I truly cannot stand the moniker “blogger” as if writing online constituted a vocation. Never have been, folks. Writers write regardless of the medium… and if you ever want to know a sub-par IQ? Watch them use the word blogger.
And don’t concern yourself with whether or not you “write.” Don’t leave writing to writers. Don’t delegate your area of interest and knowledge to people with stronger rhetorical resources. You’ll find your voice as you make your way. There is, however, one thing to learn from writers that non-writers don’t always understand. Most writers don’t write to express what they think. They write to figure out what they think. Writing is a process of discovery. Blogging is an essential tool toward meditating over an extended period of time on a subject you consider to be important.
Of course, this is the utility of any writing medium — whether it’s the act of physically writing something down, transcription from scribble to type, or hammering things out on your green screen George R.R. Martin style.
We used to be really good about this until Twitter came about and we discovered that most people could only think in bumper sticker.
Then came “big data” and the commodification of just about everything — up to and including giving away all your personal data in exchange for a “free” service that monetizes every inch of your existence — including your daily musings on the affairs of the world.
Frankly, I prefer a time where folks sat in coffee houses either playing chess or working on our little novellas while reading Infinite Jest — as if we could all be the next David Foster Wallace.
Today? Who even recalls why folks loved the man, what he meant, or why folks found some notions of resistance against onanistic culture?
Instead of ideas, art and poetry it all turned into self-gratification, likes, retweets, and chasing that ‘gram… or perhaps the democratization of information simply exposed us as the banal human beings we always were.
Either way, I think I preferred the blue pill.
Nevertheless, I do get the sense that I have lost my touch. I was a better writer 10 years ago in some respects — more confident, self-assured, ready to set the world to rights with thunderbolt in one hand and snake in the other. One supposes my twenty-something self and my thirty-something self would have gotten along famously, whereas my forty-something self (I have just recently been introduced to these ranks) would politely smile and nod.
Wiedenbaum nails it here. Previously, writing was an end. Today writing is a pleasurable end that — quite frankly — I tend to reserve for myself. Do I mind opining on current events and the things that interest me? Most certainly. Does it make me any money? Never has… at least, I don’t see myself becoming an editor at National Review or First Things anytime soon. Yet writing-as-meditation has nearly always been my style… to work out what I might think so that I can express what I actually think, or better still to express the parameters for what I might believe.
That’s valuable to myself even if it is not valuable to the world, right? Does it matter if it is a physical journal vs. a digital journal? Only in this one sense — my ideas and thoughts are exposed to criticism here in a way that Montaigne, Machiavelli or Erasmus might not have tolerated in their essays.
So welcome to the Republic of Letters 2.0. This is a good place to be, if anyone else is interested. Or not… it is all the same.
Tina Freitas has no true reason to run for Virginia Senate. A mother of three, married to whom many consider to be a rising star in Virginia politics, and having held the most difficult of all careers — a military spouse — Freitas could easily have chosen to allow someone else to carry the battle standards of the conservative movement and galvanized voters in her own way.
Yet instead, the issues that Hanger raises that dares conservatives to challenge him are precisely the reasons that motivate Freitas to lead: smaller government and the right to life. Linking both is an emphasis on the role of families contrasted against the “daddy knows best” paternalism of Richmond. On these three issues alone, Freitas is not only an easy protest vote, she would become an important voice in the Virginia Senate for commonsense conservatives values.
It is no small secret that the Republican Party in Virginia is undergoing a catharsis of sorts. One of three scenarios will play out. Either we will become the more dynamic and liberty-leaning constitutional conservative party that many of us have been fighting to preserve and create over the last 20 years, or we will backslide into either a reactionary populism or an entrenched establishmentarian mindset.
Hanger embodies this calcification of leadership in the Virginia Senate, practically daring conservatives to challenge him openly. His weakness on the right to life in the post-Northam era should be an instant disqualificiation; Hanger’s eagerness to shovel money and resources into the maw of Planned Parenthood is atrocious and disgraceful. Hanger’s proclivity for never meeting a tax he didn’t hike isn’t a question of paying one’s bills but rather an indicator of a fundamental disagreement as to who should run this commonwealth: Richmond or working families?
Freitas is doing more than just reminding the establishment of their place. Rather, Freitas is reminding Hanger et al. that their titles do not confer some sort of mythical authority over the futures of Virginia families, but responsibilities owed to them to build a better, more free society.
