The expressive individualists promised a world in which moral conventions could be cast off in favor of something more beautiful, purposeful, passionate, and true. Instead, we have been left with an aimless, bloodless, timid culture.
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.
Is literalness the true criterion of a good translation? It may be that for study, the literalness to which Allan Bloom and Harvey Mansfield aspire in their translations of Plato and Machiavelli is the thing needful. But a good case can be made that for readers of English translations to get a sense of a story’s power, small departures from literalness, and perhaps even large ones, will be necessary on the translator’s part.
An ideologically captured university creates the illusion of consensus on questions that in fact are highly contested off campus. That makes public disagreement a puzzling and unintelligible phenomenon. It creates a cascade of resentment and negative sentiment throughout the rest of the elite classes towards any dissenting views in the public square. It shatters a society’s understanding of itself and its role in the world, of what social flourishing looks like.
In his new book, Jamie Boulding uses the metaphysics of participation to argue that multiverse proposals do not really call into question the notion of God central to Christian theology. Infinite multiplicity and diversity do not challenge the claim that all that is is created.
Reason cannot become right reason unless the will is in love with the Truth; intellectual formation requires moral formation. And yet, as my previous essay argued, the university—the teacher of the intellect—cannot impart moral principle of itself. Moral communities, therefore, naturally complement the university’s work. But still more beneficial to the university is the moral witness of each person.
Between the individual and government is a great bulk of institutions that could help us address the cultural challenges posed by tech. In addition to policy reforms and individuals’ weaning themselves off tech, we also need to create stigmas around social media and smartphone use—culturally agreed upon limits, including designated times and places where screen time is socially unacceptable.
North Park isn’t the only Christian university with inner turmoil about human sexuality. Not just colleges and administrations, but denominations and pastors have collapsed and caved on these teachings as well. Some of this is a lack of courage, a failure of spine in the face of cultural disdain; some of this is personal, an experience of a child or friend whose sexual appetites do not easily fit doctrine, and so doctrine must change. But it is always a loss of faith.
French philosopher Gabriel Marcel’s writings on “intersubjectivity” help us see why the metaverse impedes our ability to grasp reality’s most important truths. When every aspect of how I present myself to others is a choice, all my relations become objects of manipulation. Without the authentic connections of involved, concrete, and personal relationships, I become irretrievably disconnected from reality.
In our examination of the top twenty-five US News research universities and liberal arts colleges, we found that not a single conservative was invited to give a commencement speech or receive an honorary degree. What we have here is, to put it bluntly, a scandal. It’s hard to see an explanation outside of ideological prejudice for the gross imbalance.
A temptation today is that we will “silo” ourselves, choosing to listen only to voices congenial to our own views, and walling off our access to other points of view. This temptation to live in a cozy silo can afflict our book reading habits as well, which is too bad. You won’t know how to shore up the weaknesses in your own arguments unless you encounter critics of them, and you won’t know even what is mistaken in others’ perspectives until you grant their strongest form a patient hearing.
Lord Shaftesbury’s success in transforming education for the poor provides a variety of lessons for us today. His “ragged schools” suggest that by increasing local control of schools, expanding vocational training, and introducing curricula that recognize the integrated nature of human beings, our society might become more enriched—both materially and spiritually.
David Kertzer’s new book, The Pope at War: The Secret History of Pius XII, Mussolini, and Hitler claims to uncover secret communications between the wartime pope and the Nazis, but the book makes numerous factual errors. Kertzer also fails to take stock of recent scholarly contributions on Pius’s record and ends up misrepresenting or entirely omitting key information.
One lesson my students and I learned during the pandemic is that, in politics, our debates don’t rely upon pure reason. Government, media, and popular opinions—all in different ways and for different reasons—are shaped by their factional commitments. And, as we saw during COVID, the internet magnifies the viral nature of ideas, both for good and for ill.
