This is my last newsletter as managing editor of Public Discourse. This fall, I’ll be starting a PhD in political theory. It is admittedly hard to leave this role. Running the show here alongside such a wise and lively group has been, well, a blast. And this job has given me some of the most challenging but also edifying work I’ve undertaken.
One of the things I’ve appreciated about most about Public Discourse’s editorial culture is that its horizon is longer than most publications’: amid the clamor of the news cycle, our eyes are on lasting and permanent truths. Not that we philosophize in an ivory tower, detached from reality on the ground (something I’ll be guilty of in a few short months). Public Discourse keeps up with politics, culture, government, religion, and the economy. But people have an unchanging nature, and so does the world around us—even politics does to a limited extent. Nature has to be understood and respected for people to be happy.
Nature shouldn’t be overdetermined, of course. Tradition and technology shape our lives too. All of these things play roles that are distinct from each other. Convention and tradition, technology and progress, nature and permanence: all these forces have their own logic, and each belongs to civilization.
But more than tradition and technology, nature is especially binding: not just in a moral sense, but in a practical sense. Transgressing nature, however unintentionally, leads to corrosion. Evidence of this is everywhere: the deteriorating natural environment, despairing young people, and crumbling institutions.
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If our current moment teaches us anything, it’s that if you overdraft on nature for too long, the debt you pay is misery, sterility, and breakdown.
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Public Discourse contributors are counting the costs of ignoring nature, and pointing to another way. We had a symposium on Mary Harrington’s essay “The Three Principles of Reactionary Feminism,” which offers a forceful defense of marriage, (some) single-sex spaces, and abandoning the pill—all much needed realignments with reality. Alexandra DeSanctis responded by pointing to our nature as creatures of God; Christine Emba tallied up the toll of “uncritical feminism,” which gives women “the equal opportunity to be like the worst kind of man”; and Leah Libresco Sargeant reminds us that what’s truly feminine is the “potential for biological hospitality and self-gift.”
David Corey’s Long Read essay, “A Coalition of the Sensible: What’s Wrong with ‘The New Right’,” kicked off another symposium that explores how to establish a more sensible political culture. Corey calls for rejecting the idea that politics is warlike, and points to the natural limits of the political realm. Editor-in-Chief R. J. Snell responds, noting that politics has its own kind of reason: a “reason concerning what is good and possible to do, given the political specifics of a particular people at a particular time and with their form of government.” My essay in the symposium notes that sensible politics depends on the flourishing of genuine religion. Alexis Carré observes out lack of civic friendship and the need for common pursuits.
Some other recent favorites:
- Matt Franck’s May bookshelf on reading out loud to test whether something is well written
- Timothy Cardinal Dolan’s affectionate tribute to his friend, Pastor Tim Keller
- Madeline Fry Schultz on why dark and dismal portraits of motherhood are misleading
- Timothy Burns on the deep wells of Leo Strauss’s political thought
From Our Archives
On this Memorial Day weekend, I recommend re-reading Archbishop Emeritus Charles Chaput’s essay, “Dulce et Decorum Est: In Defense of Healthy Patriotism.” Chaput notes that while patriotism and fealty to nation are not our ultimate purpose, they nonetheless can provide natural grace that delivers us from “the confines of self-love.” He writes: “In fact, the willingness to die for something also consecrates it as sacred.” Even in a moment low national self-esteem, the lives fallen on our nation’s behalf are a resounding refutation of claims that America is worthless.
What We’re Reading around the Web
- Ben Domenech, “The New Right is going nowhere — and knows it,” The Spectator
- Bret Stephens, “The Curious Conservative Case Against Defending Ukraine,” New York Times
- Jenna Silber Storey and Benjamin Storey, “Insight at First Sight,” First Things
- Emily Witt, “The Future of Fertility,” The New Yorker
- Carl Trueman, “Dennis Prager’s Troubling Defense of Pornography,” First Things
On Thursday, June 1, at 2pm ET, Professor Robert P. George will be moderating a Public Discourse webinar, “A Call to Fidelity.” Learn more and register here.
Managing Editor, Public Discourse