Surely Hanger’s defenders will argue that education, transportation, and all of the realities of a functioning state matter intensely. Yet every time a politician prioritizes Virginia’s government over Virginia’s families, there are other budgets that get cut: food, clothing, the mortgage.
If Hanger’s fascination with tax hikes were matched with innovative new solutions that actually reinforced families, promoted workforce development, supported microfinance statewide, and revamped the Virginia education system (both secondary and post-secondary), perhaps the ROI on the taxpayers’ investment could be justified.
Instead, not only has Hanger merely bankrolled the old system, he has poured money into an organization whose sole purpose is to kill future taxpayers.
Politicians tend to be 5-10 years behind their electorates. Hanger and Norment continue to be the relics of this age, clinging to power for its own sake, but never with a desire to advance the conservative cause unless forced to do so. No small wonder why the cancer of leftism and the calcification of leadership continues to survive in certain quarters, never quite lifting a finger for the conservative movement unless to say “See, we told you so.”
Tina Freitas embodies the very best of what grassroots conservatives in Virginia look for in their leaders. Pro-life, pro-family, pro-limited government, and someone who believes our 2nd Amendment rights should be defended the same way we treat our 1st Amendment rights.
As a mother, a military spouse, and a community leader who views titles as responsibilities rather than stepping stones, conservatives can rest easy knowing that Freitas will defend all the values we hold dear — and do so with integrity, respect, and common cause.
The term of proudly supporting people in public life is a term that is at times much abused. Virginians in the 24th Senate District have every reason to be proud to support Tina Freitas, not just because she represents our values, but because she lives them as well.
Having spent a great deal of time with Thucydides this year, there is a certain portion of his History of the Peloponnesian War that describes the violence inside the city of Corcyra (modern day Corfu), led by the two factions within the city.
Given the fact that some public figures today use Thucydides as a textbook, I thought this reflection of the Stasis (read: civil war) of Corcyra to be rather apt as a warning… and a recommendation to take up the classics.
So bloody was the march of the revolution, and the impression which it made was the greater as it was one of the first to occur.
Later on, one may say, the whole Hellenic world was convulsed; struggles being everywhere made by the popular chiefs to bring in the Athenians, and by the oligarchs to introduce the Lacedaemonians.
In peace there would have been neither the pretext nor the wish to make such an invitation; but in war, with an alliance always at the command of either faction for the hurt of their adversaries and their own corresponding advantage, opportunities for bringing in the foreigner were never wanting to the revolutionary parties.
The sufferings which revolution entailed upon the cities were many and terrible, such as have occurred and always will occur, as long as the nature of mankind remains the same; though in a severer or milder form, and varying in their symptoms, according to the variety of the particular cases.
In peace and prosperity governments and individuals are better minded because they are not plunged by imperious necessity to act against their will…
…but war takes away the easy supply of daily wants, and tames as a violent schoolmaster, assimilating most men’s characters to their conditions.
Revolution thus ran its course from city to city, and the places which it arrived at last, from having heard what had been done before carried to a still greater excess the refinement of their inventions, as manifested in the cunning of their enterprises and the atrocity of their reprisals.
Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them.
Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question inaptness to act on any.
Frantic violence, became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defence.
The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected.
To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot a still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries.
In fine, to forestall an intending criminal, or to suggest the idea of a crime where it was wanting, was equally commended, until even blood became a weaker tie than party, from the superior readiness of those united by the latter to dare everything without reserve…
…for such associations had not in view the blessings derivable from established institutions but were formed by ambition for their overthrow; and the confidence of their members in each other rested less on any religious sanction than upon complicity in crime.
The fair proposals of an adversary were met with jealous precautions by the stronger of the two, and not with a generous confidence.
Revenge also was held of more account than self-preservation. Oaths of reconciliation, being only proffered on either side to meet an immediate difficulty, only held good so long as no other weapon was at hand; but when opportunity offered, he who first ventured to seize it and to take his enemy off his guard, thought this perfidious vengeance sweeter than an open one, since, considerations of safety apart, success by treachery won him the palm of superior intelligence.
Indeed it is generally the case that men are readier to call rogues clever than simpletons honest, and are as ashamed of being the second as they are proud of being the first.
The cause of all these evils was the lust for power arising from greed and ambition; and from these passions proceeded the violence of parties once engaged in contention.
The leaders in the cities, each provided with the fairest professions, on the one side with the cry of political equality of the people, on the other of a moderate aristocracy, sought prizes for themselves in those public interests which they pretended to cherish…
…and, recoiling from no means in their struggles for ascendancy, engaged in the direct excesses…
…and in their acts of vengeance they went to even greater lengths, not stopping at what justice or the good of the state demanded, but making the party caprice of the moment their only standard…
…and invoking with equal readiness the condemnation of an unjust verdict or the authority of the strong arm to glut the animosities of the hour.
