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.
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.
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.
The conception of the good life that W.E.B. DuBois discerns in the pattern of St. Francis of Assisi’s life straddles the secular and sacred. It can provide a starting point for a recovery and re-articulation of enduring longings in a secularized culture. The cultivation of those longings, in turn, is at the core of truly liberal education.
So many young adults today are desperate for guidance but surrounded by adults unwilling or incapable of providing it. Richard Morley Myers's Thinking About Happiness reminds us that while the ignorance and fashionable errors of our generation may pass, the wisdom of the classics will endure.
Why must a “serious Catholic politics” tolerate a regime that worships the profit motive and carnal pleasure but recoil from one that worships the Blessed Trinity? Why is it sophisticated to ask the state to recognize truth of supply and demand but simplistic to ask that the state recognize the truth of the sacraments?
In their new book, Scott Hahn and Brandon McGinley provide a rousing exhortation for Catholics to unapologetically live out their faith. Unfortunately, the book contains too many generalizations, overstatements, and imprecisions to be a thoughtful guide to Catholic politics. Any serious Catholic politics must recognize that the problem of pluralism cannot be solved by dominating non-Catholics and imposing our view of the good on them.
Humans are frail creatures, depending on much beyond our control. Those who do not recognize this have never seen their father watch the clouds, or had livestock die, or waited as the ultrasound searches for a heartbeat that will never be heard. God is good, and he loves what he has created, but we are dust, and he allows the winds to blow.
What libraries do on the demand side—acquiring the books and other materials that their faculty and students need to do their research—the university presses do on the supply side, bringing important research into print. Unfortunately, one of the best university presses in the country now faces the threat of closure.
Evangelicals do not need more pastor-politicians. As the social pressures against historic Christianity increase, pastors and ministers will need a deeper doctrinal foundation, one that enables them to effectively catechize and instruct congregations embedded in a neo-pagan West.
The future of the parish depends on taking Catholic belief and practice more seriously, rebuilding neighborhoods of solidarity within the parish, and proposing Catholicism as integral to human flourishing.
Conservatives are generally good at conserving, and we are particularly aware of the continuities across the human condition. But given today’s conditions, when so much has changed so recently and so many social problems bedevil us, we need to get great at creating new institutions.
Our nation’s morally formative institutions are weak and weakening further, thanks in no small part to the enormously destructive effects of social media. The single type of institution best suited to resist these and other pressures of our times is the mission-driven, tech-skeptical K–12 school. The successes of our best countercultural colleges and universities, viewed in the light of Yuval Levin’s invaluable work on the nature of institutions, show us how the incentive structures of an excellent K–12 school make it the formative institution our time needs most.