14 min read

Dear Intelligent American,


First, happy 2024.


Second, there was an intelligent Frenchman who understood the dynamics and possibilities of this great nation, and of his own, then also great. Of course, that man is Alexis de Tocqueville, and in these parts, formally known as the Center For Civil Society, he is held in high esteem, in part because of his articulation of the central importance voluntary associations hold for America (C4CS is very much into “little platoons”).


Likewise at National Review, the old stomping grounds of Your Humble Correspondent, Tocqueville is no small matter. Dan McLaughlin, writer extraordinaire, has crafted a multipart series of reflections on the French political philosopher’s book Recollections—it considers the failure of the Second Republic and the upheavals surrounding its rise and fall. Do consider reading Dan’s output: You will find part four here (its outset includes the links to the series’ preceding articles).


Third, it’s time to get on to the main attraction.


Links and Excerpts, Dead Ahead—Damn the Torpedoes!


1. At The Human Life Review, Ellen Wilson Fielding sees a self-centered, historically harsh brand of paganism underlying many an abortion advocate’s catechism. From the essay:


This brings me round again to my opening puzzlement over what motivates large numbers of women to press for such an aggressive and unlimited right to abortion. The pro-abortion mentality does not achieve the dignity of ancient Roman or Grecian pagans; it may instead suggest something of the Maenads’ manic bloodlust, the Near Eastern sacrifice of newborn babies to fertility deities, or the self-indulgent and self-interested intellectual speculations of the sophists.


Mostly, however, pro-abortionists exalt the value and therefore rights not so much of individuals but of one particular individual: “My right trumps others because it is mine.” A pagan woman setting about aborting her baby for any of a variety of reasons would not posit her individual will to do so as a defense, not even in the privacy of her own mind. She would think not of rights but of necessities, like many women that actually undergo abortions.


Likewise, a pagan man pronouncing that his just-born child must die because of deformity or the family’s inability to provide for it was not weighing the baby’s rights against his own, but judging according to responsibilities, customs, the limits of the family or the community’s resources or capacities, the strengthening of the clan. Despite the resemblance in body count of proabortionists to the greedy fertility cult goddesses of the Middle East or the human sacrifices of the Aztecs, there are differences, and they do not particularly redound to the pro-abortionists’ credit. For instead of offering child sacrifice under a kind of duress, because the gods are powerful and we must placate them, pro-abortion activists nowadays “celebrate” the deaths of the unborn as sacrifices to and for women.


2. At Merion West, the great Bruno Manno looks to 2024 and expects it will be a somber year for K–12 education. From the beginning of the piece:


With each passing year, the staggering kindergarten to 12th grade (K-12) student learning loss from pandemic school closures becomes more apparent. It haunts America’s education system—its ghost an emergency described as “education’s long COVID.” Valiant educator-led efforts are underway to remedy the problem. With that said, an early lesson of these recovery efforts is that K-12 educators alone cannot solve the problem. As schools enter the new year of 2024, K-12 leaders and classroom educators must reboot and broaden their current problem-solving efforts to develop community-wide recovery strategies.


If the recovery effort is not expanded to involve all the resources that every community has to offer, our young people, especially the most vulnerable, face a diminished future. For example, Stanford University economist Eric Hanushek calculates that if learning loss is not reversed, the average student’s lifetime earnings will be 6% lower, the equivalent of a 6% income tax surcharge on students’ working lives. Nor will these losses be equally distributed: The most disadvantaged will suffer the worst consequences.


A supercharged community recovery strategy should be honest about the enormity of learning loss. It must be informed by the most promising evidence on what is working to remedy the problem. And it must include a community report card with timely and reliable accountability information on the progress being made to remedy learning loss and what work needs to be done.


