16 min read

Dear Intelligent American,


A dear old friend suggested this spring that maybe we all should go to the opera, as in the New York Metropolitan Opera. Yours Truly and the Far Better Half said, yes, let’s, so it came to pass that we planned to see Giuseppi Verdi’s Requiem, which indeed we did this weekend past. Enjoyable! And no small musical affair: The chorus must have totaled a dozen dozens, accompanying four soloists and an orchestra that deployed everything but a tuba and bagpipes. And glockenspiel. And ukulele—well, they made room for just about every normal instrument you could imagine.

One (well, this one) wonders of this oh-so-New York City (not the “outer boroughs”) audience, as it loudly (deservedly) oohed and hurrahed and clapped and ovation-stood . . . did it, collectively, believe a word of the unnerving text of the sung Mass for the dead? Words such as from this lament, sung by the lady soloists, as the Requiem reaches its powerful conclusion:

I tremble, and I fear the judgment and the wrath to come, when the heavens and the earth shall be moved. The day of wrath, that day of calamity and misery; a great and bitter day, indeed.

Dang! Who knows: Maybe in the audience there were those—who unknowingly formed a sort of instantaneous, scattered congregation—struck by profound, sung promises of Things to Come at Death’s Moment. “Things” held as doctrine by millennia of religious preaching and teaching. Things to which, in these modern times of seeming calamity and misery, are rarely admitted by pastors and prelates.

Yelling Stop: Lest we forget, as the Old Boss, Mr. Buckley, did not hesitate to remind—counted amongst sins is despair. So let us not. And let us find in the following some thoughts that will inspire the mind and heart.


To Quote Mr. Gleason, And Away We Go . . .


1. At Public Discourse, Kelly Hanlon interviews George Nash about the state of modern conservatism, and here poses a question about how the right might improve its standing on college campuses. From the interview:

One thing that I think has to be done is to appeal to those middle-aged professors who were brought up in an earlier period, the old-school liberals, if you will. And there is a need to reach out to them to try to at least establish an environment on campus that is accepting of people who disagree with one another. And that needs to be worked on.


But I’ve been trying to think about what more could be done. One suggestion I would like to offer is that conservatives ought to figure out ways of holding conservative film festivals on campuses. And I would nominate as one of the prime candidates for a film to be shown the documentary Morning Sun, produced in 2002 on the Chinese cultural revolution under Mao Zedong. The film describes how Mao Zedong in the 1960s mobilized the Red Guards, teenagers, and college-aged people to be the shock troops to intimidate the professors and other so-called bourgeois elements in society to re-radicalize Chinese society. It is a powerful movie. It shows what college students were doing then and I believe it would make today’s students think. . . .


I would also say, and this is more an altar call than a recommendation, that conservatives should avoid what I call soundbite sloganeering. This kind of language, this militarization of discourse, us versus them, secession, civil war, all this language we’ve been hearing more and more in the Trump years is very divisive and unhelpful. If students could avoid some of that, they might get further. Along the same lines, you might recall Eric Hoffer’s words. He said, “Facts are counter-revolutionary.” Facts. So if you’re a conservative student conversing with other students, have some facts, don’t just rely on slogans and soundbites. If you have some facts, you might open some eyes, but do it in a way that is inquiring rather than aggressively confrontational.


2. At The Lamp, Joseph Epstein contemplates re-reading. From the article:

The best novels and stories change along with their readers, and they get better upon re-reading later in life. In The Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters, the editor Rupert Hart-Davis writes to his former Eton master George Lyttelton that he has just re-read Thornton Wilder’s Bridge of San Luis Rey, which he first read thirty-three years earlier, when he was twenty. He reports that “to my astonishment I now think it first-rate—a shaped and finished work of art—contrived, admittedly, but none the worse for that. . . . It seems to me to have improved and mellowed in thirty-three years, and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be read and enjoyed as long as books are read.” Lyttelton replies by noting that re-reading is “on the whole one of life’s greatest pleasures.”