Thus religion was in honor with neither party; but the use of fair phrases to arrive at guilty ends was in high reputation.
Meanwhile the moderate part of the citizens perished between the two, either for not joining in the quarrel, or because envy would not suffer them to escape.
Thus every form of iniquity took root in the Hellenic countries by reason of the troubles. The ancient simplicity into which honor so largely entered was laughed down and disappeared; and society became divided into camps in which no man trusted his fellow.
To put an end to this, there was neither promise to be depended upon, nor oath that could command respect; but all parties dwelling rather in their calculation upon the hopelessness of a permanent state of things, were more intent upon self-defence than capable of confidence.
In this contest the blunter wits were most successful. Apprehensive of their own deficiencies and of the cleverness of their antagonists, they feared to be worsted in debate and to be surprised by the combinations of their more versatile opponents, and so at once boldly had recourse to action: while their adversaries, arrogantly thinking that they should know in time, and that it was unnecessary to secure by action what policy afforded, often fell victims to their want of precaution.
— Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War (III, 82-83)
About 10 years ago, Virginia’s bloggerati held the world in the palm of our hand. Our perspectives were not just consulted — they were feared. Such was the power that columnists and editorial boards held over the minds of Virginians that elected officials feared this new set of variables.
Yours truly happened to be one of those voices. To some degree — though we have scattered a bit — that same handful of perspectives still holds sway. Norm Leahy writes for the Washington Post as a columnist, Brian Schoeneman still manages to rack a few column pieces (even if he is in self-imposed exile), Rick Sincere has taken over The Score from the Lee Brothers, and Kenney the Younger still pokes around as a writer… just invariably not on politics.
Sure, the The Bull Elephant continues to define itself against Bearing Drift. Our friends at Blue Virginia seem to have figured out the keys to success early with a Democratic Party that understood why it was important to subsidize a narrative. For all the griping that Republicans do about the “liberal media” and the pay-to-play leftosphere, Republican digital media seems to have endured as a volunteer-only endurance marathon (until certain pay-to-play actors accuse others of in fact being pay-to-play… witness the pettiness of Virginia politics).
Today’s environment sees publications like The Republican Standard, The Virginia Mercury, and Richmond 2 Day rising above the amateur op-ed writers. In a time before Facebook, the lowly “blog” was the only means of really disseminating information beyond the legacy media.
If I seem terribly down on the legacy media vs. digital media, it isn’t because of the medium itself. After all, most of us in the digital arena would crawl across broken glass to be picked up by the Washington Post or the Richmond Times-Dispatch if even for peanuts. Rather, one sees today some of the best investigative reporting ever done — VICE, Politico, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal — and some of the best opinion writing in places such as National Review, The Weekly Standard, and Quillette — and no one is reading it.
It is difficult to write in such a time as to stand athwart history yelling “STOP!” while there is a cacophony of noise catering to our every whim, telling us to keep going and leveraging our feelings against us. Marketing does this. We buy Coke vs. Pepsi because we are attracted to red over blue. We buy Ritz crackers because it is perfectly spherical and attractive to the eye. We react viscerally to advertising and buy the products — not because we like or even want the product, but because the reaction itself felt true, ergo the argument must be true.
Are we all really this stupid.
Or more importantly, we have entire industries set up to convince us that we aren’t as stupid as we constantly feel. For instance, we have a social media apparatus designed for hook-ups feeding us 85% of our social media and 67% of our news consumption (what 45% responding that they get “some” of their news). From a dating site turned pro, guys.
Worse than that, we have entire cottage industries set up to tell stupid people that they are in fact educated souls. Most college diplomas are crap. Even if they are in the humanities, how many people can truly say they are better for the exchange? $50,000 in debt for an undergraduate education can buy you the Great Books Series several times over… and you’d be $45,000 better off.
This is where I still hold out tremendous hope for the humanities in the sense they might actually teach us to read, consider, think, and slow the hell down a bit.
…but they don’t. People have been taught that verification of one’s ideas and thoughts comes with attention. The more attention, the more valid the feelings, and ergo the more valid one’s ideas.
After all, isn’t that how we built this entire blogosphere thing in Virginia?
What disappoints me most, perhaps, is the revelation that most people really don’t want to learn a damn thing. I have barn cats; they follow me because they expect to be fed on a rare occasion. Most people don’t want to be helped in the end… they just want to be fed.
Thus otherwise good people will justify absolutely horrible things in the name of “principles” and so forth. Tolerate the worst abuses, tear apart another person’s character, or seek to absolutely obliterate an opponent in the political arena — because she who believes most wins. Is it worth it? Is it really worth one’s soul?
I have been thinking a great deal on this line in the Matthew 19:
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
For those who have seen the compromises power forces others to take, when was the last time you saw a wealthy man who was a morally decent one? I’m not even talking about Daddy Warbucks here — even moderately successful people.
In fact, most Americans are this person indeed. Most working class Americans enjoy luxuries unavailable even to Roman emperors. We are well fed, housed, entertained beyond our wildest dreams, informed and wonderfully distracted.
But does any of this mean we are really good people at the end of the day? Sure we pay taxes, go through the motions, attend church, flip that guy in the median our $3.86 we got back in change after we purchased our Big Kahuna Burger, and maybe even itemized our charitable contributions.
…but is that it?
Maybe we put our heads on our pillows claiming to be a part of a cause? Volunteering for the PTO? Doing our jobs really well? Maybe we even perform extracurricular stuff like local or state politics? You know — righteous anger against those people coming to take our rights away, destroy what it means to be an American, and deny other people their basic rights.
There are far too many people who base their goodness on what they do. We don’t need better brands; we need better souls. We don’t need more identity; we need stronger minds.
One thinks of the parable of the rich man and all the compromises one must make to become wealthy, considered, even honored by others. Things we would never normally excuse, others will wantonly excuse in the pursuit of power. People we would willingly embrace, we would tear apart once objectified as an diabolical other. We manufacture hatred because we have no charity ourselves.
Politics in America just seems to bring this fatal personal flaw in people to the fore in ways I’d never imagined even five years ago, much less 10 or 20 years ago when I got started. Again, they don’t want to be helped… only fed.
I have thought a great deal about keeping a diary the same way Victor Klemperer did during the rise of fascism in Germany and the concurrent arrival of the communists in East Germany. Both claimed to be utopias; neither had conscience… and we seem absolutely bound and determined to create American versions of each.
Who wins this fight? Certainly not the people.
Yet there is a presentation of inevitability in the contest. Participate in politics, they say, lest you be governed by evil men. The counterpoint? Better to be insane with the mob than sane alone…
For myself, I see this wave of “creative destruction” in our institutions and society proglumated by people with rotten souls and malformed minds, both sides chasing appetites knowing what the rich man knows — that it is far easier to steal than it is to build.
Can there be a politics when rational discourse is reduced to pathos on the left and ethos on the right? That narrow field for logic and discourse (logos) seems to be growing more and more narrow by the day. One gets the sense that people don’t even really believe what they say they believe anymore — provided it either carries their tribe to victory or denies it to those whom they profess to dislike. To keep such factions in line, Roman emperors used to resort to colors such as Blues and Greens and then force them towards civic projects — the key point here that an emperor was required to keep faction down.
I am reminded of a recent biography on Secretary of Defense James Mattis that one can still find in bookstores. The title of this book was rather quaint: No Greater Friend, No Worse Enemy. I’m sure a good number of folks (in both parties) got a chest-thumping hurrah out of such a title without even considering where it was from or whom it references.
The line is Sulla’s epitaph, the man who overthrew Rome’s corrupt leadership and restored some sense of constitutional law before Pompey and Caesar engaged in their death struggle to rule.
A dangerous sentiment indeed. One imagines who wins and loses fostering such thoughts… but I assure you, it will not be the common man. Rather, it will be some apparatchik or group thereof who see this as a game they can win, ignorant of how to govern and willfully blind to the consequences of stupid.
Schopenhauer used to argue that intellect is invisible to the man who has none. The same could be true for individuals in power; the same is definitely true for a mob. Yet when even the best and brightest set down their pens for fear of retribution? When some of the best journalism in recent memory is drowned out by a series of “fake news” (either state-sponsored or privately fostered)? When honest opinions and legitimate thought are muzzled and pay-to-play hackers and the rage of feelings is the norm?
Euripides wrote in his tragedy The Bacchae how the young women of Thebes, whipped into an ecstatic frenzy by Dionysus, ends up killing Pentheus — with his own mother helping to rip him apart using their bare hands. The ecstasy wears off, and the Maenads see what they have done. Pentheus’ own mother, Agave (still in an ecstatic state) presents her son’s head to the king believing it to be the head of a mountain lion. As the ecstatic frenzy wears off, Agave sees what she has done and is exiled for it. Dionysus himself leads a barbarian horde to wipe out the city of Thebes in vengeance.
