15 min read

Dear Intelligent American,


The raging hoopla over the massive crash—of DEI, antisemitism, and Ivy League arrogance—that currently swamps the culture debate and headlines and cable news brings to mind, as the Martin Luther King federal holiday approaches, that the late minister’s famous wish—


"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."


—has fallen out of favor with the disciples of “equity.”


Not directly attacked—no, that would be too . . . distracting, or controversial (too soon?), or dangerous, even. But surely, King’s powerful statement—a wondrous aspiration, if the dream became a reality, for a nation weighed down by a peculiar and deeply troubling history—speaks to meritocracy, a characteristic at the heart of American exceptionalism, but a thing reviled by those who demand equality of outcome be paramount, and who claim race as determinative of all life’s aspects.


Your Humble Correspondent sides with the Dreamers. Do you?


Whether yes or no, consider reflecting on King’s maxim, and the potential it held for his four children, and for all America’s sons and daughters.


Second Excerpt to the Right and Straight on Till Morning


1. At The College Fix, Maggie Kelly reels off five common-sense ways colleges could course-correct in 2024. From the piece:


Universities are not churches; they do not need to pontificate on affairs that don’t directly concern them.


Colleges faced widespread criticism for their initial non-response to the Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel, and rightly so. Yet they wouldn’t be hypocrites if they hadn’t issued so many self-righteous pronouncements on topics such as Donald Trump’s election or Black Lives Matter.


The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression wrote, “When colleges adopt official institutional positions on issues outside their mission, they risk establishing a campus orthodoxy that chills speech and undermines the knowledge-generating process.”


Universities should follow the University of Chicago’s 1967 Kalven committee report on the university’s role in politics, which states that “the university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic.”


Princeton political science Professor Greg Conti wrote correctly Dec. 28 in Compact that “university leaders must recognize that an organization that pontificates about everything can be trusted about nothing.”


2. At The American Mind, fan favorite Daniel J. Mahoney again takes on the “postcolonial” ideology and its inherent delusions. From the piece:


In England, inspired by the dual legacies of Christianity and the mutually reinforcing doctrines of natural rights and law, public opinion turned dramatically against slavery. After 1833 and for most of the nineteenth century, the British navy became one of the great global instruments for expanding human rights through extirpating the slave trade. It did so with zeal and efficiency.


What stands out, despite everything, is the West’s salutary capacity for self-criticism and self-correction, traits far from abundant in the rest of the world.


“Enough of pesky facts!” the angry moralists and ideologues will cry. What of “systemic injustice” and the “intrinsic evil” of one people ruling another people against their will? In the third and final installment of this series, we will turn to Colonialism, the recent book by the Oxford theologian Nigel Biggar, who provides a model of moral seriousness on this most contested of issues. With his help, and that of others, we will also show that postcolonial ideology is itself very much in need of a moral reckoning. As the French social theorist René Girard argued at the end of his life, untold damage has been done to moral judgment and political prudence by a “caricatural ‘ultra-Christianity’ that tries to escape from the Judeo-Christian orbit by ‘radicalizing’ the concerns for victims in an anti-Christian manner.”


Whatever happened, we will ask, to a sober recognition of original sin, shared moral accountability, and “turning the sword inward” before doing so outward? There lies the real thing, Christian realism, and not its pernicious caricature, postcolonial ideology. We will also show that moral judgment must be based in a scrupulous attentiveness to empirical realities and to the wellsprings of human nature. Otherwise, it becomes mere sentimentality, at best, or, at worst, a weapon in the hands of extremists and ideologues.


We Interrupt This Newsletter . . .


May we attend to a brief bit of business? The great Jonathan Hannah, who runs the Center For Civil Society, has an announcement, especially for those involved in nonprofit fundraising and development:


We want to know how fundraisers feel about their profession. How have things changed since the Covid pandemic? How might artificial intelligence change fundraising in the years to come? What do you look for when it comes to professional development opportunities?


Share your thoughts by taking our 2024 Center for Civil Society 2024 Fundraising Survey. This is open to all fundraising professionals regardless of focus area or organization. The survey has twenty questions, and I promise it only takes about five minutes to complete. You do not need to dig into your CRM records, or do any math. This survey is also completely anonymous. We ask for your title and email, but your answers will not be shared with anyone.


