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.
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.
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.
At used bookstores, I’ve discovered lesser-known titles from celebrated authors—Waugh, Koestler, and Cather. These works represent this most precious impulse of twentieth-century literature: that every life that comes within our reach has its claim on us, and is not to be wasted or sacrificed to any cause, program, or system on which we have the conceit to place a higher value.
Is the fearless pursuit of truth sufficient to form the basis of a new university? Is it enough to be always in pursuit of truth? Or does one hope, along the way, to find, keep, and act on some of it? Is a commitment to truth and freedom in the abstract sufficient to ground an academic community, or is something else—a larger tradition—required?
For Christians, UATX’s educational model poses a dilemma. On the one hand, guided by the truths of revelation, how could Christians endorse an institution that eschews all claims to prior knowledge? On the other hand, is there a strategic advantage to allying with non-sectarian schools when the bulk of American universities are unyielding partisans of secularism?
Among the ruins of family and faith, amid gender deconstruction, surrounded by endless intersectional identities, and with countless constructed categories being hastily erected in their place, where can a sure and stable identity be found?
Millennials and Gen Zers have been subjected to decades of social messaging that the good life is predicated on fostering unbounded dreams, reaching for ever-towering heights of achievement, and “changing the world.” Two new books push back against this narrative, urging readers to make a stand against the chaos and vapidity of our world by delineating a small corner of it that will demand our care and attention, making choices that limit yet enrich our existence.
We are not isolated individuals, free to create our own moral codes and obligations based on our preferences, desires, self-identifications. We enter a world already tied up with pre-existing relationships, duties, and obligations. These are basic principles of conservatism. Given the drastic environmental changes awaiting future generations, conservatives ought to start considering climate change a top priority.
Anyone who has spent his life in the academy, as I have, has reason to keep his mind open and his interests broad—namely, friends who write. My professional association over the last dozen years with the Witherspoon Institute and Princeton’s James Madison Program has introduced me to a dazzling array of brilliant and productive minds. No, I don’t want my writing friends to stop. They have given me much to ponder, and I look forward to what they will all write next.
The continuity between administration and teaching for me has always had to do with the question of the moral, intellectual, and spiritual development of young people. Finding creative ways to meet students where they are and draw them into the most important questions is a source of endless fascination for me. When it comes to education, it may be the case that, as Alasdair MacIntyre argues, the only way to carry on sustained debate is from within and between rival traditions, assuming, that is, that members of a particular tradition are genuinely interested in engaging perspectives quite different from their own.
If the novel is by definition tightly bound to the human subject, then contemporary novels will suffer from the same decay and corrosion from which the contemporary soul suffers. Yet, despite the uneasy conditions facing both the novel and the world, the human soul remains remarkably resilient and fascinating. Sally Rooney’s latest novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You? ponders the profound disenchantment that haunts today’s souls and novels alike.
For the conservative theorists of the poison pill, everything becomes about ideas. According to them, Ockham, Scotus, Bacon, Descartes, Locke—they are the important bad guys who determined the decadence of our time and the problems we should be talking about. But ideas don’t work this way; reality does not proceed with perfect logic like it so conveniently does in the textbooks.