Now we might lie to ourselves and suggest that our petty principles really are about the future. Deep down, we know they aren’t. Euripides is a warning about what happens when we whip ourselves into a frenzy and put principles over values, one might say. Pathos over ethos.
Will we learn? Five years ago, I was more hopeful. Today, it is harder to cut through the noise to even have the discussion. One sees more bacchanalia than discourse, I’m afraid.
“I don’t think there’s any point in being Irish if you don’t know that the world is going to break your heart eventually. I guess that we thought he had a little more time.” — Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1963)
Mise Éire: I am lonelier than the Hag of Beara.
Great is my glory: I who bore the brave Cúchulainn.
Great is my shame: My own children who sold their mother.
Great is my pain: My bitter foes who terrorize me without end.
Great is my sorrow: The hope I placed in my people; died.
Mise Éire: I am lonelier than the Hag of Beara.
— Padraic Pearse, Mise Eire (1912)
The hidden conceit of every writer is that we always hope that there will be one essay — just one completely coherent thought — that will actually crystallize opinion and change the way people view the world, ideally for the better.
Needless to say, the world seems to have become much more coarse since the early naughties when the internet was brave and new.
I have been writing in Virginia for about 15 years now. The world was a better place for ideas back then, as social media (such as it was) consisted of books, ideas, art, culture, and so forth.
Then came Twitter. The mythological School of Athens we thought digital media would provide us after the straightjacket our legacy media outlets continued to cram us into simply dissolved into the Coliseum.
In some sense, social media has been a net positive, though one does lament the demise of newsprint. To some degree, the legacy media did bring it upon themselves — too sclerotic to improvise; too angry at digital media for stealing advertising revenue they believed was sacrosanct; too livid at digital media for “stealing” their work only to turn it into commentary.
Yet in many ways, the newcomers simply imitated the sins of the past, with our attempts to institutionalize and our narrow editorialization of the news. Bloggers — that eponymous term for all things print media despises — simply imitated the standard they recognized. As print media declined and digital media interposed, journalists of the old school yielded to rank reporters of the new — imitators of a legacy, but pale ones at that.
Meanwhile, the opinion class merrily chirped away.
For myself, I find it much more difficult to justify writing on current affairs. It’s boring, for a start. Moreover, the only way we seem to have any impact is if we are absolutely savaging our opposition — be it internal or external.
Moreover, it’s what our reporters expect from us. “If it bleeds it leads” isn’t a term that we invented, after all.
The sad truth is that opinion leaders really aren’t leading a damn thing anymore. To quote one such leader of the French Revolution, “There are my people! I must find out where they are going so I can lead them.” Such is our pathetic excuse for political leadership today that we find that our elected officials are more courtesans than statesmen. Conservatives love to pound the table that we are more republic than democracy, yet one wonders whether this is true in practice anymore.
Of course, l’affaire Kavanaugh brought us a determinate contact point regarding mob justice. Neither side was really invested in the idea of getting to the bottom of things; both sides merely crammed facts into their hypothesis and let the chips fall where they may. Yet much more serious to me was the fact that — in real time — we watched as Senate Democrats finally cashed out the very last penny from the public trust.
I don’t believe that the progressive left truly understands the damage they have done. Before September 2018, Republicans at least made a pretense that the Democrats really would observe due process. Instead, we were treated to a spectacle of shame followed by the outrageous behavior of a mob pounding on the doors of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Some have said that if the Democrats truly believed that the U.S. Constitution represented the values of white supremacy and rape culture, they would be arming themselves and actually holding a revolution — not merely intimating violence.
Yet that intimation of violence is precisely the problem. In the week after the Kavanaugh confirmation, the political talking point was… to act like Trump. The chattering classes on the left at first tried to fob this off as metaphor, then pounced upon a Pennsylvania governor’s remarks that — of course — could not possibly be metaphor.
What bothers me intensely is that we are getting to point in this country where we are treating our neighbors as a metaphor. This metaphorical ‘they’ is looking to steal your income, deny you basic human rights, even enslave you to their will.
In many ways, the father of ‘identity politics’ wasn’t Barack Obama, though his campaign certainly weaponized it in a way we have never quite seen before in modern American politics. Rather, the idea that one is either with us or with the terrorists was a talking point of President George W. Bush.
