Otiose criticism

A drawback of the Internet is that it provides an easy platform for the uninformed and malformed to broadcast their opinions to the world-at-large. Such writers forget that they have a duty both to their subject and to their readers: the duty to be informed and to understand. Lacking a coherent understanding of tradition or western civilization, these authors tend merely to emote their subjective responses rather than artfully critique shortfallings. For criticism to be of any benefit to the reader, the critic must demonstrate both an understanding of the tradition in which a particular work stands as well as an understanding of the work itself. Anything less becomes a mere expression of the critic’s preferences at best, but more likely a misleading attack on a straw man of another writer’s work. T.S. Eliot makes this point in his essay “The Perfect Critic”:

The vast accumulations of knowledge—or at least of information . . . have been responsible for an equally vast ignorance. When there is so much to be known, when there are so many fields of knowledge in which the same words are used with different meanings, when every one knows a little about a great many things, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not. And when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts.

To illustrate this point, I turn to a lecture presented by Dr. Roger Scruton Continue reading Otiose criticism


The Meaning of “Patriotism”

Painting: "Flags, Columbus Circle" by Childe Hassam, 1918
Childe Hassam, Flags, Columbus Circle, 1918

On the Fourth of July, the United States of America will complete 236 years as a sovereign nation; patriots, true and self-identified, will celebrate and remember. Patriotism, while a duty, is easily misunderstood and, as history demonstrates, once misunderstood is easily used for perverse ends. The anniversary of the founding of our nation presents the perfect opportunity for the examination of one’s patriotism.

The words “patriot” and “patriotism” find their roots in Greek and in the political conceptions of the Greek city states. Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon defines πατριώτης as a “fellow countryman: property of barbarians who only had a common πατρίς [fatherland, of one’s fathers].” They continue, “πολϊται being used of Greeks who had a common πόλις.” The Greeks, as MacIntyre notes in Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, saw their loyalty as tied to their particular city-state, not to some notion of “Greece.” Rome ignored the slightly pejorative nature of the word and adopted the concept of fatherland in the Latin word, patria, derived from patrius – of a father, fatherly, paternal; hereditary; ancestral; native. Patriota, or patriot, retained the meaning of  πατριώτης -fellow countryman. Both languages incorporate themes of community and inheritance into their understandings of who a patriot is and what patriotism entails. The Greeks clearly thought the polis to be the appropriate size for a vibrant patriotism; the Romans eventually turned their patria into an empire.

The American patriot inherits a patria more akin to an empire than to a polis, stretching “from sea to shining sea” and encompassing diverse cultures, geographies, and even languages. Because of this expanse, the temptation to make patriotism into an abstraction is large; with this abstraction comes the temptation to use patriotism, and even the patria itself, as a tool for domination. Affection, the root of true patriotism, involves the patriot in participation with his compatriots and with the past, as well as the present, of the patria. Affection recognizes that the fatherland is an inheritance and seeks to preserve it through proper use. Continue reading Patriotism

Memory and Gratitude

Editors note: This article was submitted for publication in our canceled June 1 issue, just after Memorial Day. We bring it to you now with our apologies.


This past Monday was Memorial Day. This holiday has its roots in American history following the Civil War; it was generally celebrated as “Decoration Day,” a day to place flowers and flags on the graves of fallen soldiers. Consequently, The Department of Veterans Affairs states that Memorial Day “commemorates the men and women who died while in the military service.” 36 USC § 116, the legislation establishing Memorial Day as a national holiday, states that on that day, the President is to issue a proclamation:

(1) calling on the people of the United States to observe Memorial Day by praying, according to their individual religious faith, for permanent peace;

(2) designating a period of time on Memorial Day during which the people may unite in prayer for a permanent peace;

(3) calling on the people of the United States to unite in prayer at that time; and

(4) calling on the media to join in observing Memorial Day and the period of prayer.

The assumed proper response to the commemoration of our honored war dead, according to this legislation, is to unite in prayer for peace. The true celebration of Memorial Day goes far beyond being “rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war” or just another “awareness” campaign. Memorial Day depends on memory. Continue reading Memory and Gratitude

Starving on Nihilism: The Moral Vacuum of The Hunger Games

Cover of "The Hunger Games" by Susanne Collins

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic, 2010
384 pages, paperback, $8.99

(Given the wide-spread popularity of The Hunger Games and the multiplicity of reviews of it, this review will not summarize its plot; the reader can find a summary here.)

The Hunger Games presents its readers with a nihilistic world in which evil actions can be excused based on necessity. It accurately portrays the potential endgame of a big, centralized government and a population addicted to mass-media entertainment. In such a world, survival becomes the basis of morality and people mere objects in the pursuit of survival. While such a Machiavellian ethic seems realistic given the situation in which Suzanne Collins places her characters, she presents no alternative ethic. Instead, she crafts the plot to mitigate, as much a possible, the moral culpability of her protagonist, Katniss Everdeen. Continue reading Starving on Nihilism: The Moral Vacuum of The Hunger Games

You Have No Idea About Me, Do You?: The Airborne Toxic Event Explores Loneliness and Inauthenticity

Part I of a Two-Part Review

“We can know ourselves truly only when we communicate ourselves in love, but the act of communication depends upon the reverence of someone else, who rejoices in the mystery of our being.  So true is this, that the lover may come to know us better than we know ourselves, and ‘many wait only for someone to love them in order to become who they always could have been from the beginning.’”* Self knowledge and actualization is only possible in the presence of others and is only possible to the degree that we love others and are loved by them in return. It is not good for man to be alone. Aristotle tells us that man is a political animal such that a self-sufficient man becomes either a beast or a god. The Church tells us that God Himself, while self-sufficient, is not solitary; He exists in perpetual communion between the Persons of the Trinity. It may be that personhood can only be understood in the context of community, in the context of other persons. If this is the case, then a loss of community and the communal interactions between persons will negatively affect personhood.

The Airborne Toxic Event is an indie rock band keenly aware of the problems posed by the breakdown of community and, consequently, personhood. Taking their name and themes from Don DeLillo’s 1985 post-modern classic White Noise, The Airborne Toxic Event explores the feelings of loss and loneliness and their effects on a person. They rebel against what they see as inauthentic expressions of love and relationship and hope for something more, only to see those hopes dashed again and again. Continue reading You Have No Idea About Me, Do You?: The Airborne Toxic Event Explores Loneliness and Inauthenticity

Hipsters and Taste

James Northcote (1746-1831), "Edmund Burke"
James Northcote (1746-1831), "Edmund Burke"

The great English conservative Edmund Burke, in his essay entitled On Taste, discusses the components of taste and what distinguishes good taste from bad taste. He refuses to offer a definition of taste, arguing that much bad philosophy is made through being too quick to define. Instead he merely explains what he means when he uses the word “taste” in his essay: “that faculty or those faculties of the mind, which are affected with, or which form a judgment of, the works of imagination and the elegant arts.” (¶ 4) Being a conservative, his approach is clearly not egalitarian—not all tastes or preferences are created equal. He also argues that there is a universal standard of taste, just as there is a universal standard of reason. Hipsters, conservative or otherwise, can look to Burke’s essay for support in their quest for authenticity and their dislike of popular preferences. They can also look at the principles of good taste discussed to evaluate their own tastes and preferences. While the aesthetic experience is inherently subjective—and one’s judgments regarding art are likely to be as well—standards help shape that subjective experience to what it ought to be. Continue reading Hipsters and Taste

Freedom and Happiness in Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer

Walker Percy’s 1961 classic, The Moviegoer, examines the issues of malaise and alienation within America’s prosperous society. Set in the post-Korean War 1950s, it centers around Binx Bolling, a young war veteran turned stockbroker, and his search for authenticity.[1] This search consists primarily of avoiding being caught up in inauthenticity, what Binx terms “everydayness.” This is a struggle, as he sees everyone with which he interacts caught up in the everyday and trying to pull him back into the everyday as well. This struggle causes him to separate himself as much as possible from other people. He visits his family only occasionally; his interactions with woman are purely physical and short-termed.

Binx is a perfect example of what Walker Percy terms the “lost self.” This individual is cut loose from society by its own freedom, facilitated by reliance on money rather than property, but “imprisoned by a curious and paradoxical bondage like a Chinese handcuff, so that the very attempts to free itself, e.g. by ever more refined techniques for the pursuit of happiness, only tighten the bondage and distance the self ever farther from the world it wishes to inhabit as its homeland.”[2] Modern man, in his pursuit of freedom, isolates himself from his surroundings and finds this lack of constraint much less free. If “it is not good for man to be alone,” then either freedom is not man’s source of happiness or modern man’s conception of freedom needs alteration. Continue reading Freedom and Happiness in Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer