16 min read

Dear Intelligent American,


The saint’s big day comes on the heels of Christmas, and if you’re wondering where Wenceslas was thithering on that long-ago 28th, through bitter and wildly lamenting weather, lugging hither flesh, wine, and pine logs, it was to bear all to a poor soul—and, though not the Good King’s intention, also to create a legacy of charity, with a kicker of a lesson to those of rank possessing: “Ye who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.”


Rank. That’s something big philanthropies—a growing number of them now the Fortune 500’s playthings—possess in spades. Nope, as a rule (or so it seems to Your Humble-Yet-Keen Observer), they don’t look out hoping to see some solitary poor soul gathering winter fuel. Why? Because they’re quite busy seeking ways for . . . “aligning social impact initiatives with corporate strategy.” ’Tis the way of modernity, friends, and if you need instructing about these habits, consider this report for the Milken Institute on “Corporate Philanthropy: Emerging Strategies for Lasting Impact.” Deck the halls with boughs of blah blah blah blah blah: If you are into progressive lingo and jargon, that link is this missive’s Christmas gift to you.


Meanwhile, should your decencies trend more Wenceslasean, consider this suggestion that gets you closer (literally) to Bethlehem than do the boardroom ideologues: Nasarean is a profoundly consequential charity helping Middle-East Christians who are suffering persecution and death. These people need help, desperately. Consider this a plea, and yes, about bucks, but more, because Nasarean is not just about bucks: Prayer matters too, deeply. This wonderful organization’s Icon Project is truly moving.


Do check it out. And speaking of checks, please do send one to this worthwhile nonprofit . . . if possible before the Feast of Stephen.


Now, let us channel the spirit of Saint Nicholas, another of this special season’s holy souls.


Herewith, a Sackful of Intellectual Treats for Good Boys and Girls


1. At Law & Liberty, the great Daniel J. Mahoney, fan favorite, reflects upon Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago upon its 50th anniversary. From the piece:


Solzhenitsyn saved his unreserved respect and admiration for those with a principled “point of view,” those who remained faithful to the human spirit and conscience and rejected both mendacious ideology and a base concern for self-preservation. He highlights the Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyayev’s refusal to kowtow to the Cheka when he was personally interrogated by its fanatical leader, Feliks Dzerzhinsky. Berdyayev refused to “humiliate himself” before his interrogators. Instead, he “set forth firmly those religious and moral principles which had led him to refuse to accept the political authority established” by the Bolsheviks in Russia. With Berdyayev, intellectual and moral integrity stood steadfast against the ideological lie. Rather than being arrested, imprisoned, or killed, Berdyayev was forcibly exiled from the Soviet Union in the fall of 1922 on the so-called philosopher steamer, one of 228 independent-minded thinkers, scholars, and students deported on the personal order of Lenin.


Solzhenitsyn also recalls a peasant woman, deeply imbued with Christian faith, who as part of an underground network had helped an Orthodox Metropolitan flee the Soviet Union during a period of the most intense religious persecution. She told her interrogators that there is nothing they could do, “even if you cut me into pieces,” that would make her betray the “underground railroad of believers.” They [her interrogators], she rightly pointed out, lived by fear, and knew that by killing her they would “lose contact with the underground railroad.” At once calmly and with utmost determination, she declared, “I am not afraid of anything. I would be glad to be judged by God right this minute.” She stood firm as a rock, faithful to truth and the just judgment of God.


2. More Mahoney: At The American Mind, the esteemed essayist suggests Tocqueville as an antidote for young conservative fascination with Friedrich Nietzsche. From the article:


Leo Strauss memorably argued in his 1957 essay “What is Political Philosophy?” that Nietzsche “used much of his unsurpassable and inexhaustible power of passionate and fascinating speech for making his readers loathe, not only socialism and communism, but conservatism, nationalism and democracy as well.” In doing so, “he left them with no choice except that between irresponsible indifference to politics,” a kind of self-satisfied aesthetic nihilism, “and irresponsible political options. He thus prepared a regime, which as long as it lasted, made discredited democracy again look again like the golden age.” Strauss added with true profundity that Nietzsche’s excessive valorization of the human will, of “will to power,” of “the triumph of the will,” would lead his descendants, from Heidegger to the existentialists to the even more vulgar postmodernists, to renounce “the very notion of eternity,” of the true and unchanging, of the enduring things. Man would sacrifice his nature, and the very order of things, to give free reign to his will.


Young enthusiasts on the Right take note: There is another way. As Harvey Mansfield once remarked, everything that is true and solid in Nietzsche can be found in an infinitely more responsible way in the thought of Alexis de Tocqueville. The great French thinker and statesman, too, despised socialism and the despotism of the soft which is the moral core of “soft” or “tutelary” despotism. But he did not reject Christianity, democracy, or equality rightly understood. He wrote nobly in the first volume of Democracy in America that “there is in fact a manly and legitimate passion for equality that incites men to want all to be strong and esteemed.” At the same time, he derided “a depraved taste for equality in the human heart that brings the weak to want to draw the strong to their level and that reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom.” As Pierre Manent argues in An Intellectual History of Liberalism, Tocqueville criticizes the pathological softness that can accompany and deform democracy without ever praising “‘harshness’ or even ‘cruelty.’” Against the humanitarian Left and the atheistic Right, the party of pity and the party of cruelty, he defends a noble and elevated conception of “political freedom” that “makes men come out of themselves to live in a common world, providing the wisdom for judging their virtues and their vices; only political freedom allows them to see themselves as both as equals and as distinct.”


3. At National Review, Dan McLaughlin finds the Monroe Doctrine still mattering at its bicentennial. From the piece:


The Civil War illustrated what could happen without the Monroe Doctrine. With America occupied, France attempted to install a European puppet (the brother of the Habsburg emperor of Austria) as emperor of Mexico. For a time, the Mexican government was driven far into the hinterlands. When the Civil War ended, the U.S. Army sent 50,000 men to the border, and the French got the message and went home, abandoning the emperor to his ultimate fate before a Mexican firing squad. The last Spanish effort to reassert control over the old colonies, the Chincha Islands War of 1865–66, ended with a Spanish whimper before the United States felt it necessary to abandon its posture of neutrality, but a squadron of American warships was off the coast of Valparaiso alongside the British when Spain bombarded the city in 1866, and both governments lodged a protest with Spain.


It was the era between 1898 and 1941 that gave the Monroe Doctrine a bad reputation in Latin America, as it became associated more with direct American meddling in the internal affairs of its southern neighbors. It found new life and justification during the Cold War, as U.S. policy engaged across the region in combating the influence of the Soviet empire, from the Cuban Missile Crisis to our aid to the Nicaraguan contras.


The doctrine, properly understood, can still inform our thinking. The new “great game” is Chinese influence. Moreover, threats by the new axis to trade with the Old World make it all the more important to remember that geography still matters and that America should remain the guardian of the Western Hemisphere to keep it independent of the Eastern.


4. At The American Conservative, Carmel Richardson finds that three letters missing from Instagram are X, X, and X. From the article:


This is the typical refrain from social media companies under fire: How can Instagram be held accountable for every single piece of media posted on its site? How indeed, when it is given free speech protections in the case of bad content, yet the old private company garb when it comes to censorship of unpopular takes. You have heard this story countless times before.


The words of Meta employees to the Journal, meanwhile, are chilling: Meta knows its Instagram algorithm promotes pedophilia, because the mechanism that does so is the same one that gets the rest of us otherwise-self-controlled adults addicted to scrolling. Employees told the Journal that “preventing the system from pushing noxious content to users interested in it...requires significant changes to the recommendation algorithms that also drive engagement for normal users.”


In other words, promoting vice is not a bug, but a feature: This is how the engine was designed to work. And, as the advertisements interspersed between salacious reels in the Journal’s test suggest, the highway to hell is paved with corporate sponsorships.


5. At The Institute for Family Studies, Jonathan Rowell reports on an adolescent-mental-health study that concludes that the ideology of parents matters (spoiler: kids raised by liberals are worse off than those reared by conservatives). From the analysis:


When it comes to the quality of parenting practices and the quality of child-parent relationships, there is no variation by socioeconomic status. The results may be shocking to many highly educated Americans who were taught to believe that socioeconomic status dictates everything good in life. Income doesn’t buy better parenting, and more highly educated parents do not score better, either. Parenting style and relationship quality also do not meaningfully vary by race and ethnicity within our U.S. sample. . . .


Yet, some parental characteristics do matter. Political ideology is one of the strongest predictors. Conservative and very conservative parents are the most likely to adopt the parenting practices associated with adolescent mental health. They are the most likely to effectively discipline their children, while also displaying affection and responding to their needs. Liberal parents score the lowest, even worse than very liberal parents, largely because they are the least likely to successfully discipline their children. By contrast, conservative parents enjoy higher quality relationships with their children, characterized by fewer arguments, more warmth, and a stronger bond, according to both parent and child reporting.


