16 min read

Dear Intelligent American,


What wildness in Metro Bethlehem, no? Think about it, all at once . . . heavenly host filling the ablazened skies with glad tidings and glorias that shock and awaken shepherds, while a caravan of gifts-bearing wise men journey through the night, their dromedaries drawn onwards by a bright star, while a king plots infanticide, while a Virgin Mother, watched over by her angel-whispered husband, gives birth to God in a lowly manger, while cattle low and shepherds hasten, joined by their flock, and maybe too by the donkey who bore Mary to the City of David, and maybe too, as hymns claim, oxen, there to bow, there as creation’s witnesses and representatives.


It is a lovely thing that creation—in beasts and winged things—played a role in the Nativity, and in our ensuing customs, whether religious or of the sort of cultural pleasantries that include French hens, turtle doves, geese, and partridges.


Through the centuries the power of that actual night resonates, and embraces hearts which in innocence yearn for something magical and blessed—maybe a bright star rising, or animals given to . . . speech!—to occur, to replicate, to take a holy encore.


As goes the sad carol, Oh sisters too, how may we do for to preserve this day?


Were that Shakespeare, writing of the ghost of Hamlet’s father, were recounting truth more than legend:


Some say that ever ’gainst that season comes

Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,

The bird of dawning singeth all night long:

And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad;

The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,

No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,

So hallowed and so gracious is the time.


One can dream, as did Joseph, and maybe too as did the little tiny child, to the sweets sounds of lully lullay.


Herewith, Some Chestnuts to Roast on the Fires of Your Intellectual Yearning


1. At Comment Magazine, Alan Jacobs combats interrupting technology while listening for God. From the essay


But an awareness of the potential gravity of this situation has gradually dawned on me. I have been significantly affected by this pocket-sized disruptor, even though I had decades of formation in a different attentional environment to serve as a kind of counterweight. People like Ben Rosen’s sister Brooke, the Snapchat queen, clearly don’t have any of that. I wonder what her future—her future as a self, as a person—will hold.


Our “ecosystem of interruption technologies” affects our spiritual and moral lives in every aspect. By our immersion in that ecosystem we are radically impeded from achieving a “right understanding of ourselves” and of God’s disposition toward us. We will not understand ourselves as sinners, or as people made in God’s image, or as people spiritually endangered by wandering far from God, or as people made to live in communion with God, or as people whom God has come to a far country in order to seek and to save, if we cannot cease for a few moments from an endless procession of stimuli that shock us out of thought.


It has of course always been hard for people to come to God, to have a right knowledge of ourselves and of God’s threats and promises. I don’t believe it’s harder to be a Christian today than it has been at any other time in history. But I think in different periods and places the common impediments are different. The threat of persecution is one kind of impediment; constant technological distraction is another. Who’s to say which is worse?—even if it’s obvious which is more painful. But I really do think we are in new and uniquely challenging territory in our culture today, and I don’t believe that, in general, churches have been fully aware of the challenges—indeed, in many cases churches have made things worse.


2. At The American Conservative, the great Helen Andrews profiles the rise and fall of international adoption. From the article


In country after country, international adoption followed the same pattern. A place would become known as a source of children; the number of orphanages in that country would rise; scandals would follow involving baby-selling and kidnapping; the government would ban or tightly regulate international adoption, choking off the supply, and American child-seekers would move on to the next country.


Cambodia was an early example. In 2004, an American woman was jailed for running an international adoption scam where babies were stolen from poor Cambodian mothers, often under false pretenses such as the promise that their children would be sent to boarding school and returned. This woman was said to have made $8 million in profits from the scheme. The U.S. banned adoption from Cambodia in 2001.


Guatemala was next. Tens of thousands of Guatemalan babies were adopted in the years up to 2008, when the country effectively banned international adoption after it was discovered that many of the babies had been bought from impoverished mothers or even kidnapped. . . .


The lesson is clear: In theory, it should be possible to regulate international adoption so that child trafficking, baby-selling, and kidnapping don’t become a problem but genuinely needy children can still find loving homes. In practice, it is prohibitively difficult, especially for Third World countries. The safest thing to do, these countries discovered, is to ban (or severely limit) international adoption entirely and keep the adoption industry small and local.


