Dear Intelligent American,
In the fog of mid-’60s black-and-white-TV afterschool-cartoon memories, there was some show (Alvin and the Chipmunks?) whose closing credits included, weirdly, the sing-song spelling of M-I-S … S-I-S … S-I-P-P-I. It made one a little proud to know how to spell the complicated name of a state that, think about it, could make a contestant rich on Wheel of Fortune (“Is there an ‘S’?”).
Yet: Even a kid understood, courtesy of the grainy reports of Messrs. Huntley and Brinkley and Cronkite, those other things, not so fun as cartoons, happening in the Magnolia State, a century after a reconstruction that was still met with last gasps of resistance and violence.
Come 2023, Mississippi has its ongoing struggles, as do its 49 fellow states, but is clearly emerging from cobweb-wreathed perceptions and snorts and joke-butts. There is actually good news to be heard. And it is sweetened by a little bird-flipping at the state’s denigrators.
Can one say, or sing, honestly, that it’s any longer a sacrifice for a Minnesota man who falls in love with a Mississippi girl to move all the way to Biloxi?
You guys and dolls try to figure out that contortion later. There are more important matters at hand: In the “Bonus” below, you will find about what Your Humble Correspondent is blathering. But before you get there, enjoy the multitude of interesting articles that await your curiosity.
And Now, a Feast Having Been Prepared, You Are Called to Supper
1. Again Batting Leadoff: At The American Mind, fan favorite Daniel J. Mahoney refuses the “Great Refusal.” From the essay:
Rufo is right: our real choice is to be thoughtful, principled, and spirited “counterrevolutionaries.” We must not fight black racialism with an equally misguided white identity politics. Instead, we must take our stand with the principles of ’76, the majestic courage of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the Christian gentlemanliness of Robert Woodson, who rightly insists that “1776 Unites,” and the concern for stubborn facts that animates the great black social scientist Thomas Sowell, who rightly teaches that disparities are not coextensive with discrimination.
As this litany indicates, our attachment to 1776 and everything it represents cannot be simple-minded or naïve—we must renew the wisdom of our forebears in light of the challenge of a thoroughgoing nihilism they could hardly have imagined. In this vein, we must recognize and acknowledge that we are more than a “propositional nation,” even if we are a nation that should remain dedicated to noble “self-evident truths.” We are also a territorial democracy, with a history that is uniquely our own and with borders that demarcate us as a self-governing nation. As the political scientist Carson Holloway recently observed, in recent decades “Marriage has been redefined, public education has been used to indoctrinate the young in radical sexual ideologies, and religion has been marginalized—all while propositional-nation conservatives have been unaware that the nation’s character has been marginalized.” That will not do.
2. Who Loves Ya, Baby: At Law & Liberty, Casey Chalk holds up Kojak as the ideal Americans want in their cops. From the essay:
More than anything else, what made “Kojak” was its star, the late Greek-American Aristotelis “Telly” Savalas. It was a bit of a gambit by the show’s creators, as a 1973 New York Times feature explained. Savalas was a “certified movie monster” and “perennial heavy” whose previous screen roles included, perhaps most famously, a religious fanatic and sex deviant in The Dirty Dozen, as well as “a variety of convicts and gangsters, sadistic army sergeants, supercriminals and assorted unlovables ranging from Al Capone to Pontius Pilate.” The imposing six-foot-plus Greek seemed to emanate menace, with his brazenly bald cranium (a then-uncommon purposeful hairstyle), hooked nose, thick neck, and heavy‐lipped mouth.
In that respect, the role of an incorruptible cop with a heart of gold and a well-stocked wardrobe of fashionable suits was a departure for Savalas. But in other ways, the actor—whose upbringing in a Long Island community adjacent to Queens gave the character much-needed street cred—was well-suited as an NYPD detective. Savalas already had the tough-guy image down and soon proved a master of the quick, snarky quip that became ubiquitous in future police dramas. Nor was that persona simply a reflection of his acting abilities. Drafted into the US Army during World War II, he served in a medical training regiment until a car accident put him in a hospital for a year with a broken pelvis and concussion. And, though it mystifies me, Savalas had sex appeal: at one point in the 1960s he was even voted third-sexiest man on screen.