3. At The Free Press, Niall Ferguson condemns the treason of the intellectuals, prospering now for more than a century. From the essay


Anyone who has a naive belief in the power of higher education to instill ethical values has not studied the history of German universities in the Third Reich. A university degree, far from inoculating Germans against Nazism, made them more likely to embrace it. The fall from grace of the German universities was personified by the readiness of Martin Heidegger, the greatest German philosopher of his generation, to jump on the Nazi bandwagon, a swastika pin in his lapel. He was a member of the Nazi Party from 1933 until 1945.


Later, after it was all over, the historian Friedrich Meinecke tried to explain “the German catastrophe” by arguing that excessive technical specialization had caused some educated Germans (not him, needless to say) to lose sight of the humanistic values of Goethe and Schiller. As a result, they had been unable to resist Hitler’s “mass Machiavellianism.”


The novelist Thomas Mann—who, unlike Meinecke, chose exile over complicity—was unusual in being able to recognize even at the time that, in “Brother Hitler,” the German educated elite possessed a monstrous younger sibling, whose role was to articulate and authorize their darkest aspirations.


The lesson of German history for American academia should by now be clear. In Germany, to use the legalistic language of 2023, “speech crossed into conduct.” The “final solution of the Jewish question” began as speech—to be precise, it began as lectures and monographs and scholarly articles. It began in the songs of student fraternities. With extraordinary speed after 1933, however, it crossed into conduct: first, systematic pseudo-legal discrimination and ultimately, a program of technocratic genocide.


4. At X, Eli Steele lays into white guilt and the gathering pushback, what he calls the “Great Awokening.” From his thread:


Is it any wonder that millions of Americans rushed to declare their solidarity with the antiracist side? Those who hesitated over the wisdom of using racial discrimination to achieved racial equity could soothe their consciences with a cliche: the end justifies the means.


The tragedy here, if not obvious, is that 60 years of "diversity" efforts resulted in the betrayal of the 1960s civil rights movement by ushering in America's second racial order along with a morality grounded in the Manichaeism of antiracists vs racist (oppressed vs oppressor).


The fact that Hamas enjoys worldwide support despite its absolute evil and that Claudine Gay still remains in power despite insufficient merit shows how deeply this new racial order along with its perverted morality has penetrated our society.


The last time a racial order enjoyed a near-monopoly on morality in America was during the days of slavery and segregation when white supremacy prevailed.


(Related: Do read City Journal’s excellent interview of Eli and his aces Old Man, Shelby Steele.)


5. At The Spectator, Bill Kauffman celebrates a late local novelist, and the open wound that drove his writing. From the beginning of the piece:


“Art begins in a wound, an imperfection,” said the late novelist John Gardner, one of the last American writers to grow up on a farm, “and is an attempt to either learn to live with the wound or to heal it.” Gardner’s wound was more gaping than most: on April 4, 1945, the eleven-year-old was driving a tractor hauling a two-ton roller called a cultipacker. His six-year-old brother Gilbert fell from the tractor’s hitch. John turned around just in time to see his brother’s skull crushed under the huge implement. (Marge Cervone, a Gardner family friend, told me that “Gilbert was the kind of kid who would never hold on.”)


“He was not to blame,” said John’s mother. “Nobody could have stopped that thing happening.” Although the adult Gardner would cauterize this wound with his best short story (“Redemption”), his mother’s comforting words could not stop the blinding flashbacks that tormented him during his all-too-brief life.


If “home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in,” in Robert Frost’s phrase, home is also the place where writers who fall out of fashion must land and find posthumous succor. John Gardner isn’t even among my 100 favorite writers, but he is ours, and we owe him remembrance.


So every year since 1996, on an invariably chilly evening in late October, a far-flung score of folks have gathered in Gardner’s (and my) hometown of Batavia, New York, to read from his works, discuss his legacy and collectively fall short of his typical alcohol intake.


