Dear Intelligent American,
Three important days approach. In order: The first is All Hallows’ Eve, compressed into “Halloween,” and, for a nation in worship-decline, a day of growing importance to post-childhood, costume-obsessing children. The 31st is the set-up for the ensuing day, All Saints’ Day, for many of us a celebratory (holy!) day that demands, at least in Roman Catholicism, obligatory worship. The third, spiritually troubling of this trio, comes in its wake: All Souls’ Day, on which we are urged to pray for those who did not yet make the Saint cut. Unlike the damned, these are souls that still have sin’s stains to purge—hence, Purgatory—before Heaven’s Gate is opened to them.
And so, somewhere, in and out of time, they remain, tormented, all the more so if they are cursed to be, as the Psalmist wrote, forgotten (“I am like the unremembered dead . . .”).
Some are remembered. Is there a more powerful scene (yep, Olivier can act) than Hamlet’s meeting with the ghost (“King, father, royal Dane!”)? The account he gives of his current state is chilling:
I am thy father’s spirit, doomed for a certain term to walk the night and for the day confined to fast in fires till the foul crimes done in my days of nature are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid to tell the secrets of my prison house, I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, thy knotted and combinèd locks to part, and each particular hair to stand an end, like quills upon the fearful porpentine. But this eternal blazon must not be to ears of flesh and blood.
Yikes. Pray for the dead. If you need inspiration, consider Chopin. The favor will be returned.
Excerpts . . . Check. Links . . . Check. Inspiration . . . Check
1. At The New Criterion, Wilfred McClay looks at the troubled humanities. From the reflection:
It is a bad sign that defenders of the humanities become tongue-tied so quickly when a layman asks what the humanities are and why we should value them. Sometimes the answers are downright laughable. At a meeting of the American Council of Learned Societies a number of years ago in Philadelphia, the subject was “Reinvigorating the Humanities,” but the discussion was anything but invigorating. Consider this witticism from the then-president of the University of Chicago, who was soon to become the president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: “When the lights go out and our friends in science haven’t developed a national energy policy, they’ll be out of business. We, with a book of poems and a candle, will still be alive.”
Well, isn’t that special? This is the kind of airy-fairy, self-congratulatory narcissism that gives the humanities a bad name. And when the president of the council addressed herself to the big, obvious question—just what will it take to reinvigorate the humanities?—the answer was predictable. What was needed was, in the immortal word of the great American labor leader Samuel Gompers, more: more money, more fundraising attention from university leaders, more support from Congress, more jobs for professors.
What ever happened to that book of poems and a candle?
2. At Tablet Magazine, the journal’s editors, considering the practices and emphases of the world’s institutions in recent years, say no one should be shocked by the terrorist attacks on Israel, and the rise in anti-Semitism. From the piece:
As journalists, the increasingly strident calls for uniformity of opinion and perception struck us, from the very beginning, as dangerous and wrong. We believe in empirical investigation and analysis and in subjective personal observation and experience, not in party-line obedience to an instant consensus being formed and managed God knows how or where. As Jews, we had concerns, too. For as long as we’ve been in this country, Jews have relied on and sung the praises of stalwart American institutions like the federal government, universities, media organizations, corporations, labor unions, and more. We watched in horror as each of these institutions not only fell prey to the new mania, but also seemed increasingly unable to do the jobs they had historically been tasked with doing.
We were also alarmed that . . . no one else was alarmed, especially among communal leaders. Organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and the American Civil Liberties Union, once the protectors of the vulnerable, became handmaidens of power. Think tanks and politicians and journalists gave cover for policies that seemed obviously destined to set the world on fire. Internet monopolies merged with the federal government to produce a censorship and surveillance apparatus that would ensure that only the voices of some could be heard.
Tablet didn’t wade into the culture wars for its own sake. We did it because we feared we saw an emerging world in which the broad-minded American civic ideals and institutions that had kept us safe for so long were falling apart, which was bad for the country—and also meant that Jews would once again be seen as enemies to be eliminated.