The request and its attending process are painless, and once all the numbers are crunched and analyzed, the fruits it will bear will be of great benefit to all.


. . . We Now Return to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming.


3. More TAM: Auguste Meyrat studies billionaire techno-optimist Marc Andreessen and finds a world-saving plan that offers verbose verbiage but little actual wisdom. From the reflection:


Andreessen makes obvious points about technology and progress, yet presents them as courageous and insightful. Of course, productivity, abundance, knowledge, and excellence are good things. Who says otherwise? According to Andreessen, it’s the ubiquitous but invisible enemy of mediocrities who espouse “statism, authoritarianism, collectivism, central planning, socialism,” along with “anti-merit, anti-ambition, anti-striving, anti-achievement, anti-greatness.” Even if one grants the generous assumption that such people exist, will this manifesto really change their mind?


Connected to this problem of arguing against an imaginary opponent, Andreessen betrays his lack of philosophical training through some slipshod reasoning. At no point in over 5,000 words does he specify what he means by “technology.” He mentions nuclear power and artificial intelligence on several occasions, but only to serve as his reason for “optimism.” He conveniently neglects some of the darker examples of advanced technology, like nuclear missiles, addictive computer apps, or carcinogenic processed food.


On a fundamental level, the term “technology” should pertain to all the products and ideas that result from human ingenuity. Because he doesn’t make this distinction, Andreessen speaks of technology as some kind of creative magic produced by the divinely chosen geniuses of humanity. Consequently, he bestows moral value on it and applies it to all life’s problems, material or spiritual: “We believe technology is liberatory. Liberatory of human potential. Liberatory of the human soul, the human spirit. Expanding what it can mean to be free, to be fulfilled, to be alive.” So, not only can technology be used to help with world hunger and producing cleaner energy, but it can also liberate, enlighten, and inspire the soul.


4. More Meyrat: At The American Conservative, the writer comes to the Sabbath defense of Chik-fil-A. From the piece:


In New York, State Rep. Tony Simone introduced a bill that “may force some of the Christian-founded chain restaurants located at rest stops along Interstate 90 to remain open on Sundays.” This is part of a larger plan to revamp the rest stops along the highway, affecting vendors using those spaces. As the bill itself puts it, the purpose is to “ensure that New York State's transportation facilities offer a reliable source of food services.” Although Chick-fil-A isn’t called out by name, it’s clear that they’re being specifically targeted: “Allowing for retail space to go unused one seventh of the week or more is a disservice and unnecessary inconvenience to travelers who rely on these service areas.”


There are obvious and major problems with this. First, the government cannot treat Chick-fil-A chicken sandwiches as a right it must protect or a utility it must provide. They are a product being sold in a free market. This means that Chick-fil-A is free to sell its food however it wants, and its customers are free to patronize their stores or not. The New York legislature has no authority to tell the chain how to conduct business in any way—no matter how much its members might crave chicken sandwiches on their occasional Sunday commutes. . . .


Third, and most importantly, the First Amendment guarantees “the free exercise” of religion. The government cannot force a Christian organization to stay open on Sunday, just like it cannot force a Jewish organization to serve pork, or force a Muslim organization to wave Pride flags in June. Moreover, this doesn’t change if the organization happens to be a government contractor. As last year’s Supreme Court ruling in Carson v. Makin confirmed, governments can’t simply discriminate against all religious practice in the name of separating church and state.


4. Little Sew-and-Sew: At Plough Quarterly, Leah Libresco Sargeant revels over mending clothes. From the piece:


When Russo began repairing her clothes, it changed what kinds of new clothes she wanted to buy. When she looked at something on the rack or at a thrift store, she didn’t just consider how the outfit looked then, but how it would change as it aged and weakened. What kind of mending would it need and what kind of repairs could it support?


She looked for thicker cotton fabrics that could stand up to strong stitches. She avoided clothes made of stretchier synthetic fabrics—she didn’t like the idea of wearing petroleum products, but more than that, they didn’t take repairs gracefully. She even wound up checking online reviews of clothes to see what kind of seam was hidden inside a dress before ordering it. A straight stitch in a stretchy maternity outfit was much more likely to rip than a zigzag.


