. Watch this:

Here’s a link to the longer unedited video, from the pastor, Ryan Meeks. He is no longer a Christian. He calls EastLake “a laboratory for unorthodox and heretical ideas, which was really fun for me.” The mind boggles. This guy is the epitome of West Coast blissed-out egomania. He talks about the decline of his church — the decline he presided over — as a fun thing. He says, “The slippery slope is real,” and explains that he doesn’t mean it in a bad way. If he writes a book one day, he said, he will have a chapter titled, “My Fantastic Ride Down The Slippery Slope.”

As he writes on his website:

My wife and I founded EastLake Church in 2005, just east of Seattle, Washington. I’m so thankful for the container EastLake was for my ongoing transformation. It’s ironic that I started it so regular people could find a place to pursue an authentic spirituality and to explore truth no matter what it cost them or where it led. I had no idea I would end up needing exactly that, myself.

Wait … the church, this community, was a “container” for Ryan Meeks’s “ongoing transformation”?! My God, the ego! He says in the video that he has learned that “there’s a whole Universe of Ryan behind Pastor Ryan.” Golly. The Universe of Ryan. More:

In 2010, following some significant grief and loss, ever deepening relationships with people outside my faith tradition, participation in international relief work, and way too many books, my worldview deconstructed. It was a painful, lonely process. But it ultimately led me to make some significant changes in the structure and teaching at the church. Over time, EastLake evolved into more of a quirky interfaith (and non-faith) spiritual community with a deep appreciation for all great teachers of Love and Self-Actualization. In short, we began a slow, five year exit from Christianity which included a TIME magazine feature of our apology and then public affirmation, celebration and inclusion of our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters.

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. I spent considerable time in therapy and other healing modalities to cope with all the turbulence, betrayals, and angry people we dealt with as a result. In late 2015, I was so beat up and exhausted that I enrolled for a week long deep dive into my heart called The Hoffman Process. This was life changing for me and in many ways was the hinge that swung the second half of life into gear.

Since that moment, I have been deeply committed to my ongoing awakening and inner work. I have found that without much effort from me, I seem to be contacted often by people whose worldviews have crumbled and who (much like me years before) are seeking a way to rebuild their lives after the loss of their old way of organizing reality.

In early 2017 I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and after spending the year in chemotherapy and taking time off to rest, I was officially cleared in October. At the risk of sounding too cliche, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Cancer was a huge gift that forced me to let go of the few things I was still clinging to after my experience at Hoffman and the ego-death of losing my old faith structure. I finished my cancer treatment with a renewed sense of purpose and direction while at the same time having less answers than ever before. The only thing I knew for sure was that life is precious and I had distilled my personal life philosophy and all my beliefs into the phrase; ‘Life is a Gift. Love is the Point’.

These days I’m living and moving in an entirely new world. Exploring consciousness theory, somatic healing, energy medicine, mindfulness, conscious sexuality, nature-based wholeness practices, as well as therapeutic psychedelic journeys have continued to unravel my perspectives while opening me up to entirely new modes of being and knowing. I have come to a place in my journey where my beliefs have been eclipsed by my experiences and where my windows of revelation are as personal as my breath and as collective as the cosmos.

All of this translates into my work as a values-centric, interfaith spiritual director, wilderness guide and psychedelic integration coach. My metaphysical paradigm is simple; I am convinced that LOVE is real …and that to live in it, through it, because of it, and AS it, is the purpose of existence.

Oh boy. In his book The Myth Of The Dying Church, Glenn Stanton uses EastLake as an example of the kind of church that really is dying:

EastLake Church began as your average hipster evangelical church appealing to and connecting with young people. The founding pastor Ryan Meeks watched his church explode in the early years, seeing more that one hundred new people come week after week. The church continued to grow in terms of people in the seats, volunteers, services, staff, finances and additional campuses throughout Seattle.

But a few years ago, Meeks made a major theological shift. With great fanfare, he announced one weekend that EastLake would become fully supportive of homosexuality. No, they would not just be kind and gracious to people who identify as same-sex attracted who come through their doors. They were already doing that. All churches should do that. He decided that his church would now affirm, even embrace, homosexuality itself. In the course of one weekend, they became a pro-LGBT church, with Meeks making stunning statements like, ‘I don’t care if the Bible says, “Gay people suck. I have lots of things I disagree with about the Bible.” He disparaged the Scriptures in other ways, telling his congregation, “If we need to consult an ancient book to know what to do when a human is standing in front of us, I think we are screwed already.” That from a pastor trying to make his church more relevant and welcoming to the people in his city. They changed nothing else but this position and had their pastor’s radical statements on the record.

So, what happened at EastLake Church after this shift? The church imploded. They lost members by the hundreds. Their budget tanked by millions of dollars. They had to lay off much of their staff and close campuses. All because their pastor said, “I don’t care what the Bible says!” and began making theological decisions that proved it. And it should be noted that these were not a bunch of reactionary traditionalists. It’s why they were drawn to EastLake.

Ideas and beliefs have consequences. EastLake Church is not a one-off. Not even close. It is only one of thousands of such churches making major theological compromises over the last few decades. Is Christianity shrinking? Some parts of it, you bet. Churches that throw biblical truth overboard find their members jumping overboard after it. The research reveals this, likely as do your observations as you look around your own city.

Understand that this is not strictly about LGBT. The kind of rationalizations that Ryan Meeks had to make in order to affirm homosexuality within a Christian church ended up knocking all the supports out from under the faith. The slippery slope really is real. 

If you want to find a reason to live in the face of all these doom-and-gloom crises — and climate change might not even be the worst one — then you are going to have to find a community of true believers. Of people who are, to use Wolfe’s phrase, “open to Being” — a deceptively calm formulation that essentially means recognizing that you and your Self are not the most important things in the universe, and that there is a realm beyond you that grounds our being and provides order and meaning. We can’t make this stuff up as we go along; we can only receive it, and build our lives around it.

You can go with trendy New Age or progressive Christian pastors, but you will ultimately end up either in a traditional church, in La-La Land, vibing with Ryan Meeks, or in atheism. That way is spiritual death. But if the “traditional church” you end up in is one that focuses heavily on politics, or prosperity, or puts the well being of the sacred Self above it all — then stay away. Only a church that can give you the spiritual resources to endure suffering for the sake of the Gospel matters. That’s it. Everything else is going to burn away in what is here, and what is to come. If you are in a good church, but the leadership prefers to avoid talking about these crises, then find others within your church who care about it, and start talking about it among yourselves, and figuring out what you can do to get ready.

I never proselytize on this blog. It would be inappropriate. But when I read stories like the report of the deep despair of the young, and when I read about false teachers like Ryan Meeks leading people into the pit, I want to shout: THERE IS HOPE! There are many reasons why I love being an Orthodox Christian, but the fact that this is an ancient church that has stood the test of time, and that it explains suffering and teaches us how to bear it and transform it into holiness — this is why I have no doubt that Orthodoxy is trustworthy as a Way. I’m not talking about the institutional church, which has its own problems, like every other church in the world. I’m talking about Orthodox Christianity as a way of life, as a means of living in the presence of God, as a pathway to unity with him. Here is a church that tells you, frankly, yes, life is a struggle, but you are not struggling alone, and your struggle is the normal way to purify ourselves on the pilgrim’s path to God. It’s a church of saints, martyrs and confessors, not West Coast New Age hipsters and Southern prosperity preachers. Whatever Ryan Meeks is proclaiming, Orthodoxy is the opposite. Know this, and know hope.

I’m serious. We know that every generation in the past has faced tremendous adversity, yet found life ultimately to be worth living — which is why they had children. If our own ancestors had surrendered in the face of suffering and chaos, we wouldn’t be here. They knew things that we have forgotten, or never learned in the first place. Those who survive this crisis — these crises — will be those who live in God, facing the dangers with confidence. You read my blog every day, and you know that I’m thinking about the collapse of our civilization all the time. But look, the early Benedictines lived through something similar, but they did not give up hope. They built amid the ruins, because they lived in sacred time. It has to be that way with us too. It has to. 

Somebody needs to preach to these young people that the future is going to be very hard, that there’s no escaping it, and that it is going to require them to defy their own culture if they want to survive. But it is worth it! To hell with conformity! Accept the calling! Be a hero!

Who can do that with authority? Tell me. I’m interested to read in the comments section what you are experiencing in your spiritual lives.

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Upcoming Rod Dreher Public Appearances

A friend in Slovakia found online the above story, and sent it to me, saying, “Now it all makes sense.” I responded, encouraging him to tithe so I can afford the private plane that Brother Copeland and Brother Duplantis say is necessary. 

Well, I am neither a Slav nor a Slavic god, but I will be traveling around the US of A in the coming weeks. Here’s where you can catch me, if you can:

On October 6, I will be in Tulsa, speaking about Live Not By Lies at the Liberty Gala sponsored by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. Buy tickets here. 

The next day, October 7, I will be in Washington for the TAC Gala. Get your tickets here. 

