All knowledge comes from sensory experience, including knowledge of the first principles of morality on which the natural law and moral reasoning build.
Pillar: Education & Culture
The fourth pillar, education and culture, is built upon the recognition of two essential realities. First, the Western intellectual tradition requires a dedication to and desire for truth. Second, education takes place not only within colleges and universities but within our broader culture, whose institutions and practices form us as whole persons.
Even according to Protestant traditions with the gravest views of sin, fallen human beings do not get everything wrong when thinking about morality. Since Scripture itself affirms that the created order reveals God’s moral law, Christians should not turn their backs on natural law for the sake of promoting biblical teaching.
For reasons that pass all understanding, modern academic disciplines are where English prose goes to die. Fortunately, profound and compelling historical writing has a history of its own that predates the modern research university by two and a half millennia, stretching back to Herodotus in the fifth century BC. Such a tradition is resistant to the chloroform of the modern academy, so long as gifted storytellers find publishers and readers.
On Calypso’s island, we encounter both the allure and the dangers of the beach. There, Homer brings us right up against a mysterious fact: the fantasy of an undying beach body—even that of a love goddess whose collagen never loses its tensile strength—will not really make us happy. The best kind of lover will have skin in the game: skin that can age, that has aged, that is actively aging before our eyes. To escape the history that is written into our bodies is to escape the meaning, the meaningful struggle, of our lives.
We should stay away from the news lest we fall prey to its mania, foolishness, and stupidity. We should read books—difficult books—and be challenged to improve ourselves rather than settle for easy answers.
Inwardness, intellectual or otherwise, is the source and the safeguard of individual human flourishing, without which no community is judged to do well. Individuals must experience their learning as a mode of freedom and spontaneity, not a complex navigation of yet another structure of authority and achievement.
The intellectual life and political life are distinct elements of the human good, but they mutually support one another.
The humanities matter because human life matters. Rightly lived, the intellectual life is an ascetic one that calls for renunciation and sacrifice. Most of all, seriousness demands that we continue to pursue the truths of human existence and align our lives with them.
Like the spirit of liberty itself, the spirit of liberal education is “not too sure that it is right.” As colleges and universities are beset by the twin challenges of the pandemic and of ideological activism, will we able to keep that spirit of inquiry alive?
If we are to abolish the primordial cycle of hatred, tyranny, and violence that plagues humanity, and avert civilizational disaster, people of all faiths must work together to prevent the political weaponization of fundamentalist Islam. We should learn from the unique heritage of Muslims on the Indonesian island of Java, who defeated Muslim extremists in the sixteenth century and restored freedom of religion for all citizens, two centuries before the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom and the Bill of Rights led to the separation of state and religion in the United States.
Americans love America because it is their own and because it is good. Our ability to detach ourselves from America and decry its injustices only increases our attachment to it as a continuing project that is truly our own.
The best depictions of fathers in classic films.
We have limited time. So how should we use it? What will our lives mean when we finally look back on them? Like it or not, we inevitably choose a path, either by our love or refusal to love; by our actions or our refusals to act.
Accommodation and half measures—the stuff of everyday political life—will not do when we encounter the politics of mastery and subjugation. Aristotle’s “partnership of free persons” demands more.
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.
Each of the books I mention here can help us to be conscious—to be “in the know,” which is what Austen meant by the word—thus using the gift of speech in ways that accord with our nature as “the reflexive animal,” as Lewis calls us, governed by “the inner lawgiver” (Lewis again) of our conscience. And these conjoined obligations—to our nature and to our speech—are why even pronouns are a field of battle that truth-tellers should not surrender.
Catholic schools, along with other faith-based schools, are a vital gift to the families they serve and to our country. America’s COVID-19 relief efforts should support the educational choices of all families and work to save Catholic schools.
Wodehouse’s work, from virtually any period of his long career, is amazingly consistent. One learns after a while that when one begins a Wodehouse story, satisfaction is guaranteed. Like a fresh whisky and soda, his work promises an easing of the tensions of daily life, an invitation to merriment, and a quiet contentment that in the end all will be well.
A competent First Amendment jurisprudence must adequately account for the rich web of associations that enable human flourishing. To live in communities according to shared values is essential to our humanity.
Technology may permit us to supplement, but it should not lead us to discard, the personal Socratic education that does full justice to human nature and has contributed so much to the development of our civilization.
John Ford’s America is a good deal like Ford himself—loud, brawling, and hard-charging. Ford’s Americans are also honorable, self-sacrificing, and faithful to their promises. That’s not the whole truth about America, not by a long shot. But it’s true enough that in John Ford’s films, we will forever see something of ourselves.
In responding to the current crisis, the great pandemic, we can follow the example of Aeneas: we can reject despair in the face of horrible suffering and find strength in "the roots of our traditions."
Our current national experiment reveals how unpopular online education is. Its proponents on the political right should admit its limitations and end their infatuation with its novelty and presumed efficiency.
There is a great deal to be learned about the virtues and vices by following the long and eventful lives of D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. And isn’t this finally what good novels of any kind do for us—present the fullness of human characters for our consideration, so that we may reflect on our own characters?
What can human beings endure? How can they adapt to radical changes in their environment and in themselves? How will their choices reshape their society? Science fiction at its best invites us to consider such questions at the extremes of human experience.