3. At City Journal, Jacob Howland finds the campus reactions to Hamas’s savagery a thing of danger, and proof of needed reform of the American university. From the assessment:
Informed observers have known for some time that our universities are broken. But the cheerleading on American campuses for terrorists who unleashed a pogrom of a magnitude and viciousness not seen since the Holocaust has made it clear that the collapse of higher education imperils Western civilization itself. Without real higher education, we would forget the past and stumble blindly into the future. Without universities worthy of the name, there would be no civilization.
Higher education exists to preserve, transmit, and extend knowledge, including the sound judgment and knowledge of the whole we call wisdom. Universities stand at the threshold between past and future, self and society, the eternal verities above and the flow of time below. Their job is to join what would otherwise fall apart: to remember the past, fructify the present, and incubate the future. At their best, they are modern temples of Janus, the two-faced Roman god who looks backward and forward, inward and outward—a symbol of wakeful, vigilant minds that receive tradition with gratitude, seek knowledge with grace, and face challenges with grit.
But in the United States, universities have never been worse than they are today. Barbarians have invaded the temples of teaching and learning, ransacked the sanctuaries, and defiled the sacred scrolls. For decades, students have been steeped in a postmodern intellectual culture of repudiation, relativism, and reductivism. They’ve been taught to “deconstruct” the great books and noble ideals of the West; to regard morality, and even the criteria of scientific truth, as social constructions; and to understand politics and society as “discourses of power” illuminated by the doctrines of “critical theory” and “intersectionality.” Bereft of precious civilizational compasses and maps, they have learned to regard fundamental social relationships as zero-sum games of domination and servitude.
4. More Campus Crisis: At Law & Liberty, Zachary R. Goldsmith looks at the contemporary university and sees parallels to Dostoevsky’s Demons. From the essay):
Ever an admirer of an elegant dialectic, Karl Marx never tired of extolling how it was capitalism itself that bore its own supposed undoing within it. The bourgeoisie brought forth its own grave-diggers and hangmen in the form of their antithesis, the proletariat. In our own time it is truly us—parents, teachers, tastemakers, and the culturally and politically elect among us—who have brought forward a new generation that despises all that has come before them.
With the characteristic cruelty and callousness of a fanatic, they sneer at the Western values that have brought them to their privileged place of critique, their comfortable campuses and quads made possible only by the “bourgeois virtues” and Western civilization at which they jeer. No matter that this selfsame Western liberal-democratic system and the “bourgeois virtues” it champions has brought unprecedented levels of equality, prosperity, and freedom to the world—yes, even the Third World. Still, these little “demons” among us cry “colonialism” and “imperialism” and they reject their cultural patrimony as a litany of evils perpetrated by white men.
But should this come as a surprise? This is a generation, after all, taught the 1619 Project, not the Declaration of Independence; taught that the history of the West is one solely of brutality, murder, and conquest, not the Enlightenment, democracy, and freedom. The Jewish pioneers who built the land of Israel from the ashes of the crucible of 20th-century Europe are colonizers and oppressors, not heroes and exemplars of resilience. Reared from a perverse Capitoline she-wolf pouring forth an inverted morality of evil lauded as good and good execrated as evil, is it any wonder the children of today celebrate the murder of innocents as a great good?
5. At The American Conservative, Brenda Hafera reports from one of the many battlefronts of civic education. From the piece:
James Madison’s home of Montpelier offers another example of the distortion and omittance of pertinent historical facts. in favor of revisionists interpretations. An exhibit on the Constitution notes that the words “slave” and “slavery” never appear in the Constitution, but neglects Madison’s own explanation: the delegates at the Constitutional Convention, “thought it wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men.”
Virginia appears in worse shape than Florida, with a Virginia historic site and public school having colluded in the promulgation of anti-racist narratives. In 2019, the Albemarle County school board adopted a so-called anti-racist policy. Per “by race, and labeled people as ‘perpetually privileged oppressors’ or as the ‘perpetually victimized’ oppressed. White, Christian students were taught that they were members of the ‘dominant culture’ that oppresses ‘subordinate’ students of color and non-Christians.’” The policies and curriculum, which have been , seem to have been , and that partnership has been used as ., its pilot middle school
Disagreements over how American history is taught are not shallow political squabbles. They’re important clashes of principles, of civic education versus identity politics activism, that reflect and affect our understanding of the very purpose of America.
