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Category: American Culture
Posted by: Tocqueville
Edmund Burke famously described society as a contract between the living, the dead, and the unborn. But modern society increasingly seems preoccupied with only the living. Most people are so immersed in the demands of the present that they give little or no thought to the past or the future.

Thankfully, Patrick Deneen is not like most people. An Associate Professor of Government at Georgetown University, Deneen is the Founding Director of the Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy. Last week, he gave a powerful speech at Berry College in Rome, Georgia. Here are just a few snippets:

"[E]verywhere we see around us the ruins of once vibrant culture. Most of us know little or nothing of how to produce food. More and more of us cannot build, cannot fix, cannot track, cannot tell time by looking in the sky, cannot locate the constellations, cannot hunt, cannot skin or butcher, cannot cook, cannot can, cannot make wine, cannot play instruments, and if we can, often do not know the songs of our culture by which to entertain a variety of generations, cannot dance, cannot remember long passages of poetry, don’t know the Bible, cannot spin or knit, cannot sew or darn, cannot chop wood or forage for mushrooms, cannot make a rock wall, cannot tell the kinds of trees by leaves or the kinds of birds by shape of wing – and I could continue this list for a good while longer. My grandmother could do most of the things on this list and a whole bunch more. And by many measures, our time would regard her as uneducated. They would regard her as “simple” in spite of the complexity of things she knew how to do. But, if the lights went out tomorrow, she would have been the smartest person we know; she would have seen us through, and not our college professors. She’s gone now, and much that knowledge has been laid to rest with her because, by the time of my generation, we didn’t need to know those things anymore."

"Most people would respond to this list with perhaps a modicum of regret, wishing at least that we could track – how cool is that! – but also recognizing that we don’t HAVE to. After all, we have GPS systems for getting around, and industrial agriculture for food production, cheap clothing from China so that we don’t have to make or repair clothes, cheap labor from Mexico so that we don’t have to build or fix, and the internet for everything else…."

"But this is precisely the point: within roughly two generations we have lost a vast storehouse of cultural memory that was the accumulation of countless generations who saw it as their duty to posterity, and based in gratitude toward ancestors, to ensure safe passage of this knowledge to future generations. Culture has been viewed as disposable based upon the illusion of independence from nature that our modern technologies have bequeathed us. Why spend time diligently learning at the side of your father how to repair a bucket or navigate by the stars or milk a cow when every young person knows that a machine will do this work or cheap products are readily available? Every adult and child knows that if you have a problem with a computer, you go to the youngest person in the family for advice about how to repair it: ancestral knowledge has been replaced by the constantly up to date. So, too, we professors are told that we need to adapt our teaching to the modern technologies utilized by our students, as if these won’t in fact influence the teachings themselves."

"If all technologies ultimately replace themselves with something else, we are living in a time when our technologies are replacing the original and essential human technology of culture. However, if culture is one of the preconditions for technology of all sorts that make us human, then we are employing technology in ways that increasingly dehumanizes ourselves, that prevents us from becoming human beings. By destroying nature and culture, we ultimately destroy ourselves."

What do you think? Is our love affair with technology and progress eradicating something fundamental about our human nature? Should we be concerned?

Read the whole thing here.
Distressing Days in America. Warning: Do not read any further, if you are home alone in the dark.

A tale of three connected articles sent to me by three separate and unconnected friends:

The Worst First: from Spengler, the anonymous columnist from the Asian Times Online, who takes his pen name from the German philosopher of history, Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), who famously chronicled and foretold The Decline of the West.

You see where this is going.

From "Obama's women reveal his secret":

"Be afraid - be very afraid. America is at a low point in its fortunes, and feeling sorry for itself. When Barack utters the word hope, they instead hear, handout. A cynic might translate the national motto, E pluribus unum, as something for nothing. Now that the stock market and the housing market have failed to give Americans something for nothing, they want something for nothing from the government. The trouble is that he who gets something for nothing will earn every penny of it, twice over."

Read the full article here (if you must) and also this piece from today, which briefly, expertly, and depressingly examines the philosophy and scholarship at the heart of Jeremiah Wright's sermonic ejaculations.

A Solution?

Charles R. Kesler, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and editor of the Claremont Review of Books, in the March 2008 edition of Imprimis, writes: "limited government is not a lost cause."

While Professor Kesler correctly observes that Barack Obama's sloganeering has offered little in the way of substance (merely "change" as a mystical cure-all), he admits that the Republican "dereliction" to their traditional duty is far more troubling.

Kesler: "Utterly missing in this election season is a serious focus on limited or constitutional government."


Kesler feels obliged to reconcile limited government with the need for efficient government in a modern world in great peril.

Insisting that limited government can also be "energetic" government, Kesler envisions a rededication to circumscribing the federal government to "its proper ends," empowered to protect a few "fixed and unchanging human rights."

But which ones?

Kesler loves the Declaration of Independence (who doesn't), which he calls a "great meditation...on republican government...grounded in human nature and operating by law and consent, [designed to protect] and affirm human liberty."

However, his curative is predicated on the notion that Natural Rights are self evident. The Problem of 2008? Natural Law is not self evident--at least not to all concerned parties. To many, the Natural Law argument is a rhetorical fiction designed to put forward a political point of view. In essence, the skeptics are correct. We all subscribe to philosophies that compel us toward the end we seek, and it is often impossible to see what came first: the self evident truth or the goal to which the self evident truth exhorts us.

That aside, What are Kesler's answers? His plan of action?

"Stand up for the flag / and let's all ring the Liberty Bell" (seriously).

To my way of thinking, you can never quote Merle Haggard too much. But even Kesler admits "restoration of constitutional government will require much more from us." Having said that, even as he acknowledges more is needed, Professor Kesler offers only more bromides and the sadly acute observation that 2008 seems unlikely to yield a leader serious about re-embracing the traditions of the framers.

Where's the Beef ?

Some Optimism.

The single ray of hope--such as it is--comes from Stephen E. Flynn, Jeanne J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. In the March 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs, Flynn writes:

"Resilience has historically been one of the United States' great national strengths. It was the quality that helped tame a raw continent and then allowed the country to cope with the extraordinary challenges that occasionally placed the American experiment in peril."

"Americans have drawn strength from adversity. Each generation bequeathed to the next a sense of confidence and optimism about the future.

"But this reservoir of self-sufficiency is being depleted."

Flynn asserts that we are increasingly "tethered" to modern conveniences, painfully unprepared for emergency, and disastrously dependent on an aging infrastructure.

We (the people) are detached, divided, ignorant, frightened, and impotent--which makes us extremely vulnerable to natural disasters and inviting prey for terrorists.

"These are hazards that can be managed only by an informed, inspired, and mobilized public," says Flynn.

What to do?

Flynn: "Reawaken the spirit of community and volunteerism."

The lesson of 9-11 should not be the horror inflicted on America at the hands of the terrorists who commandeered three planes and drove them into civilian targets of opportunity, inflicting mass carnage and confusion.

The lesson? We should embrace the model of United Flight 93. Citizens accomplished what NORAD could not. Heroism, awareness, and unity of purpose thwarted the terrorists on Flight 93.

Flynn gives a four-step process to restoring American resilience, all of which require awareness, rededication, and national spirit. Like Kesler, he suggests that presidential leadership is essential, and he also calls on the mass media and Hollywood to join the crusade. Good luck. But we will see.

Flynn gets a bit closer to identifying our problem: ignorance, apathy, and disconnect.

What can you do today? Get involved in your community. Fight for truth, justice, and the American way in your neighborhoods, parishes, and precincts--one yard at a time.

Note: thanks to Swabian Prince for Spengler, TF from SoCal for Kesler, and the Martian Mariner for Flynn (fyi: my offline invitation to MM still stands).
Category: American Culture
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
I have previously proclaimed my preference for Newsweek over TIME (although, ironically, I subscribe to TIME and not Newsweek--long story).

As I reported earlier this week, I had a chance to pore over the 10 March 2008 edition of Newsweek during a three-hour flight back from Washington, D.C.

In a forthcoming post, I intend to comment on Evan Thomas's essay on bias in the mainstream media, "The Myth of Objectivity," in which he offered some provocative analysis--but falls short of capturing the full extent to which complicated forces and personalities lead to politically slanted news coverage.

But before I get to that, a bit of almost unadulterated praise and sincere admiration: I very much appreciated the cover story marking the passing of William F. Buckley, "HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT." The Newsweek treatment proved far superior to TIME in terms of providing breadth, depth, and, most importantly, recognition of the historic impact of Buckley's life. The ten-page, heart-of-the-magazine, multi-author, multi-view coverage featured a bio-piece from top political writer and sometime-editor, Evan Thomas himself. Adding to the excellent primary story, the edition offered two fascinating ancillary opinions from Katrina Vanden Heuvel, liberal maven and editor and publisher of The Nation, and Michael Gerson, former George W. Bush speechwriter, regular contributor, and articulate proponent of "compassionate conservatism."

The death of Buckley, quite frankly, left me at a loss for appropriate words. Admittedly, my silence sprang from my unfamiliarity with him as a person. While I certainly knew the celebrated public persona of the quintessentially urbane conservative intellectual, I knew very little about the man behind the iconic presence.

The Newsweek coverage offered a much-needed window into the soul of the warm and compassionate, "sunny and hopeful" (and funny) Buckley.

Responding to Whittaker Chambers and his assertion that the West was doomed, and, therefore, "attempts to save the West [like the National Journal] were also doomed," Buckley responded:

"Yes, well, even so, America needs a journal to argue why we ought to have survived."

When asked what he would do if he won the 1965 New York mayoral race, Buckley answered: "Demand a recount."

More Serious: his political philosophy in two sentences:

"I believe that the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world. I further believe that the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level."

On the other hand, all who know him agreed that Buckley placed friendship over politics and ideology. He was the “civil conservative.”


I said almost unadulterated praise:

Newsweek (and Vanden Heuvel) offered the two obligatory caveats in a Buckley obituary: he supported McCarthy (the bad one), and he resisted the civil rights revolution. These reminders are appropriate--but, for some context, one might also notice that other prominent and well-meaning Cold War Catholics of the time rallied around Joe McCarthy--think of the Kennedy family, for example. And one might also note, if we truly lived in a society in which we were able to speak freely without fear of reprisal, that the myriad laudable effects of judicially coerced racial equality actually produced a plethora of unintended deleterious consequences within modern society that have nothing to do with equal justice.

One other quibble: Newsweek succumbs to the current media template that asserts that the civil and refined Buckley, if he could, would tell us that Rush Limbaugh and his ill-mannered ilk are destroying the conservative movement, giving back the hard-won gains of the last fifty years.

But, up until last week, Buckley could have told us anything he wanted--and usually did. I think it is fair to assume that Buckley preferred a wholly different style from the right-wing talkers--but that seems beside the point. Buckley left us with no deathbed denunciation of the less-talented and coarser voices of conservatism, and it is disingenuous to attempt to craft such a condemnation posthumously.
William F. Buckley died at his desk at his home in Stamford, Connecticut last week; he was 82. I agree with George Nash, who called Buckley "the preeminent voice of American conservatism" during the latter half of the twentieth century.

Please consider this excerpt from Peggy Noonan's fitting tribute to the conservative sage:

"Buckley was a one-man refutation of Hollywood's idea of a conservative. He was rising in the 1950s and early '60s, and Hollywood's idea of a conservative was still Mr. Potter, the nasty old man of "It's a Wonderful Life," who would make a world of grubby Pottersvilles if he could, who cared only about money and the joy of bullying idealists. Bill Buckley's persona, as the first famous conservative of the modern media age, said no to all that. Conservatives are brilliant, capacious, full of delight at the world and full of mischief, too. That's what he was. He upended old clichés.

"This was no small thing, changing this template. Ronald Reagan was the other who changed it, by being a sunny man, a happy one. They were friends, admired each other, had two separate and complementary roles. Reagan was in the game of winning votes, of persuading, of leading a political movement that catapulted him to two terms as governor of California, the nation's biggest state, at a time when conservatives were seemingly on the defensive but in retrospect were rising to new heights. He would speak to normal people and persuade them of the efficacy of conservative solutions to pressing problems. Buckley's job was not reaching on-the-ground voters, or reaching voters at all, and his attitude toward his abilities in that area was reflected in his merry answer when asked what he would do if he won the mayoralty of New York. "Demand a recount," he famously replied. His role was speaking to those thirsting for a coherent worldview, for an intellectual and moral attitude grounded in truth. He provided intellectual ballast. Inspired in part by him, voters went on to support Reagan. Both could have existed without the other, but Buckley's work would have been less satisfying, less realized, without Reagan and his presidency, and Reagan's leadership would have been more difficult, and also somehow less satisfying, without Buckley."

I recommend reading all of Noonan's excellent essay in full here.