Friday, December 23, 2022

... the majority of students do not see writing as a worthwhile skill to cultivate—just like I, sitting with my coffee and book, rereading Moby-Dick, do not consider it worthwhile to learn, say, video editing. They have no interest in exploring nuance in tone and rhythm; they will forever roll their eyes at me when I try to communicate the subtle difference, when writing an appositive phrase, between using commas, parentheses, or (the connoisseur’s choice) the em dash.

Which is why I wonder if this may be the end of using writing as a benchmark for aptitude and intelligence. After all, what is a cover letter? Its primary purpose isn’t to communicate “I already know how to do this job” (because of course I don’t) but rather “I am competent and trustworthy and can clearly express to you why I would be a good candidate for this job.” What is a written exam? Its primary signal isn’t “I memorized a bunch of information” but rather “I can express that information clearly in writing.” Many teachers have reacted to ChatGPT by imagining how to give writing assignments now—maybe they should be written out by hand, or given only in class—but that seems to me shortsighted. The question isn’t “How will we get around this?” but rather “Is this still worth doing?”

I believe my most essential tasks, as a teacher, are helping my students think critically, disagree respectfully, argue carefully and flexibly, and understand their mind and the world around them. Unconventional, improvisatory, expressive, meta-cognitive writing can be an extraordinary vehicle for those things. But if most contemporary writing pedagogy is necessarily focused on helping students master the basics, what happens when a computer can do it for us? Is this moment more like the invention of the calculator, saving me from the tedium of long division, or more like the invention of the player piano, robbing us of what can be communicated only through human emotion?

The End of High School English, by Daniel Herman. The Atlantic 12/09/22.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) - A Help or Hindrance to the Artist? -- Musings on Midjourney

As somebody who's (at least somewhat) creatively/artistically inclined, I find myself absolutely stunned by the recent advancements made in AI-rendered art. However, I admit to being conflicted and of two minds over such.

Half of me has that giddy mindset of a "kid-in-a-candy-store", especially when I experiment with Midjourney -- for the unfamiliar, "an independent research lab that produces a proprietary artificial intelligence program that creates images from textual descriptions" -- or see what others can come up with.

In its current state, which is still very much in its infancy (MidJourney beta only being released in 2022), AI-generated art gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, "the imagination is the limit", having the ability to render whatever the user wants, based on a unique prompt. Admittedly there is some level of SKILL required in utilizing the prompts, learning what particular kind and combination of prompts achieves the desired result. But in any case, the images that Midjourney produces -- spanning practically every genre and style and medium -- are absolutely, completely mind-boggling. See, for example, the regular postings to the Official MidJourney Facebook page.

But there's another part of me that is tentative, even fearful, for the potential impact it can have on artists and photographers and illustrators. What does it mean, for instance, when you can render a painted image in a matter of MINUTES, that would take a human literally days or weeks to produce on their own, using skills they have spent the bulk of their lives honing and cultivating as a craft?

What are the implications ... when I read that the first portrait created using artificial intelligence sold at auction in 2018 for $432,500; and that only this year, a Midjourney AI-generated painting won first place in the Colorado State Fair?

According to Kevin Roose, A.I.-generated art is already transforming creative work, both positively and not necessarily so. Some artists are less concerned than others about the impact AI may have on their careers, as in the example of an interior designer who has figured out how to use AI to streamlining their work, fleshing out prospective ideas for office-renovation in real-time. On the other hand you have stories like this:

"Initially, Mr. Waldoch planned to hire human artists to illustrate each day’s rhyming word pair. But when he saw the cost — between $50 and $60 per image, plus time for rounds of feedback and edits — he decided to try using A.I. instead. He plugged word pairs into Midjourney and DreamStudio, an app based on Stable Diffusion, and tweaked the results until they looked right. Total cost: a few minutes of work, plus a few cents.

“I typed in ‘carrot parrot,’ and it spit back a perfect image of a parrot made of carrots,” he said. “That was the immediate ‘aha’ moment.”

Mr. Waldoch said he didn’t feel guilty about using A.I. instead of hiring human artists, because human artists were too expensive to make the game worthwhile."

On the other hand, David Holz, the founders of Midjourney, was interviewed by Forbes and was largely dismissive of the idea that AI-generated art would have a negative impact on artists themselves:

... think that some people will try to cut artists out. They will try to make something similar at a lower cost, and I think they will fail in the market. I think the market will go towards higher quality, more creativity, and vastly more sophisticated, diverse and deep content. And the people who actually are able to use like the artists and use the tools to do that are the ones who are going to win.

These technologies actually create a much deeper appreciation and literacy in the visual medium. You might actually have the demand, outstrip the ability to produce at that level, and then maybe you'll actually be raising the salaries of artists. It could be weird, but that's what's going to happen. The pace of that demand increase for both quality and diversity will lead to some wonderful and unexpected projects getting made.

A generation of students graduated art schools, many of them heavily in debt, counting on relatively well-paid jobs in entertainment production, videogame production, commercial art and so on. How does the emergence of AI text-to-image platforms impact their future?

I think some people will try to cut costs, and some people will try to expand ambitions. I think the people who expand ambitions will still be paying all those same salaries, and the people who try to cut costs, I think will fail.

Of similar concern are the copyright and privacy issues involved. Take this story of fantasy artist Greg Rutkowski, who found his own original work quickly overtaken and overwhelmed online by AI-generated replications:

Rutkowski was initially surprised but thought it might be a good way to reach new audiences. Then he tried searching for his name to see if a piece he had worked on had been published. The online search brought back work that had his name attached to it but wasn’t his.

The article goes on to describe the experience of others -- illustrators, photographers, models, actors and actresses, directors, cinematographers" -- who are grappling with the fact that their work is being fed into the 5.8 billion dataset used by AI. It is currently the case that artists don’t have the choice to opt in to the database or have their work removed.

Anyway ... no offense intended in this post to those who use Midjourney and are demonstrably very adept at guiding it to producing what they desire. I honestly remain very much enthralled by its potential and entertainment value.

But lurking in the back of my mind are the questions and the issues raised in these articles as well.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

The democratic ideal springs from the ideas of liberty, equality, majority rule through free elections, protection of the rights of minorities, and freedom to subscribe to multiple loyalties in matters of religion, economics, and politics rather than to a total loyalty to the state. The spirit of democracy is the idea of importance and worth in the individual, and faith in the kind of world where the individual can achieve as much of his potential as possible.

Great dangers always accompany great opportunities. The possibility of destruction is always implicit in the act of creation. Thus the greatest enemy of individual freedom is the individual himself. From the beginning the weakness as well as the strength of the democratic ideal has been the people. People cannot be free unless they are willing to sacrifice some of their interests to guarantee the freedom of others. The price of democracy is the ongoing pursuit of the common good by all of the people. One hundred and thirty-five years ago Tocqueville gravely warned that unless individual citizens were regularly involved in the action of governing themselves, self-government would pass from the scene. Citizen participation is the animating spirit and force in a society predicated on voluntarism.

We are not here concerned with people who profess the democratic faith but yearn for the dark security of dependency where they can be spared the burden of decisions. Reluctant to grow up, or incapable of doing so, they want to remain children and be cared for by others. Those who can, should be encouraged to grow; for the others, the fault lies not in the system but in themselves.

