15 min read

Dear Intelligent American,

No, we are not hearkening to the 1966 movie (screenplay by that nasty piece of work, Gore Vidal), but instead to the as-we-go-to-press conditions on the streets of the French capital, and countless other towns and villages in the Land of Lafayette, rent by the destructive, continental version of America’s 2020 George Floyd violence. One wonders: Is France . . . broken?

But we do hearken to Claremont Review of Books, an always-worthwhile quarterly journal (edited by the maestro, Charles Kesler) that in every issue contains a half dozen important essays to accompany the myriad of excellent book reviews. In the new issue—which includes Daniel J. Mahoney’s reflection on the great political philosopher and theorist, Eric Voegelin—is a timely, meaty, and profoundly informative essay by Christopher Caldwell on France’s cultural and political chaos. It is a piece that cannot be recommended enough. One tiny snip: 

Of course, Macron’s predicament is not unique. In every European country there are people mad at the capture of institutions by elites, infuriated by the lockdown of public spaces and the run-up of debt under COVID, and uneasy about being dragged ever deeper into the Ukraine war. But France is the first country to reach the stage where its leaders can no longer scare up the resources they need in order to quiet the electorate down. And this threatens to make the country ungovernable. 

Mr. Caldwell is as powerful and insightful a writer as there is in America, and he houses himself at CRB, for which a subscription is required to read its contents. If you were to ask This Well-Traveled Conservative if that was a worthwhile intellectual investment, the answer would be a resounding yes.


Attention! Maintenant, Il Est Temps Pour Les Extraits D’Articles


1. At Texas Review of Law & Politics, David Bahnsen dissects corporate influence . . . and cowardice. From the essay: 

The phrase “politics is downstream from culture” has become a popular expression on the political right for many years, encapsulating the basic reality that what the society faces in matters of public policy are generally extensions of that which is transpiring in the belly of the culture. What a society believes about truth and goodness is both reflected and manufactured in its cultural institutions and domains. Those beliefs and practices work their way into the political realm generally after they have been acculturated, hence the sequence implied in the cliché (politics being downstream from culture). The popular line ought not be overly simplified—politics is a part of culture, too, and a negative feedback loop can easily take hold where bad views of truth and goodness transition from the culture to public policy, then are reinforced into the culture by the power dynamic of politics that further entrenches the cultural malignancy. This “rinse and repeat” reality muddies the truth of culture’s influence on politics, as society sees politics entrench what has happened in the culture, and the chicken and egg become somewhat indistinguishable over time. Nevertheless, the origin of bad ideas working their way into the political realm almost always starts in nonpolitical lanes of the culture, even if the drive from culture to politics has accelerated in our increasingly humanist age. . . .

Additionally, the business sphere is inherently connected to the political sphere. Whether it be the tax code or regulatory environment, companies exist under varying degrees of oversight from the political class that allow all sorts of embedded influence on the culture. The business community not only possesses its own characteristics of being a reflection of the culture (market demand) and also an influence on the culture (shaping market demand) but can also be a tool for the state to do the same (via regulatory agenda and requirements). This has always been true  


2. At The American Conservative, Declan Leary warns conservatives against seeing recent Supreme Court rulings as fostering security—what they provide is only breathing room. From the commentary:

When Jack Phillips was forced to stop making wedding cakes altogether, he lost 40 percent of his business. A similarly sizable chunk of income is no doubt lost by a boutique web designer driven out of a massive sphere of the small-scale web design market. Yet it seems beyond these people’s moral capacity to put themselves in her shoes. 


It is also worth noting that the radical front has framed itself (in this as in so many other battles) as David up against the reactionary Goliath. Never mind the long march through every institution, the unanimous endorsement of every cultural power, the outright criminalization of dissent. By sheer numbers, the claim is absurd. In each of these related cases, the persecuted artist has been represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a scrappy legal outfit dedicated to an ethos of Christian liberalism; the activist complainants, meanwhile, have prosecuted their cases through the American Civil Liberties Union, a 1.8 million-member behemoth that has spent the last century using courtroom bullying to drag this country leftward.


Even discounting the latter’s numerous affiliates, ADF has barely one-fourth the annual budget of the ACLU. With no sense of irony, the men who trampled on the rights and livelihood of a humble baker for nothing but their own smug self-interest and satisfaction groan that the ADF’s cases “advance conservative Christian power and privilege at the expense of everyone else, especially LGBTQ+, women, and racial and religious minorities.”


3. At Brownstone Institute, Paul Frijters and Gigi Foster lay out the structural reasons why American universities are failing. From the article: 

The modern university has become a business run for the personal glory and profit of its management, rather than an institution serving a public-good function that reflects the desire for knowledge in a whole community. Universities are now large property owners, suppliers of visas, organisers of consultancy services and places where business and management careers are made, all of which feed a commercial but not necessarily a community mission. Universities today play a real ‘game of mates.’


This new orientation has many consequences. One is an inability to effectively caretake the physical and mental health of students, because the question of ‘what good could we do’ is neither the starting point nor any longer built into the self-image of the university. A second is the loss of a positive community story, leaving a vacuum that is now filled with self-hatred and divisive doomsday stories. A third is that relevant research has been replaced by performative research. Fourth, truth is no longer treated seriously, having been replaced by feel-good promises. Fifth, public lectures have reduced in importance and publishing is increasingly seen as a pure status game, leading to territorial issues. Worst of all perhaps is the demise of the university as a place where people try to solve community problems.


4. At RealClear Religion, Tyler Curtis considers a new book that profiles public Christianity as the force behind American freedom. From the piece:

But according to historian Mark David Hall, Christianity has helped America to become a freer and more egalitarian nation. As he shows in his new book released last month, “Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land: How Christianity Has Advanced Freedom and Equality for All Americans,” genuine Christian faith was a major motivating factor behind the country’s most laudable achievements: establishing a constitutional republic, abolishing slavery, and protecting civil rights. With clear and evocative prose, Hall convincingly argues that we owe many of our rights and liberties to civic-minded Christians who sincerely believed that their faith should influence American culture and law. To those who worry that mixing Christianity with politics will necessarily lead to an oppressive theocracy, “Proclaim Liberty” offers a welcome rebuttal. . . .


Like their legal code, the Puritans’ political philosophy was largely constructed from precepts they found in Scripture. As theological heirs to the Calvinist wing of the Protestant Reformation, Puritan New Englanders also inherited the opinion held by many significant Reformed thinkers that “the Bible only sanctioned republican governments.” They came to believe this, in part, because of their conviction that every human being is sinful and thus could not be trusted with too much power. As Hall writes, this belief led American colonists to place “a variety of checks on rulers, including regular elections and legal restraints on civic officials.” After winning their independence from Great Britain, Americans built a constitutional order on the same limited government principles handed down by the Puritans.


5. At UnHerd, Dora Moutot slams American activists for corrupting French feminism. From the piece:

Having raged for years in the UK and US, the transgender debate has finally hit France. And you might say we deserve it; even that we are partly to blame. Back in the Sixties, a group of postmodern French philosophers introduced “French theory” to the world. It was a challenge to the idea that there is a single innate meaning in anything: we should, they assert, deconstruct language, science, even our human nature. We’ve got Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault to thank for the idea that there is no objective truth.


So far, so interesting. In France, we are philosophers. We enjoy ideas for their own sake and have no problem with letting a concept stay as it is—conceptual. But Americans are different. Their activists like to apply theory to the real world. So when Americans, such as Judith Butler, got hold of “French theory”, they applied it to American culture and political activism, which gave birth to post-colonial theory, gender theory and, inevitably, transgender ideology: the idea that language and biological sex can be deconstructed so that women become “menstruating people” and men can be mothers.


Then, the Americans threw it back at us. And that language and ideology is seeping into French culture and taking hold of young imaginations.


6. More France: At City Journal, Theodore Dalrymple explains how France is losing its capacity to suppress madness in the streets. From the article: 

It is as if France were not only two countries, but two continents, the one of beauty, prosperity, and contentment, the other of ugliness, poverty, and seething hatred. This is an oversimplification, of course, for intermediate layers exist between the two extremes; nevertheless, it is the contrast between them that is so startling.

No one, of any political stripe, has been surprised by the present riots, though agreement on their cause is not as universal: sooner or later, everyone knew, some pretext or other would occur for yet a further episode of widespread violence. In this respect, France is like a patient with impaired immunity who will one day suffer a serious infectious disease, though no one can be sure exactly when.

This is the second time in a few months that President Emmanuel Macron has had to cancel state visits because of rioting—the first time involving a visit from King Charles, whose safety could not be guaranteed, the second a visit of Macron’s to Germany because it would not be politic to leave the country while so many of its towns and cities are the scene of arson and looting.

Compared with the riots that prevented the visit of Charles, which in essence were frivolous street theater, the present ones are serious. They are also more serious than those of 2005, in the sense that some of the rioters have felt emboldened to rampage in city centers, which their predecessors did not. This implies a weakening of the state’s capacity to control and repress.


7. At Plough Quarterly, Susan Delaney Spear profiles her coming to painful grips with her son’s suicide. From the piece:

Earlier that June I had visited Peter in New York. We went for lunch and visited the Museum of Modern Art where Peter found a new favorite artist in Max Ernst. He told me that day he was lonely, but he didn’t appear desperate. His band was doing well, and he was playing bass with other bands who were also on the rise. He insisted on paying for my lunch. I ordered an expensive single origin bean coffee. I regret that.


When the services and proper rituals of death ended, the labor of grief began. It is not an accident that we refer to grief, like childbirth, as a kind of work. All of me ached for deliverance. It seemed the master of evil, chaos, and suffering had thrown all the pieces of this nightmare into a flimsy cardboard box, shaken it, and handed me the whole damned mess. “Knock yourself out,” he sneered, hissing at me, “Pieces may be missing.”


Each morning I woke and remembered: Peter is dead. I put on my new reality and wore it to work. I didn’t miss a day of teaching. It was my lifeline. I still knew how to scan poems and discuss literature. I’m sure my students would’ve welcomed a day off from my monochromatic grief, but I was determined. My colleagues, ministering angels in khaki pants, black pencil skirts, and sensible shoes, cracked jokes and cried with me in proper measure.


After thirty years as a pastor’s wife, I was no stranger to human suffering. I knew that none of us is immune to it. Looking back, I think a part of me was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. When the glass slipper finally fell, it shattered. It was then I knew I had never tasted grief before.


8. At Front Porch Republic, Kirkpatrick Sale makes the case for division. From the article:

And surely the same universal principle applies to human constructs and designs, such as nations. “Division,” Kohr wrote in his masterpiece, The Breakdown of Nations, “represents not only the principle of cure but of progress, while unification…represents not only the principle of disease but of primitivism. In terms of politics, the only way of restoring a healthy balance to the world’s diseased conditions seems through the division of those social units which have outgrown manageable proportions.”

There’s no place that division would not make things better. I don’t say utopian, just better. China, where the Uighurs could establish an independent Islamic state without doing any real damage to the rest of Beijing’s rule. Malaysia, where tribal and religious differences are strong and the attempt to hold them together produces neither peace nor pleasure. Libya, which has effectively disintegrated already and needs to be reorganized either into autonomous states or one Islamic and one nonreligious state. . . .


Oh, and I mustn’t forget, the United States. I worked for some years a while back for the dismemberment of this country, promoting secession here and there, without I’m afraid much success. Still, the idea is in the air as never before, which is a hopeful sign in a land where “one nation, indivisible” was imprinted in so many brains for so long. It’s true that these days most people are thinking of dividing the country along the lines of Red states and Blue states, and that would be nice to see, but there are also nascent movements in California, Texas, South Carolina, and elsewhere, and as the national government shows itself to be both incompetent and disregardful of civilian freedom, we should expect to see more and more of this sort of division.


9. At National Review, Armond White doesn’t have nice things to say about the octogenarian Indiana Jones. From the review:

Dial of Destiny is the most cynically conceived of all the Indiana Jones films, which were building toward moral radiance. Nothing in it seems original—Indy’s mission is at cross-purposes with Helena’s, yet their dubious partnership harkens to The DaVinci Code, while several set pieces evoke The Time Machine and Back to the Future. Producer Spielberg succumbs to his lessers whom he either inspired or who imitated him (Robert Zemeckis, Ron Howard, Mangold, and the entire Marvel gang.


Raiders of the Lost Ark, the series’ beginning, is often cited as the favorite movie of Spielberg haters who prefer it to his more visionary, ethically centered films. Here, Spielberg appeases those dullards just as he did in the hands-off Jaws sequels. This contempt for the popular audience was also implicit in West Side Story’s social-justice disenchantment.


The thrill is gone. Not that Raiders absolutists can tell the difference. Mangold and co-producer Kathleen Kennedy cater to misplaced nostalgia—a certain shift toward deception signified by the Dial of Destiny itself displacing the popular political notion of Occam’s razor. Mangold and Kennedy deny the simple explanation of Hollywood greed and political cynicism in preference for yet another cultural hoax.


10. At Law & Liberty, Titus Techera remembers the late Cormac McCarthy and the novelist’s exploration of evil. From the beginning of the essay:


Cormac McCarthy has died at the age of 89. He was the most prestigious novelist in America, and since the ‘90s, his novels have sold well and won him major awards—Pulitzer, National Book Award, and so on. Perhaps millions of people have read one of his novels and might remember his name. His novels have been taught in colleges and adapted in Hollywood, and some might make it to streaming TV. 

Of course, the nation does not mourn novelists and only a very small number of our notable artists are celebrities. But McCarthy has more claim to be remembered, because his 2005 novel, No Country For Old Men, was adapted in 2007 by the Coen Brothers, and won the Best Picture Award, along with three other Oscars, and grossed more than $160 million worldwide, as well as more than $50 million in discs alone. It’s a remarkable movie people are likely to watch and remember, because it forces them to think about evil. We turn to the movies to adjudicate popularity, and in this case, a prestigious artist became part of the pop culture with a Western, of all things.

McCarthy wanted his readers, perhaps Americans in general, to face up to their curiosity about those rare moments when middle-class life is suspended, or perhaps transcended; we sometimes call them do-or-die moments, but I guess most of the men we admire are those who do something noble and thereby come to their deaths. We don’t know that we’re worthy of sacrifice, and McCarthy does not push his artistic talent in that direction, but he forces us to face up to our noble aspirations by showing us the fascination and repugnance of evil men and evil deeds, and therefore what it would take for us to face them down. Reading and thinking about his novels is a fitting way to remember a man who wanted to investigate seriously the origin of our beliefs.


11. At The American Mind, James Rosen reports on The Beatles, and Paul McCartney’s fessing-up about the band’s co-star—AI. From the piece:


The disclosure came in an interview for the “Today” program on BBC Radio, aired June 13, in which host Martha Kearney asked the legendary musician about recent applications of AI to the catalogue of the Beatles and other artists. Engineered chiefly by tech-savvy fans, shared widely on the Internet and social media, these efforts are multiplying rapidly and producing mutant works that true Beatles fans find at once fascinating and frightening.


Most intriguing was a new version of “New,” the bouncy single released by an elderly Paul in 2013, now made to sound, through the wonders of AI, as if it had been sung by Younger Paul—with backup vocals “performed” by John Lennon, the Beatles founder, assassinated 33 years before the release of (the real) “New.” The deepfake conjured the old Lennon-McCartney magic so powerfully it made some fans cry.


Other can’t-turn-away FrankenstAIn creations include a version of the Beach Boys’ 1966 classic “God Only Knows,” credited by Paul as a prime influence on Sgt. Pepper, reworked to sound as if it had appeared on Pepper. Then there was a version of “Alone Again (Naturally),” the melancholic 1972 hit by Gilbert O’Sullivan, which always sounded like Younger Paul, now sung (for real) by (fake) Younger Paul.


12. At Lehighvalleylive.com, Rudy Miller reports on a pay-it-forward Pennsylvania fundraiser that took lemons and made lemonade. From the beginning of the article:


Ben Austin knows how fortunate he is.


The 10-year-old from Forks Township contracted cancer when he was 3. Treatment was successful. Then it reappeared in his lung when he was 4. His treatment worked again and he’s been cancer free for five years.


Now he’s motivated to fund research to prevent other children from having to go through what he did, according to his mother, Sara Austin.


The Austins are hosting their third annual Alex’s Lemonade Stand for pediatric cancer research on Saturday, July 1. Ben has raised more than $12,000 combined from the previous two events, according to his mother.


Lucky 13. At The Jacksonville (IL) Courier-Journal, Ben Singson reports on a former citizen, the great Rabbi Rob Thomas, coming home and investing in a downtown reboot. From the piece:


“I fell in love with the town all over again,” he said. “She fell in love with the town for the first time.”


Now, he is hoping to attract young professionals to the area with a set of downtown developments.


Thomas is working on renovating two buildings on the downtown Jacksonville square—the Andre & Andre Building at 46 N. Central Park Plaza and the former location of Denney Jewelers at 59 Central Park Plaza. He said he planned to convert each of them into mixed-use complexes, where the ground floor was a hub for entertainment such as restaurants and other start-ups while the upper floors were apartments.


Thomas had the idea for the new complexes after speaking with local business owners and finding that “everything from accountants to lawyers to engineers” were struggling to get young people to stay in the city, he said. They said they were dissuaded for two reasons: there was nowhere to live and nothing to do.


BONUS. At Verily Magazine, Grace Babineau argues that pregnancy/motherhood is not so much a bump in the road as a destination. From the piece:


Fast forward to a few months after the birth of my second child, when a friend introduced me to the term matrescence, a word invented to describe the developmental process of becoming a mother. Within minutes of reading the first few lines of its description, I felt a surge of relief rise within me. There was a name for what I had gone through after becoming a mother, a name for what I was experiencing now after the birth of my second child. Meeting this word for the first time felt like someone telling me something about myself that I had never acknowledged but recognized as soon as I heard it. I felt understood in an entirely new way.


Within the culture of motherhood in the United States lies the subtle message: Pregnancy is inconvenient, get over it as soon as possible. While women can’t control how quickly their babies grow, they can try to eliminate all traces of pregnancy after birth. Mothers are encouraged to rid themselves of stretch marks, swollen bellies, and all signs of exhaustion. People often gasp over women who look the same as they did before pregnancy, praising them as if this is an incredible accomplishment. The faster a mother can resume all the same activities she did before baby, the stronger she appears. Yet the urge to “bounce back” foregoes the truth of motherhood, a truth that matrescence brings to light: Motherhood radically alters who you are in the most beautiful way possible.


For the Good of the Cause


Uno. AmPhil’s “Scotch Talks” is back, and, as ever, the informative hour doubles as a safe space for you and your tumbler and ice and an enervating libation (black sambuca!). Such ain’t required (bring a cold glass of almond milk if that’s your happy place) to attend the free webinar, this to be hosted by Jeremy Beer, who, along with aces Therese Beigel and Mark Diggs, will between sips explore tried-and-true methods that will make your nonprofit’s direct-response program rock. It takes place (via Zoom) on Thursday, July 20th, from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m., Eastern. Belly up to the registration page and . . . register, right here.


Due. Mark Thursday, August 17th, on your calendar. Why? Because that’s when the Center For Civil Society will be hosting (via Zoom, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., Eastern time) its occasional—but always vital—Master Class on “Acquiring, Retaining, and Upgrading Your Most Valuable Donors.” It’s only the rarest of nonprofits that can give short shrift to a fully strategized and gung-ho (and takes-no-vacations) Major Donor program, which comes with very learnable ways and means for success. Odds are you’re not part of a rare nonprofit, are you? Didn’t think so. Ready to get some instruction on the ways to achieve success? You’d better be. Learn more, and sign up, right here.


Department of Bad Jokes


Q: What did the zombie French chef give the customer at his restaurant?


A: The crêpes.


Point of Personal Privilege


At Philanthropy Daily, Yours Truly recommends July 4th celebrating that gives consideration to the exquisite correspondence between George Washington and Young America’s Jewish congregations. Read it here.


A Dios


Considering fire and France, one can wonder—what of Notre Dame Cathedral and its restoration? A recent 60 Minutes video profiled the effort. The complete video, and more, can be found here.


May Our Souls Seek the Burning Bush and Its Wisdom,


Jack Fowler, qui se tient prêt à recevoir des critiques, livrés dans n'importe quelle langue, envoyés à jfowler@amphil.com.  

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