6. At National Review, Jack Butler contemplates just what defines the “Midwest.” From the piece:
But to accept that the Midwest is essential to America is to raise another question: What is the Midwest? It is a . The U.S. Census Bureau the regional category in two: “East North Central” (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin); and “West North Central”: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
The Census designations have not settled the matter, however. Perhaps by Emerson College Polling and the , “the only scholarly print publication dedicated exclusively to the study of the Midwest as a region,” can. It collected more than 11,000 responses from residents of 22 states—some traditionally Midwestern, some thought of as adjacent—asking whether they believed their state was Midwestern, and whether they considered themselves Midwestern. The most self-identified Midwestern states, in the survey’s findings, are Iowa and Minnesota, 97 percent of whose surveyed residents believe they live in the Midwest. Most surveyed residents of Missouri, Illinois, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, South Dakota, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Wyoming also believed they “live in the Midwest.”
7. At UnHerd, Thomas Fazi tells of Africa’s fight—against the imposition “Net Zero”—for the continent’s economic growth. From the piece:
More than any other resource, Africa is starved of the energy it needs for economic development. This isn’t for lack of natural endowment. Africa possesses vast reserves of coal, oil and natural gas. But extracting those resources and using them for domestic development requires money, infrastructure, expertise and institutional capacity—which Africa’s poorest nations, especially in the sub-Sahara, sadly lack. One solution is partnering with foreign energy companies—until recently, mostly European and American firms—but that means that much of the domestically produced gas and oil is then exported rather than used for local development.
Yet beyond practical difficulties, in recent years an ideological force has also come to stymie potential development: the global political creed of Net Zero.
While the phrase is already associated with straitened living standards in the West, in the developing world Net Zero threatens to lock countries into perpetual underdevelopment. So far, it has mainly taken the form of Western countries limiting overseas fossil fuel investments. As early as 2014, one study found that the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the main US development finance institution, had started “to invest principally in solar, wind, and other low-emissions energy projects as part of the [Obama] administration’s effort to promote clean energy technology”.
8. At Front Porch Republic, Michial Farmer recalls a beloved children’s book and its theme of cozy loneliness. From the piece:
The book was Lobel’s Owl at Home, published in 1975, a few years after the Frog and Toad series, and sharing a kind of spiritual universe with them. Like Frog and Toad, it is essentially a short-story cycle, or perhaps a very episodic novel, for young readers. (A badge on the cover says, “Grades 1-3.”) And like Frog and Toad, its simple text and slightly less simple artwork are by Lobel. Its content, however, is a kind of complement to the earlier series: whereas Frog and Toad are defined in relation to each other, Owl lives alone elsewhere in the forest and does not address another animal at any point in the book’s five chapters. It’s winter for much of the book, and presumably Frog and Toad are burrowed into the mud at the bottom of some pond, while Owl goes on with his life. Owl at Home is consequently an enormously lonely book—but it is a soft and shimmering loneliness, the sort of cozy loneliness that everyone with even a hint of introversion has felt at some point in their lives and enjoyed, on some level, at least.
The best children’s books understand that children are more in touch with the mysteries of the world than adults are, and they don’t explain too much. So there is usually a straightforwardness counterbalanced by uncanniness; the rules of the fictional universe are felt, not given, and reading such a book as an adult can crack the rational shell of the world open long enough for a little mystery to ooze out. This is especially true of children’s books that do not take children as their protagonists. Such books, written by adults and starring adults who are childlike in their most important features, have a disorienting and reorienting effect on their adult readers, especially adults who encountered them as children. They offer a kind of double or triple vision, wherein we see the world not as it is but as we’d imagined it would be. In other words, children’s fiction prepares the child for adulthood, though not in any straightforward or didactic way; it stores up the child’s natural reservoirs of imagination and mystery, which will be necessary to survive adulthood with one’s soul intact.