Many will argue that we have seen such times before: Japanese internment camps during the Second World War, anti-German laws during the First World War, the suspension of habeus corpus by President Lincoln, the confiscation of loyalist property during and after the Revolutionary War.
Yet if the end state is really a condition between us and them? Who are us?
Loneliness is everywhere in the U.S., across every sector of society. A survey of more than 20,000 American adults conducted earlier this year by the health insurer Cigna and the market research firm Ipsos found that a majority of us are lonely, based on responses to the UCLA Loneliness Scale. The highest scores were reported by the youngest adults, ages 18 to 22. The researchers describe it as a “loneliness epidemic.”
None of this should surprise us. Americans today have fewer shared projects than our parents and grandparents did, and we belong to fewer civic groups. Because we change jobs more often, we have fewer lasting work friendships. We delay marriage, have fewer children and live in larger homes, more separate from those of our neighbors. We move from place to place for relationships, economic opportunity and better weather—and we end up with economic opportunity and better weather.
Some good things to say here, but I think Ben Sasse misses the point. It’s not ‘loneliness’ that is plaguing the American public, but mediocrity.
In short, we have become a vulgar, boring people… and you can see it every day on social media, legacy media, commercials, entertainment, sports, etc. Our loneliness isn’t the problem — we’re just not interesting anymore (neither to ourselves or to one another).
So we have to manufacture virtue rather than work on becoming better, more interesting people. Turns out, virtue can’t be purchased. So we opt for wit, humor, condescension and the like rather than insight, relevance, and dialogue.
Is it a problem of education? Perhaps so.
What I do know is this. The solution here is very simple — but it’s not easy.
Empathy and character only get folks to a certain point, but they are useless without dialogue — and while we have taught ourselves that emotive is rewarding and disengagement is the best defensive measure, rarely do people discuss ideas trying to understand the perspective of “they” — but rather with the objective of asserting the power of “us”.
Perhaps this is the logic of power, and perhaps power is always a zero-sum game where anyone outside of “us” is a pathogen to the body politic that must — at all cost — be destroyed.
Yet as I grow older and re-read the things I have written in the past, one concept occurs as inescapable — that I am a Christian personalist in a world that is neither Christian nor personal.
For instance, most people will readily identify themselves as Republican or Democrat, whereas I would places such terms in the very last of the ordinal hierarchy of labels. A conservative before I am a Republican, a Virginian before I am a conservative, a Christian before I am a Virginian, and my Catholicism as the fullest expression of who I am and what I believe — that’s me, my family, my core.
I have been a tremendous fan of Montaigne’s Essais ever since picking them up many years ago — in fact, the proto-blogger himself and the father of the essay. Sadly, more recently I have found myself picking up and reading through Victor Klemperer’s essays and diaries he collected as he survived Nazi Germany before enduring the German Democratic Republic. My thoughts have been drifting towards the Spanish Civil War and its root causes — the grasp for power, the decline of institutions, the blind fanaticism of the Spanish Nationalists (fascists) and the Spanish Republicans (communists).
One can only imagine how Fr. Jose Maria Escriva must have thought during that time as he was founding Opus Dei, enduring both the persecution of the communists and the recriminations of the fascists.
One of my favorite films of all time is Fritz Lang’s 1927 Metropolis which begins with the epigram — “The Mediator between the head and the hands is the heart!” Thea von Barbou — Lang’s wife who penned the script for Metropolis — had the Catholic Church in mind as that institution which welds the aristocracy to the demos.
Yet even a cursory look at the Catholic Church (both in America and in Europe) finds a Catholicism convulsed by the power struggles of secular religions interposing upon the sacred. One is either a “conservative” Catholic or a “liberal” Catholic. I am neither. I just want to be a Catholic.
It is difficult to see things one believe as settled be overturned in a matter of years. Once upon a time, I did not believe that racists could occupy positions of power in the Republican Party (much less in Virginia!) — and I was wrong.
Once upon a time, I believed that violence in the public square was something to be abhorred by both sides of the political spectrum — and I am being proven wrong again. I believed and was taught that what was unique about America was that we would allow 100 guilty men to go free if it prevented the conviction of one innocent man, whereas the Soviets would plow through 100 innocent men to get to a guilty one — and I see that spirit dead in America today. I believed that to be a good Catholic, one had to feed the poor, visit the sick, clothe the naked, rebuke the oppressor, and hunger for righteousness — and I see that our own bishops do not believe much less practice this.
Most of all, I believed in a certain Jeffersonian optimism that if people were given the tools to be self-sufficient and create better lives for themselves and their families, they would.
One feels as if this presupposition — this confidence in the American person — is being eroded daily by those who simply cannot leave their neighbors alone — or worse, by those who demand positive rights from society (thou shall) rather than keeping to negative rights (thou shall nots) that fundamentally undergirds this grand experiment we call America.
In short, I see too many people willing to become a part of a mob. Willing to give up their own humanity in order to matter. Willing to sell out the humanity of others in order to gain a little temporary advantage. We have commercialized the sacred and sacralized the commercial. We treat mediocrity as excellence and treat excellence with a vulgar contempt. We disguise ideology as fact while dismissing facts as ideological privilege.
Sociologists will tell us that every generation thinks the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Others will tell us that the long arc of history bends towards justice… but these are both lies we tell ourselves — adult fairy tales so we can sleep at night and not worry about being responsible citizens.
The very fact of the matter is that something broke in the American public this September, and it will not be easily fixed. Battle lines are being drawn — clear ones — ones that break the heart of anyone who reads their history. Those of us who are climbing into Plato’s Cave to sound the alarm can only articulate a handful certain truths to those too deaf to hear: history is bloody and violent, not just… and that banking on the civility of others while practicing none is a grift — it is not progress, and it certainly is not politics.
St. Padre Pio would tell us to pray and do not worry. For one, I pray and worry intensely — not because I worry, but because one can only feel tremendous sadness at what we have chosen to become. We can’t blame social media, nor can we blame liberal institutions or Fox News, Soros or Koch.
The fault, dear Brutus, is in our stars.
Perhaps this is what brings me to the Moynihan quote some 55 years after the news that President John F. Kennedy had been brought low by an assassin’s bullet. Mise Éire: this is the curse of the Irish — to know that in the end this world will indeed break your heart.
If this is truly the endgame of the demos in America, then I find myself as Fr. Gabriel in The Mission speaking to Fr. Rodrigo:
If might is right, then love has no place in the world. It may be so, it may be so. But I don’t have the strength to live in a world like that, Rodrigo.
Of course, we can stop this at any time we choose. The question remains — do we have the courage to do so? If courage is rooted in humility, and violence in pride, then I fear we have much work to do… both individually and collectively.
Once you identify with any large, unselective group, you will be regularly tempted to commit the villainous act of standing up for your groups’ villains. When they do wrong – as they inevitably will – your impulse will be to ignore, minimize, or justify their misdeeds. To quote the underrated 8mm, “If you dance with the devil, the devil don’t change. The devil changes you.”
Shades of Kierkegaard’s The Present Age as he discusses how human beings will do the most terrible things to one another in the name of principle:
“It is acting ‘on principle’ which does away with the vital distinction which constitutes decency. For decency is immediate (whether the immediate is original or acquired). It has its seat in feeling and in the impulse and consistency of an inner enthusiasm.
“‘In this way everything becomes permissible if done ‘on principle’. The police can go to certain places on ‘official duty’ to which no one else can go, but as a result one cannot deduce anything from their presence. In the same way one can do anything ‘on principle’ and avoid all personal responsibility. People pull to pieces ‘on principle’ what they admire personally, which is nonsensical, for while it is true that everything creative is latently polemical, since it has to make room for the new which it is bringing into the world, a purely destructive process is nothing and its principle is emptiness — so what does it need space for? But modesty, repentance and responsibility cannot easily strike root in ground where everything is done ‘on principle’.” (emphasis added)
— Soren Kierkegaard, “The Present Age” (1846)
Caplan offers a solution of a sort: never identify with large groups; only with small ones. Which is a solution of a sort… but more Benedict Option than grand solution. After all, small tribalism doesn’t seem like the solution to big tribalism — it’s Rod Dreher misinterpreting Alasdair MacIntyre while refusing to grapple constructively with the idea that yes, we do have a moral responsibility to be a part of this great big messed up world of ours (and I pull specifically from Romano Guardini’s The Church and the Catholic on this point).
One grand solution that Caplan does point towards is the recent kerfuffle over Robin Hanson’s admonishment that we once again take people at face value and quit presupposing their motives:
Let us instead revert back to the traditional intellectual standard: respond most to what people say, and don’t stretch too hard to infer what you think they mean in scattered hints of what they’ve said and done.
One presupposes that we are all muck farmers now. Everyone racks up the suppression points… and only then can we have a conversation? Doesn’t quite seem like an ideal starting place, now does it?
