Dear Intelligent American,
If you haven’t got time for the waiting game, as we crest into this new month, at least make time for Walter Huston singing September Song. Well, you may not call that “singing”—but then how would you describe the crooning of Bob Dylan when he recounts that the times are a-changin’? Or ponders the possibility of feeling like, well, a rolling stone? Gravelly works.
(By the way, isn’t that a nifty little nuance of our great language, adding the “a-“ and cutting the “g,” then caboosing an apostrophe, so stuff is “a-happenin’” and maybe we’re even “a-dancin’”?)
One last time/song/September reference before we get a-linkin’: In “The Fantastiks” (to which, back in 1982 or so, Yours Truly was able to take Then-Girlfriend-Now-Mrs. Yours Truly during its bajillion-performance original run down at the no-longer-there Sullivan Street Playhouse), the late and great Jerry Orbach (a member of the original cast) advised us to Try to Remember a certain kind of September. What a lovely and wise tune. Pay him heed.
Wait! Permit one truly final time / song / September / remember / rolling stone reference: Sunday will be the 3rd, a day that is always to be remembered by one family, the one whose Papa Was A Rolling Stone.
Sadly, all papa left them was alone. Here, we leave you (a-happily) with a bonanza of wonderful recommendations to kick-start your Labor Day weekend.
The Moss of Intelligence Grows Fat on This Rolling Stone of Recommended Readings
1. At National Review, the great David Bahnsen worries that the American economy may seem like it was Made in Japan. From the analysis:
From 2010 until the Covid year of 2020, there was not a single year of negative real GDP growth—there was no recession or even mini-recession to damage the data—and from 2010 through 2013, we were even in post-crisis recovery years, traditionally among the most robust for GDP growth owing to a “rebound” factor. And yet, alas, for 15 years now, the U.S. economy has averaged precisely half of its post-war real GDP-growth rate: just 1.6 percent net of inflation per year. Furthermore, not a single year in this period reached the 70-year average level of 3.1 percent, except 2021, when Covid reopenings pushed the number cosmetically higher but mostly made up for a huge lockdown-induced contraction the year before. Altogether the 2020–21 period averaged 1.6 percent annual growth—exactly the same as the decade prior to Covid. It is surreal to think of 2018 and its 2.95 percent real GDP growth as the high-water mark of the post-financial-crisis era. Fresh off the Trump tax cuts, a fair amount of domestic investment following the repatriation of foreign profits, accelerated expensing and bonus depreciation for various business expenditures, and a surge in business optimism after various 2017 economic-policy implementations, we got up to a 2.95 percent growth rate—for one year!
The lack of a recession in the postcrisis period has distracted us from the most significant economic story of our lifetimes—that American economic growth is stagnating before our very eyes and in a truly secular and embedded sense. Unlike a jolt of economic change or an idiosyncratic event such as Covid, the last 15 years have seemingly become a “new normal,” with depressing implications for the future. Many economic bears look to depressions, recessions, and significant episodes of distress as their markers, but the new U.S. economic story has become something altogether different—and in many ways worse. It has become Japan.
2. At The 74, wise man Bruno Manno explores a new survey of high-schoolers and their hopes and anxieties about their future. From the piece:
But education today is in a time of disruption and transition. In many respects, it’s not meeting the needs of young people as they enter a changing workforce.
Maybe it’s time to ask high school students what they need most.
The June 2023 “Question the Quo” nationally representative survey of high school students ages 14 to 18 does just that. It documents Gen Z high schoolers’ views and shifting priorities on education and work. It was conducted by the nonprofit ECMC Group in partnership with VICE Media, the seventh survey report since 2020.
It turns out that Gen Z high school students have new and sensible ideas about the relationship between their K-12 education, going to college and starting a career. They want K-12 to provide them with practical knowledge and skills that lead to more education, training and career options after graduation than they now have. Policymakers and educators can and should take these views into serious consideration as they map out new programs and reforms.
