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Now’s the Time
Tuesday, January 31, 2017, 4:31 PM

While everything’s all stirred up in Washington anyway, it’s time to replace that dog of a National Anthem of ours with “America the Beautiful” (Bates/Ward).

At public events in states that border on Canada, often both countries’ national anthems are played.  Americans blush as the beautiful “O Canada” is sung, because they know they must follow it with an unsingable tribute to the daunserly light and the perilous fight.  Time to open this old file again and do it right this time.

Why They Savage Professor Esolen
Wednesday, December 28, 2016, 12:48 PM

Today’s [university] radicals are considerably more ferocious–and more radical–than those of the 1960s and 1970s.  They seek not to marginalize but to eliminate.  Any attempt to consider multiple points of view on serious issues in the humanities or the social sciences now risks being labeled as aggression and offense.  Where true liberal diversity once sought to recognize and understand points of view different, indeed contrary, to  our own, obedience to this new brand of “diversity” demands silence and recantation.  Alternative sociological views are in danger of being branded racist; much of literature threatens to be labeled homophobic or sexist; unseasonable philosophical inquiry into the meaning of morality and justice risks disturbing today’s “social justice” warriors, who already have the only acceptable answers; and all potential deviations from today’s orthodoxies are evidence of systemic racism in need of perpetual diversity training and reeducation classes.  Into all this a phalanx of thought-review administrators–“diversity inclusion and equity officers” as we learn from Ol’ Mizzou–now watchfully police the campus.  Nor is it simply offensive speech or racist slurs that “trigger” a radical response.  More serious, more offensive would be honest debate and reasoned argument.

Gone is any hope that under the regime of contemporary multiculturalism and diversity students will experience “enhanced classroom dialogue” (as the Supreme Court recently opined) and learn from one another.  Can, for example, an open discussion of the causes of black poverty or black crime–other than “racism”–be held in many campus sociology classes?  Can honest discussions of equality and its limits or the character of human nature be openly discussed in political science?  Today, identity politics masquerading as a demand for diversity has turned the university world upside down.  Some of our once best liberal arts universities risk becoming the most anti-intellectual institutions in the nation.

John Agresto, “Snowflakes and Storm Troopers,” Academic Questions 29:2 (Summer, 2016), pp. 150-151.

The task of the scholar in the arts and humanities is to remember the past and bring it to the present–an essentially conservative vocation which in a university context can inform the sciences and impress them with meaning and responsibility.  But when ideology has in fact quarantined the past as a persisting source of moral and intellectual contagion, the need for, and task of, these scholars is over.

The Gospel Scrooge
Monday, December 19, 2016, 8:07 AM

Yesterday I attended a modern Christmas cantata in which the soppy narration was carefully divided between men and women—completely unnecessary, and a painful reminder of how so many churches must cringingly burn their pinch of incense to political correctness to show their withitness.

Just about anything that offends the gospel in modernizing churches, as Karl Barth observed, comes from the apologetic impulse, that is, can be defended at any point by asserting it is a necessary vehicle for its communication.  Bah humbug.

Now, don’t mistake me, I am all for equality, as long as it stays in its place.

A Publication Anniversary
Saturday, December 17, 2016, 3:07 PM

In 1987 sociologist James Davison Hunter published Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation, an analysis of attitudes and opinions of students at member colleges of the Christian College Consortium, an organization including schools like Trinity, Wheaton, Gordon, and Taylor.  I found the results on their attitudes on matters sexual–and mind you, this was 30 years ago now–frightening.  The number of these students with a casual, secularized, or weakly-convinced attitude toward sexual morality–and who weren’t afraid to let it be known—made me think when I read this book many years ago that Evangelicalism as a Christian movement was doomed.  These students were, by and large, the children of families willing to pay higher tuitions to be sure their children received Christian training.  Remember in the fifties Bishop Sheen telling Catholics that if they wanted their children to lose their faith, he recommended sending them to a Catholic school?  [This attribution, denied by some, seems reasonable to me–and even if Bp. Sheen didn’t say it, other good Catholics have.  Would you send your child to Providence College just because Anthony Esolen teaches there?  I’d have to think long and hard about it.]  Things haven’t changed in the mainline Catholic world, and Evangelicals have the same problem.

While very much in favor—in theory—of Christian colleges, I talked both my girls out of attending them, and am glad I did, and I am convinced they are stronger Christians for it.  It wasn’t hard with the older, because she’s in the hard sciences, and these schools are too small to purchase the laboratory equipment she needed for her research, even as an undergraduate.  The younger’s sojourn at a state university as a music major among artsy gays hardened up both her political conservatism and her Christianity.  The attacks on faith and reason at secular colleges are at least not carried on by allegedly Christian teachers who constantly urge their students to question the beliefs with which they were raised, while at secular schools Christian students have the ability to consider at first-hand the results of overt anti-Christianity, and decide for themselves whom they shall serve.

Given their history (cf. Marsden’s The Soul of the American University, Oxford, 1996), the burden of proof is firmly upon colleges that advertise themselves as Christian to demonstrate it to donors, alumni, and prospective students. I frankly do not see how this can effectively be done without (1) getting rid of tenure, (2) rejecting definitions of academic freedom that allow teachers to undermine its confession and moral code, (3) dismissing teachers who openly challenge the college’s stated beliefs, (4) risking the loss of accreditation by agencies that will not in fact accredit Christian colleges, and (5) willingness to be identified by detractors as illiberal or worse.  Such schools must also be careful not to retreat into anti-intellectualism, but, favoring a classical habitus, retain and support administrators with the necessary courage to maintain it.

Grand Pronouncement No. 397
Thursday, December 15, 2016, 7:06 PM

The computer as an engine of godlike apprehension contains enough temptation for me, but making the damned thing pocketable crosses a line.  It’s no sin to own and use a smartphone, just like it’s no sin for an Irishman to own and use whiskey, but I am resolved not to have one for as long as possible.

Have Some Roast Beast, Won’t You?
Sunday, December 11, 2016, 7:19 AM

The other day two store clerks in a row—and not at Hobby Lobby or Chick-fil-A, either—wished me a Merry Christmas.  I thought I detected in their benedictions a hint of real glee. It was almost as though the Grinch was dead. Ah, but this is Wisconsin—Flyover (or perhaps, Stop if You Really Need To) Country. Doubtless there are still many places where wishing people a Merry Christmas is regarded as a mild form of hate speech—like in our own state capital.


The Grinch is actually the incarnation of an immortal spirit, and can’t be killed, only suppressed. I have it on good authority he’s just moved back to his apartment in Manhattan and plans to take his vacations in Hollywood, since the last election informed him quite positively that he would have to withdraw for a while to change his strategy for making everyone but him and his henchpersons miserable.


What the friendly clerks have sensed, I believe, is that the recent defeat of the Ruling Party has been a strong blow against Political Correctness, so that wishing your Jewish or Muslim—or atheist–friend a Merry Christmas (or having him wish you one right back in the understanding that Christians are delighted to share their holiday) need no longer be seen as an increasingly risky act of defiance in the public square. The election of the prickly Mr. Trump was based on the hope of a great many people that here at last was a candidate who would not, once in office, feel it necessary to forge bipartisan coalitions with the Grinch, but in a fittingly crude and businesslike way tell him exactly where to stick it.


As Political Correctness, and with it the oppression of average people, marched to what seemed in the Obama years its triumph in a Hillary Clinton presidency, more Americans than the media and the political strategists understood were becoming weary, very weary, of having their speech and thought controlled by people they didn’t agree with.  When an older sort of liberalism, like that of the Grinch’s creator, didn’t look like even it could survive the intensifying threat of an Orwellian world where speech and reality are politically disconnected and their connection penalized, even the dullest were beginning to wake up to what an impervious Anointed Class refuses on principle to see.


