Don Quixote and Our Quixotic Youth

The scope of the crisis of masculinity is unchartered territory for America and the broader West. Yet many of the most exaggerated masculine traits have an ancient ancestry and can be traced back to one of the greatest works of the Western canon.
Ernst Jünger’s 1957 novel, The Glass Bees, is prescient. But it also clarifies many of our own present challenges as we struggle with the role of technology over our lives. In a society defined by sound bites, 280-character tweets, three-minute TikTok videos, and deep fake videos, the line between what is authentically real and what is mere performance or imitation is blurred.
In light of the controversy generated by law enforcement’s response to the Uvalde shooting, the question of courage and cowardice has been the subject of intense debate in recent weeks. A western novel published in 1940 might offer some helpful and surprisingly relevant ways to navigate this complex moral territory.
Russia is no “Christian powerhouse.” That narrative is little more than an easily falsifiable propaganda campaign by its kleptocratic governing class. Russia struggles not only to preserve its ancient faith tradition—in spite of significant government expenditures to the Orthodox Church—but also to protect and preserve its families in the face of substance abuse, domestic violence, and unmitigated cronyism.
Jim Breuer and Dave Chappelle are current darlings of the Right, because they refuse to bow to the orthodoxy of sexual identitarianism. Yet their own emphasis on autonomy and free speech shares in the same inadequate conception of modern humanity, which, in its never-ending quest for self-realization, inevitably descends into the very coercive behaviors it claims to eschew.
What Edgar Lee Masters intended as a clever and eerie indictment of American society has proven more prophetic than the Midwestern poet could have anticipated.
Given modernity’s inability to realize Augustine’s thesis of the necessity of a common love, we have two options: we must either reject a universal socio-political vision as entirely unworkable, or the world—or at least the West—must learn again that a transcendent foundation and telos are essential to political order.
Against the failed hopes of the Enlightenment, scientism, and modernism, Josef Pieper calls us to embrace a hope that transcends the physical and political world.
Thirty-five years ago, New York University professor of communications Neil Postman predicted the political and social implosion we have witnessed in 2020. We must learn to dominate digital media technology, lest it dominate us. Otherwise, we may very well amuse ourselves, and our polis, to death.
Thirty years after its publication, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has shaped our culture in significant, lasting ways. Yet many of the upper-middle-class, successful Americans who cultivate Stephen Covey’s habits fail to apply his most essential, all-encompassing principle—the one that guided his entire vision of the good life.
A great irony of the Jewish and Christian faith traditions: One must be willing to accept suffering and sacrifice for a greater purpose that transcends one’s particular material and sensual needs and desires. Counter-intuitively, it is these transcendent qualities of faith that eschew utilitarian aims for a greater purpose that create the circumstances for greater material well-being.
Fifty years ago, Josef Pieper accurately prophesied the most defining dilemmas of our age and pointed us to the virtue of pietas to solve them.
Technology promises to solve our problems, but it also creates new ones. That’s because we have failed to apply human-centric approaches to technology. We think in terms of productivity instead of human flourishing; connectivity instead of community. As a result, our tech use leaves us worse off than we were before—less free, less rested, less peaceful.
To defeat the Modern Heresy, we must promote truth in the face of relativism, structures of justice and mercy in the face of those of power, traditional familial love in the face of “the modern family,” and the redemption of sinful lives in the face of a tolerant culture that seeks to do away with sin altogether.
Eighty-five years ago, staunchly self-reliant American farmers encountered a crisis-the Dust Bowl-they simply could not overcome on their own. The story of the Dust Bowl is a story about American grit and perseverance, but also about the limits of libertarianism.