Here we are desperately concerned with the vast mass of our people who, thwarted through lack of interest or opportunity, or both, do not participate in the endless responsibilities of citizenship and are resigned to lives determined by others. To lose your "identity" as a citizen of democracy is but a step from losing your identity as a person. People react to this frustration by not acting at all. The separation of the people from the routine daily functions of citizenship is heartbreak in a democracy.

It is a grave situation when a people resign their citizenship or when a resident of a great city, though he may desire to take a hand, lacks the means to participate. That citizen sinks further into apathy, anonymity, and depersonalization. The result is that he comes to depend on public authority and a state of civic-sclerosis sets in. From time to time there have been external enemies at our gates; there has always been the enemy within, the hidden and malignant inertia that foreshadows more certain destruction to our life and future than any nuclear warhead. There can be no darker or more devastating tragedy than the death of man's faith in himself and in his power to direct his future.

Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Newly Published in Thomist Studies: "The Thomist Tradition: Avoiding Scylla and Charybdis", by Dr. Donald G. Boland

The Thomist Tradition: Avoiding Scylla and Charybdis
by Dr. Donald G Boland.

As with every great philosopher and theologian, the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, though perhaps the clearest expressed of all, has inevitably been subject to a variety of interpretations. There is one interpretation that leans to a naturalist/rationalist (secularist) interpretation of his thought. That one is well-recognized today. There is, however, another interpretation so strongly opposed to this extreme that it tends to fall into the other error of supernaturalism/ fideism. In this book, hopefully following not only the thought of St. Thomas but also his method, I have tried only to draw particular attention to this latter error.

“Dr. Donald Boland offers us a penetrating critical reading of Tracey Rowland’s Culture and Thomist Tradition after Vatican II (2003), showing us that Thomism today is faced with an equal and opposite danger to the well-known error of a naturalist, rationalist or secularist interpretation of the Angelic Doctor’s thought. Today’s danger is closer to being a sort of muddled fideist or supernaturalist interpretation influenced by the confusing ideas of nouvelle theologians such as Henri de Lubac. Boland offers a wide-ranging and well-informed assessment.” – Dr. Philip Blosser, Professor of Philosophy, Sacred Heart Major Seminary

“In this engaging polemic, Donald Boland effectively reminds us that, as St. Thomas keenly understood, faith has no greater friend than reason. This reminder is sorely needed as some Thomists today have lurched to fideism (even supernaturalism) in their zeal to avert rationalism. Written in an idiom that suits the here and now, Boland shows how the perennial philosophy lives to instruct another generation.” – Dr. Curtis Hancock, Professor of Philosophy, Rockhurst University


Sunday, February 13, 2022

The best way to win souls is not by actions that have as their purpose to win those souls, but by actions that have no other purpose than to bear witness to the truth, and bear witness to this truth with the full and overflowing measure of love. Perhaps it is possible to find here the exact distinction between proselytism, which could be defined as an activity of spiritual conquest on a patient (actio transiens) and the true apostolate, which could be defined as the service of souls, and the awakening of souls to the truth, by the superabundance of activity that comes from union with the truth (actio immanens). In the latter case the animating form is love; in the former case it is a subliminated instinct of imperialism.
- Jacques Maritain, from The Story of Two Souls: The Correspondence of Jacques Maritain and Julien Green, ed. Henry Bars. (Fordham University Press, 1988).

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Here and There

  • Christopher Hitchens Wasn’t Great, by Meir Y. Soloveichik. Commentary February 2022:
    ... what are we to make about statements that are contrary to all obvious evidence—evidence that even rudimentary research would reveal? Are Hitchens’s assertions against obvious evidence not evidence itself that his assaults are expressions of deliberate dishonesty?

    Some admirers of Hitchens on the right concede how troubling this is. Former Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson said he had always known that, on religion, “Hitch could be unfair—willfully so—and quite capable of presenting as fresh and new arguments that had grown stale a century ago.” Robinson added, “What I hadn’t quite realized, though, was that Hitch was also deeply ignorant—in particular, that in discussing the scriptures Hitch simply had no idea what he was talking about.” Robinson’s admiration for Hitchens, as he wrote in 2011, stems from the fact that Hitchens “held his head up for a flag of all the free.” Similarly, Continetti concludes that the lesson of Hitchens’s life is that “freedom needs champions.” Indeed it does, but Hitchens’s comments about faith illustrate that he learned the wrong lessons from a 20th century marked by battles between liberty and tyranny.

    His penchant for intentionally eliding evidence was reflected in his description of faith as “the origin of all dictatorship.” These were words written by a man who had witnessed a century marked by militantly atheist Communist dictatorships that murdered more members of humanity than any faith community in history. His brother, Peter, has powerfully pointed out that Hitchens’s religion writings were recycled talking points of the very regimes he claimed to oppose.

  • The Return of the Manuals, by John Brungardt. Thomistica 06/26/21 (reviewing R.E. Houser's Logic as a Liberal Art: An Introduction to Rhetoric and Reasoning and Michael J. Dodd's The One Creator God in Thomas Aquinas and Contemporary Theology):
    In past unenlightened ages, it was a trope—and then a cliché—to denigrate a philosophical or theological view as bearing too much a resemblance to the “schoolmen” or the “scholastics.” In the last century, and even in this one, if you wish to dismiss summarily the mode or content of a book, simply call it a “manual” or its author a “manualist.” Surely you know the kind: those “Neo-Scholastic” manuals, written in a cramped Latin parceled out into enumerated paragraphs, all crested with a “nihil obstat” and appropriate "imprimatur."

    However, there is a lot about manuals that is simply a myth that needs to be quashed. This is because, as in any age in literate human history, there were good and bad books for students. Manuals overlapped with both. Furthermore, their use and abuse coincided with teachers both good and bad, and was incidentally tied to academic and ecclesial politics that either no longer apply or which now train their focus on other controversies. Blaming “the manualists” for the tribulations of philosophical and theological education partly overlaps with—and is about as accurate as—personally blaming Christian Wolff for the limitations of early Neo-Scholastic philosophy.

  • Scheler vs. Nietzsche on Ressentiment Part 1 / Part 2. "The philosopher Max Scheler (1874-1928) wrote a striking book titled Ressentiment, in which he explains this feeling in dialogue with Friedrich Nietzche (1844-1900). I read passages of both philosophers and comment on them to bring out the meaning of Ressentiment and where the two men agree and disagree. Both philosophers saw Ressentiment not only as a struggle for individuals, but as a growing sociological/cultural phenomenon, and perhaps their work can shed some light on our times."

  • Sagan's Pale Blue Dot vs. The Christ Child Just Thomism 12/25/21:
    Sagan’s silence arises from his own awareness that the summum bonum is intrinsically and infinitely meaningful, and human love participates in it, notwithstanding the evident insignificance of human life. When we preserve both the truths that he says and leaves unsaid, therefore, what we get is not Sagan but Pascal. Human life is the paradoxical union of utter insignificance and infinite meaning, and our basic stance to life is both abject humility grounded in a true awareness of our nothingness and confidence that we exist to possess a good greater than the common good of the whole physical and angelic natural order. ...
  • Was Vatican II a Bad Seed? ChurchLife Journal July 29, 2020 - John Cavadini responds to the latest screed from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who "reduces Vatican II to a seedbed of contemporary error animated by the spirit of "Masonry."

