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Conservatism: True & False by Mike Church

Conservatism: True & False

conservatismHere is my interview with Dr. Claes G. Ryn. On this show we discussed numerous topics including modern “conservatism” (or “Neo-Conservatism”) and traditional conservatism.

Mike: So let me start by asking you to flesh the question out a little bit, so maybe those that didn’t hear me talking about it and haven’t read your essay will understand, there is a difference between, I guess we would call it, or I’ll let you define it, traditional conservatism and what passes asconservatism today, which is filled with admiration, it seems, and acceptance of a very large state, and certainly a very large state abroad that wishes to have its way with the world, that’s willing to use military force in order to gain it. That’s not the kind of conservative or conservatism that is traditional, though, is it?

Claes Ryn: If a conservative is interviewed on television, it’s likely to not be a conservative of the kind you’re talking about, but a neoconservative. As you indicated, the neoconservatives make some assumptions that are radically different from those of traditional conservatives. To give you an example, one very famous political theorist who has contributed to the thinking of American neoconservatism, Leo Strauss, is a very sharp critic of Edmund Burke. Edmund Burke, of course, was the great favorite of Russell Kirk and many other leaders of the post-war American intellectual conservative movement. Continue reading

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

Why our Constitution Can’t “Live”

by Bruce Frohnen


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’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

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)


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

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

Football: Bastion of the Republic by John Wilson

Football: Bastion of the Republic

footballI came across this the other day, from theWashington TimesKids flee football in light of NFL violence, Pop Warner participationplummeting.

The author is Nathan Fenno, and I hasten to say that I am the last man in the world to wish to kill the messenger. His article is on the whole fair, although the subject itself leans to the feminization of our culture. The gist is this:  Football is violent and dangerous, lots of boys and men get concussions which have bad consequences, and therefore many parents, including those who have come from a football culture, want to protect their sons from football’s consequences, at least until they are in high school.

The latest round of anti-football picks up again on the original complaint. Young men get killed being gladiators. John J. Miller’s wonderful book, The Big Scrum, tells the first part of this story, how Teddy Roosevelt saved football just over a hundred years ago, the subtext saying,how football was saved from itself. It is true that people, mostly young men, die from doing dangerous things. Thank God.

Please allow me to regress for a moment. It is reported that 243 young men died from football injuries in the years 1990-2010. That’s not good. But the last time I looked at another statistic, there had been 292 murders in south Chicago this year alone. Are people fleeing Chicago, or is the population plummeting? About the same number of young men play football as live in south Chicago. Have we seen calls for reform comparable to the number of concerns expressed about football’s concussions?

Mr. Fenno rightly points out that many people who understand football are concerned that very young boys are not being taught to play the game very well, that they are taught only to turn themselves into human torpedoes that strike from the head. When I was a boy there was noPop Warner football, thank the Lord, and therefore we played without pads and helmets and learned early how not to be stupid. When William Wallace returned to his home town inBraveheart, he and his old pal threw stones at each other’s heads, but knew very well what the limits were. They had more serious things to do later, and would not lead with their helmets.

Young men must learn war. When they do is a matter of culture, and how they do it is part of the quality of that culture. Joe Paterno, one of my great heroes, knew that football and Virgil’s epic poem built civilizations. A true republic cannot survive without football, or something very much like it.

Let us take one larger step. The ancient Greeks praised their athletes, and the Olympics defined their culture as much as their theater, poetry, and philosophy. In fact, as their games declined, so did the rest of the culture. Is it an accident that the United States achieved their greatest prosperity and happiness as their sports began to define them? Zane Grey is well known as a writer of the American west, a creator of tales that help us to remember our shared qualities of self-government and courage and loyalty. His best books, I submit, are about baseball, which add to the western novels the virtues of community, of humility, of being willing to be obedient to a larger purpose than mere individualism, or mere democracy.

Mr. Fenno’s proper concern should not be about safety, but about character. Men protect their families because they learn in various ways (especially in Genesis) that there is something more important than themselves. The Romans, of course, took their games too far, and their gladiatorial slaughters became a sign of their decline rather than their robust health. Mr. Fenno and others are probably correct to warn us about that same tendency. We must remember, however, that sports in general, and football in particular, in how they grew and what they mean, are bastions of the republic.

Cuomo, Christians, and the Lions Den by Fr. George W. Rutler

300px-Ignatius-2Cuomo, Christians, and the Lions Den by Fr. George W. Rutler 

January 26, 2014

Pliny the Younger, governor of Pontus from 111 to 113, had a problem. Growing numbers of Christians were unsettling the pagan establishment. He wrote to the emperor Trajan: “I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished.” He deemed them superstitious because “they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god.” Superstition was not a crime, as it was rife in the Empire, but these Christians refused to worship the gods of the land and would rather die than worship the Emperor himself. Trajan replied that the “spirit of our age” required that the governor should persecute only those who refused to cease being Christians.

