The Impoverished Response

Léon Augustin Lhermitte – Paying the Harvesters
Léon Augustin Lhermitte, Paying the Harvesters

Modern ideologies of fertility share a common attribute: They objectify people at large and commodify them in the particular. Despite the interesting questions economists raise, I have heard that Malthus’s object was never to stump for population control but to toss cold water on philosophies of infinite human betterment. To improve human life through improvements in planning and technology was, reasoned Malthus, ultimately futile. Population growth would inevitably maintain human want at a certain level or cause it to fluctuate in boom/bust cycles. Modernity has chosen the second route; more stable or static cultures choose the first and may be better for it in terms of maintaining culture, though certainly not in avoiding human misery. There are many ways to interpret the economic reality of unlimited wants with limited resources.

Children, in the eyes of the modern world, are either a severe inconvenience or a sought-after luxury–rather like pets. Commodified, children become the products of manufacture through in vitro fertilization and genetic screening–or else, as the accidental or unsatisfactory result of sexual encounters they are prevented and removed. In these ways, children and the activities of childbearing are subjected to the capitalist industrial system. The innate worth of a child is replaced by its market value. The perceived economic burden of an anonymous class of unwanted third-world children, or the economic expense of medically conceiving a ‘wanted’ child in the affluent West. The child in either case becomes either an investment or a liability.

Thus sexuality and its fruits, like everything else, have been reduced to commodities and subjected to the war of man against nature. With a high view of the human person that comes from the incarnation of our Lord Jesus, Christianity stands in necessary opposition to this reduction. But some Christians, while resisting the abortionists or population controllers, commit a similar error by turning human reproduction into an instrument for cultural warfare. The fundamentalist “Quiverfull” movement transforms children into missiles with a misappropriated Biblical metaphor. Continue reading The Impoverished Response

What is beauty?

A review of Beauty by Roger Scruton and The Sense of Beauty by George Santayana

It may be the most important question for a philosopher to concern himself with–more important, perhaps, than questions about politics, or epistemology, or proofs of the existence of God–is beauty. What is beauty? How is it known? And how, given the answers to these questions, may it be evaluated? I recently acquired two books on this subject: Beauty by philosopher and critic Roger Scruton (1944- ), and The Sense of Beauty by the early 20th century philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952). Both writers are consummate prose stylists who display as well as discuss a fine aesthetic sensibility in these little volumes. Continue reading What is beauty?

On “Seeing the World”

The modern world conceives everything as part of a conflict. Modernity is continual struggle against nature, fate, and the bonds of history. Its proponents encourage us to break ties to all things that “hold us back.” It is not always certain what they hold us back from: progress, surely; presumably a higher destiny–though it might as easily be suicide. Young people are encouraged to sever connections to family, faith, and the home town. Not to repudiate them, perhaps, but to regard them as quaint accidents of one’s history from which one’s present existence is to be quite distinct and separate. We ask “where are you from?” and assume that you no longer live there.

Young people ought to see the world, but not so that they may abandon the narrowness of their natal place and people. “Seeing the world” should be an illumination, allowing them to better appreciate their own folk and homes in a wider context of culture and geography. Likewise, they should study as children the character and history of their own family, region, and associated traditions, even as they also traverse in study the beauty and history of the greater world. Otherwise, “seeing” the world will be for them an exercise in blindness, obscuration, self-frustration. The world they will see, distorted by the false expectations of a rootless education, will be as unknown to them as another planet; its inhabitants as strange as an alien species. They will encounter this world with a shock that leaves them bewildered and bereft of their rightful inheritance; homeless orphans without horizons. It is one sin to insulate children from the facts of history and the greater world; it is another sin to blind them to its kinship with them, their own people, and the places they know. If they are not “at home” at home, they will not be able to be “at home” anywhere. Today’s educators make a fetish of youth; but do not trust the young until they have securely hitched them to the secular wagon and muffled their imaginations with skepticism. But I would that they truly see, with minds sharp as razors, hearts soft with fraternal kindness, and eyes alive to beauty.

Epistolary Foreword

Vladimir Makovsky (1846-1920), "A Letter"
Vladimir Makovsky (1846-1920), "A Letter"

This introduction to Issue 2 of The Hipster Conservative continues the theme of the previous one. This intellectual project is intended by its creators to serve as a kind of ideological exorcism. The inherent silliness of our claim to be hipsters, a class somewhat justly derided for its insouciant faddishness, underlies the fact that we are really unsatisfied with the forms of moral and political involvement offered to us now by cultural and political leaders. We question the moral conservatism offered to us in the media by adulterous politicians and microphone jockeys of the Baby Boom, and wonder whether perhaps they are clinging to influence too long after they have ceased to work any good. Meanwhile, their leftist counterparts espouse a philosophy of action (oxymoron) which can best be summed up as Guilty Globalism. Continue reading Epistolary Foreword

Three waves of modernity—and feminism

August Macke, "Three Women at the Table by the Lamp" (1912)
August Macke, “Three Women at the Table by the Lamp” (1912)

The problem feminists seem to face today (I speak, like St. Paul, “as a man”) is a difficulty in reconciling nature with nurture. It cannot be glibly maintained that the modern woman is “as free” as a modern man. Though discrimination of every kind be stamped out, women still possess a capacity which men do not—the ability to carry and bear children. Nature has assigned them this role. History, and maybe nature too, has also assigned women the role of nurturer and primary caretaker for the children produced, who nature in its wisdom has made helpless at birth and dependent for a long time afterwards. This cannot be said to have no significant impact upon women’s ability to participate fully in the public sphere. The gestation and bearing of children—let alone their rearing—requires too much time and energy. And women find that at best they can expect to be patronized and compensated, by a society in which they are (in every other way) supposedly equal to men.

I believe this uncomfortable position of the modern woman can be well explained by analogy to what Leo Strauss called the “crisis of modernity.” This crisis stems from the historical development of stages in modern thought which Strauss described in his 1956 essay “The Three Waves of Modernity.” The development of feminist thought is also often described in three ideological “waves,” and between these two sets of waves there is a surprising similarity. Continue reading Three waves of modernity—and feminism

Response to Star Parker: The Two Rons

Picture of Ron Paul and Ronald Reagan talking
Ron Paul and Ronald Reagan chat during Reagan's presidential campaign.

Star Parker is a conservative commentator we hipster conservatives generally appreciate. We believe she agrees with us that America’s biggest problems can’t be fixed at the ballot box, but require change to happen in America’s hearts, households, communities, and churches. So we were disappointed when she recently slammed some of our fellow young conservatives for supporting that perennial Republican presidential candidate and libertarian crank, Ron Paul.

What’s Star got against conservative young people? First, she says, “increasing numbers of my campus hosts ask that I not talk about ‘values.’ Leave out the stuff about marriage, family and abortion, please, and just talk about the economy. The materialism and moral relativism that created our left-wing culture is now infecting our youth on the right.”

Having met many young GOPers, we’d place them in two categories. There are those who are exactly as Star describes: modern materialist libertarian libertines. But there are also those who are not any of these things; who share Star’s and our deep concerns over America’s moral condition. And many in this second category, perhaps more than in the first, support Ron Paul.

It may be true that Ron Paul lacks the conservative bona fides of an acceptable Republican candidate. Yet Star’s three characteristics of Reagan-era conservatism–“Individual freedom, respect for constitutional limitations on government and traditional values”–hew pretty close to Mr. Paul’s constitutional-conservative, pro-individual, pro-life platform.

Star’s subtitle gets to the heart of her objection: “The Ron Paul youth have little interest in a Reagan-like ‘shining city on a hill’ message, or talk about a threatening ‘evil empire’ abroad.”

On economic liberty, national debt, and even family values, Ron Paul stacks up pretty well to other likely Republican nominees. Which is to say, it’s slim pickings this cycle. What truly disqualifies him in Star’s estimation is his rejection of aggressive American foreign involvement. For her, it is a belief in American exceptionalism and invocation of an “evil empire” abroad that make a true conservative.

We agree with Star that America’s problems are primarily moral ones. Even the so-called economic issues (unemployment, education, taxes, government spending, national debt, personal indebtedness, welfare, corporate welfare, and health care) are actually moral issues with a significant economic dimension. But we disagree with the idea that America’s moral character is best displayed by an aggressive drive to bring democracy to the world. Reagan had the Soviets to compare us to: what do we have today? Radical Islam and rogue regimes–i.e., the terrorists Reagan and other presidents funded when we were fighting the Soviets. Perhaps Reagan should not represent the apogee of consistent conservatism.

Young conservatives should care more about moral issues in American politics. But we must also consider whether America remains or ever was the Shining City on a Hill that Reagan imagined. For instance, how can we continue to denounce Communism and all kinds of tyranny while maintaining despotic China as our most-favored trading partner and chief creditor? If we’re serious about knocking out radical Islam, why do we continue to import oil from Saudi Arabia, where women are brutally repressed, gays are flogged or killed, and Christian converts are decapitated? Where is our moral superiority now?

Ron Paul’s variety of classical liberalism is similar to Reagan’s. Both have major problems and for many of the same reasons. Neither is a good foundation for conservative politics today, but American conservatism has much bigger problems than a few young conservatives who support Ron Paul.


Visible Saints: How Do We Know You’re a Christian?

Image of "Visible Saints" by Edmund S. Morgan

Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea
By Edmund S. Morgan
Cornell University Press, 1965
174 pages, softcover, $19.95

How do you know whether you are right with God? Many believers ask themselves this question. A related question is this: Can a church recognize those members who are truly converted? These are questions of peculiar importance in the American religious experience. Continue reading Visible Saints: How Do We Know You’re a Christian?

Epistolary Foreword

Everyone today is constantly told that he or she must care about something, about many things. The TV anchor, sincerity oozing from every powdered pore, tells him ‘this, right now, is important.’ The talk show host, the politician, the professional do-gooder, the fundraising letter from the advocacy group or even the missionary: all beg him to respond emotionally to the cause of the moment. 1% of the profits of this overpriced merchandise will fund medical research. This terrible bill shall become law unless you call your representative right now. Is your lifestyle carbon neutral? Made by Indonesian women entrepreneurs. There are starving African children who would be glad to eat that. Endangered Species. Are you doing enough? Continue reading Epistolary Foreword