  • Radioactive - a 6-part biographical podcast on Father Charles Coughlin from The Tablet. See also: 1996 C-Span interview with Don Warren, author of Radio Priest: Charles Coughlin, The Father of Hate Radio, which I read some time ago.

  • Ashley K. Fernandes, associate director of the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities at The Ohio State University, asks: Why Did So Many Doctors Become Nazis? The Tablet 12/10/20.

  • The Raven is an "open access online magazine"
    ... of original philosophy written for intellectually curious readers with or without academic training in the discipline. It aims to revive an essayistic style of philosophy that was more common in academic venues as recently as thirty years ago but has gradually disappeared — that is, to publish contributions to the “literature” that deserve to be called literature.
  • Discerning the Real John Ehrett reviews David Schindler's The Politics of the Real: The Church Between Liberalism and Integralism University Bookman. 06/27/01:
    ... Schindler’s critique of contemporary integralism (from within the Catholic tradition) is probably the best one on offer anywhere. For Schindler, leading integralist Edmund Waldstein’s foundational definition of integralism—which centers on the subordination of the “temporal power” to the “spiritual power”—erroneously confuses the contingent historical forms of medieval Christendom for an enduring theological principle. Specifically, the definition treats the Catholic Church and temporal state as entities subsisting on the same ontological “level” and so in some sense vying for control of the same monopoly on coercive power. Schindler insists that this mischaracterizes the essentially analogical relation between church and state: the Church is relevant to all of life, and the political order is relevant to all of life. The temporal order is not neutral or second-order ground, but ought to be understood as “theological” through and through, with the Church serving as an enduring witness to transcendent truth.

    Agree with his arguments or not, virtually no one engaged in debates over “liberalism” has thought as deeply as Schindler about the fundamental metaphysical questions involved, and yet it’s those questions that must be addressed for any conversation to meaningfully progress.

  • Remembering Michael Novak’s “Democratic Capitalism”, Bradley J. Birzer. The Imaginative Conservative 09/27/21.

For Fun ...

Sunday, January 9, 2022

A bit of humor from Jacques Maritain (Reflections on America, 1958), commenting on the faux-optimism that is often mandated in the American workplace. Perhaps not so apropos in this day and age, where dourness prevails (what with the pandemic and all), but nonetheless elicited a chuckle:
The yearning to make life tolerable is best revealed, it seems to me, in the American smile. You meet on American streets smiling faces, which plunge you into a stream of quite general and anonymous good feeling. Of course, there is an immense part of illusion, of ritually accepted illusion, in the universal benignancy thus displayed.

I had a dentist in a small town whose nurses were so well trained that you were dazzled by their radiant smiles and their unshakeable optimism. Finally you came to think, in a kind of daydream, that the fact of dying in the midst of these happy smiles and the angel wings of these white, immaculate uniforms, would be a pure pleasure, a moment of no consequence. Relax, take it easy, it's nothing. Thereafter, you would enjoy the cleanness and happiness of the funeral home, and the chattering of your friends around your embalmed corpse.

l left this dentist, in order to protect within my mind the Christian idea of death.

Hans Boersma on George Orwell's 1984

Reading 1984 is medicine for souls like mine that have, perhaps unwittingly, accommodated to the militant secularism that engulfs today’s world—whether the conformity takes the shape of sipping hot chocolate in a Gothic apse or some other form. Here are some reasons why we might read 1984 as an act of penance. Among the salutary reminders that Orwell’s classic novel offers are the following:
  • The past is not the object of our own construction. Totalitarian regimes attempt to alter the past, changing lies into truths by means of newspeak and doublethink. “All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and re-inscribed exactly as often as was necessary.”
  • Language is closely tied to our most basic beliefs. Change or eliminate vocabulary, and you change the cultural mindset: “In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.”
  • We dare not give up on objective reality. After much torture and self-examination, Winston, the protagonist, genuinely admits that two plus two make five. A key axiom, which our culture is in danger of eradicating, is Orwell’s conviction that “freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”
  • Nominalism has totalitarianism as its logical end point. If universals do not exist, we are thrown back upon ourselves, which means that truth equals power. As Winston’s interrogator puts it: “You are imagining that there is something called human nature which will be outraged by what we do and will turn against us. But we create human nature. Men are infinitely malleable.” Even our inmost thoughts and convictions are subject to totalitarian control. Winston doesn’t initially believe this (“the inner heart, whose workings were mysterious even to yourself, remained impregnable”), but in the end, he submits every aspect of his will and intellect to the Party’s control.

-- Hans Boersma, First Things 12/31/21.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

I am sure I am sounding like an old codger, but the one common thread with many of these interactions has been the youth of the interlocutors. Usually in their early twenties, sporting the shaved on the sides/long on the top hairstyle common amongst young men today, imbued with flaming machismo that is so ridiculous as to make them into little more than a Trad caricature. Many of them unemployed, living at home, or otherwise at the very bottom rung of the social ladder. Threads with young trad women are seldom any better.

I do not want to make this about youth; but at the same time, I cannot deny the pattern I have seen of late, and it's extremely depressing. Besides the evident lack of charity, it seems like a raw ignorance of what being a Traditional Catholic is even about. For many of these people Tradition seems to be primarily a social movement to "smash Western liberalism"; sometimes they say as much plainly. Obviously the entire ethos of Traditional Catholicism is opposed to the prevailing social mentality, but it would be profoundly wrong to view the Faith as essentially a contrarian social movement, even if it does oppose the modern zeitgeist.

When Trads Choose Barabbas Ut Unum Sanctum 05/09/21.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Happy 94th Birthday Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI!

Happy 94th birthday to Pope Emritus -- there are many things one might say in appreciation of Benedict XVI; in addition to his steadfast faith, spiritual wisdom and theological vision, I've long appreciated him as a fellow lover (and adoptee of) many a cat in his life.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

The ultimate Catholic coronavirus vaccine morality explainer

The ultimate Catholic coronavirus vaccine morality explainer, by Michael Deem. The Pillar:
Since Covid-19 vaccines began to be discussed, Catholics have raised concerns about the moral and ethical aspects of taking them. While the Vatican and the USCCB have weighed in on the subject, a lot of Catholics still have questions.

To answer those questions, The Pillar brings you The Ultimate Catholic Coronavirus Morality Explainer.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Victor Ambrus (1935-2021)

Chances are if you ran across children’s book or YA editions of timeless classics like Moby Dick, The Iliad, The Oddysey, Don Quixote, King Arthur, The Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare, J.R.R. Tolkien, English, Irish and Hungarian military history, as well as stories from The Bible — you may well have encountered the gorgeous, unique and unmistakeable illustrations of Victor Ambrus (1935-2021), who passed away last Wednesday (February 10th).

"... back in 1956, [Victor Ambrus] took part in the Hungarian Uprising. After escaping from a building with his fellow students when it came under fire from the Soviets, he eventually decided to leave his native Hungary and moved to England. After arriving in London, he continued his artistic dream and began to study at the Royal College of Art.

Whilst studying at the RCA, Victor embarked upon his first job as an illustrator, at just 20 years old. This first assignment was to illustrate the History of Britain for the Reader's Digest. This started his career as a historical illustrator, which has lead to him illustrating almost 300 books." -- Time Team


Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Catholic Philosophy Classics - Getting a new life with Cluny Media

I've been updating various sites devoted to some favorite intellectual giants in Catholic though (a few of those who played a part in my own formation and conversion).

