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Introducing ‘The Moot’

In the gloriously barbaric world of Anglo-Saxon history, legend, and myth, The Moot was a meeting of creative minds and families. Its task? To ponder and analyze this issue or that, and, ultimately, to decide matters of the utmost importance to the larger Christiana res publica. It also vitally served as the best means to bring the news of one shire or duchy or free city to all the rest. In a time polycentric authorities, absent our modern and post-modern lightning-fast communications, The Moot brought order and stability to the medieval Anglo-Saxons and Scandinavians, but it also gave its respective communities time to contemplate that which most needed contemplation.

One can, at least in the mythological tradition of the Burkean Whigs, ultimately trace The Moot to the Witan, to Parliament, and, across the Atlantic, to Congress.

Horrified by the inhumane ideologies rising powerfully in the 1930s, English Quaker J.H. Oldham called together a new moot to discuss ways in which tradition and faith could combat political heresy and brutality. Among those who joined his Moot were T.S. Eliot, Owen Barfield, Christopher Dawson, Karl Mannheim, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Michael Polanyi. As a functioning body, the Moot debated among its members, corresponded with men such as Dietrich Bonhoffer, and published a wonderful irregular newsletter, simply called The Christian News-Letter, edited usually by Oldham and sometimes by Eliot. In one of the most important issues, dated July 24, 1940, Inkling Owen Barfield explained that National Socialism and Communism could be defeated only by challenging their ideas with better ones. Such ideas could never, appropriately or effectively, arise from any one person but only from a group of persons, each working in harmony toward the shared goal of a more decent humanity. Those opposed to ideology, however, could not and should not create a counter ideology. Instead, those of good will and like mind, should pursue the “sober effort to build up and maintain a common stock of thought rather than to startle with a series of sparkling individual contributions—like a commonwealth of the spirit, in which there is no copyright.”

As president (since August 1, 2017) of The American Conservative, I hope to situate explicitly us, our writers, and our readers, within the western framework of a Republic of Letters, beginning with Heraclitus and Herodotus and ending only when God so decides. While, as my libertarian side knows all too well, property rights and individual genius matter profoundly, I agree with Barfield that we must strive for a “commonwealth of the spirit,” connecting us to all other like-minded persons and communities of the present, but also to all of the greatest of the past, and to those we can only imagine in the future. Cicero would have known this as a Cosmopolis, the city of the god and all of humanity, held together by the common divine language, Reason, whereas St. Augustine would have called this the sojourning City of God, trapped within time, and, hence, in the City of Man. The humanists of the ancient through the medieval and early modern worlds, though, would have referred to this as a “republic of letters.”

As a magazine, The American Conservative—especially under the careful direction of the current and previous editors—has done this brilliantly. As such, I see this column, “The Moot,” as merely a more direct manifestation of the ambassadorial and clearing-house function of the conservative and libertarian movements. Through this column, I hope to announce and comment on any “thing” happening in the non-leftist world. That is, I hope to bring news of books published, conferences held, paintings painted, Kickstarter projects initiated, speeches delivered, albums released, organizations fighting the good fight, and courses being taught, and, therefore, connecting one thing to another.

If you have news of interest to the conservative and libertarian worlds at large, please let me know at my [email protected] Make sure you include the how, what, where, when, and why—when possible and appropriate. These things can be in the recent past or in the far future. Include a sentence or two explaining why your item matters. Also, please know, that unless otherwise indicated, I will assume any part of your notice sent to me is quotable. In the subject line, please note something akin to “News for The Moot.”

Finally, and critically, the “thing” does NOT need to be directly or explicitly conservative or libertarian, merely of interest. So, I’m happy to announce that Notre Dame scholar Patrick Deneen has a new book coming out, that one of the two greatest rock bands in the world today, Big Big Train, has a Christmas single coming out, and that portrait artist Anna Rose Bain just won a major award for her work. While Deneen’s book is explicitly conservative, Big Big Train and Bain are simply (and beautifully) creative. After all, we must seek whatever is excellent, whatever its origins or manifestations.

