Dear Intelligent American,
We are about to endure a year that may be like no other. Let us hope that when we come out of the other side of the 2024 wormhole, we do so with the reality of intact liberties, love of neighbor, a vibrant civil society, peace on earth, and goodwill. Let us more than hope—let us pray for such.
On behalf of Your Humble Correspondent, who with gumption shall include those Merry Elves (keen and cool editor Lorna, reliable and talented production lord Jacob) who make Civil Thoughts a reality each and every week, please accept our wishes for a Happy New Year.
14 Ideas to Contemplate While You Practice Your Auld Lang Syne
1. At The American Mind, fan favorite Daniel J. Mahoney adds “postcolonialism” to the ranks of Jacobinism and Bolshevism. From the piece:
The Israelis who built modern Jerusalem and made the desert bloom (much to the surprise and admiration of King Abdullah of Jordan, who was shot by a Palestinian extremist in 1951 for his failure to hate Israel enough) are reduced in the new vulgate to Nazis attempting to create lebensraum for themselves. Such blatant lies. The Israelis did not ignite a war with the Arab League in 1948 that, for all intents and purposes, destroyed the prospects for a Palestinian state, which would have been the first one in history. After 1948, while Israel took in well over a million Jews from both Europe and the broad Arab Islamic world (where they faced discrimination at best and repression at worst), building housing for them and incorporating them into the nascent Jewish state, Arab leaders let those Palestinians who had fled Israel during or before the 1948 war sink into refugee camps where they remain to this day. It was a cruel, cynical move, and one that was demagogic and irresponsible to its core.
The new antisemitism is much more than antisemitism. Age-old antisemitism is a very real but subordinate phenomenon. What comes first is Western self-loathing, the obscene conviction that the Western world, and it alone, is the source of colonialism, slavery, racism, injustice, totalitarianism, and economic exploitation. “Post-colonial” discourse, as mendacious as its “anti-racist” twin, is now omnipresent in academic and intellectual circles. It corrupts minds and rewrites history in mind-boggling ways.
2. At Modern Age, Edwin J. Feulner considers three giants of conservatism, one of whom is Russell Kirk. From the essay:
The Conservative Mind was originally titled The Conservatives’ Rout in manuscript form, but it was the beginning of their triumph. Whittaker Chambers successfully encouraged Time magazine to devote the entire book review section of its July 6, 1953, issue to Kirk’s new book. Although reviewers remarked that Kirk’s study seemed to have emerged out of nowhere, its author’s heritage, upbringing, temperament, and education had conspired for thirty years to help him write it. He began it, in fact, in his late twenties. It was then, while earning a doctorate at Saint Andrews, the oldest Scottish university, that he began writing his dissertation on the major conservative writers of Britain and America. Years later this would become The Conservative Mind.
With the publication of his seminal work, Kirk assumed the role he would play for almost forty years: the conscience of the conservative movement. He revitalized conservative thought, galvanized its adherents into forming a movement, and restored its intellectual respectability. As scholar, journalist, editor, lecturer, and teacher, he fought to preserve what T. S. Eliot called “the permanent things” and battled “outrages against our common cultural heritage.”
As an acute critic of modern education, Kirk tirelessly upheld virtue and wisdom as the twin goals of learning, denouncing the kind of “tapioca pudding” curriculum that treats all students exactly the same. As scholar, lecturer, essayist, and critic he wielded “the sword of imagination” in defense of “the permanent things” and the “unbought grace of life,” repelling philistine and barbarian alike. From the ramparts of custom, tradition, and convention, Kirk lobbed metaphorical bombs at the mad metaphysicians of libertarianism and “squalid oligarchs” of laissez-faire capitalism.
3. At City Journal, Tevi Troy explains why universities target Jews, and the consequences of belittling the sons and daughters of Abraham. From the piece:
A diseased society and the loss of Jews are twin tragedies. Closed societies lose Jews’ economic vitality and other contributions. In Canada’s Quebec Province, for example, internal strife in the 1970s and 1980s accompanied the rise of nationalistic and anti-Semitic political movements. This led to a large migration of Jews from Montreal to the friendlier and more Anglophilic Toronto. The result: Montreal lost its status as Canada’s largest and most important city, and was supplanted by Toronto, which has a thriving Jewish community quadruple the size of Montreal’s.
We may be seeing something similar at elite American universities. Their monolithic ideological climate is anathema to the Jewish approach to things. Jews bring with them an intellectual diversity and dynamism born of a perennially outsider perspective that recognizes and welcomes new ideas and challenges groupthink. In this way, they exemplify an essential part of the Judeo-Christian tradition: the encouragement of inquiry, respectful dialogue, and learning.
For America especially, this Jewish tradition of open inquiry is in keeping with the traditions of pluralism and free association that have enabled us to look past ancient grudges and blood feuds and form new attachments. As Bari Weiss has written, in Europe, Protestants and Catholics killed each other. In America, they have brunch.
4. At Claremont Review of Books, Charles Moore describes what has become of the Tories since Margaret Thatcher ruled. From the analysis:
In Britain, the Conservatives—out of office from 1997 to 2010—could not rely, as they had in the Thatcher era, on their reputation for economic competence to get them back into power: Labour seemed capable of maintaining prosperity, at least until the credit crunch of 2008-09. Particularly under David Cameron (who became party leader in 2005 and prime minister in 2010), the Tories therefore wanted to show how well they understood social problems and to cast off the “uncaring” image which critics of Thatcherism had fashioned. The Conservative leadership spoke (half-echoing Lyndon Johnson) of the “Big Society” and positioned itself as enlightened on issues such as same-sex marriage.
In more recent times, Cameron’s ill-fated successor, Theresa May, associated herself with the trans cause and even said—though she did not act on it—that change of gender should be legally recognized by self-certification alone. When, having failed to get her Brexit deal through the House of Commons, May was forced to resign, her successor, Boris Johnson, though more demotic in his style, remained in the liberal camp on such issues. In general, in a society where public discourse was dominated by talk of rights (particularly “group rights”) Thatcherism’s greater emphasis on the obligations and duties of individuals seemed unappealing.
Even the vote for Brexit, a cause of which Thatcher—though she did not live long enough to hear the word—had been the main forerunner, did not make Thatcherism fashionable once more. Many of Brexit’s leading supporters wanted to use the recovery of national sovereignty to make Britain the sort of freer and more competitive economy which Thatcher had done so much to advance in the 1980s, but the dominant economic interpretation of the Brexit victory was different. It was that the neglected lower-middle and upper-working classes of provincial England (Scotland voted the other way) saw themselves as the victims of globalization and wanted more protectionism, not less.
5. At Acton Institute’s Religion & Liberty, R.J. Snell expounds on Machiavelli—the subject of scholar Harvey Mansfield’s new book—as the inventor of modernity. From the piece:
As the subtitle indicates, Mansfield explores the possibility that Machiavelli does not simply contribute to the modern world but is the creator of it, “uno solo,” the single voice, the prince or founder of the project. If we take modernity to mean a commitment to “realism” in science, philosophy, and politics, then we must take Machiavelli’s claims seriously, for realism, properly understood, entails effectual truth (verità effectuale), which Machiavelli invents. In the moral life, the intention of an action is often thought essential to define the object of the action. If I choose x for the sake of y, my action is defined by x and y, whatever result happens or does not happen. I might be morally responsible for outcomes beyond my choice, but, still, I am not directly responsible for them since I did not choose them. Machiavelli discounts all of this as “imaginative truth.” The truth that matters, rather, is the truth that results, including how the action is perceived and received by others. . . .
The turn to “facts,” although not a term Machiavelli uses, explains Machiavelli’s interest in the problem of necessity. Since the truth of an act is how the act is “held” or received, action operates within conditions of necessity. That is, value is drawn from facts as they are rather than separating fact from value, let alone placing value in the supra-sensible world of Plato’s Good or Christianity’s heaven. The way the world is—fact—constitutes what ought to be done, what is necessary to do to bring about the desired outcome. The question is not what should be done in keeping with an abstract morality but what must be done to effect our aims, and what must be done is what ought be done. This is more than simple pragmatism, however, since the prince is acting in order to be perceived in a certain way. If the people believe in morality, as they in fact do, the prince cannot appear to act immorally. Necessity involves the political and social fact of moral belief, including the fact of Christianity’s power in Machiavelli’s time. Most people, including most Christians, do not accept that necessity equals morality, so a prince cannot plainly and honestly proclaim allegiance to necessity, in part because it would seem immoral but also because he would appear to lack freedom, to be constrained, to have his hand forced by facts. The prince must appear moral and free all while acting out of sheer necessity.