Aside from political ideology, parents who think highly of marriage—by disagreeing that it is an outdated institution and agreeing that it improves the quality of relationships by strengthening commitment—exhibit better parenting practices and have a higher quality relationship with their teens. Parents who wish for their own children to get married someday also tend to be more effective parents. Those who embrace a pro-marriage view on all three have the best outcomes.


6. At National Affairs, Micah Meadowcroft delves deep into the roots of U.S. classical education. From the essay:


The conventional history of the contemporary classical-education movement goes something like this: In 1980, three different groups of parents, in three different states, without knowing one another or even being aware of each other, found themselves deeply unsatisfied with the American public-education system and the other schooling options around them. But unlike many other people in identical circumstances, they did not choose to homeschool; instead, they all set out to build a new sort of school—new because it was going to try to be old, too. First out of the gate was Cair Paravel Latin School in Topeka, Kansas, inspired in part by the legendary Integrated Humanities Program (IHP) at the University of Kansas. By the fall of 1981, it was joined by the Trinity School at Greenlawn in South Bend, Indiana, and Logos School in Moscow, Idaho.


Most distinctive among their various inspirations was the English writer Dorothy Sayers, who in 1947 delivered a paper at Oxford entitled "The Lost Tools of Learning." Sayers asked her audience — and us today — whether "we are really teaching the right things in the right way." She proposed that, faced with the technicity and pace of life today, in an age of mass literacy and mass communication, where words and information are so much the stuff of life, educating the young well requires us to "turn back the wheel of progress some four or five hundred years, to the point at which education began to lose sight of its true object, towards the end of the Middle Ages." Why? Because from then until now we have taught students an increasing and dizzying array of subjects, and gradually quite failed to teach them how to think, or how to learn, which is the same thing.


Medieval education, in Sayers's account, was defined by the trivium of grammar, logic (or dialectic), and rhetoric, and the quadrivium of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Sayers sets the quadrivium aside, and though classical schools do not neglect those—ACCS president David Goodwin told me he believes what he would call a "Fourth Generation" of the classical-education revival will focus on the quadrivium—for now it is the trivium and its relationship to learning Latin that most obviously indicates the classical pedagogical approach. The combination of grammar, logic/dialectic, and rhetoric forms the mental habits that can become thinking and learning.


7. At UnHerd, Steven Conn argues that Rural America has lost its soul, and that the “family farm” has long been a myth. From the piece:


That distance between myth and reality is also, I believe, at the root of the increasingly conservative, increasingly angry politics found in some (but certainly not all) rural areas. Of course, measured against the pastoral myth, with all of its redeeming and moral power, any reality is bound to come up short. But a sense of disappointment has become acute in economically distressed rural areas and in the small towns that once served as the social and economic centres of agrarian hinterlands. Drive through these places and you’re likely to find nothing but a bar and a pizza shop left on the Main Street, as other shops are put out of business by a ginormous Walmart 10 miles away. Much of rural and small-town America can be seen by those who live there as landscapes of loss. In these places and under those circumstances, who wouldn’t yearn to make America great again?


But as the Farm Aid website suggests, the Jeffersonian myth persists. Many Americans continue to believe that the small-scale “family farm” is at the heart of American agriculture, and even more politicians parrot that rhetoric. This celebration of the family-farm fantasy is one of the few remaining tropes shared by both political parties.


The Farm Bill, a vast, sprawling, and expensive piece of legislation, is up for renewal during this legislative session. Whatever its final details, it will undoubtedly provide an almost bottomless grab-bag of subsidies and other goodies for industrial-scale agricultural producers, as it has for the last 50 years. I’m guessing, however, that the elected officials who will shape the legislation will sing the song of the American family farm yet again, and voters will cheer in genuflection. This is a myth that will not die.


8. At Front Porch Republic, Brian Miller laments the disappearance of bookstores, the customers who buy books, and the newspapers that once reviewed them. From the reflection:


As an author, I have been going through the process (thus far, a seemingly futile and certainly unsatisfying exercise) of assisting the publisher and sellers with the marketing of my book. It’s a process with which, while I am no expert, I do have some experience. I’ve been struck by how curiously antiquated the printed and bound “product” is to those who are charged with putting it before the public. I’ve also been struck by the number of people in the book-producing-and-selling business who are uninterested in their product. On the retail end, there was the manager of a bookstore who admitted, without embarrassment, that she doesn’t read books and never has. She might as well have been stamping passports for the lack of excitement and knowledge she exhibited as she went about putting books on the shelves.