3. At City Journal, Samuel Kronen makes the case for the continued importance of the late life-affirming author and psychologist, Victor Frankl. From the essay:
It was here that Frankl’s vision really took hold. The nihilism of the modern age that lacked moral concern for suicide, Frankl later argued, was, at bottom, the same antilife sentiment motivating Hitler’s euthanasia programs.
In Yes to Life, Frankl takes us through the counterarguments to the proposition that life has intrinsic value, going through all the ways that life could be stripped of sense—incurable or terminal illness, mental illness, disability, loss, imprisonment, sterility—to make a case for the inherent sanctity of life. No amount of anguish or adversity can truly take away our humanity, he says. Being human precedes our capacity to be productive, functional, or even mentally sound.
Frankl tells many stories of seemingly hopeless situations in which a person was ultimately able to transcend his circumstances—not by changing them but by changing his attitude toward them. He once treated a young man who was a successful advertiser before he became paralyzed with a spinal tumor. Instead of falling into self-pity and depression, the man achieved a sense of life and purpose by doing everything he still could in his passive state—reading, having stimulating conversations with fellow patients and staff, and so on. As his condition worsened, however, he could no longer do even these things. One evening, he beckoned Frankl to his bedside and told him that he thought it was probably his last night alive, and asked for his dose of morphine now, so that he would not disturb Frankl later and the doctor could prioritize other patients. The man held on to a kind of grace to the last. For Frankl, anecdotes like this were not the exception but the rule.
4. At Law & Liberty, Graham McAleer dives into Albert Camus’s The Rebel and discerns its cautionary advice for a West that fails to accept the limitations of the cosmos. From the essay:
Camus argues that German despair was brought on by a collapse in value consensus: “There was no longer any standard of values, both common to and superior to all these men, in the name of which it would have been possible for them to judge one another.” America is roiled by debates about fairness, care of the migrant and unborn, the proper spheres of government and corporations, and even nature’s great standard, the difference between a man and a woman. As we whittle value consensus down to the vanishing point, Camus would predict rising despair. He would also not be surprised. The ideological strains on Germany in the ’30s were not unique to that country, he thought, but a feature of Western civilization. The problem, according to Camus, was a bad philosophy of history, and the problem had been festering for a long time. At the Nuremberg Trials, Hans Frank, the Governor General of Nazi-occupied Poland, testified that Hitler had a “hatred of form.” That is where we are today, too. Even nature’s most basic forms are now discussed in terms of phobias.
Camus tags Hitler as a convulsionist, someone bent on self-creation because he is utterly intolerant of the limits placed upon us by the cosmos. Inherited, settled forms of thinking and behaving were all cast off, and all emphasis was placed on will, propulsion, and energy. “Neither by culture nor even by instinct or tactical intelligence was he equal to his destiny.” Camus’s point is that Hitler’s murderous dynamism was a phenomenon of our civilization. At Nuremberg, only at times did “the real subject of the trial, that of the historic responsibilities of Western nihilism” come into view. The reason is clear: “A trial cannot be conducted by announcing the general culpability of a civilization.” As we puzzle over our own convulsionists, we can usefully ask Camus’s question again: How did the West—heir to the Pantheon in Rome and the Cathedral in Chartres—end up believing in formless history? What changes in ideas unmoored us from the cosmos and tied our sense of well-being so thoroughly to novelty instead of the ancestral?
5. At Front Porch Republic, Anthony Esolen remembers Little League before the times got a-changin’. From the essay:
That field on Laurel Street was in the middle of an old neighborhood, so the people who lived nearby would hear the sing-song of the boys in the field as they encouraged their pitcher to “fire one in there,” and then the cheers for a nice catch in the field or a double smacked down the line. Parents and siblings showed up to watch the games, often leaning against the chain-link fence that bounded the field, chatting about this and that. In my early years, we didn’t even have paid umpires; we took volunteers, usually a man behind home plate and a teenage boy out in the field. You never wanted your father to be an umpire, because then all the close calls would go against you; that’s one of the things learned in that mysterious School for Fathers that has no walls and no curriculum, but is to be found everywhere and in all ages.