9. At The National Interest, Jacob Olidort and Blaise Misztal make the case for a coalition of nations to counter Iran. From the essay:
Addressing Iran and its proxy network comprehensively—eliminating active threats and systematically degrading its ability to plot and coordinate around the world—requires not only Israeli or U.S. action but also a robust international effort. What is needed is a Counter-Iran coalition.
This coalition, formed based on the existing counter-ISIS coalition, should consist of NATO and Arab partners, as well as partners in the Indo-Pacific, and should aim to degrade, if not altogether destroy, the Iranian regime’s proxy network and its capabilities to launch and inspire attacks in the region and around the world through military, economic, diplomatic, and rhetoric means. At a minimum, this means expelling or eliminating Iranian regime proxies from their countries and de-platforming them from any local media presence.
Allies in different regions have different comparative advantages, and all should be leveraged in this global effort to maximize impact. All should contribute to the effort to economically choke and geographically isolate Iran and its proxies by enforcing sanctions (including snap-back sanctions), restricting travel, and reimposing UN embargoes. All can and should dismantle Iran’s terrorist network in their hemisphere and country. And all can coordinate military activity regionally (for example, joint exercises with allies in the Indo-Pacific to intercept “ghost fleets” carrying oil from Iran to China). In the U.S. context, this could require a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) focused on Iran and its proxies. (This option may prove necessary if the United States is to have the option to take kinetic action against nuclear facilities located in Iran).
10. At National Affairs, Bruno Manno calls for education to focus more on “opportunity pluralism” than on a “college-for-all” goal for K–12 learning. From the essay:
Undoubtedly, improving one's economic condition is part of overall success. But any discussion of pursuing opportunity today must allow for what may be termed opportunity pluralism. It must also include forming and nurturing social relations and resources—what we might broadly term social capital. A more holistic education would prepare young people for success by helping them develop the cognitive skills, knowledge of disciplines, and social networks they need to live, work, and compete in today’s society.
A new K-12 public-education program must accompany this more comprehensive vision, one that recognizes relationships and opportunity pluralism as essential dimensions of success in education. States, localities, and organizations are already beginning to experiment with such initiatives, and they deserve to be expanded. Programs of the kind outlined below feature a K-12 career-pathways approach that links schools and employers and includes workplace exposure, exploration, and practical experience. This sequence immerses young people in a range of occupational courses that develop their knowledge and networks. And it replaces the solitary track of college for all, which restricts career achievement to the four-year college-degree credential. These new opportunity programs ensure a pluralistic approach that presents young people with multiple pathways to becoming flourishing members of their communities and nation.
11. More Manno: At RealClearEducation, Bruno reports from the battlefield, wondering if the Reading Wars are now over. From the beginning of the article:
Disagreement on how to teach children to read created the reading wars, a decades long conflict over which of two approaches is the most effective.
A new teachers’ union analysis from the Albert Shanker Institute of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) shows a growing policy consensus in red and blue states on teaching reading that signals an end to these reading wars.
This creates what the public-policy scholar Ryan Streeter calls an “ideological heartland” of “domestic realists” who want pragmatic solutions to important problems K-12 education confronts.
This consensus is especially important because of pandemic-related learning loss experienced by K-12 students. According to the Education Recovery Scorecard, the typical student is a third of a year behind in reading (and a half year behind in math). It’s far worse for our most disadvantaged students.
12. At the Hendersonville (N.C.) Times-News, Jennifer Heaslip reports on a doggone good fundraiser. From the piece:
With two young daughters, Devin and Maranda Barrett are always looking for fun family adventures. They hit the jackpot Oct. 14 when they found an event not only for the girls but their 14-month hound, Leon, as well.
Leon was one of the stars of the first Children’s Dog Show hosted by the Hendersonville Kennel Club in a grassy lot near the Salvation Army in downtown Hendersonville. The event, a fundraiser for the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree fund, was open only to children and their dogs, who competed in classes from obedience and best trick to the best costume and longest ears. . . .