If the publisher of my book is an example, working in that industry has now become akin to selling harnesses to Model T owners. That could explain why the staff I’m dealing with have been genuinely at a loss as to how to actually promote books, one of the industry’s raisons d’etre. It also might help me understand why the “marketing specialists” would recommend that I post tweets, TikToks videos, and clever Facebook memes in a feeble attempt to pry attention from the distracted gaze of glazed-over eyes; why those marketing specialists had obviously never bothered to examine the titles they were tasked with trying to promote, yet offered pdfs informing authors up front why their book was sure not to sell–then, by their own lack of interest and skill, did their dead-level best to make sure those warnings came to fruition.


As for the traditional venues for using other print media to market new book titles? Well, they just don’t have the presence in our lives anymore to matter. Newspaper readership has dropped from a peak of sixty million in the 1970s to around twenty million today, and that number continues to fall. That a newspaper would decline to run a review of a book for an audience that no longer shows up to read even seventh-grade-level content is somewhat understandable.


9. At Commentary, Seth Mandel argues that more DEI is not the cure to campus anti-semitism. Indeed, it is a terrible idea. From the article:


DEI is about power, not diversity—that’s why a black DEI official was fired from a California college for, in part, proposing a “Jewish inclusion” event. Why would you want to be on either side of a race-based Hunger Games?


More important, you cannot have academic freedom and a DEI regime. You cannot have open inquiry and a DEI regime. And you cannot have anything remotely resembling freedom of expression and a DEI regime.


This is true for students and professors. As the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression put it, “Even bias reporting systems without an independent enforcement mechanism can have a serious chilling effect on the campus speech environment, as the mere prospect of administrative intervention is likely to cause students to self-censor views that may upset others. Encouraging students to report each other for expressing unpopular or controversial opinions undermines the university’s fundamental role as host to an open and vigorous discussion of ideas.” . . .


Even if you could get DEI to expand the protection racket to make room for Jews, what you are asking for is to transform the Jewish student experience into an authoritarian and anti-intellectual project, punishing the pursuit of knowledge itself.


10. At Quillette, Steven Tucker explores a new book which in turn explores crackpot Nazi anthropology. From the review:


For all the Nazis’ pseudo-scientific claims about racial purification, the völkisch movement was suffused with many bizarre, crankish, and conspiratorial ideas that today might be associated with the most disreputable fringes of the “New Age” movement. Himmler himself was interested in whether Aryans came from outer space, and the myths of Atlantis. He seemed to imagine that the Norse gods might have once been real, racially superior individuals possessed of amazing powers and super-technologies; and assigned credence to a strange cosmological idea called Welteislehre (World Ice Theory), which taught that ice was the basic substance out of which the universe was constructed. And yes, as in an Indiana Jones movie, he wanted to uncover the Holy Grail.


These ideas didn’t die with the defeat of the Nazis, unfortunately. As I found out while writing my new book, Hitler’s & Stalin’s Misuse of Science, they’ve been adapted and reinvented in unlikely new forms.


The Ahnenerbe grew out of an earlier organisation, the Herman Wirth Society. Wirth (1885-1981) was a Dutch-German amateur scholar who identified as a “pan-German,” making him predisposed to welcome Hitler’s invasion of the Netherlands. As Wirth saw it, this wasn’t so much an invasion as it was a confirmation of his long-held völkisch view that the Germans and Dutch were one people destined for reunification.


Like Himmler, Wirth was fascinated by not only Atlantis but also Thule, a fictional prehistoric Arctic ice-continent upon which the original frost-hardened Aryan race was supposedly born (a notion still advanced today by certain ultra-nationalist figures). Such ideas, fantastical as they were, presented an obvious appeal to racists who refused to believe that they, along with all the world’s peoples (Jews included, of course), emerged from the same original genetic origins. What they wanted was a separate, parallel, race-segregated backstory that had Aryans evolving in their own race-controlled evolutionary silo.


11. At the New York Post, Karol Markowicz explains how the shoplifting craze is not a “countercultural” movement but a criminal epidemic with massive consequences. From the article:


A black market emerges for the stolen goods, violence becomes more likely when theft continues unchecked, and an atmosphere of danger permeates the areas where people are stealing and suffering no consequences.


Poor people with less mobility remain trapped in crime-ridden neighborhoods while journalists around them write articles about how everything is actually fine.


Beyond an obvious increase in other crimes, unchecked shoplifting also makes people lose faith in the very idea of law and order.


When we watch shoplifters brazenly get away with criminal activity, we realize that the security guard at the shop door is for show and the police aren’t coming.


That feeling of helplessness—that no one is in charge and rules don’t matter—leads directly to societal decay. When security isn’t an expectation, antisocial behavior increases.