6. At The New York Post, Daniel McCarthy wonders if Hamlet was a play about . . . Christmas. From the piece:
Is “Hamlet” a Christmas play?
Denmark, in Shakespeare’s story, is in disarray, much like our world.
Guards patrol the walls of Elsinore castle in anticipation of war and in trepidation of encountering the dead king’s ghost, which keeps its own watch at night.
Two friends of Prince Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus, see the apparition, which vanishes as soon as a cock crows.
The philosophical Horatio, who will later describe himself as an “antique Roman”—a pagan—asserts that “the god of day,” or daylight itself, is what the ghost flees.
Marcellus has another explanation: This is the season “Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,” when “they say, no spirit dares stir abroad.”
It’s Christmas, or close, and that’s no time for hauntings: “No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm / So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.”
(Great Minds: Do note the Hamletian commencing of the previous edition of This Humble Epistle.)
7. More Christmas: At The Imaginative Conservative, Titus Techera explains the true nature of Ebenezer Scrooge. From the essay:
Scrooge, in the end, steps back from the principles he proffers in his wrath. He turns to the charity and generosity he had blamed for impoverishing the city. It seems the political work of the story is the marriage of oligarchy and democracy. This could be done in various ways, but the one Dickens chose is the strangest you could expect, for it relies on the antecedents of sacred law. It is the terror of death and suffering in the afterlife that can humble Scrooge’s pride. He is apparently not a fully committed atheist. Instead of commitment to a kind of business-like or a scientific materialism, Scrooge suffers from what Hobbes called “fear of ghosts.” To look from sacred law to the justice London offers, the political equivalent of the divine punishment Scrooge fears would be democratic vengeance. This he does not see at all, but was of course a serious concern for European regimes in the age. However things may be in the afterlife, there is a this-worldly connection, too, between faith and democracy: The politics implied in Christianity is the dignity of each person. This is similar to the liberal teaching, which makes of rights universal principles theoretically applicable to all individuals simply because they are individuals. Again, Scrooge himself does not see any connection between himself and other people in the principles he espouses. Instead, he claims that the best should rule or be left alone and shows no respect for anyone else. Things get worse from there.
Scrooge nevertheless pulls back from making the radical argument. He lives, in a specific sense, that argument: He has neither family nor friends. He did not grieve his partner, though he accepted the duties of executor of his estate; there is never any suggestion that Scrooge had treated his partner with anything but fairness throughout their business arrangement. Scrooge does seem to reduce all relations to contract, holding his worker to the business schedule, but asking no more, nor thinking he deserves more or less. Why should Scrooge not be all for stark individual autonomy? Dickens offers us two reasons, one belonging to the social class and one to Scrooge himself, to his discovery that he is possessor, among many other assets and liabilities, of an endangered soul. The way they are connected involves a very tricky analysis of the psychology of liberalism.
8. At The American Conservative, Krzysztof Tyszka-Drozdowski makes the case for embracing geothermal. From the piece:
Predicting the path of technological development is challenging, but perhaps foreseeing innovation spillovers is even harder. In the case of fracking, it is enabling next-gen geothermal energy.
Beneath our feet lie untapped energy resources—if we dig deep enough. The heat released by the decay of radioactive elements from the earth’s interior is inexhaustible. If geothermal energy could be harnessed, not only would it be completely clean, but it would be available non-stop, regardless of the weather, unlike solar or wind. By reducing the need for energy storage, critical for intermittent renewables, it would also lessen dependence on materials and products integrated into Chinese supply chains.