In the course of updating my page on the French Thomist Etienne Gilson, I discovered (much to my delight) that a Rhode Island publishing house called Cluny Media had fulfilled a personal wish of seeing a number of Gilson's old (outdated, and thus prohibitively expensive) books now back in print.

According to Cluny Media, "our publishing philosophy is simple":

A book, from cover to cover, should be an artifact, a work of art. Because our business is primarily to take the old and make it new, this philosophy demands a particular, careful process. Unlike the facsimile "republications" of other, similarly motivated publishers, Cluny editions are restorations. The restorative spirit especially animates the production and design elements of the publishing process.

You can read more about their publishing process and a brief history of their founding here.

Among their list of republished authors -- Georges Bernanos, Louis Bouyer, Paul Claudel, Jean Daniélou, Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Romano Guardini, Charles Journet, Jacques Maritain,. François Mauriac, John Henry Newman, Charles Péguy, Josef Pieper, Hugo Rahner, Joseph Ratzinger, Fulton Sheen and Sigrid Undset (among others).

p.s. I see that Sohrab Amari made a similar discovery, while looking for a book on Jean Danielou and has a nice profile of Cluny Media in First Things.

p.s.s. Sign up for their email list and receive a promotion code for a discount (+ free shipping on orders over $25).

Monday, January 25, 2021

Pope Benedict XVI: "Prayer for Life in the Womb"

Lord Jesus, You who faithfully visit and fulfill with your Presence the Church and the history of men; You who in the miraculous Sacrament of your Body and Blood render us participants in divine Life and allow us a foretaste of the joy of eternal Life; We adore and bless you.

Prostrated before You, source and lover of Life, truly present and alive among us, we beg you.

Reawaken in us respect for every unborn life, make us capable of seeing in the fruit of the maternal womb the miraculous work of the Creator, open our hearts to generously welcoming every child that comes into life.

Bless all families, sanctify the union of spouses, render fruitful their love.

Accompany the choices of legislative assemblies with the light of your Spirit, so that peoples and nations may recognize and respect the sacred nature of life, of every human life.

Guide the work of scientists and doctors, so that all progress contributes to the integral well-being of the person, and no one endures suppression or injustice.

Give creative charity to administrators and economists, so they may realize and promote sufficient conditions so that young families can serenely embrace the birth of new children.

Console the married couples who suffer because they are unable to have children and in Your goodness provide for them.

Teach us all to care for orphaned or abandoned children, so they may experience the warmth of your Charity, the consolation of your divine Heart.

Together with Mary, Your Mother, the great believer, in whose womb you took on our human nature, we wait to receive from You, our Only True Good and Savior, the strength to love and serve life, in anticipation of living forever in You, in communion with the Blessed Trinity.

Pope Benedict XVI, "Prayer for Life in the Womb"

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Edward Baring, "Converts To The Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy"

Converts To The Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy
Edward Baring. Harvard University Press; 1st edition (May 1, 2019). 504 pages.
In the most wide-ranging history of phenomenology since Herbert Spiegelberg’s The Phenomenological Movement over fifty years ago, Baring uncovers a new and unexpected force—Catholic intellectuals—behind the growth of phenomenology in the early twentieth century, and makes the case for the movement’s catalytic intellectual and social impact.

Of all modern schools of thought, phenomenology has the strongest claim to the mantle of “continental” philosophy. In the first half of the twentieth century, phenomenology expanded from a few German towns into a movement spanning Europe. Edward Baring shows that credit for this prodigious growth goes to a surprising group of early enthusiasts: Catholic intellectuals. Placing phenomenology in historical context, Baring reveals the enduring influence of Catholicism in twentieth-century intellectual thought.

Converts to the Real argues that Catholic scholars allied with phenomenology because they thought it mapped a path out of modern idealism—which they associated with Protestantism and secularization—and back to Catholic metaphysics. Seeing in this unfulfilled promise a bridge to Europe’s secular academy, Catholics set to work extending phenomenology’s reach, writing many of the first phenomenological publications in languages other than German and organizing the first international conferences on phenomenology. The Church even helped rescue Edmund Husserl’s papers from Nazi Germany in 1938. But phenomenology proved to be an unreliable ally, and in debates over its meaning and development, Catholic intellectuals contemplated the ways it might threaten the faith. As a result, Catholics showed that phenomenology could be useful for secular projects, and encouraged its adoption by the philosophical establishment in countries across Europe and beyond.

Baring traces the resonances of these Catholic debates in postwar Europe. From existentialism, through the phenomenology of Paul Ricoeur and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, to the speculative realism of the present, European thought bears the mark of Catholicism, the original continental philosophy.

Reviews and Discussion

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Marcin Wrona's "Demon" (2015)

"Demon" Synopsis: "A bridegroom is possessed by an unquiet spirit in the midst of his own wedding celebration, in this clever take on the Jewish legend of the dybbuk." This is an intelligent, well-crafted film, not quite belonging to the "horror" genre. Though it's theme of possession, it leaves you with the open question of who was truly the victim or recipient of such. It's underlying theme of guilt and collective "cultural amnesia" in the wake of the Holocaust. The dialogue -- in Polish, Yiddish, German and Russian -- is subtle and at times doesn't make a lot of sense at all in the immediacy of the moment, though in retrospect you grasp another layer of meaning. Disturbing, but recommended.

The director, Marcin Wrona (1973-2015), sadly took his own life during a festival screening the film.

  • Discover the haunting tragedy of this Polish possession horror Little White Lies 05/29/18.
  • Interview with Demon screenwriter Pawel Maslona
  • Olga Szymanska talks Marcin Wrona and DEMON – Exclusive Interview on the shooting of the film and its soundtrack (warning: spoilers).
  • Here and There

    • J.I. Packer: A Great Puritan, by Hans Boersma. First Things 07/21/20:
      ... Packer’s signing of the 1994 ECT ["Evangelicals and Catholics Together"] statement again led to sharp disagreement with evangelicals—influential leaders such as John MacArthur and R. C. Sproul—who felt that Packer had sacrificed doctrinal integrity. Packer, however, did not flinch. He published an article on “Why I Signed,” and pointed out that his continuing disagreements with Rome ought not stand in the way of making common cause. Today’s deepest division, he claimed, was not that between Catholicism and Protestantism. Instead, it was the division “between theological conservatives (or ‘conservationists,’ as I prefer to call them), who honor the Christ of the Bible and of the historic creeds and confessions, and theological liberals and radicals who for whatever reason do not.” Appealing to Francis Schaeffer’s concept of co-belligerence and Billy Graham’s cooperative evangelism, he threw down the gauntlet, insisting that it was high time to make common cause, even in evangelism and church education: ECT was merely "playing catch-up to the Holy Spirit," Packer insisted.
    • Francis Beckwith on Reading the Summa Theologia Cover to Cover: Mission Accomplished
    • Bill Vallicella (Maverick Philosopher) on the Profitable Study of Philosophy (01/01/21).
    • Walker Percy’s Prescient Dystopia, by Collin Slowey. Public Discourse 11/05/20. Love in the Ruins speaks to our present moment in the United States like few other books. Most important is what Percy has to teach us about the dangers of moral superiority, ideological idealism, and the capacity of intellectual humility and hard work for achieving genuine progress.
    • Overlooked in 2020 -- non-aggression pact or "truce" between the oft-sparring Edward Feser and David Bentley Hardt:
      David Bentley Hart and I have had some very heated exchanges over the years, but I have always found him to be at bottom a decent fellow. That remains true. During our recent dispute over his book on universalism, the one thing I took great exception to was the accusation of dishonesty on my part, and I let David know this privately. He sent me the following statement to post here, for which I thank him. I would also like to reaffirm my longstanding admiration for much of his work, such as his books Atheist Delusions and The Experience of God....
    • The Question of Catholic Integralism: An Internet Genealogy, by John Brungardt. 05/22/20 (a helpful roundup for those interested in the subject)
    • Joseph Ratzinger on the Creeds of Nicaea and Constantinople excerpt from Joseph Ratzinger’s Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology
    • Pruning the Mind During a Crisis, by Margarita Mooney. The Hedgehog Review 04/16/20. "The great danger is to come to love what we know more than to love the pursuit of knowledge as an end in and of itself."
    • William Faulkner's Demons, by Casey Cep. New Yorker 11/30/20:
      What if the North had won the Civil War? That technically factual counterfactual animated almost all of William Faulkner’s writing. The Mississippi novelist was born thirty-two years after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, but he came of age believing in the superiority of the Confederacy: the South might have lost, but the North did not deserve to win. [...] In contrast with those ["Lost Cause"] delusions, Faulkner’s fiction revealed the truth: the Confederacy was both a military and a moral failure.