Twice I have attempted to shut down this public journal.
Once before in 2007 when I took on the responsibility of representing the Republican Party of Virginia as their communications director under happier times with Ed Gillespie as chairman and the inestimable Charlie Judd as executive director, and once again as I merged my own writing into other projects.
The list of projects thus far is not a very long one, and almost all of them have been digital publications in a way that I felt I could get thoughts off of my chest and into public consumption. Bearing Drift was the first and longest lasting of these experiments, followed by the revival of The Jeffersoniad before moving to The Republican Standard.
Other publications kind enough to take my scribbling have been digital journals such as Ethika Politika and The Wanderer — the oldest Catholic publication in the country and a mainstay of Catholic traditional thought. In truth, writing for Der Wanderer has become one of the most pleasurable experiences, allowing me to express my faith to fellow travelers — and it helped me discover what I missed about my own writing today.
A handful of faculty and a ton more students at the University of Virginia decided to sigh a petition entitled co-sign an e-mail to University of Virginia president Theresa Sullivan that might as well have been titled “Please Tell The Alumni To Stop Giving To This University” — from the Cavalier Daily:
Some professors from the Psychology Department — and other academic departments — did not agree with the use of this quote. Their letter to Sullivan argued that in light of Jefferson’s owning of slaves and other racist beliefs, she should refrain from quoting Jefferson in email communications.
“We would like for our administration to understand that although some members of this community may have come to this university because of Thomas Jefferson’s legacy, others of us came here in spite of it,” the letter read. “For many of us, the inclusion of Jefferson quotations in these e-mails undermines the message of unity, equality and civility that you are attempting to convey.”
The letter garnered 469 signatures — from both students and professors — before being sent out via email Nov. 11. Signees included Politics Prof. Nicholas Winter, Psychology Prof. Chad Dodson, Women, Gender and Sexuality Prof. Corinne Field, College Assistant Dean Shilpa Davé, Politics Prof. Lynn Sanders and many more. Asst. Psychology Prof. Noelle Hurd drafted the letter.
In that spirit, we would like to help with the TOP 10 BANNED THOMAS JEFFERSON QUOTES OF ALL TIME!
10.The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
9.I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.
8.The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.
7.All persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious institution.
6.That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical…
5.The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive.
4.The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen, in his person and property, and in their management.
3.As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body, and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks. Never think of taking a book with you.
2.When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become corrupt as in Europe.
1.We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable Rights; that among these, are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness; that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
You have to admit, #3 should come with a trigger warning.
Two Republican candidates in Virgnia — Mike Wade in VA-04 and Tom Garrett in VA-05 respectively — have embraced what has to be the most underreported solution put forward this election cycle.
What is perhaps more amazing about the proposal is that it did not come from a Washington think-tank, nor did it come from a policy wonk. Rather, the idea came from Albemarle County’s Republican unit chairman, Mr. Elliott Harding.
The white paper is entitled Student Security, and it is worth an evening read. In short, the federal student debt load is already subsidized by the government and is a tremendous drag on GDP growth. Social Security likewise is a multi-trillion dollar wall that will effectively force certain financial realities in terms of either massive cuts or massive tax increases (or the elimination of the SSI cap).
What Harding attempts to resolve is a simple question: how does one convince Millennials to continue to subsidize a Ponzi schematic to benefit a generation that drove America into debt — for an entitlement that few Millennials expect to benefit from? Continue reading →
I’ll begin with the basics — I had no idea that Catholic socialism still existed, given its utter repudiation by Pope Leo XIII.
Still, it would appear as if the old dragon still draws breath, in no small part as a reaction to the neo-conservative moment within the Catholic intelligentsia in the United States (spearheaded perhaps by First Things) and countered perhaps by the “revolutionary Aristotelians” such as MacIntyre and Dreher.
If you are a layperson, consider four camps within Catholic intellectual circles: two on the right, two on the left. Within the right there are two camps — conservative (John Paul II) and traditionalists (SSPX). Within the left, there are two camps as well: radicals (liberation theology) and progressives (Pope John XXIII).
What is interesting here — and a worthwhile moment to pause — is the effort between some of the radicals to appropriate the language of the traditionalists, primarily in an effort to synthesize a few disparate ideas:
Distributist ethics and a rejection of capitalism.
Traditionalist language and norms.
The spirit of integralism as a check against the corrosion of a post-modern society.
A baptism of liberation theology (stick with me on this one).
A reinforced emphasis on localism and subsidiarity.