Robert Zaretsky’s book, Victories Never Last: Reading and Caregiving in a Time of Plague seeks to apply the wisdom of six writers—Thucydides, Marcus Aurelius, Michel de Montaigne, Daniel Defoe, Albert Camus, and Mary Shelley—to his own experiences of pandemic. For all its fascinating reflections, the book offers the reader no account of theodicy, and provides no systematic handbook for making sense of global pandemic. Nonetheless, he successfully shows that great books and thinkers of bygone eras continue to assert their relevance.
In Belief and Cult: Rethinking Roman Religion, Jacob Mackey argues that the ancient Romans’ participation in polytheistic rituals necessarily implied that they believed in their gods. But his discussion of Roman religion would have been even more persuasive if he had spent more time discussing ancient documents and less time explaining modern theories of belief and practice.
During the pandemic, schools deployed digital technologies enabling them to efficiently transmit content and monitor student engagement at a distance. Unfortunately, these technologies have become entrenched, and screen-based activities now dominate many classrooms. But to develop intellectual and moral virtue, schools must engage students’ bodies, minds, and souls. Screen-centered, digital modes of learning undermine education because they are incapable of fostering virtue in embodied human beings.
In an egalitarian age, the British monarchy not only persists but flourishes because of three related and often overlooked factors: British people don’t really know the monarch, so they construct one in their preferred image, and this results in a sense of ownership that provides an unexpected democratic dimension, while also offering the possibility of reform and renewal.
Harvard is not as perfect as its admirers claim, with intellectual curiosity and political diversity too often in short supply. But neither is it the lost cause its critics suggest, if only because its size and inherent elitism place limits on its progressive inclinations. Like most things, Harvard is what one makes of it—and this can include experiences rooted in faith and friendship.
For all their convenience, e-books just can’t do for us what physical books do. Something about the physical act of reading a book—the intertwined visual and tactile experience—stamps these things on our memory. An ebook is just too ephemeral—too disembodied, literally.
After reading Terry Eagleton’s new book, Critical Revolutionaries, the message is quite clear for those who love literature: avoid graduate school, find others who share your passion, and recover a proud tradition now lost to ideology and politics.
Being perplexed means allowing other people and ideas to change or move you at times. Perplexity doesn’t seek cheap or easy answers to serious questions. And it isn’t satisfied with momentary highs from oversimplified and triumphant assertions, but prefers the rewards of prolonged contemplation. Perplexity also turns its sights from the grotesque, and doesn’t abuse its objects for the sake of stimulation or entertainment.
We Princeton students should recognize that each of us has a critical role to play in making sure our common good—the truth-seeking ideal—is cherished and protected by our shared culture. No matter how impressively our institution formally stands behind free speech, and no matter how spot-on our president is in his defense of it, the truth-seeking endeavor will be decimated if Princeton’s students—you and I—fail to foster an atmosphere in which the vigorous exchange of ideas is considered sacred.
For the rationalist or fundamentalist character, hope cannot but seem inadequate, even corny. Such a character has a rage for order and cannot but suffer an anxious repulsion for disorder. Hope, on the other hand, is not blind, or merely optimistic, nor is hope something we churn up in ourselves as a kind of subjective attitude. Hope, rather, is a virtue. It is a state that perfects us, makes us well, capable of thinking, living, and acting in the freedom of excellence.
Someone who is subjected to racist treatment is negatively impacted. That child of God is treated as less than who he or she is. Those engaging in racist behavior are negatively impacted too. Why? Because they are behaving beneath the dignity of who they are. Too often people look at racism as a one-way thing when it’s an all-the-way-round thing because it’s a human family issue. Racism is a rebellion against God’s plan for the human family and for human flourishing.
As young people prepare for college and early adulthood, they should reject conventional narratives that celebrate self-fulfillment and careerism. Instead, they should foster commitment to people, places, and ideas, and prepare for hardship and sacrifice. These countercultural habits and practices are difficult to establish, but they will serve one well in all stages of life.