Little League then was only for boys, and that was right. The girls didn’t mind. We did have, for a while, a Miss-E Softball League, but it soon folded. Still, why not have those early-growing tomboy-girls play baseball with the boys? People had an instinctive sense that it wasn’t fitting. The result was that you had many more boys playing than otherwise, because the less athletic or the more slowly maturing among them didn’t have to sweat out competition against girls, and this helped them define themselves as boys, giving them a good experience of boyish camaraderie and teamwork.
6. At The American Conservative, Alexander Zubatov makes the indictment against public education. From the piece:
That our public spaces and even the overwhelming majority of our families would be abject failures at educating children is the juncture at which we have arrived by outsourcing the task to the priesthood of “professional” educators. Those educators serve their own masters and have their own agenda, which is not ours. As I have previously explained, today, a disturbing proportion of that agenda comes from a single 1968 tract written by Paolo Freire, a Brazilian Marxist who saw education in its rightful form as laying the bedrock for a revolution. To an extent, Freire’s was a misguided response to the very circumstances Brownson had warned against. Freire saw the high priests of pedagogy treating students as passive receptacles into which deposits of knowledge could be made. That knowledge was of a sort that merely prepared those students to become cogs in the machinery of their own oppression.
Freire’s proposed countermeasure was a dialogic, problem-posing education in which there were no teachers, no students, and no preconceived curriculum, but rather, student-teachers and teacher-students who learned from one another and wherein the students’ experiences, interests, and worldviews would anchor their own learning and guide the course of their studies. And yet Freire’s gesture of swearing off any curriculum animating the educational mission cannot be taken at face value: The ultimate end-goal of revolution, the preparation of these students to overthrow their masters and oppressors, was never far from his sights, and he made that goal perfectly explicit. Liberation is “the objective to be achieved,” he explains. The student learns through “participat[ion] in the revolutionary process,” as “the revolutionary process is eminently educational in character.” His brand of education through dialogue segues into a “cultural revolution” as “a necessary continuation of the dialogical cultural action which must be carried out before the revolution reaches power.”
7. At Public Discourse, Sarah Reardon realizes that gardening is beautiful but insufficient . . . but maybe also compensatory. From the essay:
Yet there are other gathering places and activities that could strengthen social ties even more powerfully. Gardening demands a certain amount of labor that a bar doesn’t require of its customers, for the garden’s central endeavor is not relaxation but loving and patient work. Thus, a garden promises less entertainment and amusement than a third place does, demanding instead focus, effort, and attention. Because it’s not passive or consumptive, it is less conducive to the conversation and dialogue that a bar or diner might allow. A garden, therefore, is not a place for discussion and debate where unexpected consensus might emerge.
But one look at social media suggests that mere cultivation of public conversation cannot create a spirit of friendship. The free-speech optimists who think open conversation is sufficient for civic cohesion rely on a utopian view of human nature: we need only rub elbows at the pub and talk things over, and our issues will eventually resolve themselves.
Spontaneous agreement and goodwill, in other words, are unlikely to emerge by convening at third places. Today’s local establishments—many of which donned rainbow flags and signs declaring that “hate has no place here” last month—indicate that many modern commercial places by themselves are insufficient to create common ground. The ground of the garden poses a different possibility for connection, one that compensates for some of the deficiencies of third places. At shared gardens, neighbors connect through a shared project. Fellow gardeners enjoy the increasingly neglected endeavor of working the ground.
8. At Plough Quarterly, Mary Townsend unpacks the practice of hatred and creating enemies. From the article:
Indeed, I have even heard it argued among authors of my acquaintance that it is pleasant to do a certain amount of conscious cultivation of this sort, taking an ordinary human with whom you have a vague rivalry, and enjoying the sensation of imagining this person into something of more importance, someone to scheme about, to rejoice or moan at any failure or triumph. Partly, this is a way of keeping yourself on your toes, particularly if other people happen to have picked you to cultivate as their own cheerful enemy-project. It also gives you a sense of importance, as someone distinguished enough to have an enemy, as you might own a particularly expensive watch. (Of course, this elevates the importance of the enemy as well.)