So, sharing with my clerks a sense of at least temporary reprieve (that can’t, of course, be taken for granted, especially by those who don’t put their trust in princes, etc., etc.), I wish you all, without much fear of losing my job for it, a Merry Christmas, and God bless us every one.


A Short Course on Feminism
Wednesday, December 7, 2016, 9:34 AM

I have for many years dealt with feminism, particularly in its religious form, as an adversary, regarding it as an enemy of the human race because it is the enemy of half its members.  If I were to be asked to explain briefly what it is, and what is wrong with it, I would reply it is a form of utopianism, essentially an insanity, founded on refusal to accept the male as male.

If the lovely, but very young, Emma Watson wonders out loud before a United Nations audience why so many strangely take feminism for man-hating, the answer is that even if someone feels no ill-will toward men in general, but supports programs that proscribe maleness in accordance with a formula that makes them “equal” to women despite their manifest differences, this denies their being as male and prohibits them from exercising it. What better practical example might there be of hatred, especially interesting among those who invariably find it among people who refuse to accept sexual deviation as personal identity?  What about granting the same to men who will not submit to castration?

But no–feminism has filled the world with the sound of what “women” (i.e., feminists) are and want, but as if maleness has no legitimate existence. Its fingers are securely in its ears, its blinders firmly fixed, its defining cruelty unrecognized with respect to this reality, its egalitarianism being, beyond the comprehension of its advocates, a triumph of injustice with a genocidal telos.

Another Dubia
Tuesday, November 29, 2016, 9:38 AM

Pope Francis, with his pointed overpassing of Philadelphia Abp. Chaput for the cardinalate and declining, at the request of Cardinals Burke, Brandmüller, Caffarra, and Meisner to clarify Amoris Laetitia, his apostolic exhortation on the family, on whether divorced and remarried Catholics can receive communion, has likewise placed a number of the rest of us in an ambiguous position.

At Touchstone, for example, when we fished around for an answer to the frequently-asked question of what kind of Catholics the magazine appealed to, and wanted something better than “conservative” (for many conservative Catholics have no use for us), we found ourselves saying things like, “Well, the Ignatius Press or First Things kind of Catholic,” and often, “papal Catholics.”

But this journal took its rise during the pontificate of St. John Paul II, and rejoicing was heard in its halls at his succession by Benedict XVI, for both of whom we all, including the Protestants and Orthodox among us, had the profoundest respect, and whose careful, scholarly teaching we could easily understand as the teaching of the Catholic Church.

In view of the confusions of the new Pope, however, I sense (and of course I am speaking of my own perceptions here) we are hardly in the mood to call the Touchstone kind of Catholic “papal” in the sense we once did. “Cardinal Burke Catholics” seems to find the mark better. Alas for our Roman faithful! It seems the present incumbent of the papal office, by re-introducing the question of whether the pope is Catholic, has invited them to become something like members of a sect.

As a Protestant I can say, “I know the feeling.”

History and Donald Trump
Monday, November 21, 2016, 1:07 PM
Those who regard Donald Trump’s election as an inevitability are, I believe, thinking historically.  To retain the stability they provide, people will put up with increasingly bad authority structures for a surprisingly long time–the corruption of  these, of which Hillary Clinton is a more than fitting icon, along with the fall of their nations, being an inevitability following human nature.  Thus the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the fall of Ancien Régime, the Weimar Republic, and the Berlin Wall–pick your example–and the election of Donald Trump by the Common Man in the United States after years of increasing  interference in his accustomed way of life by the Washington establishment–the tolerable bumbling lampooned by Will Rogers having ripened into callous mistreatment by a contemptuous, self-selecting aristocracy of a right-thinking anointed class, servilely represented by a determinedly ignorant media, mesmerized by the illusion of its own possession of the power-that-makes-right, was what got Donald Trump elected.
To be sure, what replaces the fallen structure may be worse than what it supplanted, but in respect to a German, for example, it is dangerous to underestimate the importance of making the trains run on time, for there is something about that blessed regularity that goes to the heart of his being.  It was important enough for men like Martin Niemöller to overlook (at least for a time) the deportation of his Jewish neighbor, just as it is important enough, for the hope of return to a better, more devout past, for Americans concerned with morality to vote for Donald Trump.
Obviously I feel that pressing that analogy at this point would be premature.  The opinion of people who compare Trump to Hitler is ignorance tinged with hysteria.  For now, we do not have enough evidence to regard him as anything but a particularly strong “reform candidate.”  He’s not of the political class, with its predictabilities, and there is no Mein Kampf or Communist Manifesto in his past.  He’s not as calculating as a Lenin nor monomaniacal as a Hitler, nor as hypnotically plausible a liar as a Clinton or Obama.  Nor is he anti-Christian.  It is in what Donald Trump lacks which lie both his strength and weakness–but I think we may hope for something better than the recent past in the replacement of an odious tangle of snakes with a dangerous and determined  bull.   At least I know which I prefer.
And enough of this quoting to me not to put my trust in princes, especially by people who are too righteous to vote!  Any student of history knows better than to do this–he doesn’t need the advice of the Psalm, which simply gives us on that account some universal wisdom.  We do the best we can in the places we are put, and can’t, while contentedly digesting Bismarckian sausage, piously shun the Wurstmacher.

Trump, Hillary, and a Sense of Proportion
Monday, November 7, 2016, 11:34 AM

Here is my last return to the bully pulpit on this subject, and once again, my opinion is my own, not necessarily that of Touchstone or any of its editors or contributors.

There is evidence that some Christians who were refusing to vote for Donald Trump because of his moral failings and his lack of appropriate respect for women are changing their minds.  Under normal circumstances I would have denied such a candidate my vote for the same reason.  I have never questioned their sincerity, nor their judgment that he is unfit to be President.  What I have always challenged, though, is their sense of proportion, given the only real alternative, and the strange, pharmaceutical notion that in refusing to give their vote to either candidate they are not supporting Hillary Clinton.  Of the latter perception I will say nothing more, for the reasoning is wholly opaque to me.  I do have, however, something to say about the former.

It seems that this “Christian argument” against Trump boils down to, “He, in his own way, is just, or almost, as bad as Hillary.”  This is supported by evidence of his very un-Christian conduct and opinions.  But that in itself does not appear sufficient to its holders to place him in the same moral category as Mrs. Clinton without extrapolation to the wickedness of which such a depraved individual would be capable in a hypothetical presidency, a gruesome tableau limited only by the power of imagination.  Now that suffices to Hillary-ize Trump and as justification for denying him one’s vote.  To that I must say, “You could be right.  I can produce no evidence that you’re not.  Voting for Trump is a gamble.”

Voting for Hillary, though, is not.  We know her well, and are in a position to believe her when she tells what she intends to do when she becomes president.  One of those things, shorn of euphemism and cant, is that she will continue to advance the platform and program of the Democratic Party of killing children in the womb.  Just how much does the addition of her mendacity and corruption add in the balances to this? Not much, perhaps. Just how much dirty talk, bottom-pinching, and fornication on the part of Donald Trump overweighs the possibility that he may help to do something about this, against the firm expectation that under Hillary the slaughter will continue? Also, not much.

Put in these terms, we no longer have a “better of two evils” situation, for the balance represented by weighing the candidates has tipped to that point where the observer may begin to wonder if one can justly be compared to the other, where the inhuman evil represented by one can be placed against the all-too-human sins of the other. My own opinion is that people who have not lost their sense of proportion under the influence of Donald Trump’s coarseness will recognize this and vote for him.


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