      "Faulkner the man shared many of the closed society’s opinions and values," Gorra writes. "But when the novelist could inhabit a character—when he slipped inside another mind and put those opinions into a different voice—he was almost always able to stand outside them, to place and to judge them."

      Faulkner was unwilling in his own life to adequately acknowledge the evils of slavery and segregation, but he did so with savage thoroughness in his fiction.

    • John le Carré, Best-Selling Author of Cold War Thrillers, Dies at 89 New York Times 12/13/20.
    • An Interview with Historian Gary Gallagher, with Clayton Butler. "Thoughts on the state of current Civil War scholarship and the compelling nature of Civil War history." Gallagher thinks "Catton is best narrative writer who’s ever written about the Civil War. Better than Shelby Foote", and after reading Catton's This Hallowed Ground: A History of the Civil War, I would agree. At least Catton serves as an alternative to Foote's "Lost Cause" nostalgia. To that end, here is David Blight on the career and influence of Civil War historian Bruce Catton (video).

    Monday, January 4, 2021

    A Summary of 2020 Election Voter-Fraud Claims (and their Debunking)

    Paul Zummo (Letters from Cato) writes:
    With the help of friend and former co-blogger Darwin Catholic, we have have put together a summary of the voter fraud claims put forth, and the sources debunking these claims. I have tried to be succinct as possible below or else the document would have been about 20 pages. For ion-depth analysis, please refer to the sourced link.

    You will see The Dispatch factcheck referenced many times. They are indispensable resource, and I believe these factchecks are available to non-subscribers. I should also note AG Hamilton, who has also put together a summary of allegations, and that is linked to at the end.

    If you see anything we missed, or have other resources you would like to share, please feel free to add those in the comments. This will be a “living” document and so will be updated as needed.

    See also

  • Brendan Hodge (Darwin Catholic on the 2020 electoral aftermath:
  • "Now What?" - Paul Zummo (Classical Liberal) Reflections on the future of conservatism after the 2020 elections.
  • Goodreads 2020 - Highlights of Another Year in Reading

    Surprised I met my GoodReads challenge this year, since up to this point my most efficient reading time is the 1.5 hours to/from work on the subway -- I slacked off a bit March-May as the pandemic hit but as I adjusted to the present circumstances I turned to late-night reading.

    Perhaps as a means of escape from the pandemic I picked up more fiction than usual, and discovered some intriguing new authors along the way.

    If anybody reading this uses GoodReads feel free to look me up and friend me -- I'm always curious what others in my audience are reading!

    Personal highlights:

    • Eric Foner, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery - comprehensive and definitive examination of the subject. I found him to be very fair: critical where criticism is certainly warranted, likewise credit where credit's due (Lincoln's position on slavery evolved over the course of his presidency).
    • Thomas Merton, The Living Bread - meditations on the Eucharist.
    • Emery de Gall, O Lord, I Seek Your Countenance: Explorations and Discoveries in Pope Benedict XVI -- very substantial work of Ratzinger scholarship, especially his chapter discussing Ratzinger's contributions as peritus to Vatican II.
    • Edward T. Oakes, SJ A Theology of Grace in Six Controversies -- an exploration of theological dilemmas such as nature and grace, free will and predestination, experience and divinization; sin and justification; original sin and evolution. I like Oakes' for the breadth of his own reading (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant) which he makes ample use of.
    • Fr. Garrigou Lagrange, The Essence & Topicality of Thomism -- a treasure ... the bad rap he gets among the Ressourcement theologians is, at least in my mind, undeserved.
    • Stuart Walton, The Devil's Dinner - an informative "biological, gastronomical, and cultural history" of the chili pepper. The first two chapters alone on the origins of the chile pepper in South/Central America and its subsequent introduction -- by way of Portuguese trading -- to the entire world (India, Thailand, China, et al., each continent or country giving its own culinary spin to its use) is worth the read alone. Very informative.
    • William Faulkner, Light in August. I went on a Hemingway binge a few years ago. Lately I've been on a Faulkner binge, intending to read his works along with a biography on my list for 2021). Faulkner can be very dense at times, with odd syntax and a "stream-of-consciousness" style (ex. The Sound and the Fury), but I found this one more readily accessible.

    Some new discoveries:

    • John Le Carre - spurred by the news of the author's passing this year, I had enjoyed various movie adaptations of Le Carre's work (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; A Most Wanted Man) and decided to read the whole series featuring his character "George Smiley". Knocked out the first two this year, Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality.
    • Vasily Grossman, Everything Flows -- a Russian novelist whose work was introduced as a source to Timothy Snyder's magnificent Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010). This is Vasily Grossman's unfinished and final novel, written after the Soviet police seized his earlier work and left him to write alone. It's about a prisoner returning to Moscow from the Gulag after 30 years and readjusting to the world around him, together with an account of the Ukranian terror-famine of 1932-33. (I now want to read his suppressed masterpiece Life and Fate, an epic account of World War II).
    • Ian McGuire, The North Water - oddly enough, I spotted the literary vocalist Neil Fallon (of the American rock band Clutch) reading this in a video tour of the band's bus, figured "why not check it out?" -- a delightful, gritty romp of mystery, murder and arctic survival in 1859. McGuire has a unique and visceral way with words. I'd like to read more of his novels in the new year.

    Thursday, October 15, 2020

    Thomas Howard, R.I.P. 1935-2020

    News from Mark Brumley on Facebook today, that Catholic convert and writer Thomas Howard has died. He authored many great and thoughtful works on the faith but mostly I will remember him for this one:
    And what is true here is true in all regions of experience. Your mad pursuit for freedom and intensity and bliss. It is natural. But, by a wry irony at work in the world, the pursuit leads you into a prison where your agony is to become more and more insistent that things shall be as you wish, and less and less able to cope with denial.

    But I show you a different way. It is an alien and frightening one. It is called Love. It asks that you forswear your busy effort to collect the bits of bliss and novelty that lie about. It asks that you disavow your attempt to enlarge your own identity by diminishing that of others. It asks that you cease your effort to safeguard your own claim to well-being by assuming the inferiority of others' claims. It asks, actually, that you die.