The event was a chance to encourage children to work with their dogs and gain experience showing, as well as raise funds for the Salvation Army, which allows the club to use its facilities. Club member Corliss Bakanas said she hopes the dog show, inspired by club President Terri Everwine’s experiences showing as a child in Chicago, becomes a recurring event.
Lucky 13. At RealClearInvestigations, James Varney reports on the fight against the philanthropy-backed effort to bring Mighty Wind to the Jersey Shore. From the piece:
Protect Our Coast NJ, an all-volunteer outfit with a budget of less than $100,000, is one example of an overwhelming disparity that has emerged in the debate over the aggressive push for renewable energy in response to what President Biden calls the “existential threat” of climate change. While once upon a time there may have been scrappy environmentalists combating the corporate might of Big Oil, major fossil fuel producers and conservative philanthropies provide little supporting research challenging climate change, Shaffer and other people interviewed for this article said. As a result, the money and the muscle and the lawyers are now aligned with what they call Big Green. . . .
Powering the apparent juggernaut are philanthropists who have donated billions, corporate sponsors of environmental groups that look like a who’s who of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, attorneys at white-shoe firms and Ivy League law schools, prosecutors paid privately but operating under a district attorney’s umbrella, along with media and academics who hammer the narrative home.
Bonus. At Comment Magazine, a father, Chris Owen, recalling his own father, writes a son, Burt, about the will to trust. From the piece:
The motorcycles came one spring morning when I was seven, and my dad left with the motorcycles. I’m not special. This happens all the time.
We moved, moved again. I made new friends, played basketball, joined the Cub Scouts, came in second in the Pinewood Derby. I was afraid I’d never see my dad again.
He sent me a chess set from South America, made of stone. All the pieces were wrapped in tissue and fit into a square green case. The green case had a thin gold border, hinges, and a clasp. I played chess with my fourth-grade friend Randy. The pawns clicked on the marble board like stone on glass. When we were done, Randy and I wrapped each chunky rook and chiselled knight into its own thin tissue paper, and we put each piece back into the green case, layering them in rows and stacks.
The chess set got lost when we moved again. Could my mom have thrown it away? She hated my dad.
Burt, this is what I’ve come to understand. Shame is the dark place you descend to when you lose something precious and you’re not allowed to grieve. Until someone holds you in your grief, this shame and this grief can’t even begin to heal. If healing doesn’t come, what eats us is an impotent rage that rises as a defence against the intolerable shame.
For the Good of the Cause
Uno. OK, we really mean it this time: Last Call! Register for the Center for Civil Society’s quickly upcoming conference on “Rise of the Nones: How Declining Religious Affiliation Is Changing Civil Society.” It takes place on November 7–8 in glorious Scottsdale, AZ. The line-up is super: Speakers include Shelby Steele and Mary Eberstadt. Get complete information right here.
Due. You’ll have digested the turkey by then—the afternoon of Tuesday, November 28th, is the “then”—so you’ll have no excuse for not attending (via Zoom) the important Center for Civil Society “Givers, Doers, & Thinkers” webinar on The Future of Christian Higher Education. Jon Hannah, boss of C4CS, will be joined by Pepperdine University’s Pete Peterson and Malone University’s David Beer for a frank and illuminating discussion. Make sure you register—do that right here.
Tre. Momma mia, at Philanthropy Daily, Dave Fletcher recaps it all wonderfully in his article, “Mealy-mouthed universities are facing megadonor flight.” Read it here.
Department of Bad Jokes
Q: What kind of music do mummies like?
Should you look at the terrible, ghostly images of the murdered, the burned, the tortured? It is deeply disturbing to see, on various social-media platforms, what the attacks on Israeli citizens registered on the barbarity scale. But to look away, to ignore? Each must decide for himself—one does not need actually to see in order to believe. But to believe the scope, the scale, of depravity . . . it cannot be forgotten. Nor can the cheers of those lauding the agents of murder. We live in truly troubling times—they could use the intervention of the Almighty. Pray. And again, pray for the recent dead.
May the Creator Deliver Us from Evil,
Jack Fowler, who can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org.