As she looked at each seam, imagining how she might one day pass it back through a machine, she had a stronger sense of the hands that had already guided it, inch by inch, into its present form. Until she took up sewing herself, Russo imagined that a lot of clothes manufacturing was automated in the ways spinning thread had been. But there are almost no sewing machines that work alone. The needle is pumped up and down by a motor, but human hands guide the cloth around its turns. There is nothing woven that we put on our bodies that hasn’t passed through someone’s hands, usually half a world away.


6. At Law & Liberty, Jonathan Leaf contemplates the accuracy of comparisons between an America in decline and the Roman Empire’s fall. From the essay:


The irony is that there is a worthwhile and important example from ancient times that is worthy of our study, one that our founding fathers pointed to frequently: the fall of the Roman Republic.


Because our country is young, we may be inclined to forget a simple fact: ours is the oldest constitutional republic in the world. The Roman Republic was likewise long-standing. Indeed, as the Republic existed from 509 BC to 27 BC, it lasted for nearly as long as the Western half of the Roman Empire sustained itself. Over the course of this time, the Republic went through a long process of transformation in which it was democratized and the power and status of the patrician class diminished. So divided initially were the aristocrats from the commoners in the Republic that when Rome’s early law code, the Twelve Tables, was first presented in 451 BCE, the plebeians were not even permitted to marry patricians.


The strength of Rome’s legions and the militaristic nature of the Roman society that supported and organized those armies provided the basis for Rome’s expansion, and most of the territory within its eventual empire was acquired during the Republic. Ironically, this growth was especially rapid during the Republic’s decline. In fact, the fall of the Republic is very much connected to its military conquests.


7. At Commentary Magazine, Seth Mandel reports on the mutiny at the Anti-Defamation League by staff more disposed to the progressive agenda than to fighting antisemitism. From the article:


Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL, for years has spent the organization’s political capital on accruing acceptance in progressive spaces. The ADL has become home to a great many AsAJews. After Oct. 7, the bill came due: The AsAJews and their political mentors decided it was time for the ADL to throw off the yoke of its pretensions and defect from Jewish organizational life to officially join the ranks of those marching on Jewish neighborhoods chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”


Greenblatt balked, and his creation has apparently risen from the table and walked out of the lab. According to Jewish Currents, the house organ of the AsAJews, several employees have left the ADL unit dedicated to countering online hate, including the Obama administration alum who led that unit, because of Greenblatt’s attempts to get social-media services to crack down on anti-Semitism:


“Former staffers told Jewish Currents that in the past months, Greenblatt has redirected the ADL’s day-to-day work to target pro-Palestine activism rather than focusing on antisemitism in American life, a shift they say seriously undermines the organization’s credibility.”


To translate that from doublespeak: The Anti-Defamation League’s public opposition to those calling for the mass murder of the Jewish people is not what these staffers signed up for. Perhaps this clash was inevitable: Greenblatt’s support for censorship in the public square was a weapon his progressive allies were never going to accept being turned on them.


8. At First Things, Matthew Hennessey shares a story about an unborn baby, Down syndrome, two doctors, and radically different bedside manners. From the piece:


The possibly Italian doctor settled back onto his stool and pressed the button to turn off the screen on the ultrasound. For a quick minute I allowed myself to wallow in my resentment. Then a small thought entered my mind. It sat quiet for a moment. It sat still. Then, like food coloring, it began to spread. My irrationality started to clear and it dawned on me what he’d said.


“Mmm, congratulations.”


A train rumbled somewhere deep below.


Congratulations. We hadn’t heard much of that. Ursula’s baby doctor hadn’t said it when she called to give us the diagnosis. She gave us sympathy and concern, but not congratulations. Our pediatrician hadn’t said it when Ursula called for advice. He’d given us another family’s phone number and assurances that things would be okay. He hadn’t offered congratulations. When we told our family and friends about the diagnosis, the reactions had been funereal. There was hesitancy and confusion followed by head-hanging and shoulder-squeezes. Someone very close to me had uttered the unutterable: “Consider your options.”


9. At Verily Magazine, Madison Ayers tells of the changes in life after a year of disconnection from social media. From the piece:


An obvious effect of ditching social media is that I had a lot more time to be bored in my day, especially since many of my waking hours are spent alone with my toddler who isn’t exactly the best conversationalist yet. Now, instead of scrolling, I’ve taken up multiple pursuits that have enriched my life in a way no Instagram Reel ever could. I bake sourdough bread every week, I’ve learned how to knit, and I spend a lot more time writing than I ever have in the past. Cooking and writing have always been two of my passions, and I’ve been able to devote more time to them than before.


Shifting from a consumption mindset to a creation mindset has been instrumental not only in the quality of my day-to-day life, but also in my mental health. Practicing creativity is proven to have a positive mental impact, and I’ve seen the benefits for myself as I’ve begun to add more creative passions to my life—my focus has improved, and I’ve noticed a decrease in anxiety.


Spending my time doing rather than watching or scrolling is certainly harder than reaching for my phone—but it is also more rewarding. For me, a day spent going on a long walk with my daughter, reading an engaging book, trying out a new recipe, writing an article, and having a connecting conversation with a friend or my husband is a much better day than one spent doom-scrolling on the Internet with the TV going in the background. I’ve had days like the latter, and while they are certainly easier, they aren’t the days I will look back on with fondness in a later season of life.


10. At Claremont Review of Books, Chris Caldwell sees Germany approaching crisis. From the analysis:


The role of Angela Merkel in this transformation of the West is crucial to understand. In retrospect she was, along with Tony Blair, the great European master of the governing style practiced by all American presidents between Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. Both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush were conservatives confident enough in the loyalty (or gullibility) of their conservative base to govern as liberals—domestically at least. Bill Clinton, similarly, held onto lunchpail Democrats while governing on behalf of investors. Barack Obama held onto blacks while governing for billionaires. It was at best a paradox, at worst a trick: why appeal to your own people by pursuing the policy they elected you to pursue if they’ll vote for you anyway out of loyalty? Better to pursue the policies of your adversaries and win a few of them by persuasion. In America, it worked for individual politicians, who—except for the first President Bush—were out of power by the time the public caught on. But eventually it cost the entire political class the trust of the electorate. That happened to the United States in 2016. It is happening to Germany now.


Merkel was a Christian Democrat—the daughter of an East German parson, in fact, a rare type behind the Wall. Yet she governed as a Socialist or a Green. She welcomed immigrants, passed a minimum wage, passed gay marriage (though she didn’t vote for it), and promised to end nuclear power. This meant she was leaving the entire right of the political spectrum unrepresented—an especially dangerous thing to do in Germany. If people didn’t worry as much about that as they might have, it’s because they took Merkel for a transitional figure. German nationalists were no longer so big a worry, in this complacent view, because politics would soon cease to be about nations—it would be about the climate, and international networks, and that sort of thing. The Greens would be the great beneficiaries of this new politics, the natural majority party of the generation to come.


That hasn’t happened. The Greens have become terribly unpopular, and embittered at Merkel too, whom they consider less a harbinger of tomorrow’s politics than throwback to turn-of-the-century corporate irresponsibility.


11. At RealClearPolicy, Michael E. Hartmann considers the growing debate over taxing big nonprofit endowments. From the piece:


Along with the similar work of others—including at the Capital Research Center, where I’m a senior fellow—Miller’s article, the Ways and Means oversight-subcommittee hearing, and Vance’s bill raise even more fundamental questions. These are especially relevant to conservatism, and conservative philanthropy.


Of philanthropy: What’s it for? If it’s for charity, but it being used for partisan electoral politics, what’s to be done?


Of conservatism: Where on the spectrum of proposed policy reforms, between the carefully tailored oversight subcommittee options and Vance more-existential “threat” to large nonprofit endowments, should principle nudge us? Slight alterations or frontal assaults, or a mixture of both?


Finally, regarding conservative philanthropy: Can it face the truth of how radically progressive, policy-oriented, and partisan most Big Philanthropy has become? Are conservatives bound by principle to defend such a regime? Is the traditional understanding of charity worth somehow trying to preserve despite how the system has been abused by partisan politicization?


Or should the conservative side of philanthropy aggressively “fight fire with fire” and engage in the same kind of politicization itself, if only to try neutralizing the other effort? And if the other side’s fire so often includes successfully influencing the formulation, passage, and implementation of government policy—shouldn’t its fire too?


12. At The Imaginative Conservative, Michael De Sapio finds Maestro hits a sour note. From the review:


But Bernstein has a problem that gnaws at him and throws his marriage and life off balance. In the words of his sister, Lenny has trouble “being just one thing” (watching the movie, I wondered if here was the opposite of Kierkegaard’s ideal of the man with secure values who can “will one thing”). And this ambivalence applies not only to his busy life in music—where he wears many hats as conductor, teacher, and composer of both classical and Broadway scores, among other roles—but to his sexuality.


Here, then, we have the film’s central conflict and main focus—not the symphonies, the musicals, the Young People’s Concerts, the resurrection of Mahler, or Bernstein’s many other accomplishments in music. And this is where the film stumbles. Because what makes a Leonard Bernstein unique and sets him apart is his art, not his personal sins and infidelities, by virtue of which he resembles millions of poor souls the world over and which, therefore, are uninteresting as the main subject of a movie.


True, Bernstein’s double life, his tragically divided self—happily married yet pursuing homosexual affairs on the side—and how this affected his public life as an artist is definitely of moral and psychological interest. But by putting this conflict front and center and slighting what truly made Bernstein who he was in his core—his musical mind and passion—the filmmakers ultimately lose any reason for making (or watching) the film.


Lucky 13. At The Monroe News, staff reports how Michigan 4-H-ers turned pennies into charity. From the article:


Monroe County 4-H saw success with two programs this holiday season. The 4-H Teen Ambassadors held its annual Pennies for Turkeys fundraiser.


"We were able to purchase 68 turkeys and 10 hams," the organization said. The meat was stored at Independent Dairy.


Hundreds of gloves, coats and other winter items were collected by the Monroe County 4-H program.


The Annual Mitten Tree garnered 457 pairs of gloves and other items.


Bonus. At National Review, Jack Butler knows The Lord of the Rings, and men and elves, and believes billionaire Peter Thiel . . . doesn’t. From the piece:


These few sentences contain drastic misinterpretations of the world Tolkien created, specifically about the natures of elves and men, the differences between them, and the consequences of trying to overcome these natures. It is worth examining each in turn and assessing what these misunderstandings might reveal about Thiel.


Fans of only The Lord of the Rings or its film adaptations, which tell the story of a quest to destroy a ring of great power, the One Ring, created by the Dark Lord Sauron in his attempt to rule over the realm of Middle-earth, can be forgiven for being unaware that they represent only part of the vast mythology Tolkien created. That mythology is fleshed out further in other texts, such as The Silmarillion, a kind of “Old Testament” to The Lord of the Rings, as well as letters, appendices, and supplementary works. While one can address Thiel’s errors with recourse to The Lord of the Rings alone, consulting these other sources clarifies his errors.


Thiel is not entirely wrong about one thing, at least: Men and elves have a certain essential similarity. In a letter to Michael Straight, Tolkien wrote, “In fact exterior to my story, Elves and Men are just different aspects of the Humane, and represent the problem of Death as seen by a finite but willing and self-conscious person,” and are “in their incarnate forms kindred.”


But while Thiel is correct that the relationship of men and elves to mortality is a primary distinction between them, he is wrong that this distinction is incidental. It is fundamental. Men in Tolkien’s universe are innately given to death. It is not punishment. That “the children of Men dwell only a short space in the world alive, and are not bound to it” is, rather, a “gift” of Eru Ilúvatar (the all-powerful God in Tolkien’s mythology), Tolkien wrote in The Silmarillion. It is a gift “which as Time wears even the Powers shall envy.” Further, death is terra incognita—what happens to men after their death is unknown to the elves or possibly even to the Valar (the order of beings below Illuvatar in Tolkien’s cosmology). All that is known is that men are not bound to the world.


For the Good of the Order


Uno. On the newest episode of the ever-groovy “Givers, Doers, & Thinkers” podcast, host Jeremy Beer talks with Freedom Foundation CEO Aaron Withe about the First Amendment fight to empower government-union workers. Listen here.


Due. At Philanthropy Daily, Cecilia Diem shares wisdom with private foundation types about the terrible pitfalls found when self-dealing stumbles in. Read the piece here.


Department of Bad Jokes


Q: What did one snowman say to the other?


A: “Smells like carrots.”


A Dios


On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a new belt—the old one ran out of holes. Too much abundanza! That quite aside, Dear Karen, a dear friend, personal and to so many in need of charity, is in a terrible way—please offer your prayers for her recovery, or peace.


May We Be Awake When the Bridegroom Comes,


Jack Fowler, who says the address for the Complaint Desk is jfowler@amphil.com.

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