    For, paradoxically, it offers you your own best being beyond this apparent immolation of yourself. It says that the cupidity energizing all your efforts is the principle that governs wherever hell is found, and that the dwellers in that realm are a withered host of wraiths, doomed to an eternal hunt for solidity and fulfillment among the shards that lie underfoot. This is not your best being. You were meant to find your home in the City of God, which is among you. Here duty is ecstacy. For that is what is meant by caritas: It is the freedom which follows upon the capacity to experience as joy what you are given to do.

    Thomas Howard -- Christ The Tiger


    • Thomas Howard, Evangelical Catholic, by David M. Howard, Jr. Return to Rome. October 27, 2020.
    • RIP Thomas Howard: 1935-2020, by David Mills. Catholic Herald 10/15/20
    • Died: Thomas Howard, Author Who Said ‘Evangelical Is Not Enough’, Daniel Silliman. Christianity Today 10/19/20:
      “The question of the unity between Christ and his church is the fundamental one,” Howard explained to CT. “A close corollary to that, if not virtually synonymous with it, is the question of authority, which immediately turns into the question of the magisterium—the teaching authority of the Catholic church. There is no magisterium in Protestantism.”

      At the same time, Howard argued that he was more evangelical because of his conversion, not less. The Catholic church was the fullest and final form of the faith, he said, not another denomination or just an expression for a preference for a particular worship style.

      “I will never be anything but an evangelical,” he said. “As a Catholic, I can lay claim to the ancient connotation of the word ‘evangelical’—namely, a man of the gospel, referring to the gospel, the evangelical councils, and so on. If, however, by evangelical we mean the 18th- and 19th-century movements in the Church of England, or the Free Church movement, or if we’re speaking specifically of the American revivalist phenomenon, then I might find myself outside the circle that these people might like to draw.”

    • Thomas Howard, RIP, by Kenneth Craycraft. First Things 10/17/20:
      Tom came to believe that while the sacramental presence of Christ is certainly communicated by teaching, writing, and preaching, it is most powerfully and immediately known in the sacraments of the Church, sustained and communicated most fully in the Roman Catholic confession and communion. Thus, Tom saw that the liturgical expression of the sacramental presence of Christ was not incidental to, but rather part of the essence of Christian faith and discipleship. As he put it in one place, “Ceremony, ritual, enactment: these forms of ‘play’ touch on the sources of what we creatures are.” Thus, the “ritualizing” of faith “is the quintessentially human mode of perceiving and marking the truth about them.” The physical components of the sacraments “stand . . . on the interface between what we can see and what we cannot,” making the word present and “real to us only in a mystery.”

      But just as in his evangelical days he recognized the importance of liturgy and sacraments, as a Catholic he always maintained the importance of preaching, and of the interior subjectivity of faith. Liturgy and sacraments cannot be set against interior faith and an emphasis on the word, but rather are a means of communicating both. This is why he was able to maintain friendship with—and gain the admiration of—evangelicals long into his Catholic journey. Few prominent converts from evangelicalism to Catholicism have been able to sustain a significant evangelical following after their conversions. It is to Tom’s great credit that he did. Both catholic evangelicals and evangelical Catholics will mourn his passing and celebrate his legacy.

    Tuesday, July 21, 2020

    Flannery O'Connor on Ernest Hemingway

    The Catholic fiction writer has very little high-powered "Catholic" fiction to influence him except that written by these three [Bloy, Bernanos, Mauriac] and Greene. But at some point reading them reaches the place of diminishing returns and you get more benefit from reading someone like Hemingway, where there is apparently a hunger for a Catholic completeness in life.

    -- Flannery O'Connor. January 16, 1956. The Habit of Being

    * * *

    The man was hungry for everything so
    why not God? Wine by the bottle, beer by
    the case, fresh-bled bull roasted on a spit,
    fish dragged from the sea on a thin pole
    wielded by a man mad for its wet meat.
    He wanted it all and got it. But it
    could not be enough. Wife after wife
    tried hard to satisfy his starved heart.
    What made him close to happy was his art.
    The daily dalliance with the blank page
    was where he sought you out, trying to name
    what he lacked at the center of his lone-
    ly soul, an agon he loved and hated,
    the one hunger that could not be sated.

    -- Angela Alaimo O'Donnell, Andalusian Hours: Poems from the Porch of Flannery O'Connor.

    Saturday, May 16, 2020

    It can happen that an individual posseses that objective holiness of mission and authority and yet has no subjective holiness. This is a grave misfortune, dangerously obscuring the Church's mission. But the Church as a whole can never fail to possess both gifts at the same time. This equally applies to the Church in its visible aspect. Consequently it will not do to divide the Catholic Church into two churches, an emperical Church with her authority, and her ascertainable membership, and an invisible Church of the saints, whose number is known only to God.

    Augustine saw very clearly that the visible bearer of the power of the keys cannot receive a sinner back into the Communio Sanctorum; without he forgiveness (together with God) of the Church and the saints, which the Song of Songs calls the "one dove." But he does not draw the same conclusion as that Augustinian friar, Luther, namely, that only the Church of the saints with its "priesthood of all believers" has the true power of the keys. In Augustine the tension persists: Christ's Church has objective and subjective holiness, but they coincide, perfectly only in Christ, the Church's head.

    - Hans Urs von Balthasar, In the Fullness of Faith: On the Centrality of the Distinctively Catholic.

    Friday, April 3, 2020

    ... In this context the instinctual move of some conservative Christian commentators to practice social criticism while fomenting division among priests, bishops, and laity is spiritually corrosive. (What does it do to a priest’s soul, by the way, when we incite him to break the vow he made to God to obey his bishop?) Nor is it helpful to utter the tone-deaf claim that the COVID-19 pandemic is not so bad and that people are overreacting. People are not overreacting when they grieve as their patients, friends, or family members die by the thousands. In fact, the Christian message in this context is one of basic evangelical hope. What we are to learn first in this crisis is that there is life after death, that God loves those who die, that there is the possibility of the forgiveness of sins, that our littleness in the face of death is also an opportunity for surrender, that Christ too died alone from asphyxiation and that he was raised from the dead, that God can comfort the fearful, and that there is a promise of eternal life. In the face of death, Christians should be precisely those who put first things first.
    Epidemic Danger and Catholic Sacraments, by Thomas Joseph White, OP. First Things 04/02/20.

    Friday, March 20, 2020

    Here and There

    • The Mass Is Still With Us Even Under Quarantine, by Timothy O'Malley. 03/19/20.
    • In Behold the Pierced One(pp.97-98), Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) wrote: "Joseph Ratzinger on fasting from the Eucharist (Catholic World Report 03/19/2020):
      “When Augustine sensed his death approaching, he ‘excommunicated’ himself and undertook public penance. In his last days he manifested his solidarity with the public sinners who seek for pardon and grace through the renunciation of communion. He wanted to meet his Lord in the humility of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for him who is the Righteous and Merciful One. Against the background of his sermons and writings, which are a magnificent portrayal of the mystery of the Church as communion with the Body of Christ, and as the Body of Christ itself, built up by the Eucharist, this is a profoundly arresting gesture. The more I think of it, the more it moves me to reflection. Do we not often take the reception of the Blessed Sacrament too lightly? Might not this kind of spiritual fasting be of service, or even necessary, to deepen and renew our relationship to the Body of Christ?"
    • Thoughts on the obligation to attend Mass during times of pestilence In the Light of the Law 03/12/20.
    • A Catholic Debate over Liberalism, by Park MacDougald. City Journal Winter 2020. "Is it a guarantor of religious liberty or an imperial ideology incompatible with the Church?"
    • Thomas Merton on Henry Thoreau Maverick Philosopher 02/27/20.

    • Speaking with the Barbarians: Maritain, MacIntyre, and Christendom 02/19/20. The Public Discourse 02/19/20. "Contemporary Christians are called to infuse procedural liberalism with substantive language and concepts rooted in Christian tradition. We ought not spend our time despairing over supposed barbarians at the gate, or lurking within us—and not simply because it distracts us from our work, but also because it saps us of hope."

    Sunday, February 23, 2020

    Aquinas 101 - Free Video Course from the Thomistic Institute

    Aquinas 101 is a series of free video courses from the Thomistic Institute that help you to engage life’s most urgent philosophical and theological questions with the wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas. In the end, you’ll be able to read Aquinas on his own terms and to master the essentials of his thought. Enrolling in a video course is easy - and it will always be free! We’ll send you two e-mails a week with everything you need. So scroll to enroll, and let’s get started!

    Aquinas 101 is a project of the Thomistic Institute, located in Washington, DC. The Thomistic Institute exists to promote Catholic truth in our contemporary world by strengthening the intellectual formation of Christians at universities, in the Church, and in the wider public square. The thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Universal Doctor of the Church, is our touchstone.

    George Weigel's "The Irony of Modern Catholic History"

    The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform, by George Weigel.
    Basic Books (September 17, 2019) 336 pgs.
    Throughout much of the nineteenth century, both secular and Catholic leaders assumed that the Church and the modern world were locked in a battle to the death. The triumph of modernity would not only finish the Church as a consequential player in world history; it would also lead to the death of religious conviction. But today, the Catholic Church is far more vital and consequential than it was 150 years ago. Ironically, in confronting modernity, the Catholic Church rediscovered its evangelical essence. In the process, Catholicism developed intellectual tools capable of rescuing the imperiled modern project.

    A richly rendered, deeply learned, and powerfully argued account of two centuries of profound change in the church and the world, The Irony of Modern Catholic History reveals how Catholicism offers twenty-first century essential truths for our survival and flourishing.

    Wednesday, January 15, 2020

    The 1619 Project and Its Critics

    Sunday, January 12, 2020

    Roger Scruton, 1944-2012

    • Roger Scruton: Conservative thinker dies at 75 BBC News. 01/12/20.

    • Tributes paid to ‘unusually rich legacy’ of philosopher Sir Roger Scruton St Helens Star 01/12/20.

    • Roger Scruton, R.I.P. by Michael Brendan Dougherty. National Review 0/13/20.

    • The ‘great adventure’ of Sir Roger Scruton, RIP by Rev. Ben Johnson. The Acton Institute. 1/13/20.

    • The philosopher’s mind at its end Dr. Mark Dooley, Sir Roger Scuton’s biographer on the last days of a giant. The Critic 02/12/20:
      In my books on Scruton, I consistently emphasised this theme of the sacred which has featured, either directly or implicitly, since his earliest works on aesthetics and architecture. But what does he mean by it? The best insight is offered in an essay from 1986, entitled ‘The Philosopher on Dover Beach’: ‘[T]he free being is incarnate, and to see human life as a vehicle for freedom – to see a face where the scientist sees flesh and bone – is to recognise that this, at least, is sacred, that this small piece of earthly matter is not to be treated as a means to our purposes, but as an end in itself’.

      When we lovingly behold another person, or when we contemplate an artwork, listen to music or marvel at a beautiful building, we experience something that transcends its material constraints. That ‘something’ is not separable from the material or biological order which contains it. But every time we gaze into the eyes of a loved one, or whenever we savour our favourite symphony or pray at a beautiful shrine, we encounter ‘personality and freedom’ shining forth from what is ‘contingent, dependent and commonplace’. We see the fabric of the world perforated by light from another sphere. In this point of intersection of the timeless with time, we catch glimpses of the transcendental and receive intimations of the infinite. ...

    • The Hounds In Full Cry: Roger Scruton’s Conservatism, by Bradley J. Birzer. American Conservative 01/14/20:
      One of the greatest dangers of the modern world—beginning with the Enlightenment and exploding with the French Revolution—was the imperialism of the political sphere. For nearly three centuries now, the West has seen the political sphere expand so rapidly that it has subsumed almost every aspect of our lives, and with globalization, uncontrollable forces of consumerism and selfishness have “broken free of the forces—religious, moral and national—which used to limit it,” while decimating “the old local pieties, the old customs, and the local attachments.”

      Once we politicize everything, Scruton feared, there will be nothing left but power, the struggle for power, and, consequently, only the nihilism of the abyss. To his consternation, he saw nihilism, widespread by 2007, “as the addictive drumbeats and soundbytes that form the background of popular culture.” Corporations, owing nothing to loyalty and attempting only to satiate the appetites, would never defend the good, the true, or the beautiful. “Nobody in the corporatist society will wish to fight for his neighbor’s rights, to devote his life to a cause, or to lay down his life for his country,” he lamented. “Indeed, he is unlikely to know which country is his.”

      The rise of Donald Trump in the United States especially worried Scruton, as he saw it as further proof of the decay of Western society. “Mr. Trump has at best only a distorted vision. He is the product of the cultural decline that is rapidly consigning our artistic and philosophical inheritance to oblivion,” Scruton argued in 2018.

    • Remembering Roger Scruton, Defender of Reason in a World of Postmodern Jackals, by Barbara Kay. Quillette 01/14/20:
      Scruton’s breadth of knowledge was astonishing. None of his enemies could dispute that. He wrote whole books with complete authority on religion, architecture, opera, the environment, Islam, philosophy. But running through them all was a guilt-free love for, and fidelity to his—our—cultural inheritance. He loved his own home, England, and he would not repudiate it for its disfiguring historical warts, which seemed to preoccupy almost everyone else. It was Scruton who gave us the word “oikophobia”—hatred of one’s home—which is the hallmark of progressivism. He was out of sync with the hey-hey-ho-ho-western-civ-has-got-to-go zeitgeist. ...

    • In Memoriam: Roger Scruton, by Allan Carlson. Front Porch Republic 01/14/20:
      In what will be one of his last newly published essays, Roger Scruton offers a similar message to Americans. Providing a Preface to the forthcoming Land and Liberty: The Best of FREE AMERICA [edited by yours truly and published by the Wethersfield Institute], Roger embraces the vision of the American agrarians and distributists who produced this journal from 1937 to 1946. As he summarizes: “The real wealth of a country … does not reside in the hectic exchanges on the stock market or the rivers of commodities that flow through every household without belonging there. It resides in local communities, in the work that holds them together, and the deep investment represented by a home, a place and the endowment across generations of human love.”

    • Roger Scruton, Philosopher of a ‘Humane and Moderate Politics’ National Review 01/13/20.