I very much look forward to hearing from you.


Yours, Brad Birzer

President, The American Conservative

21 Comments (Open | Close)

21 Comments To "Introducing ‘The Moot’"

#1 Comment By Stephen On November 22, 2017 @ 4:16 pm

Congratulations on your new position at TAC, Dr. Birzer. I enjoy your work at Liberty Classroom and look forward to seeing your column here.

#2 Comment By March Hare On November 22, 2017 @ 4:26 pm

Best of luck with the new project. I’ll be reading.

As part of your stated “ambassadorial” function, I hope you can bear in mind that the appeal of Burkean perspectives, small-r republican values, and at least a light version of libertarianism are not the exclusive domain of self-identified conservatives. Likewise, the perspectives Rod Dreher presents on his blog have at least some appeal to people who do not share his religious faith. (I’m not at all sure that he himself appreciates that…)

Especially now in Trumpified America, I am reluctant to allow anyone to label me as a conservative, since I can see many of them literally draw back from me an inch or two when the word is uttered.

Somehow, thinking people have to rescue conservatism from conservatives. We need an ambassador to explain the important stuff about classical conservatism, an ambassador who can pass the laugh test with the American public at large.

#3 Comment By H. On November 22, 2017 @ 7:04 pm

Thank you, Brad, for your hard work. I like to use this commenting opportunity to protest your firing of Mr. Giraldi. You could have reprimanded or even better refuse to endorse his problematic essay.
Mr. Girialdi’s contribution and insights were unique. I hope you review your decision in the near future.

#4 Comment By Jeremy On November 22, 2017 @ 7:13 pm

Most exciting.

#5 Comment By Sue On November 22, 2017 @ 7:19 pm

Very much looking forward to ‘The Moot’

#6 Comment By MrsDK On November 23, 2017 @ 8:21 am

Would like to echo March Hare — setting a place at the table for intellectual and traditionalist conservatives couldn’t be more important. Dr. Birzer — your books help do this, and all of us TAC readers are fortunate that you’re here and looking to work with us!

#7 Comment By Thaomas On November 23, 2017 @ 9:11 am

Conservatives have a problem being identified as “Conservatives” as Christians do with being identified with “Christians.”

#8 Comment By Steve On November 23, 2017 @ 10:33 am

Many of us arrive here even though we have different values, politics, and beliefs than those of a typical TAC reader. Your above post gives me deeper insight into several of TAC’s underlying philosophies. It is a beautiful post and is well received on Thanksgiving day.

Other things I am thankful for of TAC, on this Thanksgiving…
There are many, but one very important TAC characteristic is TAC’s courage to seek out the truth and to report on its findings; regardless of the conventional wisdom we are urged to accept at that moment. There are only a small handful of publishers who consistently and reliably display this important characteristic.

As the past has proven many times, TAC articles are written at times when it takes journalistic integrity, courage, and foresight to publish. They were published in those times when our country had completely lost its bearing, in those times the masses were flooded with nonstop & coordinated, baseless conventional wisdom (I am being charitable in my phrasing). But, TAC published at these difficult times and years later, TAC was on the right side of history. Only a few papers and unfortunately, fewer politicians can make this claim. That courage continues to this day and TAC remains one of the few glimmers of light piercing the msm’s ‘hall of mirrors’ darkness.

On this day I give my thanks to TAC and its courageous writers; both past & in the future.

#9 Comment By Tony D. On November 23, 2017 @ 12:09 pm

Our host mentioned Scandinavia, as well as England…may one infer that the “Thing,” as found in Sigrid Undset’s immortal and indispensable Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, is the Norwegian version of the “Moot?”

Given the all-star list of characters from the 1930s “Moots,” I doubt I’ll presume to say much here – pretty intimidating company – but I look forward to reading. I must admit, however, to being one of those temperamentally conservative Christians who looks…askance…at the Libertarian project. In fact I became Orthodox precisely because I do not trust my own, self-willed inclinations, which it seems to me Libertarianism considers inviolate.

The Libertarian creed seems closer to neo-paganism’s “An it harm none, do as thou wilt” than anything found in traditional (and especially Patristic) Christianity. I look forward to the addressing of these tensions in this space.

#10 Comment By Kim Margosein On November 23, 2017 @ 2:37 pm

This should be interesting. Will you post topics for discussion?

#11 Comment By An Ent On November 23, 2017 @ 3:53 pm

Hroooom, Hroooom!

“The world is changing: I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth, and I smell it in the air…”

#12 Comment By A Well Wisher On November 23, 2017 @ 4:37 pm


#13 Comment By Mebbe On November 23, 2017 @ 5:01 pm

So here I am, plodding along, making the rounds of my favorite sites, when I see a chap on TAC who I don’t recall having read before. He sports what is presumably a selfie disclosing mildly protuberant incisors, and provokes with an outsized claim for something called “Big Big Train”. I go to Youtube and watch some Big Big Train. What a pleasure! Thanks!

#14 Comment By Matjaž Horvat On November 23, 2017 @ 7:55 pm

Good stuff. A refuge from the neo-Hobbesians is always welcome.

#15 Comment By charles cosimano On November 23, 2017 @ 10:58 pm

” Inkling Owen Barfield explained that National Socialism and Communism could be defeated only by challenging their ideas with better ones.”

In the end the Nazis were not defeated by ideas, but by overwhelming firepower and Communism was stopped by much the same thing over a much longer period of time.

Ideas matter, but their effect is limited by many factors. It is important to remember that. One man’s heresy is another man’s truth. Who is to say who is right?

#16 Comment By Don On November 24, 2017 @ 10:55 am

Dr. Bizer is a libertarian so I will expect to see pro-free trade and pro-immigration stuff on his blog. Which begs the question, why did a purportedly paleoconservative magazine hire a libertarian as its president? I imagine that Pat Buchanan does not even recognize his magazine, given current content.

#17 Comment By EngineerScotty On November 24, 2017 @ 5:29 pm

Linguistic question: Is this the basis for the word “Entmoot”, as used in Tolkein’s The Two Towers?

#18 Comment By Robert Gardner On November 24, 2017 @ 10:59 pm

Very sorry to see you limit your adventure to things happening in the “non-leftist world”. Surely you are aware that almost the entirety of literature and poetry, journalism, film, television and new media (not to mention history) is being created in the great majority by people who would consider themselves “of the leftist world” at least as I would assume you define it. That is a lot of culture and ideas to ignore.

Moreover, how arid it would be to confine the discussion only to people you would be comfortable agreeing with. What is so interesting for a liberal like me, a regular reader of The American Conservative, is to learn again and again how thought provoking and indeed thoughtful the thinking of some conservatives can be. Maybe you should rethink this aspect of your plan.

#19 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On November 25, 2017 @ 7:16 am

“Do not think that the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice non-attachment from your views in order to be open to receive other’s viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times.” Thich Nhat Hanh – until We the People detach ourselves from the binary/tribal constraints we so righteously embrace, We (the People) will continue to exist in a “fake” reality, created by the architects of oligarchy/plutocracy. that said, “The Moot” would appear to be – ironically – “fake moot” – have at it!

#20 Comment By greatfog On November 26, 2017 @ 11:16 am

Good bloody luck.

“When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth: (for also there is that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes:) Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea further; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it.”
— Ecclesiastes 8, 16-17

#21 Comment By LouB On November 27, 2017 @ 3:52 pm

Welcome, Dr. Birzer!

An ambitious undertaking, and certainly awesome company to model one’s self after.

PS; In your article five years previous that appeared in Nat Review, you failed to mention Camel….. For shame!

I have the Christmas 45 on order through Burning shed.