6. At The American Conservative, Helen Andrews ponders a new book that shows how Stalin & Co. had it in for whales as much as they did for kulaks. From the piece:


One rival civilization that does share our love of nature is Russia. It’s a peculiarity we have in common. The tsarist empire created its first natural parks around the same time we created ours, calling them zapovedniki, places to be kept forever wild. The Russian Society for the Protection of Animals was founded a year before ours, in 1865. Russian literature has many memorable stories about animals and nature, albeit in a sentimental Slavic vein as opposed to the moralizing Anglo-American register.


How does that square with the Soviet Union having committed one of the greatest environmental crimes of the 20th century, the killing of hundreds of thousands of whales in the 1960s and ’70s, which pushed some species to the point of extinction?


That crime, and how it was hidden for decades and ultimately exposed, is the subject of Red Leviathan: The Secret History of Soviet Whaling (2022) by Ryan Tucker Jones. A professor of history at the University of Oregon, his previous book was about the extinction of the Steller’s sea cow due to similarly rapacious hunting practices during the tsarist era. . . .


Russia relished its role as the leader of the 20th century whaling industry. Stalin and Khrushchev eagerly put a communist spin on it, crediting their achievements to the socialist work ethic. Captain Aleksei Solyanik, the commander of the Soviet whaling fleet, became a national hero and a celebrity. The ships themselves were held up as feats of engineering and sheer size, which indeed they were. The whaling ship Slava had a crew of 600; the Sovietskaia Ukraina, 1,000.


7.  At National Review, old amiga Madeleine Kearns undresses right-wing smut. From the piece:


In Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (2005), Ariel Levy explains how, in the 1990s, “kitschy, slutty stereotypes of female sexuality” were mainstreamed and embraced by women themselves, and how this can end only when “men realize that they have the capacity to fundamentally respect women” and women realize “that they have the power to present themselves as empowered, fully capable people.”


As for conservatives: Either the sexual revolution was fun and games until a bunch of overzealous feminists and LGBT activists ruined it, or the sexual revolution was doomed from the start and the ’90s-style smut found in advertising, movies, and calendars isn’t much removed from our present degradation. In the latter interpretation, what we see in the MeToo movement and even, to a certain extent, in the body-hatred of transgenderism is an expression—however contradictory or hypocritical—of a culture attempting to resolve the misery it brought upon itself.


What needs conserving is not the liberalism of yesterday but timeless virtues and norms: a courtship culture, one that emphasizes male and female sexual complementarity, abstinence before marriage, fidelity within it, openness to the gift of children, as well as the cultivation of a culture in which beauty is prized over the vulgar and obscene. Lust, however lucrative, undermines this project.


8. At Law & Liberty, Rebecca Richards defends college-benevolent philanthropists, and argues they have a role in guiding universities’ future. From the piece:


In reality, faculty are only one part of the complex network of administrators, students, and staff that constitute a university, not to mention the outsized role of accreditation agencies, federal Title IX requirements, state legislatures, and college ranking systems. Painting a picture of donors as the covert dictators running the college grossly underestimates the responsibility of university administrations and development offices in accepting and, in fact, proposing major gifts, as well as the size of philanthropy in the operating revenue of the institution. Donors can also withdraw pledges, though this is not usually a shared decision with the university. Both giving and not giving are powerful statements, and donors face criticism for both.


Donors have two primary forms of influence: philanthropy and reputation. Targeted, or restricted, giving can incentivize institutions to lower tuition and support certain subjects that may not currently be in vogue, like the humanities in a culture obsessed with technology. The public also pays attention when major gifts are made, or more rarely withdrawn. Thus, donors can spotlight ethical and intellectual breakdowns on campus and identify when universities are moving out of step with the American public. These are both powerful tools, but neither can really be characterized as compromising academic freedom, particularly in light of how higher education philanthropy functions.


9. More L&L: Robert Thornett explains how Tocqueville’s assessment of America’s exceptional trait is water to the oil of identity politics. From the essay:


The popularity of the notion that a person can dictate their identity is, in part, a symptom of our democratic age. It reflects the flawed tendencies of democratic thinking that Plato and Aristotle observed: When citizens are free under the law, they begin to believe the illusion that they are free in every respect, in this case free to dictate who they are. This helps to explain why schools encouraging kids to declare what they “identify as” is a wild goose chase: Identities are not created by declarations any more than declaring oneself to be a doctor makes a person a doctor. Real identity requires concordance between how a person represents themselves, how they act in the world, and—often forgotten—how the world relates to them. You can declare yourself to be a basketball coach, but until someone agrees for you to coach them, you are not a basketball coach. Living an identity involves embedding oneself in the world. It is the misplaced pressuring of kids to do the impossible, to dictate their identity without having truly lived it, that is leading to the mutilation of so many teens through transgender surgeries.


In democracies, associations are where individuals find strength. It is there that they discover how their own ideas, sentiments, and actions can make a great difference in the world. As Tocqueville observes, democracy is a DIY operation in which citizens must find their own ways to combine their energies if they hope to achieve great goals. Everyone is free and independent under the law—which sounds wonderful, except it can leave citizens disconnected, with little power on their own. The only way individuals can overcome this is to voluntarily connect.


10. At The University Bookman, Luke Sheahan considers a new book making the case for the Christian origins of the American founding. From the review:


Especially pernicious in modern scholarship is the “subversive theology” thesis, which posits that any appearance of theological orthodoxy among the founders or the founding documents is merely a gloss upon a secularism intended to co-opt popular theology to advance a new secular conception of politics. This interpretive theory attaches especially to Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence. Reference to “Nature and Nature’s God,” it is claimed, is allusion to a non-orthodox God, a Prime Mover of Deism at best or a Metaphysical Necessity at worst. By definition, such a reference excludes the Christian God whose presence, according to modern natural law, must make nature unknowable or irrational, since His will and not reason governs.


Cooper and Dyer argue that this reading of the Declaration ignores historical context and the way in which “Nature” and its God were understood among those who signed and supported the Declaration. First, we must read the document all the way through (much scholarly mischief here and elsewhere is due to a simple failure to read to the end). The Declaration closes with an appeal to “the Supreme Judge of the World” and claims “reliance on the protection of divine Providence.” Both statements indicate an active theism and the language would be acceptable to orthodox believers from “Congregationalist, Episcopalian, Catholic, Quaker, and Presbyterian” traditions, all of whom signed the document. As Cooper and Dyer write, “The aim of the Declaration was to unite the colonists, and so we should expect any theological references to transverse the differences among major religious sects,” while finding common ground among them. These religious references are carefully crafted to do precisely that.


11. At Brownstone Institute, Thomas Harrington bemoans the collection of our data, the glorification of metrics, and the onset of modern feudalism. From the piece:


During the first years of what I’m sure they surely categorize as a wonderful revolution in efficiency, you could still find a telephone number or two that would lead you to a living breathing human being more or less capable of responding to your needs.


But since the so-called pandemic, even that’s gone.


And I don’t think I’m alone in believing that eliminating the last vestiges of the belief that a merchant has a moral responsibility to back up their products and services was one of the key goals of those who planned this contrived social emergency.


Adding insult to injury is the fact that the governments we sustain with our taxes have gone down the same path, treating the copious information they collect on us as their own private patrimony, erecting barrier after barrier to prevent us, the stupid louts we are, from seeing what they know about the actual results of their brilliant programs, or how they are otherwise spending our money.


 12. At The Daily Press in Norfolk, Va., Lee Belote reports on a fundraiser that went a little . . . jerky. From the beginning of the article:


When Terry and Lauren Stroops were brainstorming a fundraiser idea for their daughter’s 4-H event in April 2022, they were looking to sell a food item other than cupcakes.


Lauren Stroops wanted something that was less messy for the Bulls and Barrels Beach Rodeo in Virginia Beach. Her daughter, Kensington, suggested her dad’s beef jerky.


“We wanted something that was easy to carry around at the event,” Lauren Stroops said. “The jerky was perfect because it was packaged and wouldn’t get dirt on it.”


By the end of the rodeo, the Stroops had sold 50 bags of jerky. On the way home, the family discussed the event’s success and the possibility of turning the product into a business.


Lucky 13. Take Me to Your Liter: At The Daily Mail, Peter Hitchens gives metrics a pounding. From the article:


The entire thing, founded on the metre itself, is based on a mistake. Two French scientists, Jean-Baptiste Delambre and Pierre Mechain, spent six years trudging between Dunkirk and Barcelona, laden with instruments and meeting with deep suspicion among the many peasants they encountered, trying to measure the size of the Earth.


They also discovered that this great floating ball on which we live was not itself as regular and tidy as they had imagined. And so they got their measure wrong, especially poor old Mechain, who went into a decline as result. . . .


The French revolutionaries even tried to decimalise time, but failed because the number of days in a year is an unalterable fact imposed by the rotation of the planet and is simply not tidily divisible by ten. Also people hate ten-day weeks, which mean fewer weekends, coming round less often.


Which sums up the whole issue of pints, pounds, metres, kilograms, litres, stones, acres, hectares and the rest.


The old system, which endured here for centuries with occasional revisions, was based on human life and the human body. The inch was a thumb joint, a foot was, well, a foot, a yard was a pace. A pint was what you could comfortably drink with pleasure. A pound was what you could readily hold in your hand. An acre was what you could plough in a day. A fathom was more or less the height of a man.


Bonus. At The American Spectator, Tom Raabe predicts that college football will see explosive growth in 2024. From the piece:


Or, rather, were the stuff. A large part of those theatricals will go away next year, as the College Football Playoff expands from four teams to 12.


No longer will the first left-out school have cause—Florida State this year—to complain about a selection snub; nor will the sixth, seventh, and eighth place teams—this year, Georgia, Ohio State, and Oregon, respectively—have reason to gripe about exclusion. All would have been included in a 12-team format—they and four other teams as well.


With that playoff expansion, the college game is likely to ride its current wave of popularity to even greater heights. Despite the uncertainty (and attendant problems) generated by name, image, and likeness (NIL) rules and the transfer portal—with schools essentially “buying” star players, and players being permitted to switch schools without penalty—the new features have encouraged parity in the college ranks and pumped excitement and life into the product. Total viewing of college football, charted early this past season, was up about 12 percent over last year, and up 28 percent over the last five years.


For the Good of the Order


Uno. On the new episode of C4CS’s terrific “Givers, Doers, & Thinkers” podcast, Jeremy Beer and Alexandra Hudson discuss that often misunderstood and seemingly out-of-fashion virtue: civility. Listen here.


Point of Personal Privilege


Your Humble Correspondent found on Boxing Day, a.k.a. the Feast of Stephen, a champion of charity in Good King Wenceslas. Read it here.


Department of Bad Jokes


Q: Why was the broom late?


A: It overswept.


A Dios


The Feast of the Epiphany comes on Saturday, the 6th, so rehearse “We Three Kings” . . . and then take the ornaments off the tree. By the way, Hollywood has made several stabs at the inverted-magi theme of three no-goodniks who engage in good doobie-ness. For example, We're No Angels is the 1955 film, directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Humprey Bogart, Aldo Ray, and Peter Ustinov as a trio of Devil’s Island denizens who do a local family a solid. It’s Christmas-themed and pleasant family fare. Of a more Wild West flavor come various films based on a 1913 novel, The Three Godfathers—the tale of three water-craving, at-large not-so-desperados saddled with a newborn. May we recommend the 1948 movie—3 Godfathers—directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne? We just did!


May Our Hearts Be Open to Graces Offered,


Jack Fowler, not so much a wise man as a wise guy, who follows a star from jfowler@amphil.com.

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