12. At Nevada’s Pahrump Valley Times, Robin Hebrock reports on a volunteer effort that gives new and cheerier meaning to go to the mattresses. From the beginning of the report:


The holiday season is officially underway so it’s a great time for residents to think about how they can help make a difference in the lives of others. One simple way to do just that is attending the 2nd Annual Nye County Sleep in Heavenly Peace Holiday Fundraiser, proceeds from which will go directly to providing beds to children in need.


“We fully believe that a bed is a basic need for the proper physical, emotional and mental support that a child needs,” information from Sleep in Heavenly Peace explains. “We’re a national organization answering the call to a national problem.”


Nye County Sleep in Heavenly Peace is just one of the many chapters under the nationwide nonprofit and it’s an entirely volunteer-led organization. This is key, Murzyn remarked, because every dollar earned at the 2nd Annual Holiday Fundraiser will be used to fulfill the Sleep in Heavenly Peace mission that, “No kid sleeps on the floor in our town!” Proceeds will go toward the purchase of lumber and other materials used to construct brand new bed frames, as well as buying mattress and linens to complete the beds.


Lucky 13. It’s Not Just Bowling That’s Alone: At Verily Magazine, Camille Antonsen confesses doing movie theaters solo, and liking it. From the reflection:


Then, during my second semester of college, the pandemic hit. Movie theaters closed. I returned to Colorado to live with my parents. I experienced unprecedented levels of anxiety, culminating in what I can only describe as mental breakdowns multiple times a week.


As movie theaters began opening up again, something shifted. I desperately wanted to connect with people—and not just through meeting up with friends or family. I needed to be in a crowd, to feel human again. Months of isolation made me crave the act of sitting in a room filled with people I didn't know, staring at a screen together. When I finally went back to the movie theater, audiences were more vocal—laughing out loud, sniffling, gasping in shock. We all seemed to crave human connection and felt more comfortable forming these connections with empathetic strangers than we ever had before.


This habit continued when I studied abroad in England, where tickets are five pounds if you are under 25 years old. When I went to the movies, I wasn’t a lonely, confused, excited, terrified American student living in an unfamiliar place. I was a part of the audience, watching the 50th anniversary showing of The Godfather in a completely packed theater, gasping as the car exploded. Or taking in The Souvenir Part II, knowing what it feels like to be at university, lost and unprepared, trying to process grief. Or processing In the Mood for Love, tears falling while remembering that one person who never heard the truth.


Bonus. At NPR, Melanie Peeples reports on the terminal point of those millions of luggage items lost every year by American Airlines. From the article:


Every suitcase lost by an airline in the United States (and some lost on trains and buses) eventually ends up in this little city about 150 miles northwest of Atlanta, in a 50,000-square-foot building. And it's all for sale. At a big discount.


It's laid out like a department store, clothes here, shoes there, shelves of books—because who hasn't accidentally left a book on a plane? But that's not the most exciting part.


"The most popular area of the store is the mezzanine," says Sonni Hood, who first started working for Unclaimed Baggage as a teenager, but is now the public relations manager.


"This is home to our electronics department," she says. "Anything from cell phones and laptops, tablets, headphones, you name it!"


All electronics are wiped clean to remove any personal data, and checked out to make sure they work. The laptops, iPads and Nintendo Switches all sell for around half the price of a new one.


But there are even more interesting things up here. Skis, snowboards, an entire bin of skateboards. (Who knew so many people travel with skateboards? They can't all be Tony Hawk's!) There's a sled, a women's pole vaulting pole and even a Bates Kimberly stock saddle. And brand new riding boots.


For the Good of the Cause


Uno. At Philanthropy Daily, Iain Bernhoft has an important lesson to share with fundraising types who desire a “voice.” He shares such wisdom right here.


Due. One of the grooviest things produced here at the Center for Civil Society and AmPhil is Jeremy Beer’s “Givers, Doers, & Thinkers” podcast. The wisdom shared in the forty-plus episodes is timeless. Avail yourself of the archives, which you can find right here.


Department of Bad Jokes


Q: Why did St. Nicholas adopt the nickname “Saint Nick”?


A: No L. 


A Dios


Advent is here, and for those who have long harbored questions about the season, the good people at Catholic World Report offer an everything-you-want-to-know explainer that should prove of interest to all, regardless of their papist or non-papist tendencies. You’ll find it here. Meanwhile, Happy Hannukah!


May He Inspire Us to Give Alms,


Jack Fowler, who awaits Naughty List confirmation at jfowler@amphil.com.

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