Detective Kojak thus represented a composite of Savalas’ own diverse background: a kid from the streets with savoir-faire, an athletic wit with a penchant for public service (Savalas in his youth was a professional lifeguard; after his military discharge, he attended Columbia and worked for Voice of America). With his characteristic flair, Savalas told the New York Times: “This is an interesting cop, a feel cop from a New York neighborhood. A basically honest character, tough but with feelings—the kind of guy who might kick a hooker in the tail if he had to, but they’d understand each other because maybe they grew up on the same kind of block.”
3. At his website, Aaron Renn presses the need for building “counter-institutions.” From the piece:
One logical response to the decline of institutions is to create new institutions. . . .
The problem is, how do you create an organization that can actually operate contrary to the forces of society that are corrosive of, and in many cases even formally hostile to functional intermediary institutions? The state actively desires to weaken institutions like the family, or at least render them subject to the state. It is already far advanced in this project.
If the old institutions are dying or losing their traditional formational functions, why will not any new ones rapidly meet the same fate? Indeed, we are seeing that many evangelical institutions go into decline rapidly. Many of the earlier 1980s vintage megachurches already have “mainline disease”—an aging member base, fewer families with children, a style that seems stodgy or anachronistic, etc. The New Calvinism movement lasted less than a generation before entering major decline. Tim Keller once said that churches younger than five years attract primarily converts while those that are older attract primarily from existing churches. This seems an admission that the half life of missional effectiveness in churches is extremely short.
I don’t think there’s an easy answer to these questions about rejuvenating our institutional life, but they have to be explicitly considered and a solution at least proposed.
4. At Merion West, Bruno Manno suggests a practical approach to K-12 career education. From the piece:
And, according to a Morning Consult poll, less than half of Gen Z high schoolers report they had enough information to decide the best career or education pathway for them after high school. Two-thirds of high schoolers and graduates say they would have benefited from more career exploration in middle or high school.
So K-12 schools are out of sync with what Americans, including young people, want from them. This disconnect costs students dearly: The result is that young people tend to struggle when transitioning from school to work, and this can take the form of lower wages when they begin work.
Schools need formal career education programs from a child’s earliest years to provide him or her with many opportunities to integrate formal classroom learning with practical learning about careers and work. This includes internships and apprenticeships for older students, which have positive consequences for young people. For example, the United States Youth Development Study that follows those born in the mid-1970s to age 30 finds a positive relationship between working part time at ages 14 and 15 and those likely to agree at age 30 that they were working in a job they wanted.
5. At The European Conservative, Andrew Doran finds the ramifications of pandemic lockdowns echo the consequences of the Reformation. From the essay:
Despite talk of the pandemic being ‘unprecedented,’ at least one dimension of the lockdowns did have precedent. When the British monarchy closed monasteries and religious houses following passage of the Act of Supremacy in the sixteenth century, many who had for centuries been cared for by those religious communities—the mentally ill, indigent, alcoholics, and others—were suddenly homeless. The homeless wandered Britain, frequently gravitating to cities, with no one to care for them. It was an unintended consequence of the Reformation in England and elsewhere. Parliament responded to this social crisis by passing the Poor Laws, Tudor-era legislation that effectively supplanted the charitable work of the institutional Church with state administration of theretofore non-state charitable services.
Christ commanded his followers to render separately unto God and Caesar, a revolutionary notion to pagan gentiles, for whom polity (state) and religion were united in a single totality. The early centuries of Christianity saw the creation of a new sphere in which charitable institutions affiliated with the Church but independent of the state flourished. Across Reformation Europe, however, the sphere created by the early and medieval Church—what Augustine called the City of God, a domain that had been dominated by Caesar, and after the Reformation, merged into what we today call civil society—was gradually reabsorbed by the emerging modern state. Social welfare programs became the prerogative of governments. In the centuries that followed, institutional Christianity in Europe increasingly found itself subordinate to the state; the state, for its part, gradually reclaimed for itself the religious, cultural, and social terrain ceded to Christianity by late antiquity. The modern state thus reestablished the pagan unity of polity and religion.
6. At National Review, Jeffrey Blehar profiles the “Pilgrim’s Progress” of Simon & Garfunkel. From the end of the essay:
Simon & Garfunkel’s story may seem a strange subject to have spontaneously spent 3,000+ words recounting, but it resonates deeply on a creative level for me because Paul Simon’s struggles (even his resentments) are infinitely more relatable than those of the rock gods. Artists like the Beatles and Bob Dylan seemingly emerged from the mists of their respective countries’ hinterlands as untutored pop Mozarts, their every musical move preternaturally (and frustratingly) perfect. Their songs and deeds felt almost Olympian in their remoteness. Meanwhile there was nothing preternatural whatsoever about the considered dedication to craft and practice that Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel brought to their music. Early in their career that was what made critics write them off as stiff, but as Simon evolved he turned out in many ways to be the more empathetic embodiment of his generation’s aspirations and anxieties than eccentrics like Dylan or Lennon.
That is why so many of Simon & Garfunkel’s songs from this brief era—a time of massive societal upheaval the effects of which we are still reckoning with—still sing to us so clearly down the years. The search for meaning in “America” has not become less relevant with time; much like Paul Simon, our nation in all its complexity has only become itself, just more so. And at the core of “America” lies a tender insight that Simon & Garfunkel’s music from this era always kept squarely in focus: our search for meaning is ultimately a search for home. Which is why we keep listening to this music even in 2023, letting our minds drift homeward bound.
7. At Front Porch Republic, Mary Grace Mangano asks why pursue an education. From the piece:
What can I offer my students, if not answers? Of course, there are some things that are empirical. There are topics I can explain, definitions or histories or strategies I can help students to understand. Students move through higher order thinking levels until the knowledge is their own and they can do something with it. But even Bloom’s taxonomy has at its highest level the verbs that have to do with creation: to generate, to devise, to plan, to prepare, to integrate. Once they know what the questions are, the students can live them, even love them, and let them propel what they create from their lives.
The course I am teaching is part of the university’s core curriculum. Core comes from the Latin word for “heart,” I told my students. The same Latin root, cor, gives us the word, courage, I added. Why might the courses at the heart of the university’s curriculum require courage? I inquired. It’s up to us to decide if we have the courage to accept what is challenging, they wrote. It takes courage to be uncomfortable, to be open, to adapt. With courage, we can pursue what is good for ourselves and others, one student said. It takes courage to stand up for what you believe, said another. Stepping into the unknown requires courage, they agreed. It takes courage to ask questions, to have faith.
8. At The Imaginative Conservative, Patrick Garry reaffirms that local government is democracy’s bedrock. From the reflection:
This local level, according to the constitutional framers, serves as the bedrock of democracy. Unlike the workings of Congress, or even of state legislatures, local government affords each person the opportunity to participate in a direct and personal way. An individual can appear in front of a local governmental body, express his or her views, and engage in direct debate on an issue being considered by that body. This political accessibility reflects the genius of federalism. While citizens must rely on their elected representatives in Congress, they can participate directly in the deliberative process of local government bodies. Involvement in local democracy provides the bedrock of America’s constitutional republic, offering citizens the chance to experience in a direct and real-life manner the processes of democratic government. From this basic and direct foundation, citizens can then better understand the nature, problems and challenges of democratic government at higher or more distant levels—e.g., state and federal. Thus, a well-informed and engaged citizenry at the national level requires a vibrant democratic structure at the local level. This model, however, seems to be under siege.
9. At Comment Magazine, Richard V. Reeves dwells on masculinity and finds the Lone Ranger makes for a lonely prototype. From the piece:
My father’s masculinity is relational. It is shaped and affirmed by his roles as a father, a husband, and community member. For his generation, the bedrock responsibility of an adult male was that of an economic provider. (My mother worked too, as a part-time nurse, but there was never any question about the division of labour.) But it was far from the whole story. My father’s role did not end with the paycheque: he was also our swimming coach, driving instructor, moving man, chauffeur, academic adviser, and much more besides. He served on the parent-teacher association, was active in the local Rotary Club, and coached junior rugby at our local club. Like my mother, who was equally engaged in our community, my father’s sense of self was created not in isolation and introspection but through relationships and service.
This relational masculinity contrasts with the masculine archetype of the Lone Ranger, especially salient in America, in which manhood is defined by fierce independence, even to the point of isolation. To discover oneself and step into adulthood, a man has to shake himself loose of social ties. It’s Thoreau in his cabin, the frontiersman riding alone, the cowboy out on the range, the astronaut alone in the vastness of space. It’s almost every role played by Kevin Costner. Lone Ranger masculinity rests on the assumption that in a state of nature, men would be wild and free.
If men were Lone Rangers at heart, feminism should have freed them. As women became independent, men could simply head to the hills and be their true selves, unburdened by paycheques and parent-teacher nights. But, in fact, the Lone Ranger is just lonely. Today 15 percent of young men say they have no close friends, up from just 3 percent in 1990. Single men have worse health, lower employment rates, and weaker social networks than married men. Drug-related deaths among never-married men more than doubled in a single decade, from 2010 to 2020. Divorce, now twice as likely to be initiated by wives as husbands, is psychologically harder on men than women.
10. At Tablet Magazine, Blake Smith profiles the great Civil War historian Shelby Foote, “member of the Tribe” (albeit closeted). From the article:
In a 1970 interview, after he had become, thanks to his leading role in Ken Burns’ documentary, not only respected by fellow authors and read by Civil War buffs, but a nationally famous image of Dixie gentility, Foote discussed, as he often would in later interviews, his father’s planter family, and—as he would hardly ever do after in public—mentioned his mother’s, who had come “from Vienna . . . from the world outside.” He did not say they—or he—were Jews. He went on to describe Greenville, where he grew up, as a cosmopolitan little town, where Chinese, Middle Eastern, and European merchants and craftsmen lent an unusual degree of diversity to Delta life. He noted—as if it had not been a personal concern—that hostility to outsiders was common elsewhere in the region, and that antisemitism was rife in towns just down the road, where Jews were excluded from country clubs, passing over his own experiences of discrimination.
What he learned about being different—and how to disguise it—came to him perhaps from William Alexander Percy, eccentric landowner, semicloseted homosexual poet, and uncle of Foote’s closest friend, Walker Percy, who mentored the fatherless Foote during his adolescence. William Alexander Percy introduced him to the emerging canon of literary modernism, to writers like Thomas Mann (his own mother, however, gave a 17-year-old Foote In Search of Lost Time). Uncle Percy was one model for how a man with a galling sense of interior difference might nevertheless cultivate himself in public as a model planter and Southern conservative; his 1941 memoirs Lanterns on the Levee are what must strike present-day readers as a bizarre compound of apologia for white supremacy (provided it is exercised not by ungenteel populist rabble-rousers but by dignified planter aristocrats), veiled defenses of “Greek” love, and swooningly purple descriptions of Southern moonlight, magnolia, and other such set-pieces of stereotypical down-home Arcadia. Foote learned much from William Alexander Percy, but neither he nor Nephew Percy (later a Catholic existentialist novelist under the influence of Allen Tate and Caroline Gordon) would become such a reactionary.
11. At City Journal, Heather Mac Donald calls on conservative philanthropists to get strategic, and ixnay the bucks to Harvard. From the beginning of the article:
The Supreme Court struck a symbolic blow to Harvard University this June by declaring its racial admissions preferences illegal. It remains to be seen what stratagems Harvard will use to try to continue engineering racial diversity. One thing is certain, however: the university will pay no price in reputation or in philanthropic support for the Court’s rebuke.
To understand just how confident Harvard can be in its irresistible appeal to donors, consider one of its recent windfalls. In April 2023, hedge-fund manager Kenneth Griffin bestowed $300 million on the university, close to the largest single donation in the institution’s history. Griffin’s cumulative giving to the school now totals over $500 million, spread between the education, law, and business schools, as well as other entities. In exchange for this latest gift, Harvard renamed its graduate division the Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
Business as usual, you may think; another billionaire plowing treasure into an institution whose values are, at best, in tension with American traditions and, at worst, antithetical to them. But Griffin is not your usual high-value donor—not a George Soros, Bill Gates, or David Geffen, say. He is a conservative.
12. At the Macomb Daily, Gina Joseph reports on a different kind of Michigan rooftop fundraiser. From the article:
“We didn’t know how we were going to raise money because we couldn’t get together. So we thought it would be a good idea to do it from the roof,” Novak said of his first rooftop fundraiser, which was so successful he makes the climb annually to raise awareness and funds for the brain disorder that slowly robs people of their memory.
“He worked at Chrysler and he owned his own machine shop,” Novak said. “He was a hard worker and very smart. It was hard to see him decline.”
Lucky 13. At the website of Raymond Ibrahim, Joachim Osther proposes that the crusading French king, Louis IX (for whom that famous Missouri city is named), should be an archetype for American Christians. From the reflection:
Would Louis’ Christ-like attributes and journey have been the same if his Crusading campaigns were successful? Providence leaves us only with conjecture. As such, we must assume the facts as they appear, namely that the faith that blossomed in his upbringing together with his intrinsic virtuous character traits seemed to have been melded by the furnace of war, forged at the anvil of defeat, and shaped by the hammer of imprisonment. That is to say, it seems he became the “admirable King” by way of “almost uninterrupted misfortune.”
In the present day, American Christians are witnessing the growth of a Jacobin-like secularist leviathan, one that is increasingly superintendent over education, the corporate world, and many institutions of the Federal government. Predictably, the secularists are becoming progressively more comfortable with (and seemingly enjoying) the use of overt modalities of persecution as an a priori means of persuasion and conformity.
As we turn to face this anti-Christian sentiment, we would do well to remember the resolute King of France—especially the strength, sharpness, and purity of his faith which emerged through a training ground of travails. In Louis we find an archetype that is slightly more relatable, a warrior that admonishes our fickle Western Christian sensibilities, and a man whose character is adorned in the vestiture of grace and service—the fullest expression of the Athleta Christi.
Bonus: At The Atlantic, Douglas Carswell—boss of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy—rubs British noses in the oft-ventured (on that side of the pond) smear against the Magnolia State. From the essay:
Over the past 30 years, several southern U.S. states have seen rapid economic growth. Texas and Nashville, for example, have become economic hubs to rival California or Chicago. North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and even Alabama have all flourished. Mississippi was missing out. Until now.
Historically, business in Mississippi was highly regulated. Licenses used to be mandatory in order to practice many of even the most routine professions. The state has now lifted a lot of these restrictions, deregulating the labor market. According to a recent report by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group representing conservative state legislators, the size of Mississippi’s public payroll has been pared back. In 2013, there were 645 public employees out of every 10,000 people in the population; today, the number is down to 607. Last year, Mississippi also passed the largest tax cut in recent history, reducing the income-tax rate to a flat 4 percent.
How did this come about? Policy makers here have drawn inspiration from the State Policy Network, a constellation of state-level think tanks, borrowing ideas that have worked well elsewhere. We got the idea for labor-market deregulation from Arizona and Missouri. Tennessee inspired us to move toward income-tax elimination. Florida’s successful liberalization stands as an example of how we could reduce more red tape. . . .
Perhaps many in Britain find it hard to accept that Mississippi has overtaken them economically, because they still think of Mississippi as cotton fields and impoverished backwoods, peopled by folk who subsist on God, guns, and grits. But what if Britons’ reluctance to face changing economic realities comes from an outdated perception of themselves?
For the Good of the Cause
Uno. If fundraising for nonprofits is your game, then you just gotta attend AmPhil’s forthcomg “In the Trenches” Master Class (Thursday, October 12th, via Zoom, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., Eastern) on “Integrating Direct Mail and Digital Outreach.” This session will be a goldmine of wisdom. Get your pick and shovel and sign up—easily done right here. (And one day, when our paths cross, you can say, “I’m so glad I took your advice about that class, Yours Truly!”)
Due. The clock is ticking! Register now for the forthcoming Center for Civil Society conference on “Rise of the Nones: How Declining Religious Affiliation Is Changing Civil Society.” It takes place on November 7–8 in glorious Scottsdale, AZ. The line-up is super: Speakers include Shelby Steele and Mary Eberstadt. Get complete information right here.
Department of Bad Jokes
Q: What did the muffler suffer from?
Please pray for Karen, so she gets well, and Big Jim, that he rests in peace.
That We May Know the Purposes Under Heaven,
Jack Fowler, who will turn, turn, turn to your emails sent to email@example.com.