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Why our Constitution Can’t “Live” by Bruce Frohnen

Why our Constitution Can’t “Live”

by Bruce Frohnen

Constituion

For more than a half century, now, we have heard that we have a “living” constitution. And it has always been difficult to argue with this position. After all, the opposite of a “living” constitution is a dead one.  And who wants to be seen defending the dead hand of the past? Wouldn’t we all want to be defenders of life, breath, progress, and all good things?

But the question we have to come to grips with in considering our Constitution is not “do you like living, breathing, and other good things?” It is, rather, “do Constitutions breathe?” Or, if you prefer, “do we have to treat our constitution as a living, breathing being in order to support the good things we want to have come out of our political system?”

After all, we all have people, and even pets, we want to make certain breath so that they can live. We love our families, and even our pets. And most of us are rather fond of our Constitution as well. But a constitution does not live or breath, nor should be made to jump around as if it did.

But, if a constitution can’t breathe, then why is the metaphor so prevalent, and seemingly powerful? Because it is useful. It presents us with a stark choice, between standing on the side of old, bad things like slavery or segregation, or insisting that the government ought to act in a fashion that is, in essence, moral. Continue reading

Plato’s Big Mistake by Louis Markos

Plato

Plato’s Big Mistake

Plato never cared much for the sophists, viewing them as amoral peddlers of a relativistic kind of wisdom with the potential to corrupt the souls of those who hired them. It is therefore not surprising that when they appear in his dialogues, they are generally treated in a negative or at least suspect manner. InProtagoras, however, Plato treats the sophist of the title with considerable respect. He even has Socrates debate with Protagoras—on fairly equal terms!—a two-part question that Plato considered vital: what is the nature of virtue and can it be taught to others? Although the more elitist Socrates begins the dialogue by asserting that virtue cannot be taught, as the dialogue proceeds, he slowly adopts a position concerning the nature of virtue that drives him—almost against his will—toward the necessary conclusion that virtue can be taught.

In striking contrast to the Christian doctrine of original sin, Plato argues in Protagoras—and elsewhere—that human evil is not the result of rebellion or disobedience. Although G. K. Chesterton was certainly right when he claimed that original sin was “the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved,” Plato seems to have overlooked this proof in favor of a different cause for vicious behavior. “For myself,” says Socrates, “I am fairly certain that no wise man believes anyone sins willingly or willingly perpetrates any evil or base act. They know very well that all evil or base action is involuntary” (345e). Later in the dialogue, Socrates explains more clearly what the cause is of this involuntary evil:

…when people make a wrong choice of pleasures and pains—that is, of good and evil—the cause of their mistake is lack of knowledge….no one who either knows or believes that there is another possible course of action, better than the one he is following, will ever continue on his present course when he might choose the better. To “act beneath yourself” is the result of pure ignorance, to “be your own master” is wisdom. (357e, 358c)

Evil actions, that is to say, are caused not by sin but by ignorance. If we knew of another, better course of action, we would take it. Continue reading

In Love with Words by Bradley J. Birzer

In Love with Words

love of books

As far back as I can remember, my mother always had new books to offer me.

When I was just staring to read, she gave me Dr. Seuss and Richard Scary books. These were my favorites.

As soon as I was old enough to ride my bike any distance at all, she had me get a library card, and she always had the schedule for where the library’s book mobile would be on any given day. I got to know the librarians in my little Kansas town well, and they always had suggestions for me. I had a rather boyish crush on Ms. Canfield at the city’s public library, and I considered my high school librarian, George Story, one of the wittiest and best-read persons I’ve had the privilege to know in this life.

Through all of my pre-college years, my mom always served as a wondrous source for great reading suggestions. An avid reader herself, she also taught primary school for 41 years, and she had a solid and sometimes downright uncanny sense of what I should read and when I should read it. Continue reading

Controlled Burn, Alinskyian organizing, and Common Core by Stephanie Block

(Book Review)
Controlled Burn Alinskyian organizing and Common Core: A Book Review of A Match on Dry Grass: Community Organizing as a Catalyst for School Reform By Mark R. Warren, Karen L. Mapp, and the Community Organizing and School Reform Project, Oxford University Press (2011)

Match-on-Grass-cover2


The title of this book, A Match on Dry Grass, is a metaphor. The education system is desiccated; parents are frustrated and angry. In such an environment, all it takes is a small push for reform, supplied by professional organizers around the country, and a wild prairie-fire of a movement against the “’savage inequalities’ of American public education” will be ignited. (p. 5) At least, that’s the plan.

Continue reading

Putting the Arts into Practice: Renewing Western Culture by Daniel McInerny

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Putting the Arts into Practice: Renewing Western Culture 

Daniel McInerny

At the crescendo of his stirring cri de coeur“Word and Anti-Word: A Christian Humanist Meditation,”Bradley Birzer asks how we might best undertake the renewal, inspired and grounded in the best intellectual traditions of the Christian West, that is so badly needed in our ever-darkening times. For an answer Dr. Birzer turns to Russell Kirk’s claim that one of the principal tasks of the renewal we need is the formation of the moral imagination, a claim that Birzer finds confirmed in the words of the novelist and painter Michael O’Brien:

“Because art has an inherent restorative power, and furthermore because it always has an authoritative voice in the soul, we must trust that over time works of truth and beauty created from authentic spiritual sources will help to bring about a cultural reconfiguration and reorientation of man.”

The very title of this on-line journal, The Imaginative Conservative, attests to the centrality of the arts, of beautiful works of imagination grounded in the full truth of the human person, to a robust Christian renewal of Western culture. That centrality has been particularly underscored in the past week or so, not only by Birzer’s edifying post, but also by Stratford Caldecott’s reflection on the nature of beauty, and Christopher B. Nelson’s lecture, “Story Telling & Judgment: Cultivating the Imagination.”

I hope you will indulge me as I add my own note to this chorus. I do so as a philosopher who takes his chief inspiration from the thought of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. But today, I want to address the problem of the arts and cultural renewal primarily in my role as an artist, as a writer. In whole-hearted agreement with Birzer’s diagnosis of our cultural predicament, I want to move now from the theoretical to the practical and ask: what at the level of artistic practice is most needed to bring about the renewal of the moral imagination? My concern, therefore, is with the social problem: how to get artists in our tradition in a better position to be seen, heard and appreciated by the general public.

I say “better position,” because I know there are many contemporary artists who, like myself, are working hard to produce, in O’Brien’s words, “works of truth and beauty created from authentic spiritual sources” and that reach as wide a public as possible. Some of these artists I know, others I have not yet encountered. But I trust that many, if not most, of these artists would agree with me that much of our work remains at the margins of popular consciousness. So I want very briefly, and perhaps tendentiously, to suggest some ways in which this situation might be ameliorated.

First—and foremost—we artists must commit to excellence in our respective crafts. It is not enough to sincerely want to change the culture. As Samuel Goldwyn reportedly once said: “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.” Our first, professional task is not to be a teacher or a preacher, but an artist. It’s not that works of art don’t “say” anything. But what is said must always be articulated within the discipline of beautiful craftsmanship. Artists seeking to reform culture with the enduring wisdom of the Christian humanist tradition must therefore not take the approach of the Protestant world and seek to make art a melodramatic extension of preaching, even as, at the institutional level, some evangelical film production companies are extensions of evangelical churches.

But though we don’t want our artistic institutions to be extensions of churches, that doesn’t mean we don’t need institutions. We live in a marvelous time when artists don’t need to depend upon getting picked by traditional gatekeepers. Even popular writers with long and acclaimed track records (Stephen King, David Mamet, and, in a way, J.K. Rowling) are seizing the opportunity to self-publish their work, and so to become owners in a way they never have been before. I have nothing against getting picked by a traditional gatekeeper (a New York agent, the Sundance Film Festival), but this exclusive part of the market, to mix my metaphor, is pretty well saturated. So time spent storming the castle might better be spent picking ourselves and forming institutions—publication companies, film production companies, theater repertory companies—of our own.

Forming an institution can be enormously expensive. How to finance it? In two ways. First, artists in our tradition need to be as innovative in the financing of their work as secular artists are. Crowdfunding, trusting in the audience to think enough about the work to want to support it financially, is a game-changing phenomenon in the economic lives of artists. If the dubious Amanda Palmer can raise over a million dollars with a Kickstarter campaign, then why shouldn’t our artists try to do the same?

Crowdfunding, however, cannot accomplish everything. Artists and artistic institutions in our time also need angels: teams of investors and benefactors who understand the situation Birzer describes and who commit to the formation of the moral imagination with their financial support. The artistic riches of Europe we turn to so often for inspiration are due in large part to generous patrons of the arts. We wouldn’t have Dante or Shakespeare or The Sistine Chapel without them. So we need to revive this great tradition of patronage. For without it, the artistic reform we need will never be able to take practical effect.

All of this effort, finally, should have both a counter-cultural and popular aim. By this I mean that our artistic products should not be watered down for the general populace. Drawing upon our rich artistic heritage, we should make works of art that, in significant ways, will necessarily run counter to the mainstream taste. But precisely in doing so, and to quote T.S. Eliot, we will create the taste by which we are to be enjoyed. At first, our audiences will be small. But they will, hopefully, be rabid, and function thus as what Seth Godin calls “sneezers,” passing along their enthusiasm for our works to the wider world like a virus. FilmmakerWhit Stillman is a good example of an artist who started out making small, idiosyncratic, independent films, but who then, with the aid of some “sneezers,” was able to bring his work to a much wider public.

This, as I see it, is a sketch of the agenda that artists seeking to truly reform culture must take up. At any rate, and with respects to Gandalf, this is what I have decided to do with the time that is given me.

Night of the “Living” Constitution by Bruce Frohnen

living_constitution_by_kiwiNight of the “Living” Constitution

by Bruce Frohnen

Senator Ted Cruz’s 2013 fillibuster didn’t do much to change the dynamic of politics in Washington or to stop Obamacare from becoming the last brick in the wall of social democracy separating Americans from their traditions of self-reliance and local community control. But, to someone interested in the constitutional basis of such things (there are a few of us left), it serves as of a reminder of how we got to this point.

First, what point exactly? The point at which a significant number of members of Congress feel compelled by angry “activist” constituents to oppose a program they may or may not like, but generally see as the natural, inevitable extension of decades of government expansion. The point at which “responsible” members of Congress openly criticize and threaten their colleagues for “obstructing democracy” by putting constituents’ demands above the demands of the mainstream media and academe to “make Washington work.” The point many of us recognize as the point of no return, at which we cease to be the Constitutional republic we once were. Continue reading

THE THEOLOGY OF TRANSUBSTANTIATION by Fr. Frederick W. Faber, D.D.

THE THEOLOGY OF TRANSUBSTANTIATION

By Fr. Frederick W. Faber, D.D.
with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1958 

transubstantiation-slide

The contemplation of these four chief works of God, Creation, Incarnation, Justification and Glorification, has now prepared us to examine the fifth great work with which we are at present concerned, the mystery of Transubstantiation. It may be described as the true change and substantial conversion of the whole substance of the Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, produced under the species by a real productive act, proximately subject to the accidents of Bread and Wine, but without any adhesion to them, the substances of Bread and Wine perishing, altogether in the act. But these are hard words. Let me explain; and at length; as we are now concerned with getting a clear idea of that which is the subject of the whole treatise. Continue reading

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