To have written a novel or stories that can be read twenty, fifty, a hundred, or four hundred years after its composition and can also be re-read at different stages of a reader’s life is of course an extraordinary accomplishment. Memory works differently in reading fiction than in other works, even to the point of sometimes scarcely working at all. I don’t believe that we remember the details of novels in the same way that we might remember, say, a book on the history of British philosophy or another on movie musicals. Nor, I believe, are we called upon to do so. Yet odd details do stay in the mind. In Tolstoy’s story “Father Sergius,” for example, I recall how the eponymous character’s finger twirled in the air before him when he chopped it off to avert sexual temptation. In one of Henry Miller’s Tropic novels, the always down-at-the-heel Miller-like protagonist is making love to a woman standing up in a hallway when her purse falls to the floor and a coin rolls out. “I made a mental note,” the character says, “to pick it up later.” In Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop, I remember the soup served to the bishop by Blanchet, the priest who accompanies him on his travels into the new world of America, of which the bishop says that “a soup like this is not the work of one man. It is the result of a constantly refined tradition. There are nearly a thousand years of history in this soup.”


3. At The American Mind, fan favorite Daniel J. Mahoney locates the roots of current disorders in postmodern nihilism. From the essay:

With the Marxism of Marx, the dialectic of skepticism and fanaticism begins to unleash its full fury. For Marx, the moral “superstructure” of society always and everywhere provides a groundless and hypocritical justification for class dominance and exploitation. In the second part of The Communist Manifesto Marx crudely mocks natural right or justice, along with any appeal, political, philosophical or theological, to “eternal truths, such as Freedom, Justice, etc.” In pre-revolutionary Russia, Marx’s pseudo-scientific socialism vied for attention with other subversive doctrines such as revolutionary populism and the overt and deadly nihilism so powerfully described by both Turgenev and Dostoevsky. In that milieu, the urge to negate and destroy took on the form of limitless moral passion, but one tied to philosophical and historical materialism, a materialism that has no place for authentic moral judgment, or for salutary self-restraint. European revolutionaries such as the Bolsheviks and the Russian nihilists thus combined a sense of passionate righteousness with what Polanyi called “scientific self-assurance” and an “impenetrable skepticism.”


We have now arrived at moral inversion proper. With ideological despotism and its myriad practitioners and apologists, “the moral needs of man, which are denied expression in terms of human ideals, are injected into a system of naked power, to which they impart the force of blind moral passion.” The morally inverted, the ideologically fanatical, combine deep moral skepticism with the justification of the truly unjustifiable such as revolutionary terror and unprecedented forms of tyranny. Moral inversion is one manifestation of what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn called the “ideological Lie.” Authentic moral aims are replaced by thoroughly ideological ones. The ideologue (and fellow-travelling intellectuals) act with “the whole force of his homeless moral passions within a purely materialistic framework of purposes.” A political, or rather, ideological order built on these mendacious claims destroys the moral integrity of those who succumb to it. It also makes genuine intellectual freedom impossible.


4. At The Free Press, Evan Gardner reveals the reveling of a black man in the supposedly white world of country music. From the reflection:

A few hours later, the Nashville skyline came into view. We were staying in a ritzy part of town, the Gulch. It was teeming with new apartment complexes and hipsters in athleisure, and as we made our way to our hotel, my dad remarked that it looked just like Williamsburg in Brooklyn.


There were superficial traces of the Old South: Rosa Parks Drive, John Lewis Way. (The next day, we went looking for what we thought was an old plantation, Belle Meade, but it turned out to be a gated community.)


My mother had always forbidden me from going down South. The racism, the violence, the not-so-distant past. So I stayed in the universe I came from: I went to Saint Ann’s (Lena Dunham’s alma mater) and to Brown University. I took classes like “Writing the Revolution.”


But then, one day last year, I heard Morgan Wallen’s “Sand in My Boots” and fell in love with country music. “Sand in My Boots” is lyrical and mournful—it’s a story about hope and promise in the land of “sunburnt Silverados” and “heart-broke Desperados,” and potholes and dogwood trees.


5. At The Pipeline, Steven Hayward confronts the politicization of scientific research, maybe better known as “evidence-making.” From the piece:

The evidence mounts that virtually none of our scientific establishment can be trusted—certainly none that has any connection to or dependence on government funding. Government agencies based on their supposed technical expertise claim that they practice “evidence-based policy making,” but the truth is the reverse: we live in an age where governments practice policy-based evidence-making.


There is by now a sorry recent history stretching back at least to the U.S. government’s determination in the 1990s to use the supposed peril of second-hand tobacco smoke to extract billions of dollars from tobacco companies and justify stringent new smoking regulations. (Many of these regulations have been waived for newly legal marijuana smoking, which shows the power of culture over “science.”) When the government’s epidemiological studies didn’t find substantial harm from second-hand smoke at the typical 95 percent confidence level that is standard for establishing statistical robustness, the EPA simply lowered the statistical standard to 90 percent, and suppressed other contrary findings, to claim “proof” of harm in order to justify regulation.


This has been a consistent pattern for decades with government bureaucracies in the U.S. and abroad. “Scientific” findings always conveniently align with the regulatory desires of administrative agencies. In the U.S., agency “science advisory boards” (SABs) are always stacked with pro-agency “experts” while skeptical or competing perspectives are deliberately excluded, and the entire process is backstopped by lavish government grants directed to sympathetic university researchers, consultancies, and advocacy groups to carry on public propaganda campaigns. In some cases, agencies will ignore their SABs in the rare cases where the SAB offers a finding contrary to policy.


6. At Law & Liberty, Trey Dimsdale calls on state legislatures—through the “Religious Liberty in the States” (RLS) project—to be at the forefront of protecting the fundamental freedom. From the essay:

The launch of the RLS Project and rankings in 2022 came just months after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade (1973) and returned the power to regulate abortion to the individual states. Dobbs re-centered the abortion debate in states rather than at the federal level, and in the process rekindled an appreciation for federalism on both left and right. Certainly, the RLS project is primarily concerned with advancing the state of religious liberty law, but we also hope that by focusing on state statutory and constitutional law it can serve a useful role in accelerating conversations that recognize the reality that states and state courts have always been the primary guarantors of individual liberties in our constitutional system. The independence of state law and the republican form of government established in the U.S. Constitution provide advantages in cultivating and guaranteeing freedom.


The RLS project is not and does not purport to be a comprehensive measure of the lived experience of any individual in any particular state. What constitutes liberty is complex and combines sociological, cultural, religious, and legal factors, each of which is subject to or elusive of quantitative measurement in different ways. Like any similar instrument, the RLS provides a snapshot of one aspect of one type of liberty at one moment. Specifically, the data set on which the RLS rankings are based is focused on the presence or absence of specific state statutory or constitutional provisions that provide free exercise protections to citizens as of December 31 of the year prior to each edition’s launch. The RLS has already begun to measure changes in the law over time, and each edition will become more robust and expansive enabling scholars and practitioners to note trends, focus advocacy and policy recommendations, and alert citizens of the protections that they currently enjoy or lack.


7. At Education Next, Bruno Mano offers a five-point recovery plan to help schools and students bounce back from Covid lockdowns. From the quintet, here is Point Two:

Provide students with extra support. Some districts are using evidence-based programs that provide students with additional academic, social, and emotional support. Academic examples include intensive small-group and high dosage tutoring; competency-based instruction with students advancing based on what they know and do rather than by age; summer school; better use of student time on task; and offering financial incentives to students, parents, and teachers for reading books, attending classes, or—for teachers—achieving specific learning outcomes. Two studies on summer learning and tutoring programs provide a good lesson for supersizing these approaches: the key to implementation success is a school district program manager and support from principals, other school leaders, and parents. Additionally, schools need to provide students with “people-powered supports” that include mentors, tutors, and counselors. An example is the national effort led by the National Partnership for Student Success, a public-private partnership that has recruited an estimated 187,000 adults toward its goal of 250,000 by 2025. The Partnership has an easy-to-use online process for individuals, schools, districts, employers, colleges, and other community groups to get involved in this effort.


8. At AGDaily, Brian Boyce considers how Heartland America is worshiping. From the article:

For my part, I currently serve as chair of our pastor/parish committee at Prairie City United Methodist Church, am a Past Master at Centerpoint F&AM Lodge 597, on the board for our Clay County Optimist Club and was recently awarded the Meritorious Service Award at the Scottish Rite. My church, like so many other rural congregations, has gone from average weekly attendances of 30ish in the 1990s when I was a kid, to anywhere from five to 10. Whereas we once had our own minister, we now share a pastoral team with four other churches, and I serve as a lay speaker when needed.


The question of increasing active membership is the same there as it is back at the lodge, and every other lodge, where membership numbers are comparable to the national trends. Whether at an Optimist Club breakfast or a church dinner, at the ripe old age of 48, I’m the baby of the bunch, a full generation younger than the other members.