On October 14-16, I will be speaking at the annual Touchstone conference, in suburban Chicago. Check out the line-up of speakers, and get your ticket. You won’t want to miss this. I’m especially looking forward to hearing what Carl Trueman has to say. If you haven’t yet read his blockbuster book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, you are missing one of the most important books of our century. I’m not kidding — it’s that vital. When I was on Dennis Prager’s radio show recently, I gave him and his producer each a copy of Carl’s book, and urged them to read it. This Touchstone conference is a must.

On October 29-30, I will be in Sacramento giving a retreat sponsored by an Evangelical church called Epiclesis:

Here’s how to reserve your spot.

I will fly out of Sacramento and head to Orlando, where I will be speaking at the National Conservatism conference, which runs October 31 – November 2. Check out the speakers — this is THE conservative event of the fall. Follow that link to reserve your tickets.

There are a couple of other public events that might be happening; I’ll keep you updated. I do hope to see some of you at one of these events. Though I’m not actually a Slavic god, if you want to bring me an offering of slivovitz, I won’t say no.

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A Father, A Daughter, & The Glories Of Greece

Detail from Raphael's 'The School of Athens'; Plato is on the left, Aristotle on the right

I did not have a classical education — that is, an education that introduced me to Greek and Roman thought — so I came late to appreciating it. Late, as in when my oldest child, now a college junior, started at a classical Christian school in Baton Rouge. I was in theory a supporter of classical education, but only in theory. I had my first direct exposure to the Greeks when I read The Odyssey with Matt, who was twelve at the time.

Oh my Lord, was it ever great! I gave an interview some years back to the Circe Institute, talking about reading The Odyssey for the first time. Excerpts:

In what ways do you think your life – your career as a journalist and writer in particular – would have been different had you read these books as a student? 
I would certainly have been less time-bound in my outlook on life. Today we tend to think that what we see is all there is. I mean, even if we know better, that’s how most of us live. When I was a young man, I looked to the newspapers and magazines to know what was going on in my world, and how I should think about it. There is nothing wrong with this! In fact, I was better informed than most people my age. But there is a difference between knowledge and information, and I didn’t know that back then. Had I encountered the classics as a student, I imagine that I would have grasped the relativism of our own worldview. I mean, I would have been a lot more questioning and skeptical of the worldview we receive from the supposedly wise men and women of our own time and place. We suffer from what I call chronological parochialism — that is, the idea that we, being modern, know better than everybody who came before us. If the past is an undiscovered country, our modern prejudices tell us that we don’t have anything to learn from the people who live there. But Homer knew the human heart better than most contemporaries, and Dante knew the human soul more penetratingly than many of us do. I’m not saying that the Greek epics, and the Divine Comedy are holy writ, but I am saying that if I had encountered them as a student, my perspective on the world and my place in it would likely have been deeper. Even now, as a middle-aged conservative Christian, I find that Dante’s insights on the relationship between the will and the intellect with regard to our struggles against sin challenge my thinking in constructive ways. I think about all the self-help volumes clotting the shelves in bookstores, and I think, Lord have mercy, just read Dante! He’s right!
In the face of the new Common Core initiatives many people are wondering whether it’s really necessary for students to read so many stories, especially myths. What do you think, is it necessary? Or should we let them wait until they are adults and decide for themselves? 
No, you have to read them nowAgain, we’re confronted with presentism — the idea that we know better than those who came before us. There is a reason why Homer and Dante have survived for so long. They not only wrote beautifully, but they wrote with deep wisdom. Encountering the classics at my age, accompanying my son on his educational journey, has revealed to me the importance of imparting to young people the sense of historical and cultural perspective you can only get from the classics. If Homer could get so much right about human nature, and he lived so far from us culturally and historically, there must be many other poets and philosophers of our civilization who considered life, and who have something to tell us about how things really are. The classics are like messages in a bottle, tossed into the sea of time, washing ashore with maps to help us find our way out of the shipwreck of modernity. Would we let our children walk around lost on the beach, and not show them maps that could help them find their way home until they were adults? Again, the classics are not on the same level as Scripture, but because they are the best secular things that our civilization has thought and said, I think we should take them with similar seriousness. Would you consider it a responsible thing to do to let your kids wait until they were adults to introduce them to the Bible, and let them choose for themselves? That’s how I’ve come to think of Homer, Dante, and the others.
When I hear about barbarians like those in the Classics profession who denounce the Classics as white supremacist, and who believe that the Classics ought to be diminished or even destroyed, I want to fight. I mean fight. These people are trying to steal from my children, and from all children, our inheritance as men and women of the West, and, quite frankly, as part of humanity. Homer doesn’t belong to the Greeks, or to Europe, or to the West. He belongs to the world.
What I struggle to get people to understand is that these leftists are trying to erase historical memory for the sake of pushing their totalitarian ideas. This is Totalitarianism 101: those who control the past — which is to say, what gets remembered collectively, and how it gets remembered — control the future.
Well, here is a terrific personal essay by the black American writer Thomas Chatterton Williams, who discusses going to Greece with his little kids and introducing them to the Parthenon, and other places that meant a lot to him as a boy. Williams’s father raised him on the Classics. As a poor boy growing up in segregated Galveston, Williams père discovered a castaway copy of Will and Ariel Durant’s histories, and entered into the world of Greece as a kid. Williams’s father became a private tutor to anyone who wanted to learn. What a man he must be! (I hope he’s still alive.) Here are excerpts from TCW’s piece:
Over the course of our stay, a relentless sun beat down on the nearly deserted ancient Athenian Agora, a small, parched and rocky patch of land that provoked in me the same telltale shiver down the spine that I’ve only ever felt in the garden of Gethsemane and parts of the Vatican. An overwhelming proportion of the world we take for granted today was birthed in these cramped spaces. Josh and I sat among the pillars and rubble, and I labored to envision Socrates darting through the hurried masses, pestering everyone with questions so insightful and inconvenient that he would eventually have to be killed for their perspicacity. When I looked up, it hit me that he was tried and convicted on the hill directly above us.
Can you imagine?! More:

While Valentine shopped, I realized there was someplace I needed to take Marlow [TCW’s seven year old daughter]. I ordered an Uber, and 15 minutes later the two of us were standing in the blazing heat of a not particularly well maintained public park in the nondescript Akadimia Platonos quarter, next to modest apartment blocks, auto-repair shops and Orthodox churches. With the aid of some precise geotags I had found on a particularly helpful blog, we located the unobtrusive signpost giving context and directions to the rectangles of stones protruding from the dirt in several expanses. “What are we doing?” Marlow asked, and I explained again that we were looking for the footprint of a structure that in some imagined but also not at all insignificant way had reached across millenniums to grab her grandfather and nudge him beyond his circumstances.

I repeated to her the anecdote about how my father discovered the image of Socrates, which led to a lifelong devotion to his student Plato, in whose dialogues his genius is preserved. Somewhere in this park there were the archaeological ruins of Plato’s Academy, where he taught, among others, Aristotle, tutor of Alexander the Great and one of the finest minds the world has ever witnessed. These men actually studied here, I told her. From 387 B.C., the academy endured until the death of its last head, Philo of Larissa, just over 300 years later. The ruins had been lost to history until only the 20th century. In another era we would have missed it.

We stood now in the original Grove of Academe, and I asked Marlow if she recognized the word from the top of all the papers her grandfather had given us. This plot of land was sacred according to classical mythology: It had been a haven to Athena since the Bronze Age and was subsequently named after its legendary owner, the hero Akademos, who had revealed to the Spartans where King Theseus had hidden Helen (not yet of Troy) and spared Athens bloodshed. It was for this reason that Plato called his school set on Akademos’ land an “aκαδημία,” and it’s because of that choice that centuries later the French “académie” would filter into English and eventually inform those toner-stained sheets of paper we both pored over.

I cannot overstate how exciting and moving this story is, at least to a father like me. It ends:

I told my daughter then that I don’t believe it is an exaggeration to say that — in some small but very real way — these rooms made possible our own fleeting existence.

Please, read the whole thing and send it on to everybody you know.

Contrast the fruitful encounter Williams père had with the Greeks to the one that another impoverished black boy, Dan-el Padilla Peralta, had as a Dominican immigrant living in a homeless shelter in New York’s Chinatown. From a NYT profile:

At the shelter, “the food tasted nasty,” and “pools of urine” marred the bathroom floor, Padilla wrote in his 2015 memoir, “Undocumented.” His one place of respite was the tiny library on the shelter’s top floor. Since leaving the Dominican Republic, Padilla had grown curious about Dominican history, but he couldn’t find any books about the Caribbean on the library’s shelves. What he did find was a slim blue-and-white textbook titled “How People Lived in Ancient Greece and Rome.” “Western civilization was formed from the union of early Greek wisdom and the highly organized legal minds of early Rome,” the book began. “The Greek belief in a person’s ability to use his powers of reason, coupled with Roman faith in military strength, produced a result that has come to us as a legacy, or gift from the past.” Thirty years later, Padilla can still recite those opening lines. “How many times have I taken an ax to this over the last decade of my career?” he said to me. “But at the moment of the initial encounter, there was something energizing about it.” Padilla took the textbook back to the room he shared with his mother and brother and never returned it to the library.

The story tells of how the Greeks liberated him. Padilla became a top Classics scholar — and is now using his prestige in the field, and his position at Princeton, to try to destroy the Classics discipline. More:

To see classics the way Padilla sees it means breaking the mirror; it means condemning the classical legacy as one of the most harmful stories we’ve told ourselves. Padilla is wary of colleagues who cite the radical uses of classics as a way to forestall change; he believes that such examples have been outmatched by the field’s long alliance with the forces of dominance and oppression. Classics and whiteness are the bones and sinew of the same body; they grew strong together, and they may have to die together. Classics deserves to survive only if it can become “a site of contestation” for the communities who have been denigrated by it in the past. This past semester, he co-taught a course, with the Activist Graduate School, called “Rupturing Tradition,” which pairs ancient texts with critical race theory and strategies for organizing. “I think that the politics of the living are what constitute classics as a site for productive inquiry,” he told me. “When folks think of classics, I would want them to think about folks of color.” But if classics fails his test, Padilla and others are ready to give it up. “I would get rid of classics altogether,” Walter Scheidel, another of Padilla’s former advisers at Stanford, told me. “I don’t think it should exist as an academic field.”

This is the way of the world today. The iconoclastic Padillas have the power. If the Classics are going to be saved for future generations, it’s going to require the efforts of parents like Thomas Chatterton Williams and his father, and parents like you and me. It will especially take starting and supporting classical schools — that is, schools that embrace and affirm the study of Greco-Roman culture as foundational to our tradition. A non-Christian friend who is the father of a small boy texted me recently to ask if I knew of any classical schools that aren’t affiliated with the Christian tradition. He wants his son to learn to love the Greco-Roman classics outside of a Christian ethos. If I were an educational entrepreneur, I would spy in this an opportunity. I think the Great Hearts academies provide what my friend is looking for, but I’m not entirely sure.

As my longtime readers know, encountering Dante amid a severe personal crisis saved my life. Dante was not of the Classical world, of course, but he’s relevant here because I had not imagined that a very long poem written by a medieval Tuscan could be so blazingly relevant to my own life in 21st century America. I discovered that Dante understood me better than I understood myself. I have never read anything that had such a profound impact on the way I saw myself. I think back with puzzlement and anger at the grad student who stood up once in the Q&A portion of a lecture I had just given on Dante, and asked me, with complete sincerity, why anybody should pay attention to Dante, as he is a dead white European male who wrote as a representative of an oppressive, bigoted culture.

This poor young woman had been taught by her university to blind herself, and call it liberation.

Those lucky Williams kids, having a daddy like that, and a grandfather like that. Here is a link to my 2012 account of going through the Louvre’s Greco-Roman collection with Matthew, who had just turned 13. We were on a family trip to Paris. I ended like this:

On and on like that. We finally had to leave, because it was too much.

Walking back across the river, I thought: I am so joyful we did this, this trip to Paris. Thank you, God, for giving this opportunity to us. It has been so thrilling. To walk through the Louvre with my son, to be with him in front of the Greek ceramics, and Pallas Athena, given how much pleasure we’ve had together reading “The Odyssey” — well, words can’t describe how much it meant to me. And to have him teaching me things as well! Something happened between us today to bring us closer, and has been happening with us since we started “The Odyssey” together. Dear readers, this has been a costly trip, in monetary terms, but the experiences we have been having are priceless. If something like this is at all within your means, please do it. Please!

Look what I just found: an earlier book of Williams’s, called Losing My Cool. From the Amazon description:

A pitch-perfect account of how hip-hop culture drew in the author and how his father drew him out again-with love, perseverance, and fifteen thousand books.

Into Williams’s childhood home-a one-story ranch house-his father crammed more books than the local library could hold. “Pappy” used some of these volumes to run an academic prep service; the rest he used in his unending pursuit of wisdom. His son’s pursuits were quite different-“money, hoes, and clothes.” The teenage Williams wore Medusa- faced Versace sunglasses and a hefty gold medallion, dumbed down and thugged up his speech, and did whatever else he could to fit into the intoxicating hip-hop culture that surrounded him. Like all his friends, he knew exactly where he was the day Biggie Smalls died, he could recite the lyrics to any Nas or Tupac song, and he kept his woman in line, with force if necessary.

But Pappy, who grew up in the segregated South and hid in closets so he could read Aesop and Plato, had a different destiny in mind for his son. For years, Williams managed to juggle two disparate lifestyles- “keeping it real” in his friends’ eyes and studying for the SATs under his father’s strict tutelage. As college approached and the stakes of the thug lifestyle escalated, the revolving door between Williams’s street life and home life threatened to spin out of control. Ultimately, Williams would have to decide between hip-hop and his future. Would he choose “street dreams” or a radically different dream- the one Martin Luther King spoke of or the one Pappy held out to him now?

Williams is the first of his generation to measure the seductive power of hip-hop against its restrictive worldview, which ultimately leaves those who live it powerless. Losing My Cool portrays the allure and the danger of hip-hop culture like no book has before. Even more remarkably, Williams evokes the subtle salvation that literature offers and recounts with breathtaking clarity a burgeoning bond between father and son.

I found this short promotional video from 2010, in which TCW chats with his father Clarence about that book:

Clarence Williams is an American hero, and I mean that sincerely. TCW wrote about him in this NYT piece adapted from his most recent book, and how his father helped him to find his own true self. Excerpt:

Throughout my adolescence, largely spent on asphalt ball courts and planted in front of BET with what in retrospect appears a lot like the fervency of the convert, the zealously born-again, I consciously learned and performed my race, like a teacher’s pet in an advanced-placement course on cartoonish black manhood. Looking back, I am most jarred by the sheer artificiality of the endeavor. The genes I share with my father and others who look like us, which have kinked my hair and tinted my skin, do not carry within them a set of prescribed behaviors.

Blackness, as I inhabited it and it inhabited me, was not so much what you looked like — that was often a starting point, but there is no more physically diverse group of Americans than “blacks.” Rather, it grew into a question of how you spoke and dressed yourself, your self-presentation — how you met the world, the philosopher Martin Buber might say. Blackness was what you loved and what in turn loved or at least accepted you, what you found offensive or, more to the point, to whom your presence might constitute an offense. The 1990s will not go down in history as a particularly incisive political epoch in the history of black America. At the risk of overgeneralizing, when compared with the era we now inhabit, my generation’s youthful apathy seems outrageous. My friends and I tended to favor form over content, the cant of a brim or the jewel in an earlobe; race pride for us could boil down to nothing more than rhythm and athleticism, the way a person learned or didn’t learn to cut through the air; it was fussing over not looking fussed, the perpetual subterfuge of nonchalance.

There are few things more American than falling back on the language of race when what we’re really talking about is class or, more accurate still, manners, values and taste. This is why an older blue-collar Italian friend of my brother’s could tell me foolishly but in all seriousness that my bookish father was “whiter” than his own financially secure but uneducated dad; and it’s why a tough black boy I met could step inside our tiny house, glance at our shelves and in the cramped kitchen at my blond mother cheerily baking snacks and declare against all evidence to the contrary, “Man, y’all are rich.”

Clarence Williams had married a white woman, TCW’s mother, whose father did not want to acknowledge that his daughter had ended up with a black man. In part because he had grown up in a culture that treated him and people like him unjustly because of the color of their skin, Clarence Williams believed it important that his sons have a black identity. But he did not want his sons to lose their individuality within a socially constructed identity. That is to say, Clarence Williams expanded their idea of what it meant to be black. He did not want his sons to think that being black meant performing “blackness” as conceived by the crowd. Why should a black man be thought of as less black because he loves Plato?

I had something like this in my childhood. I was raised in a family where educational achievement was prized — my late father insisted on good grades — but also instrumentalized. We got good grades so we could get a good job. That was the point of it. I see so clearly now, in my 55th year, that my dad had a strictly traditional idea of what his kids should be: 100 percent like him. If the point of education was to make us in any way different, then education was a menace.

My dad was like Clarence Williams in that he had high expectations for us kids, and would not accept slacking off in school or in our moral lives. Yet having a son who was temperamentally unlike him was unnerving. I’ve written about this at length in two earlier books, so I won’t go into it here in depth. The effect was that I grew up feeling like a phony, and that the things I really loved — books, ideas, movies, and not sports and hunting — made me inferior. It did in my dad’s eyes. He would have denied it till his dying day, but it really did.

I was lucky in that I had two aunts of ancient age who were part of my life in my first nine years. They were in our family, but boy, were they different from the rest of us. Lois and Hilda were born in the 1890s, and were living their final years in a shabby cabin in a pecan orchard walking distance from my family’s house, but they were two of the most cosmopolitan people I’ve ever known. They delighted little me with stories of being in France during the Great War, and later, of Lois living in Tegucigalpa with iguanas lounging on her lawn, and of Hilda dressing as a man to commandeer a relief boat to suffering communities during the 1927 flood. These women loved, loved, loved the life of the mind, and made me feel that I was made for it. Daddy always accused them of “ruining” me. So they did, I guess. But I say they saved me.

They died when I was young, about 10, and I had a miserable early teenage period, in which I was bullied at school, and … not bullied at home, but let’s just say that my father stayed mad at me, because he was sure that I was “different” to spite him. Fortunately, I was able to go off to a public boarding school when I was 16. It changed my life, chiefly because this was the first time I didn’t have to feel ashamed to be a smart kid who was interested in books and ideas. I had not realized that the world could be like this. I flourished. A lot of other kids there were like me in that way.

As you know if you’ve read me for any while, when my sister Ruthie died ten years ago, my wife and I felt a calling to move to small town Louisiana to help my family. Things did not work out. I falsely assumed that the family’s ethos had changed, but it hadn’t. They still thought of me as fake, as having gotten above myself, as having been disloyal to whatever it is they were and are. For example: that Paris trip in which Matt and I had the glorious experience in the Louvre? My father chastised me for wasting money taking the kids to do boring things. For the month we spent in Paris, we could have had two weeks in luxury at Disneyworld. My father would have congratulated me for being a good father if we had done that, but going off to Paris with the kids? No.

Thomas Chatterton Williams talks about “blackness” as the way of life he felt expected to live out (meaning not what his father taught him, but what the media and hip-hop culture told him was authentically black); I had a mild version of that in my family. It’s very small potatoes compared to what TCW went through, but when it’s your family you’re talking about, well, nothing looms larger in a person’s life. I saw no reason why I couldn’t love small-town Louisiana, where I had come from, but also love Paris and the rest of it — places I had learned in my adult life to love. In fact, there is no reason for that I couldn’t do this. Aunt Lois and Aunt Hilda had done it! But my father, a highly intelligent man, bristled at anything unfamiliar. The word “different” was a word of opprobrium in my parents’ and sister’s vocabulary. As they saw it, the only reason I wasn’t like them 100 percent was because I was inauthentic, and deliberately so. That is, I had chosen to get above my raising. This was a rural Southern white-people way of telling me that I was fake. We don’t have a word like “Oreo” to describe people like me within white culture, but you get the idea.

I bring all this up again to tell you that Dante delivered me from the misery and the pain of realizing that I was always going to live in exile from my family, even if I lived just down the road. I tell the story in How Dante Can Save Your Life about how I got very sick with chronic mononucleosis, sparked by deep, unceasing anxiety over my rejection — and how discovering Dante by happenstance led me out of that dark wood. What I came to realize was that while my exile was permanent, and not something I could change, I could change the way I related to it, and thought about myself in relation to the exile. I learned reading Dante about mistakes I had made in my own life that left me vulnerable to the pain of this particular exile. I repented of those mistakes, and suddenly began to heal. I discovered that the most unlikely person — a 14th century itinerant Tuscan poet — had the secret to living with suffering. I found that Dante Alighieri knew me better than I knew myself.

And so, it wasn’t until I was 46 years old that I finally accepted that there was nothing wrong with me, or rather, what’s wrong with me has nothing to do with what my father and the others considered to be my faults. It wasn’t until I was 46 years old that I learned, in my heart, that God the Father is not like my own dad, and that I don’t have to live in the shadow of shame for disappointing Him. It might sound childish to you, but for me, my God, that was liberation. And it would not have happened if it hadn’t been for Dante.

My wife pointed out that Dante wouldn’t have come into my life had it not been for Homer, and for reading The Odyssey with my son Matt the year before. “Why were you in the poetry section of the bookstore that day you found Dante?” she asked. I couldn’t say; I didn’t care much for poetry back then, so didn’t visit it much. She told me: “Because you had read Homer, and it had rocked your world. You were there looking for something else that might.”

She was absolutely right.

I found myself in Dante, because I had first plunged into Homer, and saw what old books could do. Clarence Williams knew it long before I did. What a blessing it was for TCW to have grown up in the light of that great man’s gifts.

I didn’t mean to write so long, but man, this story got to me, this story of a father walking Athens with his little girl, going back to the roots of their civilization. Yes, their civilization. Even though both father and daughter have a significant amount of African blood, they are children of the West. Athens is their home, as is Rome, and Jerusalem. What a pity that so many of us today choose to be exiles, and teach our children that they have to hate themselves and where they come from in order to be authentic … and how many of us teach our children that they must love where they come from in exactly the way we love it, or they are inauthentic. It’s all there as a gift for the making of our own perspective!

 

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Living The 1619 Project Lie

Historian Sean Wilentz (Source)

A reader sends this link to a powerful essay by Princeton’s Sean Wilentz, one of America’s leading historians, who writes about the scandal of The New York Times‘s 1619 Project, and the moral and intellectual capitulation of American historians to its fraudulent claims. Wilentz is a prominent historian of the slavery era, and a man of the Left; as such, he writes that he initially was pleased to hear about the 1619 Project. But then he actually read its lead essay:

And then Wilentz set out to use his prestige, and his credentials as a leading intellectual of the Left, to correct the record. He writes about running into a stone wall, both at the Times, which refused to admit error, and among professional historians, who were too afraid to be seen as racist to go public with their criticism. More:

And:

 

Read it all. 

It is interesting that this essay appeared in a Czech historical journal. I wonder if Wilentz couldn’t get it published in the US. He says in his conclusion that

subordinating truth to the demands of justice cannot be just, and may be a big step toward creating injustice, even tyranny. [Emphasis mine — RD] You in the Czech Republic have had to learn that lesson the hard way, repeatedly, over many difficult decades. “Living in truth,” as Václav Havel described it, must be the basis for more than politics, including the study of history. It appears to be a lesson that many American historians, in far less onerous but still fragile and worrisome situations, must now learn for themselves.

The creation of tyranny. This is an extremely important point. In Live Not By Lies, I cited the 1619 Project and its defenders as an example of the kinds of ideological falsifications of history that are common in totalitarian, or pre-totalitarian, societies. The fact that virtually the entire academic and media elite in the US is willing to pretend that the 1619 Project is true (because it advances a cause they believe in) is staggering testimony to corruption. In my previous post, I called out Donald Trump and his campaign for allowing the “stop the steal” narrative to go forward even though an internal memo reveals that they had concluded the claims were baseless. And now we see the same thing from the Left, though this one is far more consequential. When you have professional historians afraid to contradict what they know to be a lie, and when you have both academia and the media collaborating to defend a politically useful lie, you know the rot is deep. The corruption in that case is not just from a single politician and those around him, but with entire institutions vital to liberal democracy.

From Live Not By Lies:

Heda Margolius Kovály, a disillusioned Czech communist whose husband was executed after a 1952 show trial, reflects on the willingness of people to turn their backs on the truth for the sake of an ideological cause.

It is not hard for a totalitarian regime to keep people ignorant. Once you relinquish your freedom for the sake of “understood necessity,” for Party discipline, for conformity with the regime, for the greatness and glory of the Fatherland, or for any of the substitutes that are so convincingly offered, you cede your claim to the truth. Slowly, drop by drop, your life begins to ooze away just as surely as if you had slashed your wrists; you have voluntarily condemned yourself to helplessness.

You can surrender your moral responsibility to be honest out of misplaced idealism. You can also surrender it by hating others more than you love truth. In pre-totalitarian states, Arendt writes, hating “respectable society” was so narcotic, that elites were willing to accept “monstrous forgeries in historiography” for the sake of striking back at those who, in their view, had “excluded the underprivileged and oppressed from the memory of mankind.” For example, many who didn’t really accept Marx’s revisionist take on history—that it is a manifestation of class struggle—were willing to affirm it because it was a useful tool to punish those they despised.

Here’s an important example of this happening in our time and place. In 2019, The New York Times, the world’s most influential newspaper, launched the “1619 Project,” a massive attempt to “reframe” (the Times’s word) American history by displacing the 1776 Declaration of Independence as the traditional founding of the United States, replacing it with the year the first African slaves arrived in North America.

No serious person denies the importance of slavery in US history. But that’s not the point of the 1619 Project. Its goal is to revise America’s national identity by making race hatred central to the nation’s foundational myth. Despite the project’s core claim (that the patriots fought the American Revolution to preserve slavery) having been thoroughly debunked, journalism’s elite saw fit to award the project’s director a Pulitzer Prize for her contribution. Equipped with this matchless imprimatur of establishment respectability, the 1619 Project, which has already been taught in forty-five hundred classrooms, will find its way into many more.

Propaganda helps change the world by creating a false impression of the way the world is. Writes Arendt, “The force possessed by totalitarian propaganda—before the movement has the power to drop the iron curtains to prevent anyone’s disturbing, by the slightest reality, the gruesome quiet of an entirely imaginary world—lies in its ability to shut the masses off from the real world.”

We have become a country in which people are eager to be lied to, if it satisfies what they wish to believe. This is not going to end well for us.

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It Was All A Grift

Court documents show that Team Trump knew the “stolen election” story was fake from the beginning. From the NYT:

Two weeks after the 2020 election, a team of lawyers closely allied with Donald J. Trump held a widely watched news conference at the Republican Party’s headquarters in Washington. At the event, they laid out a bizarre conspiracy theory claiming that a voting machine company had worked with an election software firm, the financier George Soros and Venezuela to steal the presidential contest from Mr. Trump.

But there was a problem for the Trump team, according to court documents released on Monday evening.

By the time the news conference occurred on Nov. 19, Mr. Trump’s campaign had already prepared an internal memo on many of the outlandish claims about the company, Dominion Voting Systems, and the separate software company, Smartmatic. The memo had determined that those allegations were untrue.

The court papers, which were initially filed late last week as a motion in a defamation lawsuit brought against the campaign and others by a former Dominion employee, Eric Coomer, contain evidence that officials in the Trump campaign were aware early on that many of the claims against the companies were baseless.

Get this:
The documents also suggest that the campaign sat on its findings about Dominion even as Sidney Powell and other lawyers attacked the company in the conservative media and ultimately filed four federal lawsuits accusing it of a vast conspiracy to rig the election against Mr. Trump.
Powell and others are now being sued by Dominion over these false and allegedly defamatory claims. Think about that: the Trump campaign allowed its surrogates — including allies like the Evangelical broadcaster Eric Metaxas and the columnist Michelle Malkin, who are also being sued by Dominion — to make public statements it knew were false, and could potentially get them sued.
But the campaign chiefs didn’t care. Nor did they care that they put the country through months of political strife, undermining people’s confidence in democracy along the way. They didn’t care because Trumpism is grift.
I know this is hard for some folks, but it really is possible to say that the Left is bad in ten thousand ways, but it is also true that Trumpism is grift.
Nevertheless, two-thirds of Republican voters say they want Trump to be the 2024 nominee. Republican voters aren’t serious about governing. The woke Left is consolidating power across American institutions, but the Right is still fixated on the Grifter, who is too weak, scattered, and egotistical to face down the enemies of what we conservatives believe to be true.
Honestly, would you go to work for Trump, knowing that he knew from the beginning that the stolen election narrative was fake, but allowed his most devoted minions to set themselves up for legal peril anyway? Seriously, these people who truly believed in Trump, and magnified his false claims, are now facing potential financial ruin. And he let them carry on anyway.

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Pope Francis Scolds ‘Rigid’ Sinners

Pope Francis in Slovakia (Vatican News)

Oh boy, Pope Francis produced a wealth of quotable lines in his recent meeting with Slovak Jesuits. The entire exchange is here, in La Civiltà Cattolica. Excerpts:

One of those present begins by saying: “I am two years younger than you” and the pope replies jokingly: “… but you don’t look it! You’re wearing makeup!” The others laugh. He continues: “In 1968 I entered the Society of Jesus as a refugee. I was a member of the Swiss Province for 48 years, and have now been here for 5 years. I have lived in very different Churches. Today I see that many people want to go back or seek certainties in the past. Under communism I experienced pastoral creativity. Some even said that a Jesuit could not be formed during communism, but others disagreed and we are here. What vision of Church can we follow?”

You said something very important, which identifies the suffering of the Church at this moment: the temptation to go backward. We are suffering this today in the Church: the ideology of going backward. It is an ideology that colonizes minds. It is a form of ideological colonization. It is not really a universal problem, but rather specific to the churches of certain countries. Life scares us. I’ll repeat something I said to the ecumenical group I met here before you: freedom scares us. In a world that is so conditioned by addictions and virtual experiences it frightens us to be free. In the previous meeting I took Dostoevsky’s The Great Inquisitor as an example. He finds Jesus and says to him: “Why did you give us freedom? It is dangerous!” The inquisitor reproaches Jesus for having given us freedom: a bit of bread would have been enough and nothing more.

That is why today we look back to the past: to seek security. It frightens us to celebrate before the people of God who look us in the face and tell us the truth. It frightens us to go forward in pastoral experiences. I think of the work that was done – Father Spadaro was present – at the Synod on the Family to make it understood that couples in second unions are not already condemned to hell. It frightens us to accompany people with sexual diversity. We are afraid of the crossroads and paths that Paul VI spoke of. This is the evil of this moment, namely, to seek the path in rigidity and clericalism, which are two perversions.

“The ideology of going backward”? What world is he talking about? Are you aware that the Catholic Church has been “rigid” at any point over the last 50 years? Most of the people I know who seek out the Latin mass are not looking for rigidity; they are looking for backbone. And if anything, they are trying to escape the clericalism of priests who treat liturgical worship as theirs to modify, and to inhabit as a performer.

Anyway, the condescension and arrogance of his characterizing those who disagree with him as cowards who fear the glorious future Francis and his cohorts promise. That the people within the Church who find the progressive LGBT outreach of Francis’s agent Father James Martin to be theologically problematic are nothing but homophobes. A lot of the Catholics I know have spent a lifetime listening to clerics like Pope Francis promise that the great postconciliar renewal, the springtime of the Church, was just around the corner. They can’t be fooled again.

It’s just not true that the Catholic collapse in the wake of Vatican II is entirely the fault of Vatican II. The West experienced radical secularization starting in the 1960s. The point is that whatever the conciliar fathers hoped for did not pan out, and some Catholics are desperate for a liturgy and an ethos in which they find strength. But Francis doesn’t want them to have it. I’m an outsider, but this is unfathomable to me. How are these people the problem? How?

About his decision to severely limit once again the availability of the Tridentine (Latin) mass, the Pope said:

Now I hope that with the decision to stop the automatism of the ancient rite we can return to the true intentions of Benedict XVI and John Paul II. My decision is the result of a consultation with all the bishops of the world made last year. From now on those who want to celebrate with the vetus ordo must ask permission from as is done with biritualism. But there are young people who after a month of ordination go to the bishop to ask for it. This is a phenomenon that indicates that we are going backward.

A cardinal told me that two newly ordained priests came to him asking him for permission to study Latin so as to celebrate well. With a sense of humor he replied: “But there are many Hispanics in the diocese! Study Spanish to be able to preach. Then, when you have studied Spanish, come back to me and I’ll tell you how many Vietnamese there are in the diocese, and I’ll ask you to study Vietnamese. Then, when you have learned Vietnamese, I will give you permission to study Latin.” So he made them “land,” he made them return to earth. I go ahead, not because I want to start a revolution. I do what I feel I must do. It takes a lot of patience, prayer and a lot of charity.

The “true intentions of Benedict XVI and John Paul II”! That’s chutzpah. And saying that he is the one showing patience, prayer, and charity — wow. Did you ever think you would see the day when a Pope discouraged priests from studying what was the language of the Church from antiquity until maybe fifty years ago? Progress! they call it. Father Zuhlsdorf, reflecting on the Pope’s words, said, “This is the world turned inside out and upside down, colors inversed, polarities shifted.”

Let the reader understand.

Francis also denounced EWTN (though not by name) as doing “the work of the devil.” It is known that the conservative Catholic satellite channel is not Francis’s favorite, but it’s interesting how progressive Catholic outlets like National Catholic Reporter can do things like publish an account by a Catholic divinity student about how great it was to go to a Hindu temple and worship Ganesha — and the Pope doesn’t care. Granted, I don’t expect the Roman pontiff to know about columns published by American progressive Catholic newspapers. But then, if he’s going to call out EWTN for its supposedly satanic excesses, he ought to at least have a word or two to say about Catholic newspapers that promote Catholics worshiping false gods.

I know, I know. I know. None of this is new from Francis, of course, but it felt particularly weird hearing it in the same week that we found out that the Catholic Archbishop of Moncton, in Canada, has said that only those Catholics over the age of 12 who can prove vaccination will be allowed to come to mass, or to participate in any other part of the Church’s communal life. As you know, I’m not an anti-vaxxer, but forbidding people from the life of the church, most important of all the Eucharist, unless they can prove vaccination shocks the conscience. Is this church that Francis wants to build going to have the strength to resist governmental oppression?

Despite the accusation that EWTN does the devil’s work, I want to recommend to you this interview that Edward Pentin, Vatican correspondent for the EWTN-owned National Catholic Register, did with me recently in Rome. I draw your attention specifically to this part:

Whom did you speak to for the book, and how did you find them?

I dedicated the book to the memory of Father Tomislav Kolakovic, I had never heard of until I went to Bratislava, and I was just so amazed by his story. [When he fled] to Slovakia in ’43, he told his students, “The good news is the Germans are going to lose this war; the bad news is the Soviets are going to be running this country when it’s over. The first thing they’re going to do is come after the Church, we have to be ready.”

He knew that, and could tell instantly, the very clericalist, passive Slovak Catholicism was going to be no match for what was coming. So, he began to prepare his students. He would bring together these groups of mostly students for prayer, and intense discussion and analysis of what was happening, and they would decide.

Within two years, a network of these groups had spread all over Slovakia, and they had some priests who were going along with them.

They became the backbone for the underground Church. So I realized we are in a Kolakovic moment now in the West. We have to take advantage of the liberty we have now, the liberty of time and religious freedom, such as it is, to prepare.

And to create networks?

Yes, prepare ourselves and our families and our parishes spiritually, but make these networks now across confessional boundaries, across national and international boundaries. Now is the time, it’s urgent.

Once again, let the reader understand. Let the reader also understand that he’s probably not going to get any help from the Vatican in the long struggle ahead.

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Saving Your Child From The Village

Shamir, an agender man, is one of the people who wants to separate your kids from reality (InQueery screenshot)

A reader comments on the “Gender Identity And Your Kids” thread:

There’s a certain kind of conservative who looks at this trend [the corruption of fandom by gender ideology obsessives — RD] and says, “Good riddance. Unplug it all. Now your lazy nerd kids can spend all day at the gym lifting weights, or learn to play a musical instrument, and won’t be wasting time on the fandom of some media-marketed TV show or book series.”

I totally understand this impulse as a utopian ideal, but I also think there’s a horrible lack of appreciation for how difficult it is to raise kids in a world where they are uncomfortable with participating (or forbidden to participate) in popular franchise fan culture. My children are homeschooled and constantly desperate for more peer interaction. When they meet other kids at the park, or the roller skating rink, or on vacation, they are bombarded with aspects of pop culture from which they are being excluded — and they know it. Last month my brother passed along a collection of books and comics that my nephew was reading, and within a few weeks my 9-year-old came to us to confess that one of the books had “the f-word” in it. It ended up featuring a protagonist who was a pre-op transgender boy. At at this point I’m not even sure if her uncle gave it to her out of ignorance, or if he knew but did it anyway as a way to subvert our overly protective parenting style. I don’t have the heart to start a confrontation over it, given the cultural and ideological stress I have with my siblings already. Do you have any idea how wretched I feel that I can no longer trust my own brother as a screen for children’s literature content?

Right now my girls are super-enthusiastic about a book series… and I know they are just a few books away from the one that introduces a lesbian character. We started watching a TV show… and I already know which season has the gay wedding. Every new property (whether it’s original or the rebooting of a Gen X classic) is simply obligated to pay out a wokeness tax now. I’ll let my children watch this stuff with my supervision sometimes, when we can talk about it along the way. But I can’t let them enjoy unsupervised spaces with peers, certainly not in virtual spaces, since those peers are not going to exercise similar discretion. I essentially have to ban my kids from having friends unless those friends are very carefully vetted and supervised, and now I feel trapped in a helicopter-parenting Defcon-alert holding pattern.

It’s hard to exaggerate how besieged the current culture makes me feel as a parent of two daughters leaving elementary school age. I have unceasing dread of a giant industry devoted to prying my children away from my world, my culture, and my values, and to convince them that I’m the sociological equivalent of the stock villains being defeated weekly in their prepackaged media products. I want to give my children the freedom to explore and discover friends without oppressive surveillance, but all of the friends they meet want to create secretive phone-driven modes of contact with them for private conversations. Am I doomed to become a CIA operative, using spyware to catch my preteen daughter having illicit chats about testosterone and top surgery? Will I be the stereotypical killjoy parent, demanding that my girls stop seeing any friends I regard as “a bad influence”? I’m staring into an abyss that has swallowed so much of my world and the things in it that I once loved already, and has designs on my girls as well.

I’ve given up on having any kind of fandom myself, except of a few retro franchises that I can pretend are “closed”. But even that no longer feels safe. What’s LGBT representation going to look like in the new Tolkien-verse show on Amazon? After feeding that fandom for years, do I suddenly have to start telling my own children to avoid interacting with anyone who acts too enthusiastic about Middle Earth? Is there any safe ground left? Will they come for Narnia next?

This devouring of a formerly apolitical childhood and adolescent culture of organic fan enthusiasm to transform it into a catechism for woke cant is an act of unspeakable cruelty to families.

Well said. This is what totalitarianism means: the infiltration of politics (cultural and otherwise) into every aspect of life. In Huxley’s Brave New World, the Savage was the only sane person there because as an exile, he had been raised ignorant of the corrupt totalitarian culture and its values. I heard the other day about a family — a conservative Christian family — that has been devastated by gender ideology wreaking havoc in the lives of their children. It sneaked up on them. Catastrophe. I mean, honest-to-God destruction of young people’s bodies and souls, and of family relationships.

It used to be that it takes a village to save a child. Now, you have to work hard to save your child from the village.

UPDATE: Reader Todd responds to a commenter who said surely it’s not that bad:

I appreciate what you’re writing above, but honestly, you are completely wrong about this. I’m also GenX, and my daughter (born in 2000) sees this stuff day in and day out, since middle school. Honestly, almost all of her friends identify with some kind of “sexual” identity, and the really, really complex ones. I had to have her explain some of the words to me, like “A-rom/A-sex,” which apparently means “not interested in romance or sex,” or, basically, “I don’t want to date anyone right now.” The pressure is just insane. My daughter had a group of peers tell her she was “demisexual,” which I think means something like “won’t have sex without strong emotional attachment.” Like, waiting for sex until she’s married.

It’s really, really crazy for kids right now. I thought for a while that all of this was just “out there,” but I’m telling you, it’s everywhere for young people right now.

A good comment from reader KW:

If I could add one more thing: I think some people misunderstand the sort of concern I think this parent has (and I know that I have). At least in our case, it’s not that we don’t want our children to think gay, trans, etc. people don’t exist (if indeed gay people do still exist; all the kids seem to be bi…but I digress). It’s that we don’t want our child to feel compelled by contemporary cultural forces to parrot that, of course, a boy can be a girl or whatever cultural milestone “next” is about to be thrust upon us (and if you don’t think “multigenerational love” is at least one of the “nexts” to be shoved down our throats…now who’s being naive, Kay?). It’s not representation per se that’s the problem, it’s the insistence that we acknowledge every form of sexuality as a good thing.

And Reader CS:

If I’m picking up the vibe of the “I Have A Question” comment correctly, I think a lot of people like this commenter, who have no or lesser moral qualms about homosexuality, see such Christian concern and think it’s so weird. As if all these prude, bigoted Christians are afraid their children will become gay by TV osmosis or something. I suppose I can’t speak for all Christians, but for me, the reason I hate the gay indoctrination and don’t want my children exposed to it is that children’s minds are not developed enough for nuance. Explaining that homosexuality is a sin, but we all sin, and so while gay people may be wrong, they shouldn’t be judged for it, only their actions should be judged, and not by us, but by God, we should never judge, and oh, by the way, we live in a pluralistic society whereby not all members share the same beliefs, and of course, gay people don’t think what they are doing is sinful or wrong, and we should respect their beliefs, whether or not we agree with them, and so on and so forth. The kid stopped listening when he heard the word “sin,” which he doesn’t quite understand yet. Christians don’t want to communicate that message, and therefore, they would prefer to shield children from these sorts of questions until their children have the capacity to fully understand the nuance and how complicated things can be when morality, religion, ethics, and public policy collide.

The Left, of course, has it easy because they only want to communicate the black-and-white message that all things gay are wonderful and amazing. Both Christians and the Left understand that, when it comes to children, nuance has no chance against simple black-and-white. The simple message has got pole position. So the only alternative is to adopt a simple counter – i.e., that all things gay are bad and harmful. Most Christians don’t want to do this because they do actually believe that it is complicated – maybe not the fact of the sin itself, but rather the meaning of an isolated (even if persistent) sin in a world full of sin, including but not limited to those sins Christians commit on a daily basis and may not even see due to the planks they know are in their eyes.

But, yeah, no, it’s just that we fear the gays…. Makes it easier to hate us, I suppose.

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Viktor Orban On National Mission

Hungarian PM Viktor Orban, addressing an audience at Budapest's Matthias Corvinus Collegium (MCC video)

At a recent event at Budapest’s Matthias Corvinus Collegium, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gave a speech in the presence of Niall Ferguson, whom he mentions in the text. If you speak Hungarian, here is a video link to the speech. Here is a link to the English-language translation of that speech. Excerpts:

What is the reason for the West’s paralysis? In summary, we Central Europeans take the view that the West has gradually lost its faith in its own mission. It no longer seeks meaning in its own history; instead, it keeps saying that it will end soon. It re-interprets or deletes entire chapters of its history, finding them shameful and so to be cancelled, and in the meantime, it is unable to replace them with anything else. And those who are not paralysed, but in fact very much active, are such deconstructive, negative forces that they would be better off paralysed. In Popper’s book of the same title, which lays the foundations for the ideology of open society, we read that those who attribute a special value and a special mission to their own nation or political community are effectively the enemies of open society and are in fact – whether they’re aware of it or not – building tyranny and oppression.

This view is perhaps the most influential and most destructive conclusion of post-World War II Western thinking. Its importance is extraordinary, as today open society – we can safely say – is the West’s only intellectual school of thought that can be regarded as ideologically consistent. However, the concept of open society has deprived the West of its faith in its own values and historical mission, and with this now – at the time of the Muslim flood and the rise of Asia – it is preventing the West from setting its own mission against the rising intellectual and political power centres. This is like choosing the slow agony of life without action over the achievements and flaws of an active life just because there were flaws and errors in that life.

More:

When I talk about Christianity, I must make a detour, drawing your attention to a threat. When we hear about Christian democratic politics, we must be aware that Christianity consists of two things: faith and the forms of existence inspired and created by faith. When in politics we talk about Christianity and Christian democracy, we mean the latter. On issues of faith, governments have no competence. Salvation and perdition – which are the true issues of faith – are simply beyond the boundaries of the realm in which the politics of the day has any legitimate authority. When we talk about Christianity and Christian democracy, we defend the forms of existence that grew out of the societies imbued with Christian faith. Defending personal dignity, the freedom of man created in the image of God, family as was created in Christianity, the national community and communities of faith. This is the essence of Christian democratic politics, not the defence of religious beliefs and dogmas.

Orban, who is addressing college students, goes on to talk about what he calls the Hungarian national mission: “defending the independent Carpathian Basin.” I imagine that non-Magyar Carpathian Basin peoples might have a different take on what it means to be independent. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to hear the prime minister speak in this patriotic vein to these students. Earlier in the talk, he pointed out that given the uniqueness of the Hungarian language, that

our culture, Hungarian national culture, which has been documented for many hundreds of years and whose beginnings reach as far back as the millennia spent on the steppe can only exist within us, through us and by us. Without us, it becomes forever lost to the whole of humanity. This is no easy mission.

This is profound. He is asserting that there is a reason for the existence of the Hungarian people, and that if they disappear, something vital to humanity’s well being will have been lost. This brought to mind something I read a while back by the ethnobiologist Wade Davis, who pointed out that we have a finely developed sense of why we should preserve endangered plant and animal species, but we overlook how much of worth is being lost every day when traditional peoples and their languages die out or die as a distinct culture because of assimilation.

Orban’s main beef with George Soros and the Eurocrats is that they favor a society in which all this real diversity is seen as a problem to be overcome. They say they favor “diversity,” but what they really favor is cultural surrender and annihilation. Orban told the students that they should be patriots, not stateless technocrats:

However, the Hungarian intellectual elite of the day is to be recognised by the fact that they don’t just sense but are keenly aware of this specific Hungarian mission. This is where you come into the picture. Therefore, over here – in harmony with their own professional career objectives – it is the duty of people of intellect to understand this mission, to reflect on it in relation to issues concerning public life, to grasp and to describe the ever-changing forms and expanding content of that mission, and to offer it to members of the nation who pursue professions of a different, non-intellectual nature. In other words, in Hungary, the status and performance of members of the Hungarian intelligentsia – that you yourselves belong to – are always a strategic issue for the nation, not a mere matter for the individual. Within this, supporting talent, or to use a modern term ‘fostering talent’, is one of the Hungarian nation’s greatest challenges and resources at the same time.

This means that due to the outstanding intellectual abilities the Lord bestowed upon you, you have a special responsibility for the future of the Hungarian people. The weight of one thousand one hundred years weighs heavily on your shoulders. Be grateful for that, and do what you have to do.

Read it all. 

What would that kind of speech sound like if given by an American president? If he were true to history and the American character, he would talk about the national mission to bring liberal democracy to the nations. That has been the felt mission of the country across the centuries, and encompassing both political parties.

Now though? I don’t believe in that mission. Do you? I don’t think that makes me less of a patriot. As a general rule, we have no business telling other countries how to run their affairs when our country is falling apart. The woke have taken up the historical American mission and interpret it as telling foreigners that they need to be woke. God forbid that any of my descendants bear arms against another country that the US ruling class decides needs to be punished for being insufficiently woke.

But what does this national mission mean on the political Right? I presume the old-school neocons are looking for another war to fight to prove our national greatness, but I don’t sense that most conservatives believe in exporting American values to the world like we used to. Am I wrong?

I could be wrong. Most of the right-wingers I hang out with think that America today is either an exporter of bad ideas, or at least has so much work to do on shoring up the home front that it has no business meddling in the business of other countries. But maybe I’m out of touch with where most people who identify as conservative are these days on national mission and American exceptionalism. You used to hear right-of-center politicians and thought leaders all the time talk about our national mission to spread the ideals of democracy around the world. After Iraq and Afghanistan, how can people believe that? I’m serious — how can people justify this as a good idea, or even a feasible one?

I’m trying to think about the kind of patriotic “national mission” speech I would want to hear from an American leader in 2021. What would he say? I think I would want to hear a speech in which the leader talked about how we can’t pass on what we don’t have — and that we have lost the habits of mind and of the heart that make for a healthy liberal democracy. I would want to her the leader speak of national mission as recovering who we once were, at home: rebuilding families, re-establishing communities, rediscovering religion, valuing history and tradition, learning to receive our country, its people, and its folkways in a spirit of stewardship, and so forth.

What do you think of Orban’s speech? What kind of speech like that would you want to hear from an American leader?

If you’re a European reader, what kind of speech like that would you want to hear from a leader of your own country? Me, I would want him or her to talk about Europe’s mission to conserve what it is in danger of losing: its rich, diverse history, its culture, and most of all its ancestral religion. Orban talks like this. I wonder how many European religious leaders do.

UPDATE: After posting this, I checked e-mail, and found this there from a reader:

As someone who considers himself a conservative classical liberal (or a classical liberal conservative, depending on how you look at it), one of the more unsettling realizations of our current time is that liberalism (not as practiced and professed by the Left) did this to itself. Not deliberately, of course. But a shift to illiberalism was always possible in an ideology that professed itself able to accommodate all sorts of viewpoints and ways of being. The irony, of course, is that nothing really is all-encompassing. Even classical liberalism needs a line drawn somewhere, but the nature of the ideology makes it difficult to draw any lines. Something which cannot impose limits on itself will eventually walk itself off a cliff because it cannot convincingly argue a reason not to.
The big political story of our time is that liberalism, after an incredible run of success, is now failing, if it hasn’t already. It’s failing due to its aforementioned inability to set limits for itself and also because both the Left and Right have lost faith in it. The Left sees it as unable to delivery equity and it’s ability to deliver equality is also viewed as suspect. The Right sees how easily it can be subverted for nefarious purposes. Thus, we’re currently in a transitional phase where both sides are seeking alternative frameworks and ideologies. The Left, further along the timeline, has settled upon a system that’s socialism in all but name. The Right’s still figuring things out, but it, too, is flirting with some dangerous ideologies.
This is why people like Viktor Orban, in my view, represent the future, at least as far as conservatism and right-wing politics go. No matter what President Biden might say (and he’s certainly no authority on the matter), Orban is far from Hitler and, for someone who’s illiberal and undemocratic, seems to understand democracy better than most of our own politicians here in the U.S. Orban isn’t perfect, but, when faced with committed autocrats, authoritarians, and oligarchs, Orban seems a much better bet, indeed.
The problem is, Orban also represents a distant future. He’s in many ways a product of a much longer history that involves communist totalitarianism. In other words, we’re probably not getting our own Orban this decade and considerable amount of bad has to transpire before we become a society willing to hand our own Orban a chance to run the country. Also, bear in mind the U.S. doesn’t have a parliamentary system, so voting for an Orban-like figure may be a different ballgame from trying to elect a party to which such a figure belongs.
I still consider classical liberalism something worth defending, even to the point of failure. It is, after all, the ideology underpinning the greatest experiment in human history. But I’m also resigned to the fact it’s a fight which will ultimately end in failure. I just hope whatever replaces it will be something other than Wokeism or MAGAism (to which Q-Anonism belongs).

UPDATE.2: A disillusioned military veteran writes:

As far as America’s mission abroad losing your support, I think this is the logical extension of the gradual realization among conservatives that shoring up the imperium may not be in their current best interests, especially when every single elite class sees you as kulaks to be purged.

You cannot alienate between a third to half of your population by regarding them as utter scum and then be surprised when they fail to fight and die on command. This is a logical extension of the left absolutely and completely winning the culture war. The right needs to take a hard look at the status quo and ask the question of cui bono [who benefits?] before they spend blood and treasure.

Freedom and democracy spread abroad in 2021 do not mean classical liberalism in the West. They mean CRT, gender ideology, LGBTQ, and every other progressive tenet — and God help any country like Poland or Hungary that dares to think otherwise. You are not allowed to dissent, to question, or to oppose or the full weight of the world order is brought to bear against you, as Hungary is now seeing.

This was not always the case. From the 1970s up until the 2000s, there was still a social conservative hope that the world order might be something friendlier, and you had no shortage of Catholic theocons who went in that direction. But when the US failures in Iraq resulted in the Obama administration (see Douthat on this) and the left won the culture war in 2015, any chance of that happening became nil. Right now social conservatives are begging not to be treated like pariahs in their own country. Anyone who wants to export that model abroad is insane.

There can be a hypothetical discussion on exporting classical liberalism, but right now that isn’t viable in the US, let alone abroad. Instead you have a progressive wokeness that apes classical liberalism and inhabits its spaces and its language for the purpose of improving its brand, and making it look like something benign, even positive.

This is something I have reflected a lot on as I think back on our defeat in Afghanistan. We were sold a war to defend our way of life and freedom, and we ended with those like myself who were dumb enough to answer the call finding ourselves as pariahs in our country, and who need to be denied influence and power until we die off. It is an America where people fear what they say for fear of losing their job based on an ever-updating orthodoxy, where true thoughts can only be shared with family or near-family, and an America with a growing class divide, political violence having reemerged on both sides, and a general stigmatization and dismemberment of everything we were told to go fight for. Something to remind the next time someone seriously argues for a crusade.

As someone who is all too aware that the barbarians are real and brutal, I would just say that those entrusted with positions of duty and responsibility cannot care more about these issues than those at the top. Our military, intelligence, and diplomatic leadership couldn’t beat the Taliban in Afghanistan or the Iranians in Iraq. There is absolutely no reason to believe that the woke army will behave any better against the Chinese or the Russians. So gradual decline sets in, just as it did for the Ottomans, quite independent of anything you or I might want.

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Can Liberalism Be Saved?

Benjamin Storey and Jennifer Silber Storey (Furman.edu)

There was an interesting essay published in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend. Its author is Barton Swaim, who is on the editorial board there. It’s paywalled, so you aren’t going to be able to read it unless you’re a subscriber, or can find the full text elsewhere. I’ll do my best to describe it.

Swaim begins by saying that “liberalism is in trouble,” by which he means classical liberal ideals, which are under attack by both the left and the right. Swaim characterizes the situation like this:

On the left, markets generate inequality, democracy works only when it achieves the right outcomes, individual freedom is uninteresting unless it involves sexual innovation or abortion, the state is everything, and religion doesn’t deserve neutrality. On the right—or anyway the intellectual/populist right—markets destroy traditional moral conventions, democracy is mostly a sham, individual freedom encourages behavioral deviancies, state power is a force for good, and the First Amendment’s ban on the establishment of religion was likely a bad idea.

Partisans will dispute these characterizations, but the liberal order in America (and Europe) is under attack—and not without reason. Political debates in Washington are bereft of good faith, the education system idealizes self-hatred and sexual confusion, and even corporate leaders—who until yesterday could be counted on to champion patriotism and hard work—eagerly recite the maxims of idiots.

I have read many critiques of liberalism, but none so original as “Why We Are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment” by Benjamin Storey and Jenna Silber Storey. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say the book doesn’t so much criticize liberalism as explain why it’s neither the cause of our problems nor their solution.

The couple are political philosophers at Furman University. More:

At the core of their book is the reflection that educated people in modern liberal democracies are very comfortable with proximate arguments and not at all with ultimate ones—in other words, that moderns can debate means but not ends.

What do they mean by “ends”? “I teach Plato’s ‘Gorgias,’ ” Mr. Storey says. “ Socrates is arguing with Callicles about what the best way of life is. And so I will ask my students: What’s the best way of life? Just like that. The standard response is: What are you talking about? They look at me as if to say: You can’t ask that question!”

So it is, he thinks, in liberal societies generally: We’re allowed to debate all questions but ultimate ones. “We’re assuming we can’t have an answer to these questions, without even asking them.” In the classroom, he says, both he and his wife “try to shift students from a stance of dogmatic skepticism, in which they assume before the inquiry begins that you can’t ask ultimate questions, to a place of zetetic or seeking skepticism, in which you recognize that, despite all your doubts and apprehensions, you have to at least ask questions about God and the good and the nature of the universe.”

Swaim says that liberalism emerged out of Europe’s spasms of sectarian violence following the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. He asserts that it was a philosophy that enabled diverse peoples to live together in relative peace. But the problems that liberalism presents itself as a solution are not the main problems we live with today. More:

As attractive as the liberal worldview is, the Storeys think, it has ceased to satisfy. “Liberalism isn’t popular among a lot of younger people,” Mrs. Storey says, “because it was designed to solve a different anthropological problem from the ones we’re facing. We were different people when we came up with our liberal institutions to solve the strife of war and persecution.” The political institutions of liberalism, she says, were designed for people who “were already strongly committed to churches, localities, professions and families. But when private lives have broken down—families dissolved, localities less important, religious life absent—liberalism’s framework institutions no longer make sense.” Young people in particular, she says, aren’t interested in the “prosaic” Montaignian life: “It just isn’t enough for them. It has no transcendence. They’re going to go beyond it.”

Many critiques of liberalism and modernity quickly become critiques of the free market. It’s a tempting solution because the market is something you can change or rearrange by force of law. The Storeys don’t take that view. “The problems we’re facing right now are not fundamentally economic problems,” he says. “They’re fundamentally educational and philosophical problems. The way forward is a multigenerational project, and it’s going to begin in schools.”

Huh. I said something like that too in The Benedict Option. Well, not me, exactly, but Michael Hanby:

“Education has to be at the core of Christian survival—as it always was,” says Michael Hanby, a professor of religion and philosophy of science at Washington’s Pontifical John Paul II Institute.

“The point of monasticism was not simply to retreat from a corrupt world to survive, though in various iterations that might have been a dimension of it,” he continued. “But at the heart of it was a quest for God. It was that quest that mandated the preservation of classical learning and the pagan tradition by the monks, because they loved what was true and what was beautiful wherever they found it.”

As crucial as cultural survival is, Hanby warns that Christians cannot content ourselves with merely keeping our heads above water within liquid modernity. We have to search passionately for the truth, reflect rigorously on reality, and in so doing, come to terms with what it means to live as authentic Christians in the disenchanted world created by modernity. Education is the most important means for accomplishing this.

Classical Christian educators are one form taken by the new Benedictines.

Anyway, one more Swaim quote:

The task for today, in their view, isn’t to dynamite liberalism, on the one hand, or to encourage its pathologies, on the other. It is, as Mrs. Storey says, “to recover the preconditions of liberalism’s success.” To do that “is going to require returning to preliberal sources—the resources of classical thought, Christian thought and Jewish thought, and the communal practices that turn those traditions into ways of life. These ways of thinking aim to cultivate order in the soul in a way that liberal thought does not.”

Swaim concludes:

Perhaps the Storeys’ point can be put as simply as this: You can’t fix the city as long as the souls are a mess.

Again, this is one of the basic points of The Benedict Option. It’s not that politics don’t matter; they do! It’s that they don’t matter ultimately, and trying to fix our crisis without addressing the core problem. The best we can hope for from politics is that it will protect the liberty of institutions and people engaged in practices that work towards the sustenance of communal life. But if those institutions don’t do that work, and/or if people don’t really care to engage in those upbuilding practices, politics will be a waste of time.

But how are we going to do what the Storeys want? If you’ve been following me a while, you know that I am deeply skeptical that we will do this at all, collectively speaking. This is why I believe that those who want to hold on to traditional religious faith, and traditional virtues, are going to have to live in some sense like the Benedictine monks of the early medieval period. With chaos everywhere, we have to build strong communities of discipleship and formation. This is going to be very hard. But what else is there? Seriously, what else?

One of the reasons I first got interested in the writer Paul Kingsnorth (who, by the way, writes a fantastic Substack) was that he had reached the same point with regard to climate-change activism that I had reached about moral renewal through conventional means: that what we want is simply not going to happen, because it would require too great of a cultural change, so the wisest thing for us to do is to figure out how to adapt.

Paul and a friend, Dougald Hine, came up with the Dark Mountain Project. I came up with the Benedict Option. It’s just a model for what I hope is a fruitful way of thinking about our relationship to the broader post-Christian world, not a complete scheme. People keep saying to me, “You tell us what we need to be doing, but you don’t tell us how to do it.” I can’t figure it all out, y’all. I am a diagnostician. I hope my diagnosis helps you who are gifted organizers and visionary builders do so. I will tell others what you’re doing. But aside from the many examples I give in my books, I’m at a loss for what else to tell you.

One more thing, a quote from the Swaim essay:

Young people in particular, she says, aren’t interested in the “prosaic” Montaignian life: “It just isn’t enough for them. It has no transcendence. They’re going to go beyond it.”

I realized this weekend, thinking about this stuff, that I’m so satisfied with my hobbity life because I am always aware that I am connected to eternity, and a world full of meaning. (And no, the fact that I have done a lot of traveling to Europe this year does not mean my life most of the time is not hobbity and home-bound. I tend to sit at home drinking hot tea, reading books, and writing, and doing little else.) If I weren’t connected to eternity through my belief in God and in the transcendent realm, then all the traveling to Europe and the fun stuff I get to do would not satisfy me either. But I look back at my own winding path to faith in God — a path I’m still on, for conversion continues until the day we die — I see very little that I could point to and say, “Ah ha, that was what did it!” I see instead a series of forks in the road in which I was compelled to make a choice. Did that mystical moment in the Chartres Cathedral mean something, or did it not? I can’t unsee and unfeel what I just saw and felt. What do I do with it? The choice I made that day not to dismiss it, but to believe that in some real sense, I had glimpsed God, led me down paths I would not otherwise have taken. The fact was, I walked out of that cathedral, age 17, on a search.

We have to show the young that there is something out there to search for. Not something as trite as their happiness. Nothing short of the Truth. And not just a truth claim, but the Truth itself. This is how I’m going at it in the book I’m planning. As readers of my Substack know, I’m re-acquainting myself with the work of Dr. Iain McGilchrist, who wrote The Master And His Emissary. Using McGilchristian terms, liberalism detached from grounding in something pre-liberal, and greater than itself, is like the left brain thinking it understands all of reality, and leading itself to disaster.

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