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently declared on a radio program in Albany that those who refuse to go along with state legislation on such matters as abortion and the redefinition of marriage, have “no place in the State of New York.” He did not threaten to throw Christians to wild beasts, but the tone of the governor of the Empire State was decidedly imperious. Attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville, but more probably the words of Joseph de Maistre, is the warning: “In a democracy, people get the government they deserve.” Catholics fragile in spirit who symbolically offered incense to Caesar by voting for such present leaders, were either ignorant (and ignorance, unlike stupidity, can be cured) or selfish in placing material considerations above moral standards. But they certainly have got the government they deserve.

According to tradition, when Trajan was en route to Armenia, he stopped in Antioch where the bishop Ignatius was brought before him. The emperor was perplexed that such a gentle man would not water down his faith in order to cooperate with the state. Before arriving in Rome where he was tossed to the lions, Ignatius wrote to the Christians in Ephesus: “Do not err, my brethren. Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If, then, those who do this as respects the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be the case with anyone who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such a one becoming defiled {in this way}, shall go away into everlasting fire and so shall every one that hearkens unto him.”

St. Ignatius was second in succession to St. Peter as bishop of Antioch. He was a student of Christ’s most beloved apostle John. So what Ignatius wrote pulses with the authority Christ gave to Peter and the heart John could hear beating at the Last Supper.

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Richard Weaver, the Gospel, and the Restoration of Culture by Bradley G. Green

richard weaverWeaver, the Gospel, and the Restoration of Culture

by Bradley G. Green

Somewhere along the way, many twentieth-century pilgrims have found inspiration and insight from the pen of Richard M. Weaver(1910-1963).[1]  More than one friend cites Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences when they recount their own intellectual journey, and when they describe when and how they began really to “think.”  Best known as the author of Ideas Have Consequences (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1948), Weaver was a southerner who has had a significant impact on political thought in the United States in the twentieth-century.  Born and raised in North Carolina, Weaver did his undergraduate work at the University of Kentucky.    A leftist-liberal during his undergraduate days in the 1920s, after a year of graduate work at Kentucky, he moved on to Vanderbilt for graduate study (early 1930s).  During his time at Vanderbilt, Weaver was greatly influenced by the Nashville Agrarians (often called the Southern Agrarians, or the Vanderbilt Agrarians), which included such persons as Allen Tate, Donald Davidson, and his thesis advisor, John Crowe Ransom.  Weaver would eventually do doctorate work at Louisiana State University (1940-1943), where he would write his dissertation on southern culture (eventually published posthumously as The Southern Tradition at Bay).  By the time he began doctoral work, Weaver had become disillusioned with the Left, and had become a southern partisan.  A conservative, agrarian, southern framework would be the general framework in which he would work during the remainder of his life. Weaver would go on to a teaching career in English at the University of Chicago, where he taught from 1944 until his death in 1963.

Christian theological themes are found implicitly and explicitly in the work of Richard M. Weaver.  Weaver would eventually see his work as a “restoration of culture,” or of civilization, and he relies extensively on Christian themes as he writes about the restoration of culture.  In this essay I seek to explore how the following Christian theological themes appear consistently in Weaver’s work, and how these themes serve as the necessary substructure or precondition of this intellectual program.  The key themes I explore are: creation, the Logos, faith seeking understanding, and eschatology and the importance of history.  I argue that Weaver’s use of such Christian themes are both too extensive and intensive to be simply peripheral to his thought.  However, I ultimately argue that there is something key missing in Weaver’s use of such themes—the Christian gospel—and I try to elucidate the ways in which this lacuna may weaken an otherwise very penetrating criticism of modernity, and may hamper an otherwise brilliant attempt at the restoration of a meaningful culture.

Christian Themes in the Thought of Richard Weaver


In his attempt to articulate what is necessary for civilization, or for a genuine and meaningful culture, Weaver repeatedly emphasizes the importance of a doctrine of creation.  Weaver contends that a doctrine of creation is essential to an affirmation of the reality of knowledge.  If this is indeed a created world, there is something outside of us, something there to be known. Continue reading

Did ‘The Great Society’ Ruin Society? by Pat Buchanan

800px-Lyndon_Johnson_signing_Civil_Rights_Act,_2_July,_1964 Did ‘The Great Society’ Ruin Society?

“I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs a repair, I’ll fix it.”

Thus did Mitt Romney supposedly commit the gaffe of the month — for we are not to speak of the poor without unctuous empathy.

Yet, as Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation reports in “Understanding Poverty in the United States: Surprising Facts About America’s Poor,” Mitt was more right about America’s magnanimity than those who bewail her alleged indifference.

First, who are the poor?

To qualify, a family of four in 2010 needed to earn less than $22,314. Some 46 million Americans, 15 percent of the population, qualified.

And in what squalor were America’s poor forced to live?

Well, 99 percent had a refrigerator and stove, two-thirds had a plasma TV, a DVD player and access to cable or satellite, 43 percent were on the Internet, half had a video game system like PlayStation or Xbox.

Three-fourths of the poor had a car or truck, nine in 10 a microwave, 80 percent had air conditioning. In 1970, only 36 percent of the U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.

America’s poor enjoy amenities almost no one had in the 1950s, when John K. Galbraith described us as “The Affluent Society.”

What about homelessness? Are not millions of America’s poor on the street at night, or shivering in shelters or crowded tenements?

Well, actually, no. That is what we might call televised poverty. Of the real poor, fewer than 10 percent live in trailers, 40 percent live in apartments, and half live in townhouses or single-family homes.

Forty-one percent of poor families own their own home.

But are they not packed in like sardines, one on top of another?

Not exactly. The average poor person’s home in America has 1,400 square feet — more living space than do Europeans in 23 of the 25 wealthiest countries on the continent.

Two-thirds of America’s poor have two rooms per person, while 94 percent have at least one room per person in the family dwelling.

Only one in 25 poor persons in America uses a homeless shelter, and only briefly, sometime during the year.

What about food? Do not America’s poor suffer chronically from malnutrition and hunger?

Not so. The daily consumption of proteins, vitamins and minerals of poor children is roughly the same as that of the middle class, and the poor consume more meat than the upper middle class.

Some 84 percent of America’s poor say they always have enough food to eat, while 13 percent say sometimes they do not, and less than 4 percent say they often do not have enough to eat.

Only 2.6 percent of poor children report stunted growth. Poor kids in America are, on average, an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than the youth of the Greatest Generation that won World War II.

In fiscal year 2011, the U.S. government spent $910 billion on 70 means-tested programs, which comes to an average of $9,000 per year on every lower-income person in the United States.

Among the major programs from which the poor receive benefits are Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Security Income, food stamps, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food program, Medicaid, public housing, low-income energy assistance and the Social Service Block Grant.

Children of the poor are educated free, K-12, and eligible for preschool Head Start, and Perkins Grants, Pell Grants and student loans for college.

Lyndon Johnson told us this was the way to build a Great Society.

Did we? Federal and state spending on social welfare is approaching $1 trillion a year, $17 trillion since the Great Society was launched, not to mention private charity. But we have witnessed a headlong descent into social decomposition.

Half of all children born to women under 30 in America now are illegitimate. Three in 10 white children are born out of wedlock, as are 53 percent of Hispanic babies and 73 percent of black babies.

Rising right along with the illegitimacy rate is the drug-use rate, the dropout rate, the crime rate and the incarceration rate.

The family, cinder block of society, is disintegrating, and along with it, society itself. Writes Rector, “The welfare system is more like a ‘safety bog’ than a safety net.”

Heritage scholars William Beach and Patrick Tyrrell put Rector’s numbers in perspective:

“Today … 67.3 million Americans — from college students to retirees to welfare beneficiaries — depend on the federal government for housing, food, income, student aid or other assistance. … The United States reached another milestone in 2010. For the first time in history, half the population pays no federal income taxes.”

The 19th century statesman John C. Calhoun warned against allowing government to divide us into “tax-payers and tax-consumers.” This, he said, “would give rise to two parties and to violent conflicts and struggles between them, to obtain the control of the government.”

We are there, Mr. Calhoun, we are there.

Essays by Pat Buchanan may be found here. Books related to the topic of this article may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

St. Nicholas Tavelic and Companions: Defenders From Islam

St Nicholas Taveric
St. Nicholas Tavelic and Companions
(d. 1391)

Nicholas and his three companions are among the 158 Franciscans who have been martyred in the Holy Land since the friars became custodians of the shrines in 1335.

Nicholas was born in 1340 to a wealthy and noble family in Croatia. He joined the Franciscans and was sent with Deodat of Rodez to preach in Bosnia. In 1384 they volunteered for the Holy Land missions and were sent there. They looked after the holy places, cared for the Christian pilgrims and studied Arabic.

In 1391 Nicholas, Deodat, Peter of Narbonne and Stephen of Cuneo decided to take a direct approach to converting the Muslims. On November 11, 1391, they went to the huge Mosque of Omar in Jerusalem and asked to see the Qadi (Muslim official). Reading from a prepared statement, they said that all people must accept the gospel of Jesus. When they were ordered to retract their statement, they refused. After beatings and imprisonment, they were beheaded before a large crowd.

Nicholas and his companions were canonized in 1970. They are the only Franciscans martyred in the Holy Land to be canonized.



Francis presented two missionary approaches for his friars. Nicholas and his companions followed the first approach (live quietly and give witness to Christ) for several years. Then they felt called to take the second approach of preaching openly. Their Franciscan confreres in the Holy Land are still working by example to make Jesus better known.

In the Rule of 1221, Francis wrote that the friars going to the Saracens (Muslims) “can conduct themselves among them spiritually in two ways. One way is to avoid quarrels or disputes and ‘be subject to every human creature for God’s sake’ (1 Peter 2:13), so bearing witness to the fact that they are Christians. Another way is to proclaim the word of God openly, when they see that is God’s will, calling on their hearers to believe in God almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Creator of all, and in the Son, the Redeemer and Savior, that they may be baptized and become true and spiritual Christians” (Ch. 16).
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