3. At The University Bookman, Bradley “Double B” Birzer reflects on Robert Nisbet’s classic, The Quest for Community, as it turns 70. From the piece:


Nisbet feared the most prominent institution of the modern world was the modern nation state. Metastasized, it predominated over everything else. “I believe that the greatest single influence upon social organization in the modern West has been the developing concentration of function and power of the sovereign political State.” Indeed, Nisbet continues, “to regard the State as simply a legal relationship, as a mere superstructure of power, is profoundly delusive.” Rather, Nisbet insists, “the real significance of the modern State is inseparable from its successive penetrations of man’s economic, religious, kinship, and local allegiances and its revolutionary dislocations of established centers of function and authority.” In other words, the modern State had insinuated itself into every aspect of its citizens’ lives. This was just as true in the United States as it had been in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. Democracy, as Nisbet imagined it, was not the opposite of fascism and communism, but, in its essence, possibly as totalitarian as either, just in a kinder, more gentle fashion. Still, in any modern form, the State’s reach was unstoppable. . . .


The State, then, forms relationships that are both horizontal and vertical. The State, in its modern form, most closely resembles the Medieval church in its “complex of ideas, symbols, and relationships” as well as in its struggle against division, “the State has risen as the dominant institutional force in our society and the most evocative symbol of cultural unity and purpose.” Again, one is forcibly reminded of such medieval notions as the Economy of Grace, the Great Chain of Being, and, most importantly, the grand medieval synthesis of Dante.


4. More Nisbet, More Bookman: Fan favorite Daniel J. Mahoney complements BB with his thoughts on Quest’s lasting importance. From the piece:


To be sure, the old social authorities could be tyrannical and abusive, and a too rigid sense of community could limit opportunities for enterprising individuals to pursue their own paths in life. Family, church, and local community provided social warmth and an ethic of community, no mean things in a world where the isolated individual is bound to be forlorn and dislocated. But one ought not romanticize the old arrangements, since “lords” and “barons”—no less than modern bureaucrats—could abuse power and undermine those liberties essential to a genuinely pluralistic community.


We tend to forget, Nisbet points out, that the old social groupings carried out vital social functions related to child rearing, marriage, education, economic production and distribution, mutual aid, and civic involvement as well. When the rich array of “intermediate associations” between the state and the individual are largely shorn of their social, civic, and economic functions, an aim and consequence of the establishment of the modern state, they become simulacra of their old selves, half-moribund bodies where a residual emotional investment largely substitutes for true civic and social vitality.


Nisbet, however, is finally not interested in community as a merely “psychological” problem. His focus is clearly fixed on the permanent need of the social and civic animals that human beings are, to find a richly social context for the exercise of the rights and obligations that allow both democracy and true individuality to thrive. This is true even, or especially, in an individualist society marked by atomization and alienation. Like one of his great inspirations, Alexis de Tocqueville, Nisbet takes aim at the modern pathology of “individualism,” marked by passivity and withdrawal from social and civic life. He does so, however, in order to strengthen individuality which always depends upon a rich and vibrant social context. Individualism divides and weakens human beings; authentic human individuality allows the soul to thrive without losing sight of the common world that gives strength and vitality to noble human endeavors.


5. At Law & Liberty, Hans Eicholz explains how the Boston Tea Party has steeped for 250 years. From the piece:


The Tea Party sparked the long series of imperial measures and colonial countermeasure that would eventually lead to the shooting war of the American Revolution. These measures included the much hated Boston Port Act, which collectively punished one of the most important trading centers in colonial America. The significance of the Tea Party as the ignition spark that exploded the powder keg of the American Revolution cannot be overemphasized. Yet there remains considerable doubt as to its moral, political, and economic causes.


A great deal of this orientation arises from a number of fairly recent critical accounts that are in sympathy with the constitutional and political position of the king and Parliament. We hear again ideas once pronounced by American Loyalists and their British counterparts that colonial Patriots were actually confused about the nature of the British constitution, that they were in large measure led about by local smugglers of Dutch tea in service of their private interests, and that the Tea Act of 1773 was actually designed to lower the price of tea to the benefit of American consumers. Each of these points can be defended as having a basis in historical fact. But there was a whole lot more going on than just this.


Politics does make curious bedfellows. Smuggling had been in active practice since the very beginning of the colonial enterprise over a century before. But in this instance, it was also a primary countermeasure to the attempt to compel compliance with the efforts of Parliament to tax various articles of trade issued just a few years prior to the Tea Party. Under what was then collectively called the Townshend Duties, taxes had been placed on various articles of trade imported into the colonies including tea, but the resulting opposition was so severe, and the form of regulation so out of the ordinary even for mercantilists, that most of the acts were repealed in 1770. All but one, that is: the duty placed on tea.


