From the whimsical to the obscure to the most dry-as-dust earnestness, reference books represent our impulse—perhaps our need—to organize the world around us, and even the worlds inside our heads, into some form of order and sharper understanding.
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.
Perhaps maturity requires moderating our admiration for the intellectuals, the clerks, and the clever types. Surely a person of good judgment, stolid character, and immoveable rectitude is every bit as praiseworthy as the inventive and the quick—and in political and social life far more important.
The prevailing zeitgeist of American medical education is an almost complete and unthinking acceptance of a “woke” mentality. The demonstrations at academic medical centers and medical schools throughout the United States following George Floyd’s killing led to widespread declarations of the need to purge “systemic racism” from American medicine and to adopt “antiracism” as a dominant aspect of the medical ethos.
Joseph Raz, the master of analytic philosophy of law who died in London last month, argued that law and policy should reflect a vision of the human good, with the good of personal autonomy—enabling people to be “authors of their own lives”—at its heart. He was a true philosopher, a truth-seeker: he had convictions, but he never sought to immunize them against criticism, nor did he allow himself to fall so deeply in love with his opinions that he valued them above truth itself.
For P. D. James, we are drawn to detective fiction because it shows that even when social evils such as war, terrorism, and pandemic cannot be conquered, individual crimes can be solved by rational means—thus confirming our hope that peace and order can be restored from disruption and chaos.
Peter Lawler was a great lover of pop culture because, though often inelegant, it reflects the democratic spirit of America and the complexity of human affairs. His engagement with pop culture, which was an important part of his public activity, expressed his belief in America’s restlessness, dynamism, and optimism.
Finding time to read is always challenging, particularly within the context of being a new parent. Instead of conventional, and often ineffectual, time management strategies, we might consider some alternative principles to help incorporate reading into our busy lives: ritualistic reading, whimsical reading, and even acknowledging the value of not reading.
It is strange to reflect that someone who died in 1937 at the age of forty-six with no obvious legacy has exerted more cultural influence than most of his successors, but Antonio Gramsci’s “long struggle” of the intellectuals continues to shape our political, educational, and artistic landscape in regrettable ways.
Federal student lending creates two crises in higher education: a current crisis of affordability for students, and a looming crisis of increasing federal interference in the internal affairs of colleges and universities. Great Books colleges that opt out of federal funding offer a promising solution to both.
A proper understanding of education means embracing the creation of small liberal arts colleges in which students have the leisure to study and faculty the leisure to teach them. As Peter liked to say, every human person is “wondering and wandering,” and higher education is where one wonders and wanders the most. To those bound up in standards of efficiency, wondering and wandering seems like a waste of time. But there is no other way for a person to learn.
No reader can read all there is, but there is more to the reading life than a duty to edify ourselves. Even the ephemera of our reading will give us something of value if we experience the pleasure of a well-told tale.
In his recent book, Roosevelt Montás offers an account of the university that is critical without being despairing, provides a way of talking about identity that is sensitive without being reductive, and articulates a hopeful vision for academic renewal through a recommitment to liberal education.
Civility has a distinctly minimal character you don’t see with virtues like decorum or politeness—the idea that one can be merely civil. This means that to be civil is to meet a low bar grudgingly, and it is important for any adequate definition of civility to account for that minimal sense.
George Will’s latest book offers a tough, optimistic, and thoughtful summary of American public life over the past decade or so, while also serving as a powerful rebuke to pessimists on both the left and the right.
The recent anniversary of Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech provides an opportunity to reflect on the enduring relevance of his insights into the role of virtue and action in education, the importance of family life that is ordered towards the creation and formation of the next generation, and the need to build political community based on truth and integrity.
New Jersey’s sample lessons for K–12 state-required sexual orientation and gender identity instruction sparked parental outrage. The sample curriculum contradicts basic biology, offers age-inappropriate lessons about sexual abuse, and imposes an LGBTQ religion on public school children. Nonetheless, New Jersey parents still have the power to influence what happens in the classroom.
Social conservatives used to have a much more nuanced understanding of the development of modern liberalism out of the medieval Christian world. Our insistence on individual immortality, an idea hammered home by the almost preposterous teaching of the resurrection of the body, ought to make Christians dyed-in-the-wool individualists.
As Ukraine is being crucified by the enemy, millions of its people go through the same experience of darkness and a sense of the absence of God as Jesus did on the cross. Let us not doubt that God is with the suffering and that his truth, peace, and love will prevail.
The Hollywood “religious epic” movie genre of the postwar period was all about uplift, toleration, and offending exactly no one. Though entertaining at its best and an important part of the story of America’s rising pluralism, this genre proved finally to be too anodyne and unable to do justice to Scripture or the life of the early Church.
Powerful unions such have represented teachers’ interests for decades. The COVID-19 pandemic has made clearer than ever the total dissonance between what teachers’ unions want and what’s best for students. During the pandemic, unions forced many schools to stay closed, ignored students’ needs, and severely disrupted learning.
In 2020, China became the world’s number one box-office market. For years, the Chinese Communist Party has been using this economic leverage to shape the content of American movies.
The debate over whether it is grace or nature that directs human beings towards the beatific vision was one of the most contentious intra-Catholic theological disputes of the twentieth century. David Bentley Hart’s 2022 You Are Gods: On Nature and Supernature shows that the debate is alive and by no means merely academic and inconsequential—pantheism, tradition, orthodoxy, and heterodoxy are all very much at stake in the argument.
America’s education professionals—meaning government bureaucrats, administrators, and teachers—have been trained in an education philosophy driven by progressive politics. Whether in Mississippi or in California, much of America’s school staff attended colleges of education that teach similar, politically infused educational philosophies. The question is, can parents really retake control of public education?
Today, in Part I of this essay, I explain critical race theory and show how many of its ideas have made their way into public schools across the country, prompting a backlash that has led to the introduction of anti-CRT education regulations in many states. CRT views values like “objectivity” as tools of oppression. It’s clear that many public schools are indeed incorporating plenty of CRT-inspired ideas like these in their curricula.
Righteous anger is often good and necessary. But not all parents are comfortable with confrontation, and even fewer enjoy the option of placing their children in saner institutions or schooling at home. I’m convinced that parents can be very effective in less noisy, more behind-the-scenes ways.