But amidst all this comedy, it should be obvious that it is terrible, actually, to have a real enemy, and probably worse than having a testy neighbor. It is no fun to get a nasty email, or even to be cut from a party, not to mention if someone tries to get you fired, or spreads malicious gossip. . . .
So why then does that temptation to invest in something as really dangerous as an enemy remain? Consider what making an enemy out of someone concretely does to the shape of your soul. In a sense, to pin the tail on the donkey of a rival in this way animates something that was not, strictly speaking, alive before. Hence the saying to “have an animus” for someone, so much does hatred seem to be creative in its energies. This creative energy even extends to actual inanimate objects – when something as banal as a toaster or the kitchen sink doesn’t act as you like it, you treat it as though that toaster had a self, a self you could blame for your burnt toast.
9. At First Things, Francis Maier explores Pope Francis’s ongoing public acida with his American Catholic critics. From the commentary:
Critics are not always enemies. Some speak out of love, even when their words are heated.
Pope Francis’s distaste for the United States is not well disguised. As an American, I find that unfortunate, but also understandable. Washington has a long and often ugly record of interference in Latin American affairs. As an American Catholic, I wish he had more trust in our bishops, overwhelmingly faithful men, and more sensitivity to the intense challenges the American Church now faces. I also think the pope’s China policy is gravely unwise. But the Church has often played the long game successfully, so yes, I could be wrong.
What I’m not wrong about is the curious nature of the pope’s recent interview with the Spanish-language platform Vida Nueva, as reported here. The report is worth reading. Francis has a gift, intentional or otherwise, for unhelpful generalities. He suggests that a Vatican III would be premature because “Vatican II still has not been implemented.” That would be news to his two predecessors (three counting Paul VI) who, unlike Francis, actually attended the council and labored mightily—along with a great many other people, not all of them acceptably “progressive”—to incarnate its teachings in the life of the Church. Francis worries about corrupt restorationists, “right-wing ideologies,” and priests who go into neighborhoods to “dogmatize.” But they’re hardly the most dangerous problems facing the Church. Western civilization is drowning in elitist scientism, economic inequities, sexual anarchy, crackpot transhumanist dreaming, and assaults on marriage, family, and biblical anthropology. These might warrant some priority. And the unnamed “prophets of confusion” the pope mentions in his interview as undermining the mission of the Church might be found quite generously even among some of the Holy Father’s loudest supporters.
10. At Acton Institute’s Religion and Liberty, Christine Rosen looks at conservatism and does not find the corpse Jon Askonas declared in a recent issue of Compact. From the essay:
Askonas never offers a proper definition of the role of tradition, but philosopher Roger Scruton’s description will do: “For the conservative, human beings come into this world burdened by obligations, and subject to institutions and traditions that contain with them a precious inheritance of wisdom, without which the exercise of freedom is as likely to destroy human rights and entitlements as to enhance them.”
Note that Scruton, like most conservative writers, more often speaks of traditions, plural, not “Tradition.” That is because many forms of tradition flourish in different communities, in different times and places, and of course not all of them (foot-binding, sati) are worth bequeathing to future generations. For conservatives, traditions are not static things; they can and must change to fit new circumstances. But conservatives also believe that such change should come slowly, thoughtfully, and with humility—weighing the benefits and drawbacks. As Kirk observed, “Conservatives respect the wisdom of their ancestors . . . they are dubious of wholesale alteration. They think society is a spiritual reality, possessing an eternal life but a delicate constitution: it cannot be scrapped and recast as if it were a machine.”
Conservatives believe that traditions serve as moderating influences on the deeply human desire for change, not a means of suffocating that desire. As Edmund Burke wrote in a 1792 letter, “We must all obey the great law of change. It is the most powerful law of nature, and the means perhaps of its conservation. All we can do, and that human wisdom can do, is to provide that the change shall proceed by insensible degrees. This has all the benefits which may be in change, without any of the inconveniences of mutation.” Or, as Kirk put it, “Conservatism is never more admirable than when it accepts changes that it disapproves, with good grace, for the sake of a general conciliation.”
11. At Tablet Magazine, Stuart Halpern finds among American politicians and activists a fascination with and affection for Daniel, he of the lion’s den. From the article:
John Adams, later to become America’s second president, believed that Daniel modeled leadership qualities for the young country. Writing to James Warren in April 1776, he said: “the management of so complicated and mighty a Machine, as the United Colonies, requires the Meekness of Moses, the Patience of Job, the Wisdom of Solomon, add to the Valor of Daniel.”
The struggle for the abolition of slavery, and later civil rights, also saw Daniel’s courage as inspiring the cause. A well-known spiritual used the story of Daniel in the lion’s den as a metaphor for deliverance from slavery and injustice. The spiritual begins, “didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel . . . and why not every man?” Frederick Douglass, in Chapter 11 of his autobiography, writes that he “felt like one who had escaped a den of hungry lions.” And in October 1864, Sojourner Truth, the escaped slave turned abolitionist and women’s rights activist, thought of the story while visiting President Lincoln. Truth, who never learned to read or write, was a devoted student of the Bible. She saw in the Great Emancipator shades of Babylon’s great visionary:
I said to him, Mr. President, when you first took your seat I feared you would be torn to pieces, for I likened you unto Daniel, who was thrown into the lion’s den; and if the lions did not tear you into pieces, I knew that it would be God that had saved you; and I said if he spared me I would see you before the four years expired, and he has done so, and now I am here to see you for myself.
Decades later, in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. drew comfort from Daniel’s friends’ faith amid the fire, musing: “Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a higher moral law was involved.”
12. Out in Oregon at the Philomath News, Brad Fuqua reports on a firewood fundraiser that raised big bucks for the local youth center. From the article:
From that 2001 effort, the organization’s firewood fundraiser took off. Sales reached more than 50 cords in 2010 and nine years later surpassed 70 for the first time. In 2020 and 2021 as the pandemic raged on, orders surpassed 90.
“It really is one of those fundraisers that is kind of unique to Philomath,” Van Vlack said. “It matches our community pretty well.”
This year, it appears the project will hit 100 cords in sales.
“The program has grown so much — really since 2019 was the year it exploded,” Van Vlack said. “We started out at about four cords, we got it up to an average of about 40 to 50 and now, we’ve been at 90 to 100.”
Lucky 13. At The Spectator, Bill Kauffman opts for Plan B and tells of vacationing in Scranton, west of Capri. From the beginning of the piece:
Our big adventure this summer was supposed to be a trip to the Capri for a young friend’s wedding, but there was a hitch in the plan. You see, in my six decades on this orb I never have gotten the hang of this whole money thing. (Whose idea was it, anyway?) But I am blessed in countless ways, not least by having married a woman who, when she moved east from Los Angeles, expressed a wish to see two places: Cleveland and Utica. So Lucine and I hitchlessly shifted to Plan B. Capri was out, replaced by an overnight in Scranton, Pennsylvania, followed by a visit to Centralia, the Keystone State’s ghost town, under which a coal-mine fire has burned since 1962.
Don’t think that I was acting out of tightfistedness. Rather, our trip was consistent with the aphorism of midcentury Western historian and essayist Bernard DeVoto: “Why see Paris, France, if you haven’t seen Paris, Illinois?”
I have long nursed a hypocritical disdain for travel, adverting in a pinch to the occasionally peripatetic American sage Ralph Waldo Emerson, who between far-flung lecture gigs declared, “I am not much an advocate for traveling, and I observe that men run away to other countries because they are not good in their own, and run back to their own because they pass for nothing in the new places. For the most part, only the light characters travel. Who are you that you have no task to keep you at home?”
So in opting for Pennsylvania over Capri we were acting in conformance with Transcendentalist principles.
Bonus: At Catholic World Report, Julian Kwasniewski questions the great Irish scholar Mark Dooley about the cultural fate of his native land. From the interview:
CWR: You have called Ireland the “woke capital of Europe.” Would you say that the rapidity of cultural and religious change in Ireland over the past 40 years is largely an attempt to prove that Ireland is no longer its historically backward, insular, and Catholic self?
Dooley: Yes, that is true to a large extent.
When we gained our independence from Britain, the aim was to establish a Catholic identity. Indeed, Irish identity was Catholic identity. There was no area of Irish life exempt from the Church’s influence. However, the appalling revelations regarding child sex abuse completely eroded the Church’s moral standing in Ireland, ultimately leading to its tragic decline today.
At the same time, progressive forces saw their opportunity and agitated for social changes which not only defied Catholic teaching but sought to eradicate Catholicism from every area of Irish life. And so now we have swung to the other extreme: a country that wildly embraces every woke cause and one that considers religion the enemy of freedom. Of course, the “freedom” they speak of is not freedom at all but license to do whatever one wishes.
Hegel called that “hedonism”, by which he meant addiction masquerading as liberty.
For the Good of the Cause
Uno. Last chance to sign up for the September 7th AmPhil “Scotch Talk” on grant writing and foundation fundraising. Joining host Jeremy Beer in the wisdom-share on these matters of profound importance to nonprofit aficionados will be Iain Bernhoft and Stephanie D’Anselmi, on hand to discuss writing polished and compelling grant proposals, wooing foundation officers, and plenty more. So get your favorite tumbler, fill it with some welcome libation, and join the conversation. Register right here.
Due. Get a-registerin’ for the forthcoming Center for Civil Society conference on “Rise of the Nones: How Declining Religious Affiliation Is Changing Civil Society.” It takes place on November 7–8 in glorious Scottsdale, AZ. Speakers include Shelby Steele and Mary Eberstadt (dang!). Get complete information right here.
Tre. Another reminder, this from Philanthropy Daily, where Jonathan Hannah tells of the 2024 AmPhil Fundraising Fellowship. From the piece:
The AmPhil Fundraising Fellowship is a nine-month leadership program where fellows will learn the history of philanthropy in American civil society, explore contemporary issues related to fundraising, and complete a personal project enabling them to bring value to their nonprofit organization.
Fellows will meet virtually on a monthly basis to discuss readings, workshop ideas, and examine the vocation of fundraising. Fellows will also have special access to AmPhil’s online educational opportunities, including our In the Trenches master classes, and will be invited to our annual Givers, Doers, & Thinkers Conference, which will take place in Southern California in October of 2024.
Interested? If so, you’ll find complete information here.
Quattro. If fundraising for nonprofits is your game, then you just gotta attend AmPhil’s forthcomg “In the Trenches” Master Class (Thursday, October 12th, via Zoom, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., Eastern), on “Integrating Direct Mail and Digital Outreach.” This session will be a goldmine of wisdom. Get your pick and shovel and sign up—easily done right here. (And one day, when our paths cross, you can say, “I’m so glad I took your advice about that class, Yours Truly!”)
Department of Bad Jokes
Q: Why did Arnold Palmer bring extra pairs of socks with him to the golf tournament?
A: In case he got a hole in one.
James Buckley’s funeral was, as funerals go, or as anything might go, a beautiful service about a beautiful and holy man. His daughter Priscilla offered—grace-filled—what may be the most exquisite eulogy one could ever, or will ever, hear. She has kindly allowed National Review to publish it. You will find it here.
May We Seek and Be Blessed with the Wisdom to Know Every Season and Its Purpose,
Jack Fowler, who turns, turns, turns at email@example.com.