The question is not whether we will wrestle with the morality of art, but how artful our wrestling will be. Irony is not an essence or an end: irony is a means toward other aims. By nature, it appeals to our moral sensibilities, even if at its most mature it does so indirectly.
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.
How does each and every one of us live a life that matters, that makes a difference, that has meaning, purpose, and value—and that ultimately will be a happy life in the rich sense of the term, that will be blessed? This essay is adapted from a commencement address delivered at The Mount School, a high school operated by the Bruderhof Community in New York, on June 4, 2021.
When things are falling apart, anything that stays together starts to look strange. Vows, habits of self-discipline, manners of dress and address—all the essential elements of cultural formation—can come to seem like the arcane demands of a cult. To rebuild our common life, we will have to learn to distinguish between mindless cults and mindful cultures.
What are the small and humble questions that should animate all human lives, that work to reveal to us little by little our unique mission? Questions like these: “Who or what am I responsible for today? How can I use my time well? What ought I do in this situation? How do I treat this person with the love and dignity she deserves?” We find our life’s mission not by seeking after some “castle in the air,” but by fulfilling the very concrete duty of each moment, one moment at a time.
A new book pushing back against fundamentalism and advocating open conversation should make readers rethink their positions. What is the proper relationship between abstract reason and personal knowledge in the academic arena? Perhaps it is a sign of admirable intellectual resilience rather than feebleness to have traits of both the hedgehog and the fox.
In his new book, Kenneth Kemp shows that the relationship between science and theology is not one of warfare. Here and in his other writings, Kemp is at the forefront of contemporary interpreters of evolution and Christian faith.
Joseph’s service to Pharaoh provides important lessons to Jews and Christians considering roles in government in an increasingly pagan America. Today, we neither reign from the throne in Jerusalem nor cower in the catacombs of Rome. Is there a place for us in the palace of Egypt?
To believe that we cannot both enjoy the work of a disreputable artist and condemn the artist is to underestimate our own capacity for ethical discernment and to deprive ourselves needlessly of sources of wisdom.
Lightning strikes only a single time from the dawn of life until the last line of the Five Books of Moses. Perhaps it does so to teach us all that God’s gift is not an escape from crises but the means to overcome them.
The contemporary academy betrays its vocation precisely insofar as it seeks to usurp the wonder of the world and to transpose that wonder onto its own ingenuity. “Look,” says the contemporary scholar, “let me show you how this-or-that is really just an exercise of power. I alone have had the vision to see it.”
Sohrab Ahmari’s new book enlightens in many respects, while falling short before the tribunal of moral and political prudence. Still, it succeeds admirably in making the case for “the wisdom of tradition” as the one thing most needful today.
I’m not only trying to show younger people the futility of a life based on achievement, but to show that there are ways of thinking about achievement that are better for your soul. One of them is to see your desire to achieve as being inspired by a vision of the good. Ultimately, in the highest things, you end up not thinking about yourself. Once you become excellent at something, whether that’s teaching or writing or being a tax attorney or being a doctor, you’re actually looking for the good of other people. It’s about how you make the lives of others better and encourage them in their pursuits.
My snapshot of freshman orientation highlights some of the failures of higher education. Too many universities today no longer teach students how to think but what to think. Instead of a marketplace of ideas, campus has become an echo chamber of ideas. But outspoken students (and faculty) can save the university by thoughtfully and deliberately making their voices heard.
Free market dogmas are inapplicable to the managerial oligarchy. A politically coordinated cabal of opaquely owned companies is not private property in the way a local coffeeshop is. To do nothing while a managerial mob uses the wealth we have entrusted to them to seize power over us is a betrayal of ourselves, our nation, and our posterity.
Stories of encounters between strangers and princesses were common in ancient cultures. The two most famous, about Moses and Odysseus, seem to present a choice between passivity and activity, peace and violence. But the question becomes both more complicated and more interesting when we turn to the princess-and-stranger narrative to end all others.
"If you look at today’s Republican senators, there are differences among them about the role of government that are very profound, and that are deeper than anything we’ve seen in two generations on the Right. But they take those differences as reasons to be publicly disappointed with each other, rather than as reasons to actually mobilize some bloc of voters (and politicians, and activists, and intellectuals) and try to negotiate about what the party should offer the country."
One of the vital experiences of which the current pandemic robbed us for too long is the dinner party with friends. Reading about food, too, can be a pleasure in its own right, whether one tries out daring new recipes or not. My small kitchen library has a few notable classics that are as interesting for their authors’ voices as for their instruction in preparing dishes.
Civilize your children long before you allow them to inhabit the decivilizing island of social media. Make sure that they can govern their own souls. But remember that virtue isn’t only about restraining impulses. It is also, and especially, about loving the good. Don’t just take things away. Give your children something better.
Beverly Cleary did not make Ramona a specimen of moral improvement, or a Christian evangelist. She made her a Christian child. Unlike Christian families today, however, Ramona’s family lives a world in which traditional morality is the cultural default. Going to church makes you normal, and practicing Christianity garners social rewards. Christian life simply means living.
The inadequacy of online education reminds us of our embodied nature as human beings. We yearn to experience reality as the integrated persons we are.
Christianity and Judaism have survived, and now thrive, not by erasing the problematic aspects of their past, but by openly acknowledging them—by building them into their rituals and incorporating them into the very fabric of their faith.
Since our founding, the idea of agricultural autonomy has encouraged reductive thinking that breaks down the farm’s purpose to fit solely profit-focused ends—and has served as a threat to healthy, whole farm communities. Farmers need more than private free enterprise; they need a collaborative supportive system.
More than 50 percent of Americans spend more than 50 percent of their waking hours living in virtual, artificial worlds rather than the given, created one in which their bodies exist. The 50 percent threshold represents a tipping point that renders dialogue, deliberation, civic friendship, and compromise extraordinarily difficult in any society.
Many of the books behind our favorite films are very much worth reading. But the medium of cinema does not necessarily translate great literature effectively.
Even though few of us are called to monastic life, Benedict’s Rule provides us with a guide for a more fulfilling, contented life that mitigates the acedia of an anxious age in the thrall of technology.