Until now, geothermal energy has been utilized on a larger scale in only a handful of countries, such as Iceland, with its particular geological conditions at the intersection of two tectonic plates, or Kenya, due to its volcanic activity. Yet, thanks to the shale revolution, advanced drilling and fracking technologies have opened a new chapter for unconventional geothermal energy, offering the possibility of rapid scale-up. Unique geological conditions are no longer necessary; drilling deep enough anywhere will lead to heat resources. As Eli Dourado of the Center for Growth and Opportunity at the University of Utah argues, “with the improvements in exploration, drilling, and subsurface engineering emerging from the shale boom of the last decade, geothermal energy in the United States can scale to terawatts of electricity production within 20 years.” Importantly, if drilling can be done anywhere, clashes with environmental movement can be . Another possibility is to repurpose closed coal plants; their turbines could be used to generate power from geothermal sources.
9. At RealClearEducation, Bruce Abramson reports on turf protection by the Higher Ed Professorial Complex. From the piece:
Days later, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) issued a lengthy report condemning “Political Interference and Academic Freedom in Florida’s Public Higher Education System.” Prominently featured was a detailed complaint about New College of Florida, where I serve as admissions director.
These seemingly unrelated events are but two parts of a single story. The Ivy League and the AAUP, as representatives of today’s academic leadership, are pleased and proud of the institutions they’ve built. Florida’s public education system has taken the lead in promoting institutional reform—with New College as the poster child.
Needless to say, incumbent leadership doesn’t welcome any reforms at their cozy institutions. They perceive our reforms as threats to American higher education as we know it. Their perception is correct. Their problem, however, is that academia as we know it bears little resemblance to academia as most Americans believe it to be.
The incumbents have spread a gloriously self-serving myth system. In their telling, their institutions are bastions of liberal values, civil discourse, and the free exchange of ideas. They’re open to the finest representatives of every community, perspective, and viewpoint. They’re engaged in educating a new generation in the fine art of critical thinking.
The truth, however, is almost the polar opposite of that myth. America’s universities are country clubs for insiders who have dispensed with independent thought as the price of belonging. Under the seemingly high-minded ideal of “faculty governance,” faculty make all important decisions: Hiring, firing, promotion, tenure, curriculum design, publication in prestigious journals, the appropriate paths for research, and the flow of research funding.
10. At National Review, Wendy Wang dunks on DINKs. From the piece:
It is about time for the U.S. to adopt family-friendly policies to boost fertility rates. A society with a declining population is , and the cost of raising children should not solely fall on families and parents. By implementing supportive measures such as paid parental leave, a generous , and flexible work arrangements, the government and businesses can contribute to a more family-friendly environment for working families.
In addition to federal-government subsidies, policies at the state and local level can also help. The best pro-family policies, according to parents themselves in a new IFS/YouGov of Sunbelt states, point to expanding choices for parents and allowing them to raise their children in the way that best fits their values.
There is a reason why [TikTok] videos such as those by DINK couples can go viral today. Addressing the needs of working parents can not only help counter the trend of declining fertility rates but also foster a healthier and more resilient society in the long run. Prioritizing family-friendly policies is a pivotal step toward a sustainable demographic future for the United States.
11. More NR: Michael Brendan Dougherty charges that the Vatican has engaged in deliberate confusion of its flock on the question of same-sex “blessings.” From the piece:
In other words, the statement must be accepted as orthodox, but another valid response is to reject it as insufficient and wish it had gone further. Then the document goes on to outline a very complex set of assumptions about same-sex couples who request a blessing—not as a couple, and not to be confused with approving of their marriage, but simply seeking God’s light in their life—and may receive this from any priest who wants to give it. “What has been said in this Declaration regarding the blessings of same-sex couples is sufficient to guide the prudent and fatherly discernment of ordained ministers in this regard.”
In other words, as long as it all remains informal, priests can do what they want here.
As in previous “Sure, go ahead” statements, such as permitting altar girls, what is allowed informally and as a remote exception will be rapidly expanded into a completely new norm. The idea was to simply change the practice of the Church in a way that made it easier to question its theology later. “Hey, why is the priesthood reserved to men if we have so many young girls as altar servers, and women as Eucharistic Ministers?”
12. At Law & Liberty, Colleen Sheehan delves into Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to mine advice for Instagram Girls. From the essay:
One of the clear points of emphasis in the novel is on what “everybody” says and thinks and knows. It is so universal it might as well be true—even if it’s not, which of course, it isn’t.
The false information and unfair assessments are not even the half of it—literally. The bogus reports are geometrically multiplied by gossip, which seems to spread more quickly than truth. The parallel in our own time is social media, in fact probably the prime engine of misinformation in the digital age. Facebook, Twitter/X, Instagram, Tik Tok—all available in the palm of your smartphone-wielding hand. For many people today, especially our youth, social media is the source of first impressions and final verdicts—about the nation, the world, and unfortunately, too often about themselves as well.
One of the problems is that in the realm of social media there is no intermediary ground to sift through, examine, and edit the superficial impressions generated by the various platforms, let alone refine and if need be, radically change them. Social media is one-dimensional in this regard. It thrives on the superficiality of unexamined or first impressions—the very problem Austen highlights in Pride and Prejudice—and why the original title of the novel was First Impressions.
Lucky 13. At Front Porch Republic, Elizabeth Stice makes the localism case for university presses. From the piece:
State university presses are doing the work when it comes to the ideas behind positive localism. There is much more to their catalogs than monographs. The books they publish are often great avenues for learning about where we are. Their works explore both the physical environment of their home state and its history. In many cases, the authors they publish are also local and their book promotions privilege the in-state audience. Their extensive catalogs are also a great example of a way that a public university can serve its public.
Those who don’t want to think only on the national or international scale should browse the online catalog of their state university press. There you will find books that address wherever it is you live, often with perspectives from residents of your state. We can complain about publishing house mergers and the loss of independent newspapers, but we can also purchase books that have some intentional connection to where we live. As it happens, it seems that all or nearly all the university presses are having big sales for Christmas. You can get some really good books for as much as 40-50% off. Why not patronize some publishers who recognize the importance of place?
Bonus. At First Things, Patricia Snow contemplates D.H. Lawrence’s warnings about onanism, and society’s failure to heed. From the essay:
There are a few things worth pointing out, before we turn to Lawrence’s novel. For one, upheavals of this kind—transgressions against deeply held norms—are always accompanied by transgressions against language. In this case, the word “sex,” which had traditionally been understood as a shorthand for sexual intercourse (“they had sex”), was repurposed to cover every kind of masturbatory substitute. After all, if sex is about the self rather than the intimate congress of a heterosexual couple, and if masturbation is not only benign but more satisfying than intercourse, then why not strip the word of its longstanding physical implications? Why not “phone sex,” “gay sex,” “sex” with life-sized dolls, and so on? Once the qualifying adjectives were discarded, the word itself became a euphemism, a frequent stand-in for that other word, which, despite a decades-long campaign to render it socially acceptable, was still too uncomfortably explicit (turbare) for general use. No one says, for example, in writing to a columnist for advice, “my girlfriend and I masturbate while we watch each other undress on our separate screens.” Instead they say, “We have sex online.”
Another thing worth noticing is how many suppressions are demanded by what are advertised as projects of liberation. These may be actual physical suppressions, such as the suppression of ovulation by the Pill, which in turn suppresses the libidos of many of the women who take it and leads to lower rates of female satisfaction overall. But the psychological suppressions are often even more striking. How many young women, beginning in the 1960s, forcibly suppressed their instinctive modesty, not to mention their natural desires for commitment, marriage, children, and even love itself, in order to play a part in the new world? In the same way, now that masturbation is de rigueur, film actresses submit to mandated rituals of humiliation, overriding their embarrassment and suppressing their distaste, in order to crush a taboo Lawrence rightly identified as primal.
For the Good of the Cause
Uno. On the new episode of AmPhil’s “Givers, Doers, & Thinkers” podcast, host Jeremy Beer and guest Oren Cass discuss alternate versions of the “free market.” It’s a great listen, so . . . listen. Do that here.
Due. At Philanthropy Daily, Jack Salmon discusses the ramifications for philanthropy depending on the outcome of the case Moore v. United States, now before SCOTUS. Read his analysis here.
Department of Bad Jokes
Q: What did the fisherman say to the magician?
A: Pick a cod, any cod.
Guy Lombardo, wherever you are, we miss you.
May the Creator Renew Us,
Jack Fowler, who will be reminiscing at firstname.lastname@example.org.