    • Roger Scruton, a man who seemed bigger than the age Spectator USA. 01/12/20:
      Doubtless there will be some talk in the coming days of ‘controversy’. Some score settling may even go on. So it is worth stressing that on the big questions of his time Roger Scruton was right. During the Cold War he faced an academic and cultural establishment that was either neutral or actively anti-Western on the big question of the day. Roger not only thought right, but acted right. Not many philosophers become men of action. But with the ‘underground university’ that he and others set up, he did just that. During the Seventies and Eighties at considerable risk to himself he would go behind the Iron Curtain and teach philosophy to groups of knowledge-starved students. If Roger and his colleagues had been largely leftist thinkers infiltrating far-right regimes to teach Plato and Aristotle there have been multiple Hollywood movies about them by now. But none of that mattered. Public notice didn’t matter. All that mattered was to do the right thing and to keep the flame of philosophical truth burning in societies where officialdom was busily trying to snuff it out.

    • The Last Speech: “A Thing Called Civilization” On September 19, 2019, at the fourteenth annual Gala for Western Civilization, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute presented Sir Roger Scruton with the Defender of Western Civilization award. Sir Roger gave these remarks on accepting the award. He had recently been diagnosed with cancer, the disease that would bring about his death on January 12, 2020.

    • The Passing Of A Giant, by Michael Warren Davis. 1/12/20:
      ... Because of Sir Roger, there was never any doubt that conservatism was something more than a mere confederacy of bigots and cranks, as the Left supposes. It’s something far greater than the raw profiteering of Beltway think-tankers—the “sophisters, economists, and calculators” that Edmund Burke warned against just two short centuries ago.

      Scruton’s conservatism wasn’t a “temperament,” as the smart set like to call it; it certainly wasn’t an ideology. His conservatism was a complete way of being. It was posture of defiance against the arrogant, imperial hideousness of modern life.

      He was an elitist, to be sure, in the sense that he believed there was a difference between civilization and barbarism, between taste and fashion, between true genius and mere pretentiousness. But he was also, in his way, a populist. Throughout his life, he was motivated by a righteous anger at the modern elites who pillaged Western man’s inheritance. The great conviction at the heart of his philosophy—the single belief that moves through all of his writing—is that everyone has a right to beauty.

    • Roger Scruton: In Memoriam, by Paul Kraus. The Imaginative Conservative:
      Like moths attracted to the flame, students from all continents came together to study and discuss everything from music and aesthetics to politics and metaphysics with Sir Roger, who seemed to be the incarnate flame of wisdom. He was our Virgil through hell and purgatory, and he left us at the top of the mountain, pointing to the light that lay beyond. Befitting a man of such humility, he once revealed that instead of being remembered as the world-class philosopher he was, he wished to be remembered as the organist for the small Anglican parish of which he was a member...

    • Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left - Against The Grain Review, 05/03/16:
      The original publication of Scruton's Thinkers of the New Left in 1985 reportedly "brought his career as an academic philosopher to an end", say Roger Scruton in an interview with Ricochet. This is not to say he was censored outright ("the people on the left don't 'censor' -- they look with compassion on your stupidity, take you quietly to the side, and recommend quietly that you retire for a while"). Rather, so great was the negative outcry from the left that his publisher eventually surrendered all copies, removed them from bookshops and relocated them to Scruton's garden. ...

    Here and There

    • Why I’m Not a Cosmo-Globalist and other Musings of a Politically Homeless Philosopher, reflections from Daniel A. Kaufman (The Electric Agora):
      ... The subjects around which the most contentious political disputes revolve are extraordinarily complex and the views one takes are heavily dependent not just upon “the facts” involved but on the values one brings to the table, which themselves are contestable and contentious. Even more so than in philosophy itself, rarely if ever is there a demonstrably “correct” view on such matters and regardless, in a democracy — in which we all should be so lucky to live — one’s views may not prevail on this occasion or, perhaps, ever. It is not just inadvisable, then, but flat-out stupid to hold one’s relationships hostage to political agreement, and our increasing and lamentable inability to recognize this is just a further testament to the collective juvenility that seems to have descended upon us, like some horrible, disfiguring fog.
      Speaking of which, I find his 2018 assessment of the pathetic state of the political life of this nation is remarkably on-point going into the 2020 electoral season.

    • From the Age of Persuasion to the Age of Offense Los Angeles Review of Books 12/23/19. Colin Marshall reviews David Bromwich's American Breakdown: The Trump Years and How They Befell Us:
      ... Bromwich falls squarely into the generation of professors now watching in astonishment as their students, most of whom grew up in the 2000s and 2010s, blithely dismiss and even display undisguised contempt for what once seemed like the settled values of liberal democratic society. He ascribes this state of affairs to several recent developments; one of the most important and least surprising is "the soft despotism of social media," that distinctively 21st-century technology almost as enthusiastically resented as it is adopted. ...

    • Philosopher in the Ring: The Existentialist's Survival Guide" by Stephen Knepper. Commonweal 12/21/19:
      Gordon Marino teaches philosophy at St. Olaf College and curates the Hong Kierkegaard Library. He has spent decades writing about the existentialists. His passion for them did not begin in the classroom, though. After a failed relationship, with derailed careers in both boxing and academic philosophy, a young Marino struggled with suicidal thoughts. While waiting for a counseling session, he spotted a copy of Søren Kierkegaard’s Works of Love on a coffee-shop bookshelf. He opened it to a passage in which Kierkegaard criticizes a “conceited sagacity” that refuses to believe in love. Intrigued, Marino hid Works of Love under his coat on the way out the door. He credits the book with saving his life. ...

    • The Historian of Moral Revolution by David Brooks. Gertrude Himmelfarb 12/31/19. David Brooks' fitting tribute to the late Gertrude Himmelfarb, who passed December 30th:
      ... Accordingly, Himmelfarb didn’t fear immorality so much as demoralization, the sense that our age has lost a moral vocabulary and with it the ability to think subtly about moral matters. A great deal, she wrote, is lost when a society stops aiming for civic virtue and is content to aim merely for civility.

    • The post-Vatican II civil war Catholic Herald 11/20/19. In his new book, The Irony of Modern Catholic History, George Weigel traces the root of debates at the recent Amazon synod to a fracture within reformist theologians at the Second Vatican Council. [Tangential note: does it count as ironic as well, that Weigel continues to praise DeLubac, but especially after reading the likes of Lawrence Feingold my impression of him has been rather more critical in recent years?]

    • "From Kung to Catholicism" Russell E. Saltzman on Hans Kung, the relic of progressive Catholicism. Catholic World Report 11/25/19. I too admit to having an initial interest in Hans Kung, born of curiosity, and much like Saltzman becoming bored with the theologian's perpetual entreaties to fashion the Church to his own liking ("I simply didn’t care to read him anymore ... he had begun to repeat himself").

    • ‘The Two Popes’: What’s fact and what’s fiction?, by Joseph McAuley (America 11/27/19). The release of "The Two Popes" on Nov. 27 brought renewed attention to the papacy of Benedict XVI (played by Anthony Hopkins) and the 2013 election of Pope Francis (played by Jonathan Pryce). But does the movie get the facts right? Yes and no.
    • How a 20th century theologian became a quiet prophet for our distracted age Tim Reidy on Romano Guardini (America 11/1/19).

    • Long overdue and warranted: A Catholic Conservative Considers Rod Dreher, by Tom Piatak. The Agonist 12/31/19. (contributing editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture and was formerly a contributing editor of The American Conservative).