But while attending each of these meetings, the members seem focused on the trends involved in their own group as opposed to the larger phenomenon of de-grouping, even though these members all double as participants in the very same organizations I do. They like to blame partisan politics, from both sides, at each stop. Meanwhile, our Masons go to churches much like mine, and either belong to American Legions or Rotary, not unlike the Optimists. They do seem to notice that members of my generation are physically missing from the community though. Out of 286 graduates in my high school class of 1993, maybe a couple dozen still live in the area. Those are their kids. That said, we’re all friends on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Still together virtually, but not physically.


9. At The American Conservative, Carmel Richardson gets hyper over inflation and its harsh realities. From the piece:

Many Americans can no longer afford to buy a median-priced home. Not only can they not afford it, but they’re approximately $175,000 short of affording it: The median home price is some $425,000, but most Americans are shopping at the $250,000 level. For those neither bold nor foolish enough to buy well above their means, the pathway to home ownership, a key element of the American dream, has become increasingly ephemeral as high home prices combine with the high interest rates to calcify, intentionally or otherwise, a broad class of semi-permanent renters. For this cohort, the can of financial benefit from building equity through property ownership must be kicked still further down the road. Meanwhile, those who do own a home are far from willing to trade their lower mortgage interest rate for a higher one, which is almost certain to be the case when buying a new house today. Thus, the supply of affordable older homes is thin, pinching the market even more.


Home buying is the big one, but there are others too. Monthly median household savings, adjusted for income, remain far below pre-pandemic norms: In 2019, Americans were saving an average of 8.8 percent of their after-tax income. This skyrocketed in April 2020 to 33.8 percent, but by 2022 it had hit the opposite extreme at a sparse 3.5 percent. This year, the average household’s after tax savings have only improved marginally to 4.3 percent. In the meantime, we’ve racked up a collective $1 trillion in household credit card debt, because, as TAC’s Executive Director Emile Doak pointed out last week, it’s now completely acceptable to buy in plastic what you can’t afford in paper. Perhaps our poor savings have as much to do with bad home economic choices as with bad federal ones.


10. Eire Thoughts: At National Review, Michael Brendan Dougherty attacks the NGO displacement of true civil society. From the piece:

Charlie Flanagan TD, the longtime Fine Gael representative, has given something of an exit interview to the Irish Times. His father was the notoriously conservative Catholic legislator Oliver J Flanagan, who had many memorable quotations, my favorite being “Let us hope and trust that there are sufficient proud and ignorant people left in this country to stand up to the intellectuals who are out to destroy faith and fatherland.”


Son Charlie was a liberalizer even before his father exited politics. They were on opposite sides of the legal-divorce debate in the 1980s. He voted for all the liberalizing social changes Ireland has experienced the past few years, but he has found himself stopped short. . . .


But far more intriguingly, Flanagan talks about the withering of real parliamentary democracy and debate in the face of NGO-led social change. Ireland and other European nations are notable for having the government fund nongovernmental organizations to manage and represent certain problems or constituencies. These organizations then lobby the government directly, and government treats their reports as the deliberations of citizens themselves. It’s a kind of subsidized and hermetic progressive civil society that has been stitched over the real social fabric of the nation. Ireland, lacking the civil society that the government would rather govern, builds a Potemkin one and then governs according to those institutions’ priorities.


11. At The Atlantic, Andy Ferguson writes of rooting through the personal library collection of Richard Nixon, and wondering how and what the marginalia markings might tell us of America’s 37th president. From the essay:

Disraeli is packed with observations about political tradecraft. They are penetrating, specific, and cold-blooded. The little dicta come from both the biographer and his subject. “He was a master at disguising retreat as advance,” Blake wrote approvingly. Nixon underlined that sentence, and then this one from Disraeli’s contemporary Lord Salisbury: “The commonest error in politics is sticking to the carcasses of dead policies.”


A line, a check mark, a circle—why Nixon deployed one notation and not another for any given passage is a question as unanswerable as “Why didn’t he burn the tapes?” But it was politics that always caught his eye, and activated his pen. Disraeli, Blake wrote, “suffered from a defect, endemic among politicians, the greatest reluctance to admit publicly that he had been in the wrong, even when the fault lay with his subordinates.” Another from Blake: Successful politicians “realize that a large part of political life in a parliamentary democracy consists not so much in doing things yourself as in imparting the right tone to things that others do for you or to things that are going to happen anyway.”


Should we take marked passages like these, with their ironic acceptance of the fudging and misdirection called for in the political arts, as a gesture toward self-criticism on Nixon’s part? Probably not: Nixon knew himself better than psycho-biographers give him credit for, but self-awareness is not self-criticism. In his chosen profession, he took the bad with the good, and his casual, creeping concessions to the seamier requirements of politics are what eventually did him in.