6. At The Spectator, Joanna Williams navigates ideological obsessions of America’s book publishers. From the piece:


In recent years, we have seen staff at Penguin Random House in Canada protesting after being asked to prepare a book by Jordan Peterson and employees at Hachette refusing to work on J.K. Rowling’s latest volume. We’ve had books by established authors such as Kate Clanchy subjected to sensitivity readers while contracted authors, like Nigel Biggar, have had manuscripts rejected upon completion. Meanwhile, promising new authors struggle to get noticed in the first place. Author Joyce Carol Oates revealed that a literary agent friend of hers said he “cannot even get editors to read first novels by young white male writers, no matter how good; they are just not interested.”


“Again and again, those in the New York literary universe explained . . . that it was my job to tell stories that furthered The Narrative,” wrote Alex Perez in the Free Press. What this means in practice is that books are selected for publication with either messaging or the identity of the author to the fore. This seems to be an open secret. “We flat-out decided we weren’t going to look at certain white male authors, because we didn’t want to be seen as acquiring that stuff,” one senior editor told Perez. Meanwhile, for authors fortunate enough to overcome all these barriers, the final hurdle is the book shop. Even here, there are traps. Shops stand accused of not displaying books by gender critical authors.


7. More Books: At Front Porch Republic, Nadya Williams moves, and one wonders if to a house or a de facto library. From the piece


It all may sound rather extreme and chaotic, but the truth is that both Dan and I grew up like this—in families that were not wealthy, but that collected, hoarded, loved books like the wondrous treasure that they are. Indeed, this is a typical story for Russian immigrants, like my family—leaving everything else behind, the books we brought along. . . .


Now that we’re parents, we’re carrying on the family legacy and doing a mighty good job of conditioning our children accordingly. Their rooms too are packed with bookcases and their own books—well-loved and thumbed through regularly. At night, sometimes they ask to keep the light on for just a few more minutes to read in bed. A few minutes later, when I come back to turn off the light, I might find one of my younger book worms passed out asleep, mouth agape, a book still lovingly clutched in hand. I hope that dreams of skiing with Frog and Toad or picking blueberries with Sal follow.


Recent statistics about reading in America, however, suggest that this kind of experience is a rarity that is only becoming more unicorn-like. In a recent essay here at FPR Dixie Dillon Lane noted the discomfort that too many college students now exhibit with reading. The way they had originally learned to read did not condition them to be joyful and comfortable readers. And so, they complain even about having to muddle through twenty-five pages a week. Even more damning are the numbers that Brian Miller cited in his own jeremiad on this topic: “More than half of adults in the U.S. did not read a book to its end in the past year, and an astonishing 10 percent have not read a book in more than ten years.”


8. At Tablet Magazine, Julia Hahn claims American Jews have been politically stupid—and that needs to stop. From the analysis


Regardless of how you feel about the conflict or the treatment of the Palestinian people, the fact remains that according to recent polling, 75% of Palestinians say that they support Hamas’ savagery on Oct. 7. It is a gross understatement to say that bringing in huge numbers of like-minded individuals from the Palestinian territories and other places in the region where Jew hatred and terrorism are salient, will not lead America into the progressive and inclusive future liberals claim they want to create. It will, however, greatly exacerbate and increase antisemitism in America, the way it has in France, Germany, and Great Britain.


Watching the events of the past month, many American Jewish liberals have quietly begun to acknowledge what conservatives have been warning against for decades: that much of the antisemitic radicalism we see on the streets of large American cities and on college campuses does not look or feel “home-grown.” Bringing the “Arab Street” to the streets of New York and Los Angeles hardly seems like a good idea, especially if you are Jewish. . . .


Why should American Jews advocate for the admission of people to the United States who want to kill us? Why are we turning our universities—many of them generously funded by Jewish donors—into shields to prevent Jew-hating maniacs from being deported under U.S. law, which denies a visa to any alien who endorses or espouses terrorist activity, and instead educate them at our expense? How is it that when a former Hamas leader calls for a “global day of jihad,” Americans thousands of miles away— especially young Jews—have to brace themselves for it?


9. At Claremont Review of Books, Mark Helprin contemplates what Israel, at the precipice, must do. Again. From the article


What to do about Gaza, whenever it might be done, is vexing and tragic. A protracted ground assault will result in a high number of Israeli military and Gazan civilian casualties, which, other than Hamas and its supporters, no one wants. Fighting on the surface is one thing, but the reportedly 310 miles of tunnels in which 20,000 Hamas terrorists can shelter are another. This is why Hamas took hostages: to present Israel with a “Sophie’s Choice.” Were there no hostages in the tunnels, the entrances and exits could be sealed with explosives delivered from the air or placed by ground troops. Israeli forces at a few carefully controlled exits might allow (or not) the surrender of those terrorists who chose not to expire within. But the presence of its own innocents presents Israel with an impossible dilemma—hostage deaths, or a greater number of infantry deaths—that nonetheless is unavoidable. Barring a miracle, it will be one or the other, or perhaps both.


In the aftermath of whatever is fated to occur, either Gaza will continue to fester or it will be possible to institute new governance. Many schemes for the latter have been suggested: international, Arab League, Gulf States, even a return to Israeli military occupation. All present great problems. Israel is not powerful enough—and the world’s expectations and tolerances have changed since the end of World War II—to impose an enduring, peaceful settlement as in the case of Japan and Germany. As Winston Churchill used to say in the darkest days of wartime, one has to keep buggering on, which is what Israel has been doing since even before its beginning. Its objectives have by necessity always been different from those of the great powers in this or other eras, for it understands that its chief war aim is survival, that by necessity this may persist as far as the eye can see and as one generation fades into another, and that mere survival may have to be, as is sung at the Passover, dayenu. That is, enough for us.


Which does not mean that Hamas need not be (or need not have been) destroyed, but rather that this should not be (or have been) the first priority. Because Gaza may be the bait in a trap set by Iran, and because Gaza cannot be an existential threat such as Iran and Hezbollah, in the proper order of things, Gaza can wait.


10. At Public Discourse, Brian Bird explains how Canada’s euthanasia spree is an assault on personhood. From the analysis:


When it comes to euthanasia, quality of life and autonomy have been inextricably linked to dignity, which has affected how we understand personhood. As my quality of life and autonomy decline, so too does my dignity. As my dignity declines, so too does my personhood. Once my personhood has sufficiently faded away, it is cruel for the state to stand in the way of letting me die. In fact, it is cruel for the state to refuse to help me die. Enter euthanasia, provided through the healthcare system.


We are witnessing, in other words, a reconstruction of personhood—a reconstruction that began before euthanasia was legalized in Canada or other countries. This reconstruction professes that, while some of us may technically be here, we are not here in any meaningful sense. Legalizing euthanasia is not only a natural plank of this reconstruction. This step also accelerates this process and takes it to new places, all the while claiming to render societies and each of us more respectful of human rights and thus more humane. . . .


Since 2016, it has become clear—if it wasn’t clear before—that legalizing euthanasia endangers life, liberty, and security of persons. If it is easier to be euthanized than it is to find adequate or affordable housing, personhood properly understood is far from being respected. The same is true when euthanasia is offered to veterans contacting the government for assistance, when euthanasia is viewed as the only viable option by a quadriplegic mother who cannot find adequate support to live with her disability, or when public health authorities provide information sessions on euthanasia to pensioners as they contemplate their retirement years. When a federal minister admits that in some parts of Canada it is easier to access euthanasia than it is to obtain a wheelchair, alarm bells should be ringing.


11. At National Review, Brad Wilcox and Michael Pugh argue that “red” states have an opportunity to reform and lead on fatherhood and marriage policies. From the piece


Clearly, girls and especially boys are much more likely to flourish if they grow up with their married fathers. No institution compares to marriage when it comes to binding fathers to their children.


This is a point worth keeping in mind as other red states follow Florida’s lead. Tennessee’s Department of Human Services recently hosted its inaugural Fatherhood Conference, which included policy-makers, nonprofit leaders, and researchers. Commissioner Clarence Carter stated unequivocally that “fathers are not a luxury.” “Fathers are not nice to have,” he clarified: “Fathers are essential.” Carter and Tennessee governor Bill Lee (R.) aim to build a major public–private initiative on behalf of fatherhood that could become another model, alongside Florida’s, for other states. Texas has a modest fatherhood initiative, and Iowa and Arkansas are considering similar policies.


Tennessee has work to do. As of 2022, about a third of its children live in homes headed by single mothers. That number has not changed much since 2018. In 2020, nearly 45 percent of all births were to unmarried women, above the national average of 40 percent. In 2021, Tennessee ranked in the top ten states for divorce rates.


There are, however, some good signs in the Volunteer State. Post-Covid, it has emerged as a magnet for married families looking for a growing economy and a culture congenial to right-leaning parents. One consequence is that, since 2020, the share of births to moms outside marriage has dipped, and the share of kids being raised in married families has ticked up. In 2018, roughly 37 percent of the women ages 15 to 50 who gave birth were unmarried. By 2022, that number had fallen to 32 percent. In the same period, the number of married couples with children under 18 increased by 7 percent, compared with a 3 percent increase nationally.


12. At Brownstone Institute, Jeffrey Tucker contemplates what will become of our cities, savaged by lockdowns and their aftermath. From the piece:


How far this will go and what the implications will be is anyone’s guess. Will the skylines change? Are we looking at demolitions of some of the grandest structures in the coming years? It’s not entirely out of the question. Economic reality can be like a brick wall: when the expense consistently outpaces the revenue, something has to change.


Why not convert office spaces to domestic apartments? It’s not so easy. The buildings put up after the Second World War were made for air conditioning and had wide footprints without windows in a large swath of the space. That simply doesn’t work for apartments. Cutting a giant hole down the middle is technically possible but economically expensive, requiring the rents in the resulting properties to be in the luxury range.


The next phase will be the fiscal crisis. Dying business districts, declining population, empty office buildings all mean falling tax revenue. The budgets won’t be cut because of pension obligations and school funding. The next place to look is to the capital for bailouts and then of course the federal government. But those will only buy time and certainly won’t address the underlying problem.


Lucky 13. Let There Be Lights: At The Free Press in Mankato, Minnesota, Holly Marie Moore reports on how a college fundraiser has brightened up The Levant. From the beginning of the article:


A church central to Bethany Lutheran College junior John Sadaka’s Lebanese town has a reason to celebrate this Christmas thanks to a successful fundraiser that will make electricity more affordable.


Sadaka, president of the recently formed Enactus/DECA club, said the group has reached its $10,800 fundraising goal to bring solar panels to the church to help keep the lights on amid growing inflation in the country.


Sadaka, who is from the town of Barsa, said it’s hard to put into words how important the Saydet Lourdes church—or Our Lady of Lourdes Church—is to his community.


“Growing up, that would be the spot where we all got together. Everybody would go to Mass every day. Everybody in my town really stayed there all their life. Everybody gets baptized in that church. Everybody plays in that church. Everybody gets married in that church,” he said.


Bonus. At Verily Magazine, Hunter Brock lauds her career decision of . . . motherhood. From the piece:


Enter our third child. When he was born, my husband was on three weeks of paternity leave, and during those weeks he was fully in charge of our two toddlers—feeding, diapering, naptime, bathtime, bedtime, etc. I was fully in charge of myself and our newborn son—my own recovery and the baby’s needs were my sole focus. This was the first time we’d ever divided family labor like this. We were stationed at Fort Benning (now Fort Moore), Georgia, at the time, where we knew very few people and had little help with the load of parenting. In addition to these variables, I started reflecting on how I could lean on my faith and see some larger purpose in the work I was doing.


Taking on the full ownership of caring for a child without expecting help from friends or even my husband made a million things click in my brain—I finally realized what I was capable of. No longer bound by waiting for others to assist, I stopped spending energy on being disappointed when they couldn’t meet my expectations. I was limited only by myself, and I could receive help with joy instead of entitlement.


I began to wonder what life would be like if I applied this newfound freedom broadly to my role as a homemaker: what if I tried just owning it all? What if I took on the home and the kids fully, without guessing how my husband would contribute? What if I did it without resentment? What if we better defined our roles and expectations? If the clear division of responsibilities had helped me feel more peace over the short-term, it was worth trying in the long term. And with that, motherhood—and taking care of our home—became my job.


For the Good of the Order


Uno. On the new “Givers, Doers, & Thinkers” podcast, host Jeremy Beer talks with Professor Joshua Mitchell about restoring mediating institutions. Get it while it’s hot, here.


Due. At Philanthropy Daily, Carter Skeel contemplates the give and take between college and donor, and how much “say” the latter has. Read it here.


Point of Personal Privilege

At Philanthropy Daily, Your Intrepid Correspondent ruminates about some old and wonderful movies that offer boffo moments of charity. From the piece.


Department of Bad Jokes


Q: Why did Santa’s help go to a therapist?


A: He had low elf-esteem. 


A Dios


Be not dismayed, you merry gentlemen and gentlewomen!


May We Enjoy Tidings of Comfort and Joy,


Jack Falalalala, who wishes all a Merry Christmas, and can receive reciprocal greetings sent to jfowler@amphil.com.

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