12. At the Lewiston (Mont.) News-Argus, Laurie Lohrer reports on a trap shoot that raised bucks for local firefighting. From the piece:

More than 75 community members and recreational shooters attended Hilger Fire District’s Annual Trap Shoot on Sept 17, at the Hilger shooting range near the fire hall. All Trap Shoot proceeds benefit Hilger Rural Volunteer Fire District to help cover costs of fire apparatus, maintenance, PPE, and all it takes to respond to fire calls.


Attendees enjoyed lively rounds of trap shooting, an Annie Oakley round and a final Super Shoot, won by Henri Lucki, with Chris Yaeger taking 2nd place. Christina Busy Bees 4H provided and sold sodas, snacks, homemade cookies and sweets, and Hilger Meats provided a generous helping of burgers and polish sausage for the grill.


Lucky 13. True, it may always be “Five O’Clock somewhere,” but at Plough Quarterly, Kathleen Mulhern explains it is not so much the happy but the witching hour. From the article:

Some, associating evil with the absolute inversion of good, believed that 3:00 a.m., twelve hours apart from the time at which Jesus died on the cross, was the apex of the witching hours. Some called it “the devil’s hour.”


I was never taught any of the medieval ways when I was young, but I well remember being told as a young mother that those cranky hours of the early evening when our children, hungry and tired out from the day, ramped up a fussiness that perfectly converged with our own hungers and fatigues, were part of “the witching hour.” Dinner, bath, and bedtime were one long battle for patience on everyone’s part.


Since those years, I’ve learned the term comes in handy for a variety of colloquial situations. The Economist calls the “witching hour” those afterschool hours when juvenile crime actually surges. Healthcare observers suggest that perhaps there is a “witching hour” for the operating rooms in hospitals, during the critical turnover times between surgeries. Stock traders recognize witching hours as well, calling the market instability of certain quarterly periods triple-witching days.


Even in our ultramodern scientific world, there’s some sense that greater volatility eddies around us at times, a subliminal precariousness to the order we maintain at other times. We’ve banished the idea of roaming trolls, but those evening hours, that liminal time between day and night, between work and sleep, between order and chaos remains fraught with a sense of anarchy.


BONUS: At UnHerd, David Mamet, the great playwright, considers the Hollywood writers strike, and what, if anything, it signifies for the larger world. From the article:

Has society benefited by the ubiquity of streaming? Endless internet outlets have resulted in the proliferation of chaff, and the inevitable reduction of writers to the status of stoop labourers. Yet thwarted inspiration will always search for an outlet, which can most easily be found today in the writing of refrigerator magnets—for if they do not amuse, shock and delight, they aren’t purchased. The consumer here has a choice, as he does not with industrial entertainment (buy the subscription and take it or leave it). One, however, cannot spend the evening with a glass of vodka appreciating a refrigerator magnet.


How will it all end? It will not, but will continue, will-he, nil-he: the unfolding Grand-Guignol of human nature, rushing, like the wild river in flood, unchecked, and so on, carving its own banks and channels, while some in the lowlands adapt, flee or pray, and some, thinking themselves immune, picnic on the high ground, clucking at the spectacle, and suggesting to each other that Something Must be Done.


For the Good of the Cause


Uno. At Philanthropy Daily, Stefan Kleinhenz places the reason for American decline with absent fathers, and cites an important new Communio study on faith and relationships. From the piece:


The study reveals that the collapse in marriage rates and the resulting decline in resident fatherhood may offer the best explanation for the decline of Christianity in the United States.


Due. That is a perfect lead-in to remind you of 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.


Tre. Last chance to do the right thing so you don’t miss AmPhil’s forthcoming “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.


Department of Bad Jokes

Q: Why didn’t the minister let his children go to the symphony?


A: Because there was too much sax and violins.


A Dios


Some readers of this epistle know that its Bumbling Author is the cohost of the Victor Davis Hanson Show, but beyond his podcast, “VDH” makes profound appearances—in which he articulates the issues most concerning the Republic—in other venues . . . such as “X” (the social media platform previously known as “Twitter”). His long discussion this week past with Tucker Carlson should be worth your while: Watch it here.


May Charity and Love Prevail in Our Lives,


Jack Fowler, who, though preoccupied by feathers in the wind, can still be reached at jfowler@amphil.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *