Where else on mainstream media other than on Bari Weiss’ Common Sense would one find a post like this. I may be jumping the gun including Weiss’ Substack creation in the deeply problematic category that is MSM, but if it is not there already, helping clean that particular swamp, it soon will be. What is coming through to us on Common Sense and on her Honestly podcast is going to play a big part in helping the world to return to sanity and , well, common sense.
I was in a somewhat dark mood this morning when I opened my email. At the top of a too-packed inbox was the link to this beautiful – but not untinged with some sadness – personal post from a young mother, Bethany Mandel. Its intriguing headline drove me straight into it, ‘I Never Wanted Kids. Number Six Is Due In a Few Months’. If it were a novel we would be reading it as an allegory about hope, resilience and redemption – and the grace of God. But is is not a novel, it is about real flesh and blood humanity and the truth that the meaning of life is there, in life, for all to see.
The conclusing paragraphs (following) of Bethany’s post put her story in a universal context. Read the entire post to feel the wisdom and the joy which pulses through every line.
Our friends and family have stopped asking us if we’re done. To be fair, we said we were after numbers four and five. Our kids are already petitioning for a lucky number seven. Around the country and around the world, people are having fewer children, if they’re having any at all. The result of this population catastrophe is a hot topic among sociologists and experts.
The anti-natalists run a wicked good PR game. Even among mothers, the “wine mom” content is what rules social media: with kids portrayed as tiny dictators and mothers feeling the need to booze or hide in bathrooms in order to make it on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis. There are any number of arguments to be made against procreation, like that babies accelerate us to an environmental doomsday by using up our finite resources now and filling our landfills with diapers that take centuries to break down. But those arguing for protecting the Earth by not making babies are just existing on Earth, not living in it.
I’m not trying to single handedly repopulate the Earth over here. Having kids, especially lots of them, is now counter-cultural; it’s so far outside the norm that I’m used to random strangers commenting every time we’re all out in public. But it’s the most fulfilling expression of hope and belief in the future. I like to think that, by making not just one or two babies, but by bringing into the world a whole brood, we are doing our part to inject more vitality into it.
Read this entire life affirming Common Sense post here.
Leo Tolstoy was a strange and tortured soul. Yet it would be hard to find anyone versed in literature today – or even in his own time – who will argue that he was not the greatest novelist whoever lived.
His contemporary, Turgenev said: “He is the greatest of contemporary novelists; Europe does not contain his equal.” Matthew Arnold, the 19th century English poet and cultural critic said that a novel by Tolstoy is not a work of art but a piece of life, such was his power of observation and description of human feeling and human relationships.
Tolstoy’s life was never what might be described as a model or stable one. However, up until the last two decades or so of his life, he lived tolerably with his family and those around him. From the period in which he produced his greatest creative work, War and Peace (1865–69) and Anna Karenina (1875–77), he was acclaimed and admired by all except those who felt themselves the subject of his sharp social and political criticism.
In the aftermath of the completion of Anna Karenina his mind seemed to begin to unravel. Despair, depression and a fear of death gripped him. He turned to religion but while he grasped a number of the essential truths of Christianity he gradually drifted from orthodoxy. He began to despise the Russian Church which he saw as implicated in the terrible injustices of the time which the entire establishment was inflicting on the ordinary people.
Eventually his paralysing fear and depression lifted and he began to be active again, politically and creatively, but rejected the two great novels as untrue depictions of reality as he saw it.
He then began work on his last great novel Resurrection. In it Tolstoy attempts to expose the injustice of the human institutions of his day. The novel, moving on two interlinked narrative levels, one a poignant and tragic love story, the other essentially an exploration of the crimes against humanity which he saw around him in Russia and indeed in the wider world. The novel culminates in what he identifies as a new perception of truth — the truth of Christ’s Christianity that “The Kingdom of Heaven is within You.”
In the story, Dmitry Nekhlyudov, an aristocratic selfish egotist, finds himself on a jury where he recognises the defendant, the prostitute Katyusha Maslova, as a girl whom he once had shamelessly seduced. She, as an illegitimate baby, has been rescued from a near-certain death by his two rich maiden aunts and raised by them as a ward/servant on their extensive estate.
The young Dmitry Nekhlyudov, a pure and idealistic student, occasionally visited his aunts’ estate and a deep unspoken friendship developed between the two teenagers. One of the most beautiful and moving passages in the novel, of which some say Tolstoy never did anything more delightfully infectious, is the scene of the Easter Vigil in the village church, where the young hero and heroine, after the traditional Russian greeting “Christ is risen,” exchange kisses:
Everything seemed festive, solemn, bright, and beautiful: the priest in his silver cloth vestments with gold crosses; the deacon, the clerk and chanter in their silver and gold surplices; the amateur choristers in their best clothes, with their well-oiled hair; the merry tunes of the holiday hymns that sounded like dance music; and the continual blessing of the people by the priests, who held candles decorated with flowers, and repeated the cry of “Christ is risen!” “Christ is risen!” All was beautiful; but, above all, Katusha, in her white dress, blue sash, and the red bow on her black head, her eyes beaming with rapture.
Then, when the ceremony was over, the mingling of the people, rich and poor, outside the church took place and Easter greetings and kisses were exchanged.
While the peasant was kissing Nekhlyudoff and giving him a dark brown egg, the lilac dress of Matrona Pavlovna and the dear black head with the red bow appeared.
Katusha caught sight of him over the heads of those in front of her, and he saw how her face brightened up. She had come out with Matrona Pavlovna on to the porch, and stopped there distributing alms to the beggars.
A beggar with a red scab in place of a nose came up to Katusha. She gave him something, drew nearer him, and, evincing no sign of disgust, but her eyes still shining with joy, kissed him three times. And while she was doing this her eyes met Nekhlyudoff’s with a look as if she were asking,
“Is this that I am doing right?”
“Yes, dear, yes, it is right; everything is right, everything is beautiful. I love!”
They came down the steps of the porch, and he came up to them. He did not mean to give them the Easter kiss, but only to be nearer to her. Matrona Pavlovna bowed her head, and said with a smile,
“Christ is risen!” and her tone implied, “To-day we are all equal.” She wiped her mouth with her handkerchief rolled into a ball and stretched her lips towards him.
“He is, indeed,” answered Nekhlyudoff, kissing her. Then he looked at Katusha; she blushed, and drew nearer.
“Christ is risen, Dmitri Ivanovitch.”
“He is risen, indeed,” answered Nekhlyudoff, and they kissed twice, then paused as if considering whether a third kiss were necessary, and, having decided that it was, kissed a third time and smiled.
“You are going to the priests?” asked Nekhlyudoff.
“No, we shall sit out here a bit, Dmitri Ivanovitch,” said Katusha with effort, as if she had accomplished some joyous task, and, her whole chest heaving with a deep sigh, she looked straight in his face with a look of devotion, virgin purity, and love, in her very slightly squinting eyes.
But then Nekhlyudoff, now an army officer, succumbing to the brutal practices of military life proceeded to pester and finally seduce Katusha – and then abandon her. She became pregnant and was rejected by his aunts. Her descent to misery then moves relentlessly through an all-too familiar sequence of events, ending up with a false charge of murder and theft. She is falsely convicted after judges and jury bungle the verdict. She is sentenced to four years hard labour in Siberia.
Before the sentence is passed, he reveals his identity to her, promises to fight for a reversal of the verdict and asks her to marry him. A long struggle then begins between them, he trying to redeem himself and she, often with no little – but understandable – cruelty resisting his appeals for forgiveness. She retorts at one point:
“Once you got your pleasure from me, and now you want to get your salvation from me”, she tells him. She refuses to marry him. When the novel ends, after her long march in chains to Siberia, on which he accompanies her, they both achieve a spiritual peace through a mutual spirit of selfless sacrifice.
Gary Saul Morson, one of the most penetrating literary critics of our time specialising in Russian literature has noted how many readers of Tolstoy have stressed his ability to observe the smallest changes ofconsciousness and to record the slightest movements of the body. What another novelist would describe as a single act of consciousness, Tolstoy he says, convincingly breaks down into a series of infinitesimally small steps. All of this is evident in the Katusha-Nekhlyudoff narrative in Resurrection
It is on the level of this narrative that Resurrection is a masterpiece. It is on the level of the description of Nekhlyudov’s struggle for justice that the novel falters. In his battles he takes on multiple causes to fight against the system, describing in lurid detail the grossness of the establishment he is fighting against and the cruelty they casually inflict on thousands of innocent people. It is a worthy pursuit but borders on turning the novel into a polemic.
But in the final pages, Nekhlyudoff reaches the moment of wisdom by reading a New Testament accepted casually from an evangelical Englishman, and the novel again flourishes.
This flowed from the whole of the teaching, and was most strongly and clearly illustrated in the parable of the vineyard.
The husbandman imagined that the vineyard in which they were sent to work for their master was their own, that all that was in was made for them, and that their business was to enjoy life in this vineyard, forgetting the Master and killing all those who reminded them of his existence. “Are we not doing the same,” Nekhlyudoff thought, “when we imagine ourselves to be masters of our lives, and that life is given us for enjoyment? This evidently is an incongruity. We were sent here by someone’s will and for some reason. And we have concluded that we live only for our own joy, and of course we feel unhappy as labourers do when not fulfilling their Master’s orders. The Master’s will is expressed in these commandments. If men will only fulfil these laws, the Kingdom of Heaven will be established on earth, and men will receive the greatest good that they can attain to.
“‘Seek ye first the Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.’ “And so here it is, the business of my life. Scarcely have I finished one and another has commenced.” And a perfectly new life dawned that night for Nekhlyudoff, not because he had entered into new conditions of life, but because everything he did after that night had a new and quite different significance than before. How this new period of his life will end time alone will prove.
‘The society that offered my sisters protection, threw my daughters to the wolves’
A certain construction company, which shall remain nameless, in a certain country, also remaining unidentified, used a chemical compound in its building materials. This compound was thought to enhance the quality of those materials bringing a new level of quality to the buildings in which they were used.
In time, in a very short time the structure of the buildings using these materials began to crumble and decay irreparably.
These things happen. The detailed history of this case is not important. This is a metaphor for one dimension of mankind’s folly. When these things happen there are always consequences and if we are lucky, as the consequences unfold, we can trace our steps back, through cause and effect, to the fundamental flaws which brought the house down around our heads.
On a more universal scale, however, and in mankind’s faltering journey on this earth, these things also happen. But in many cases, for a variety of reasons, we stubbornly refuse, or are unable to discern the root causes of the catastrophes we heap upon our heads.
Western civilisation has been advancing for centuries towards just such a catastrophe.
Recent human history records the painful rise and fall of two such flawed responses to man’s innate hunger for a better way of being in this world. Both were horrifically brutal, cruel and murderous. One was the marxist-inspired utopia of a communist world – now fatally wounded but still a clear and present danger to us all. The other was the Nietzschean-inspired will to power ideology which spawned the monster which was National Socialism, also now down but sadly not out.
We call these things ideologies because they posit a theoretical construct of what human nature is and then build a house in which they think they can happily live. The construct, however, is false at the core and therefore the house bears within itself the seeds of its ultimate collapse, even if, for a time it seems to offer a prospect of heaven on earth.
About five centuries ago theories about our nature and the nature of our lives in this world were developed and gained credence among us. These arose in part out of our struggles to come to terms with our fatal propensity to corrupt religion, turn it upside down and proceed to murder each other over our differences of belief. In fact we built a new theory which is today the foundation of the ideology of liberalism and liberal democracy. We called it ‘enlightenment’, and to a degree and for a time, it was.
In his book, Why Liberalism Failed, Notre Dame professor, Patrick J Deneen, traces the origins of liberalism and identifies the fatal flaw in the view of humanity underpinning it. His conclusion is that this ideology is now reaching a point where it is, with gathering pace over the past hundred years, destroying the very fabric of our societies and with them our civilisation itself. Not without a little paradox, he argues:
Liberalism has failed – not because it fell short, but because it was true to itself. It has failed because it has succeeded. As liberalism has “become more fully itself,” as its inner logic has become more evident and its self-contradictions manifest, it has generated pathologies that are at once deformations of its claims yet realizations of liberal ideology. A political philosophy that was launched to foster greater equity, defend a pluralist tapestry of different cultures and beliefs, protect human dignity, and, of course, expand liberty, in practice generates titanic inequality, enforces uniformity and homogeneity, fosters material and spiritual degradation, and undermines freedom. Its success can be measured by its achievement of the opposite of what we have believed it would achieve. Rather than seeing the accumulating catastrophe as evidence of our failure to live up to liberalism’s ideals, we need rather to see clearly that the ruins it has produced are the signs of its very success. To call for the cures of liberalism’s ills by applying more liberal measures is tantamount to throwing gas on a raging ﬁre. It will only deepen our political, social, economic, and moral crisis.
And where was the fatal flaw which drove this well-intentioned human response to perceived evils in our world, into the deranged state in which we now find ourselves? The flaw was in the underlying reading of human nature and human freedom – the human agent was put at the centre of the universe and his liberty was turned into an absolute. In doing so, without realising the consequences, the nature of this world and our existence within it were redefined. Deneen traces the origins of this fatal compound back to sixteenth century England and the work of Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes.
Liberty was fundamentally reconceived, even if the word was retained. Liberty had long been believed to be the condition of self-rule that forestalled tyranny, within both the polity and the individual soul. Liberty was thus thought to involve discipline and training in self-limitation of desires, and corresponding social and political arrangements that sought to inculcate corresponding virtues that fostered the arts of self- government. Classical and Christian political thought was self-admittedly more “art” than “science”: it relied extensively on the fortunate appearance of inspiring founding ﬁgures and statesmen who could uphold political and social self-reinforcing virtuous cycles, and acknowledged the likelihood of decay and corruption as an inevitable feature of any human institution.
I suppose a key idea there is the distinction between life lived by art rather than science. Therein lies the root of ideology – a scientifically designed solution to all life’s problems, ending up as a modern Tower of Babel.
In this world, gratitude to the past and obligations to the future are replaced by a nearly universal pursuit of immediate gratiﬁcation: culture, rather than imparting the wisdom and experience of the past so as to cultivate virtues of self-restraint and civility, becomes synonymous with hedonic titillation, visceral crudeness, and distraction, all oriented toward promoting consumption, appetite, and detachment. As a result, superﬁcially self-maximizing, socially destructive behaviors begin to dominate society.
In schools, norms of modesty, comportment, and academic honesty are replaced by widespread lawlessness and cheating (along with increasing surveillance of youth), while in the fraught realm of coming-of-age, courtship norms are replaced by “hookups” and utilitarian sexual encounters. The norm of stable lifelong marriage is replaced by various arrangements that ensure the autonomy of the individuals whether married or not. Children are increasingly viewed as limitation upon individual freedom, which contributes to liberalism’s commitment to abortion on demand while overall birth rates decline across the developed world.
Deneen’s book gives a much more complete picture of the root and branch causes of the unravelling of our civilisation under this ideology than any summary I can give here. In the foregoing paragraph we have just one dimension of the disaster that is unfolding.
In the context of the particular social aberrations he alludes to in that passage, there is a very interesting debate on Bari Weiss’ podcast, Honestly There she recently entertained two writer-journalists, one American, the other British. They debated, over an hour and a half, the topics of sex, porn and feminism in our contemporary world. It revealed, in microcosm and in a stark and startling way, how our understanding of our humanity has been corrupted. It also reminds us how that segment of our civilisation, the Anglophone world, seems to be collapsing under the weight of that corruption.
Weiss introduced her speakers and the topic in these terms:
It’s hard to think of an invention that has been more transformative to women than the birth control pill. Suddenly, American women possessed a power that women never before in history had: They could control when they got pregnant. They could have sex like . . . men.
The pill—and the profound legal, political and cultural changes that the sexual revolution and feminism ushered in—liberated women. Those movements have allowed women to lead lives that literally were not possible beforehand.
But here we are, half a century later, with a culture in which porn and casual sex are abundant, but marriage and birth rates are at historic lows. And many people are asking: Did we go wrong somewhere along the way? Was the sexual revolution actually bad for women?
Her guests were Jill Filiopvic and Louise Perry. Filiopvic is an author and attorney who has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian and many other publications. You can follow her writing on her newsletter. Perry, based in London, is columnist at The New Statesman. She is the author of the new book,The Case Against the Sexual Revolution.
Weiss is one of those rare people in the media world, an open-minded observer who dares to question conventional ‘wisdom’ but who also gets people with essentially opposing assessments of our situation to talk to each other in a civilised and humane way. The debate in question was, I judge, one such encounter.
For Filopvic the scenario of the sexual revolution, with all the features enumerated by Deneen above, was by and large a win-win outcome. She would have looked for no radical changes – perhaps a few organisational tweaks here and there might be needed. That was all. For her neither pornography nor promiscuity were necessarily bad things – so long as human ‘dignity’ was respected and maintained.
For Louise Perry, as the title of her book might suggest, the whole question was much more complex and the overall result for women was a ‘net negative’. One of the most negative outcomes was what it has done to the idea and reality of motherhood in our world. There were also the ‘dire consequences of hormonal birth control for so many women’. In addition she spoke of the problems which the culture of casual sex create for women. ‘They are the victims, suffering all the consequences – physical and psychological. When you look at all that the idea that casual sex can be a benefit to women just falls apart.’
Bari Weiss reflected on the changes in her own attitudes since her 20s. Then it all seemed very liberating. Now she is much more conscious of all the unintended consequences – the promiscuity, the reality of single parenthood flowing from easy divorce, abortion, and the radical changes in cultural attitudes. She does not want to put the clock back but she recognises that we have something very serious to face up to.
‘In the end’ she says, ‘if I’m honest and I look back at where a huge amount of my time went, it went into talking friends off ledges who were not hearing back from the people they hooked up with the night before.’ Were many of the arguments we were sold actually not benefiting women but implicitly ended up redounding to the benefit of men?, she asked. Louise Perry summed up the supposed ‘freedoms’ they won as follows: Freedom for the pike is death for the minnows, she reminded us. Men and women are different, she argued, and because of that the whole idea of creating a level playing field for both sexes – or genders – was false at the core.
Prior to the publication of her book Perry has posted on Weiss’ Substack platform, Common Sense, a further elaboration of her comments on Honestly. They are more than descriptive. They are a call to parents everywhere to protect their children from not just a hostile culture but an ideologically driven social and educational establishment.
One comment on her post – from, I assume, a father – points to a savage world where the centre no longer holds. Not only is it no country for old men. It is no country for the young either:
I have two daughters, ages 28 and 27, and everything I just read (in Perry’s post) is the s–t they have dealt with. Most men, dare I say almost all men under the age of 35, are well aware of the vulnerabilities and use them against young women with fervor. The society that offered my sisters protection, threw my daughters to the wolves.
All of which brings us back to Deneen and his assertion that we are getting it all wrong, that liberalism has got it all disastrously wrong. It has done so because it has anchored the idea of liberty on the idea of the individual and that the only freedom we can enjoy is the freedom to do anything that we desire.
He argues that what he calls The “Noble Lie” of liberalism is shattering because it continues to be believed and defended by those elites who beneﬁt from it. He goes on to say that while it is increasingly seen as a lie, and not an especially noble one, by the class that liberalism has produced, discontent is growing. Two of the participants in the debate cited above might be evidence of this.
But, he says, even as liberalism remains an article of ardent faith among those who ought to be best positioned to comprehend its true nature, liberalism’s apologists regard pervasive discontent, political dysfunction, economic inequality, civic disconnection, and populist rejection as accidental problems disconnected from systemic causes. Their self-deception, he maintains, is generated by enormous reservoirs of self-interest in the maintenance of the present system. This divide will only widen, the crises will become more pronounced, the political duct tape and economic spray paint will increasingly fail to keep the house standing. The end of liberalism is in sight.
His book offers no easy solutions as to what might replace this fateful ideology. He avoided doing so, because we have had enough ideologies. The great value of the book is that it is a challenge to us all to fight in the cause of our true human nature, to stop theorising and to read humanity as it truly is, body and soul – and build the world we want to live in from there.
Jerusalem is a truly extraordinary city. On a three-week visit the fascination the city holds for the visitor on day one does not diminish as each day passes. It grows and grows all the way to day twenty-one. I know it is a dream but one sees and touches things in this city which makes you feel you could make your home here. In a sense that is not a dream. Jerusalem really is our home.
Simon Sebag Montefiore calls his moving account of Jerusalem, past and present, a biography. Now we generally write biographies of people, not places. But if any place in this world is imbued with the characteristics of a person, surely this great city is one of them. Indeed Christ himself did as much when he addressed her in those immortal and tragic words, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37)
This great city, arguably – or maybe there is no argument – the greatest city in the world, in many ways presents a face, or multiple faces, to the world which are maddening in their complexity, contradictions and depths. So much of what one finds in these streets and across much of the Holy Land seem to deny the very essence of the holiness at its heart.
In that impressive book, Montifiore reminds us of a phenomenon which he calls “the Jerusalem syndrome”. Its provenance as a malady is not very secure, but it is identified by some as a group of mental phenomena involving the presence of religiously themed obsessive ideas, delusions, or other psychosis-like experiences that are triggered by a visit to the city of Jerusalem. I don’t think Simon takes it very seriously but as you trod the stones from the Jaffa Gate through the markets of the different ethnic and religious quarters of the old city down to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre you get some sense of how one might be seized by such a malady.
This city and its environs is the cradle of a great faith, and yet that faith and its adherents have to struggle with worldly forces which seem to threaten to drown it while at the same time make capital out of it. These forces seem to crush the beauty and the truth of which its very stones speak.
This is the city from which there emerged in history that vision of humanity which showed the way, the truth and the life, so that the race of humans could live a new life in this world, be born again, be content and be at peace with their fellows. This vision surpassed all other attempts of the great thinkers of antiquity to find answers to the questions, how should I live and why am I here?
It was this city that gave birth to all that we value in the City of Rome today. She is truly the daughter of Jerusalem.
But this city is also one which, like no other in human history, for thousands and thousands of years, has suffered death and destruction in a manner and with a persistence which defies credulity. It has been afflicted by monstrous and cruel men – and not a few women – for longer and more constantly across millenia than any other human settlement on God’s earth.
The Assyrians came down like a wolf on the fold, followed by the Babylonians, the Persians, the cruel Antiochus, a Greek successor of Alexander, Herod the Great, the Romans culminating with Hadrian. Then Constantine gave respite and all seemed well until the Sasinian Persians brought havoc from the east once more and in the space of a few years attempted to obliterate all that they found there.
Then came the Arabs out of the desert and the very soul of the city again became the object of contention and violent conflict as one dynasty after another embracing a new monotheism forced her to their will. The dreadful Fatimid, Al Hakim, tortured and bludgeoned her again at the turn of the first Christian millennium. Then, partly in response to the legacy of that Fatimid savagery, at the end of the new millennium’s first century came a Christian revival led by Crusading armies from Europe.
The crusaders were men of deep faith but also could not but be men of their time, sadly not averse to the shedding of blood. But in less than 100 years the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem rebuilt many of the churches and restored the memories of the holy places destroyed over the previous 400. The Christian Jerusalem of today would simply not exist without them.
The second Christian millennium, right down to the present time, may have been a little kinder to this city than the first – but not by much. Jerusalem today is a city in which troubled mankind continues to show the frightful capacity of man to treat his fellow man as something less than human.
Israel’s museums and historic sites bear witness to its glories and its tragedies over five millennia. Among these is the splendid and very informative new Saxum*multimedia centre just outside Jerusalem. Hours can be spent interacting with this display, connecting Israel’s history with world events and providing links down through the multiple layers which scripture, tradition and exhaustive archaeology reveal about this place which is like no other on earth.
But this city, in spite of the weight of all this history, still looks every inch the eternal and glorious mystery that it is, continuing to show in so many details, the vision which the incarnate Word of God manifested two thousand years ago.
Saxun Visitor Centre
Jerusalem is in many ways the embodiment of St. Augustine’s Earthly City. But it is also, in some ineffable and mysterious manner, an abiding reminder of the existence of the City of God. Furthermore, for each individual who comes here, its very flawed nature is a perpetual reminder of the conflicting worlds we bear within ourselves, threatening our destruction but filling us with hope in the promise of salvation.
The grandeur of Jerusalem might be represented by the paradoxes and the promises suggested to us by Gerard Manly Hopkins in his hope-filled and unearthly sonnet, God’s Grandeur.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Christ’s “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” was not a vain cry. Through his Spirit he does gather his children together under his wings. Pope Francis reminded us of the essence of this in an address in 2016 when he told us,
“The Holy Spirit, received for the first time on the day of our Baptism, opens our heart to the Truth, to all Truth. The Spirit impels our life on the challenging but joyful path of charity and solidarity toward our brothers and sisters. The Spirit gives us the tenderness of divine forgiveness and permeates us with the invincible power of the Father’s mercy”.
There will be, one day in time, a new Jerusalem, a day when all her suffering will be over and all the conflicts and contradictions of this glorious city of cities will end and all her children can live in the peace of Christ.
*Saxum: Road to Nataf, Abu Ghosh 9084500 P.O. Box 40205, Mevaseret Zion Israel 9140101. +972 2 622 4100. firstname.lastname@example.org
There are many interesting angles in a very moderate and balance column posted by Ross Douthat in the New York Times over the weekend. His subject was the latest culture conflict which has evolved out of the general LGBTQ revolution/counterrevolution – with Florida’s counterrevolutionary offensive vis-a-vis school texts in the eye of the storm. But perhaps the most worrying angle is the one with which he concludes. It is his focus on what this war has done, not to a society’s understanding of biology, sexuality and gender. His concern is that in our discourse we now see undermined the very principles of openness, sincerity and honesty which have for millennia marked our conversations with each other.
Glancing across the parts of the planet where the trajectory of the LGBTQ revolution is in its most advanced form, he sees a readiness to consider its scientific and medical aspects everywhere except in the US. I wonder if he is reading it right there? What he sees is that American liberalism, all the way up to the Biden administration, is drifting away, on these questions, even from the most liberal and secular parts of Europe. “From Britain to Sweden there is an increasingly vigorous debate around adolescent medical interventions, widespread doubts that they are actually supported by the data and a partial reconsideration of their general application to transgender-identifying youth. In liberal America there is mostly just an orthodoxy, even if the cracks show here and there.”
This of course, is a further reinforcement of the desperate polarisation which everyone there complains about but no one seems prepared to engage with the intolerance at its roots.
He finds the American climate unique in this regard and clearly worries about its effect on the thought processes of moderate conservatives like himself who enjoy a substantial liberal readership. He is after all, a very highly regarded columnist in the New York Times. The whole thing puts him distinctly outside his comfort zone.
“You will notice,” he writes, with regard to his categorisation of the three camps with a stake in this war, “that I have written this essay in a studiously cautious style, on the theory that as I am in fact a known social conservative, my too-vigorous prosecution of the skeptics’ case would serve only to reinforce the current progressive orthodoxy — enabling the response that, see, to doubt the wisdom of puberty blockers or the authenticity of teenage self-identification is the province of Catholics, religious conservatives, the out-group.”
The great temptation for the moderate person today, he seems to say, is to emulate the ostrich and to stick our heads in the sand. This, he recognises is to follow a theory of conflict-avoidance, shading into cowardice.
He concludes, sticking his head straightforwardly above the parapet, with a prediction: “Within not too short a span of time, not only conservatives but most liberals will recognize that we have been running an experiment on trans-identifying youth without good or certain evidence, inspired by ideological motives rather than scientific rigor, in a way that future generations will regard as a grave medical-political scandal.
“Which means that if you are a liberal who believes as much already, but you don’t feel comfortable saying it, your silence will eventually become your regret.”
We might wonder why the well documented stories of the follies of corporate America of the past two decades – highlighted so thoroughly by documentaries on the streaming channels – are not having more of an impact. These go back to Enron, through the opioid scandal involving the FDA, Purdue Pharma and others, down to the Theranos and Boeing 737 Max debacles. Why are these are not focusing the minds of people pushing procedures which may not just be dismembering unfortunate individuals but also threatening to turn their own society into a sterile husk.
The current geo-political turmoil, with Ukraine in the eye of the storm, is upsetting all kinds of certainties and semi-certainties. Many of these we may have been priding ourselves of possessing. One is the semi-certainty, held by perhaps a majority of Christians, that on the political spectrum their values were going to be better protected by the right as opposed to the left. This was so much so that in current discourse “the Christian right” itself became a political category.
Now, however, a great deal of rethinking has been forced on the lazy-minded categorizers. This has been forced on all who place value on religion itself, of any denomination or creed. A genuine orthodox Christian has no choice but to flee from the murderous political regime which until very recently was being seen as a defender of the faith. That title has now become as unworthy of Vladimir V. Putin as the title defensor fideibestowed on Henry VIII by Pope Leo X in 1521 became. In the Islamic world the brutalities of Iran and Saudi Arabia, so-called defenders of the muslim faith, can only be an affront to its genuine adherents. The growing extremism of Narenda Modi’s regime must pain any peace-loving Hindu.
But the cleansing process does not end with the potential it has for the purification of religions. It also shows signs of bringing the secular world back to its senses. Ezra Klein, a young liberal-minded columnist in the New York Times suggests that the exposure of the excesses of the right now gives liberalism itself an opportunity to bring itself back from the brink of disaster, a scenario outlined a few years ago by Patrick Deneen of Notre Dame in his book on the failure of liberalism. Its intolerances and narrow minded bigotry has been for years threatening what Klein sees as its true universal spirit.
In Klein’s reading, the anti-liberal right – where it was identifying itself as Christian – was never true to the Christian faith. In fact, in its true form it was something that they feared – as Vladimir V. Putin must now do. The liberal left, on the other hand, for the recent decades in which it has not adhered to universal principles has suffered by its separation from the belief of genuine Christians.
Klein explores all this in a recent long article in his newspaper. He does so partly in the context of what he describes as a moving and beautiful collection of essays by Ukrainian writers on the country’s history and its troubled relationship with both Russia and the West.
In his article he echoes the famous opening epigram of L.P. Hartley’s novel, The Go-between – “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.” He suggests that the trap which liberalism fell into was to marginalize all those who valued elements of tradition, their histories and their nations. To do so for him was a fatal flaw, betraying the universal spirit which should imbue true liberals.
“Liberalism”, he writes, “needs a healthier relationship to time. Can the past become a foreign country without those who still live there being turned into foreigners in their own land? If the future is to be unmapped, then how do we persuade those who fear it, or mistrust us, to agree to venture into its wilds?
“I suspect another way of asking the same question is this: Can the constant confrontation with our failures and deficiencies produce a culture that is generous and forgiving? Can it be concerned with those who feel not just left behind, as many in America do, but left out, as so many Ukrainians were for so long?”
Then he moves to suggest this daring answer.
“The answer to that — if there is an answer to that — may lie in the Christianity the anti-liberals feared, which too few in politics practice. What I, as an outsider to Christianity, (he is Jewish) have always found most beautiful about it is how strange it is. Here is a worldview built on a foundation of universal sin and insufficiency, an equality that bleeds out of the recognition that we are all broken, rather than that we must all be great. I’ve always envied the practice of confession, not least for its recognition that there will always be more to confess and so there must always be more opportunities to be forgiven.”
Some of this spirit, in secular form, can, he writes, be seen in the Ukrainian essays. “The tone is anything but triumphalist, with Russia having taken Crimea and the rest of Europe and the United States shrugging it off. The perspective is largely tragic, clear-eyed about the work that may go undone and the distance left to travel. But the writing is generous, too: suffused with love for country, honesty about an often bloody history, determination despite a disappointing present and, above all, a commitment to one another.”
He concludes by saying that there is much to learn from that merger of self-criticism and deep solidarity. Put in Christian terms he might have said that with humility and Charity, the world might well be saved. It would. It will.
There is surely something salutary in the coincidence of the streaming of The Tragedy of Macbeth over the same months that the tragedy of Elizabeth Holmes has also been unfolding on our screens in the Hulu produced series, The Dropout, based on an original ABC podcast of the same name.
If there ever was an age of ambition, this is it. So much so that there are even signs of a backlash against it. To be reminded how toxic ambition can become must only be good for us. It is as though the illusory follies of the American dream have now infected the whole world. In 2015 Holmes – a Gatsby for our times? – told a magazine interviewer, “I am living proof that it’s true that if you can imagine it, you can achieve it”.
After the banquet scene in Macbeth (Act 3, Scene 4) , when the ghost of the murdered Banquo appears to him, he cries, part in despair, part in vicious resolution, “I am in blood / Stepped in so far…Returning were as tedious as go o’er.” The blood on his hands matches the blood surging in his veins which fires his resolve to hold on to the kingdom for which his ambition drove him to murder those who stood in his way.
In the Elizabeth Holmes story, blood is more than just a symbol. The blood was real. The victims of her fraudulent deceits on which her whole Theranos blood testing start-up was built, were real – and their lives were deemed at risk because of the faulty process. Driven by her ambition, admirable to many as she started out, she was gradually corrupted by it, lied in pursuit of it and betrayed and abused many of those whom she deceived in order to hold on to the wealth and celebrity she had attained through it.
There are not many of Shakespeare’s tragedies and history plays in which ambition does not play a role in the downfall of central characters. In Henry IV, Part 1, Prince Hal bemoans the fate of Hotspur whom he has killed on the battlefield:
Ill-weaved ambition, how much art thou shrunk! When that this body did contain a spirit, a kingdom for it was too small a bound. But now two paces of the vilest earth are room enough
But then, from the primordial plunge of Satan into hell, through the tragedy of his first human victims, to our own day, ambition has been an element in our nature which has moved mankind to great good, or, “ill-weaved”, to great evil.
Shakespeare did not vaunt ambition or the ambitious. He warned us of it. Yet it seems our own age does vaunt it and the fears of Lady Macbeth about the courage of her husband seem unfounded if the political and business culture of our time are closely examined.
Yet do I fear thy nature.
It is too full of the milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great,
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it.
(Act I, scene 5)
Elizabeth Holmes, paraded her ambition under the cloak of philanthropy – saying her goal was to save lives with a revolutionary and speedy blood testing procedure. For good measure she was going to obliterate the existing testing agencies which were making billions of dollars using snail-paced tried and tested methods. She probably did start out with good intentions. Tragically, when she discovered that her company was failing to make it, she opted to fake it. From then on it was downhill into the pit where she now rests, awaiting sentence as a convicted fraudster.
In the space of a few years, Elizabeth Holmes moved from being an attractive and dynamic 18 year-old Stanford undergraduate to become a barefaced fraudster. Icons of the high-tech world helped her to shed her humanity along the way. One of Silicon Valley’s big names and one of the richest men in the world is Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle. He is portrayed in The Dropout as one of the first to teach her how to raise capital. In the process he tells her to start firing people, it would seem, just for practice. She proves herself to be a very apt pupil, without any trace of the milk of human kindness.
Rufus Norris, in a recent interview with The Guardian, reflected on a production of Macbeth at Britain’s national Theatre. He talked about this illness attending ambition:
If you look at anyone successful, anyone successful that I’ve known, there is an illness that attends it, and it’s an illness that enables you, to one degree or another, to cut off your humanity, because your success inevitably means someone else not quite making it, whether that’s me going up against a couple of people I knew really well for the job that I’m now in [artistic director of the National Theatre], or the bank manager getting the bank manager’s job, or somebody putting their child into private school, because it’s a form of ambition.
This kind of consciousness, or awakening of conscience, seems to be growing and is part of that backlash referred to earlier. The Guardian article which quoted Norris seems to spell out the folly of one kind of ambition in the words of the unashamedly, unrelentingly ambitious Michelle Mone, a serial entrepreneur:
“I think it’s all down to self-respect and looking at yourself in the mirror and asking: ‘Am I happy with myself?’” she says. “If you’re happy with yourself, then fair enough.” Yet she isn’t happy. “I always look in the mirror and I say to myself: ‘You can do more.’ So I push myself all the time. I set goals all the time, I just don’t stop. But once I achieve them, I set more. I’d rather be ambitious than lazy. So I’m proud that I am ambitious.”
Two for the price of one? Vanity of vanities. As portrayed in The Dropout, Elizabeth Holmes did a great deal of work on her image and her motivation with the help of her mirror.
A recent long-read article by Noreen Malone of Slate in the New York Times dealt with the problem of ambition in the context of the current changes in attitudes to work, the workplace and the phenomenon of “the great resignation”.
Consider this theory: that the current office ennui was simply the inevitable backlash to the punishing culture of the previous decade’s #ThankGodItsMonday culture. And furthermore, sometime around the rise of #MeToo (and after Donald Trump’s election), ambition began to seem like a mug’s game. The enormous personal costs of getting to the top became clear, and the potential warping effects of being in charge also did. It wasn’t just the bad sexually harassing bosses who were fired but the toxic ones, too, and soon enough we began to question the whole way power in the office worked. What started out as a hopeful moment turned depressing fast. Power structures were interrogated but rarely dismantled, a middle ground that left everyone feeling pretty bad about the ways of the world. It became harder to trust anyone who was your boss and harder to imagine wanting to become one. Covid was an accelerant, but the match was already lit.
She talks about how in a span of less than 20 years we have moved from the hustle culture portrayed in Mad Men to Sunday nights in which people are now watching Succession, “the beloved pitch-black workplace drama of the post-Trump nihilistic years.”
Perhaps ambition and the ambitious will take a back seat. But don’t hold your breath. The powerful instincts which drove Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and which drove Elizabeth Holmes and her paramour, Sunny Balwani – currently being tried for fraud – are deep in our nature. Like many forces in our nature, subject to right reason they are forces for good. Ungoverned, they corrupt us.
Late 20th and 21st century culture of rampant individualism has fatefully opted for small government of our passions. The tragedy and loss of the once visionary Elizabeth Holmes – and probably many we will never hear of – is the price we pay for cultivating the ungoverned self.The Guardian article on the subject of ambition suggests that we might look to the works of the modern martyr, Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated in El Salvador in 1980. He suggested we might consider a different sort of ambition: “Aspire not to have more but to be more,” he said. The wisdom behind those words suggests that we move beyond our material preoccupations and onto a higher plane, encompassing the wonderful reality of our common humanity. That path would hopefully lead mankind to a true appreciation of our nature, and perhaps the discovery that there are more things in heaven and earth than might be dreamt of in our untamed ambitions.
There are two types of laws: there are just laws and there are unjust laws… What is the difference between the two?…An unjust law is a man-made code that is out of harmony with the moral law.
– Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963
The path of mankind towards the goal of a just state and a truly just rule of law has been long, full of many wrong turnings and indeed, strewn with multiple miseries. Yet we keep going in spite of all that. King’s simple definition of an unjust law, and by implication, a just one, is governed by its adherence – or otherwise – to the moral law. But how hard it has been for us to agree on what that latter law is and how to know it. It was not so hard in earlier ages when there was a surer guide to help us know right from wrong. This was an age when there was a clearer consciousness of the foundations of such a law. That was an age when men and women allowed their consciences to be formed by that consciousness – the consciousness of God.
Among the leaders and rulers of our age, Martin Luther King was one such man. There are others but not many. They are, sadly, exceptions to the flawed rule governing our age – the law of self-interested pragmatism. If an action produces the desired result it is a good act. If not, forget it. That is about as far as our moral compass of choice takes us in the high-tech world of today. The pragmatic rulers to whom we entrust the management of our fragile societies now leave their consciences on the hat-stand when they enter our legislative chambers – and indeed boast of doing so..
At the very dawn of parliamentary government – in the troubled environment of the Plantagenet monarchy of England – we find a golden moment when that furtive search for justice was guided tentatively by a ruler who was guided by his acceptance of a divinely inspired moral universe.
The events are recounted by the historian, David Carpenter, in his masterful biography of King Henry III. He tells of how, after the king’s wedding and subsequent coronation of his youthful bride, the happy celebrations at Westminster on 20 January had to be cut short. “Fear that the Thames, swollen by rain, would flood the palace, drove the court to Merton priory, eight miles away in Surrey. It was there, on 23 January, that the king, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edmund of Abingdon, the bishops ‘and the greater part of the earls and barons of England’ agreed a series of provisions ‘for the common utility of all the kingdom’.”
The ‘statute of Merton’, as it became known, did not stand alone. Between 1234 and 1237 the king issued around a dozen provisions dealing with the law and government of the realm. They were very much the product of the cooperation between the king and the political community.
This was the aftermath of the reluctant signing of Magna Carta in 1215 by Henry’s somewhat vicious father, King John. Reluctant is a euphemism, for in truth John had, if not a gun to his head, certainly a knife at his throat. The barons had already landed a French army with a ready replacement for John at its head. On John’s death the following year, Henry, a nine-year-old child, succeeded to a throne shaken by civil war. But with the help of skillful guardians he made it to maturity and assumed personal rule of the kingdom in 1228. Gradually he asserted his authority and by this enactment of a series of provisions through his ‘great council’, the institution which in these years was for the first time recorded as a ‘parliament’, very significantly advanced the cause of true justice in the realm.
The ‘statute of Merton’ and subsequent provisions enacted in the few years following, dealt with the protection of widows and orphans, regulating the composition and frequency of local courts, devising new legal rules and actions related to succession and possession of property, remedying the abuses of royal officials and restricting the king’s rights of compulsory purchase. The legislation covered a whole range of issues and impacted on many sections of society. The statement at Merton that the legislation was conceived ‘for the common utility of all the kingdom’, was an explicit acceptance of the concept of ‘the common good’ in political morality.
“For Henry”, Carpenter tells us, “the legislation was closely linked to his religion.” According to the great recorder of events of that time, Matthew Paris, he promulgated the statute of Merton ‘for the salvation of his soul and the improvement of his kingdom, influenced by a spirit of justice and piety’. “Henry himself,” Carpenter adds, “on another occasion, wrote of abolishing evil customs ‘for the health of our soul and the souls of our ancestors and heirs’. (This was all) in the spirit of his coronation oath to abolish bad laws and introduce good ones. He may well have been influenced by the example of Edward the Confessor, a legislator, so it was thought, deeply concerned with the welfare of his people.”
Henry III, although not always wise or faultless in what he did, was profoundly motivated in these enactments. Paris also affirmed that he was inspired by his marriage to Eleanor, his young Provencal bride, doing good in the hope that ‘God would consummate a joyous beginning with a happy end by conferring the gift of children’. The legislation reflected Henry’s pious concern to protect widows, help the poor and bring the position of the Jews into line with the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council. In England this provision ameliorated an existing law which had laid down that Jews were not to remain in the kingdom unless they could be of service to the king.
Undoubtedly, the path to justice is a long and winding one – as such a small step illustrates. However, such small steps for man – if I can be allowed a rather clumsy allusion – are necessary ones if we are to continue to make our way to better rather than worse conditions for mankind. But to those who might cry out ‘foul’ for the assertion that the true foundation of morality is consciousness of God, as it was for King Henry III as much as it was for Martin Luther King Jnr., we have only to recall what history shows us are the fruits of so many regimes which denied this and made man the ultimate arbiter of what is just and unjust.
Today a worrying post arrived from Bari Weiss’ Common Sense platform. The rot which has corrupted our political, literary, and entertainment world – not to mention the education systems on which the future of our civilisation depend – is now threatening to undermine the institutions on which are founded our efforts, although often flawed, to administer justice to each other.
It is worrying, but we shoould not be surprised. Why would they not do this, marxists as they are? Political revolution for marxists was never a piecemeal operation – revolution in one counrty, they knew, was doomed to failure. So with cultural revolution. All must fall or all will fail. For those defending freedom and justice, therefore, every battle is important and winning battles will eventually mean winning the war.
She introduces this long essay by Aaron Sibarium on the latest target of those dedicated to capturing and eviscerating the institutions which hold our civilisation together:
If you are a Common Sense reader, you are by now highly aware of the phenomenon of institutional capture. From the start, we have covered the ongoing saga of how America’s most important institutions have been transformed by an illiberal ideology—and have come to betray their own missions.
Ok, so we’ve lost a lot. A whole lot. But at least we haven’t lost the law. That’s how we comforted ourselves. The law would be the bulwark against this nonsense. The rest we could work on building anew.
But what if the country’s legal system was changing just like everything else?
Today, Aaron Sibarium, a reporter who has consistently been ahead of the pack on this beat, offers a groundbreaking piece on how the legal system in America, as one prominent liberal scholar put it, is at risk of becoming “a totalitarian nightmare.”
This is a long feature on a subject we think deserves your time. Save it, share it, or print it to read in a quiet moment:
In 2017, the super lawyer David Boies was at a corporate retreat at the Ritz-Carlton in Key Biscayne, Florida, hosted by his law firm, Boies, Schiller and Flexner. Boies was a liberal legend: He had represented Al Gore in Bush v. Gore, and, in 2013, successfully defended gay marriage in California, in Hollingsworth v. Perry, paving the way for the landmark Supreme Court ruling two years later.
On the last day of the retreat, Boies gave a talk in the hotel ballroom to 100 or so attorneys, according to a lawyer who was present at the event. Afterwards, Boies’s colleagues were invited to ask questions.
Most of the questions were yawners. Then, an associate in her late twenties stood up. She said there were lawyers at the firm who were “uncomfortable” with Boies representing disgraced movie maker Harvey Weinstein, and she wanted to know whether Boies would pay them severance so they could quit and focus on applying for jobs at other firms. Boies, who declined to comment for this article, said no.
That lawyers could be tainted by representing unpopular clients was hardly news. But in times past, lawyers worried about the public—not other lawyers. Defending communists, terrorists, and cop killers had never been a crowd pleaser, but that’s what lawyers had to do sometimes: Defend people who were hated.
When congressional Republicans attacked attorneys for representing Guantanamo detainees, for example, the entire profession rallied around them. The American Civil Liberties Union noted that John Adams took pride in representing British soldiers accused of taking part in the Boston Massacre, calling it “one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered to my country.”
But that’s not how the new associates saw Boies’s choice to represent Weinstein. They thought there were certain people you just did not represent—people so hateful and reprehensible that helping them made you complicit. The partners, the old-timers—pretty much everyone over 50—found this unbelievable. That wasn’t the law as they had known it. That wasn’t America.
“The idea that guilty people shouldn’t get lawyers attacks the legal system at its root,” Andrew Koppelman, a prominent liberal scholar of constitutional law at Northwestern University, said. “People will ask: ‘How can you represent someone who’s guilty?’ The answer is that a society where accused people don’t get a defense as a matter of course is a society you don’t want to live in. It’s a totalitarian nightmare.”
Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C., on politics, demographics and inequality.
Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida, is giving Donald Trump a run for his money as the most divisive politician in America.
“We want people that are going to fight the left, and that’s what we need to do in this country,” DeSantis declared in an interview with Fox News on Feb. 8. “That’s what we’re doing in Florida, standing up for people’s freedoms. We’re opposing wokeness. We’re opposing all these things.”
In a Nov. 5, 2021, article on the liberal Daily Beast website, “Desperate, Deranged DeSantis Devolves Into Dumb Troll,” Ruben Navarrette Jr. wrote that DeSantis “is a terrible governor who is failing his leadership course with flying colors. Driven only by politics and naked ambition, he pursues reckless policies that divide Floridians and may even put them in danger.”
The governor routinely succumbs to right-wing pressure groups, Navarrette continued, “because he apparently has no core beliefs other than the unshakable conviction that he should sit in the Oval Office.”
On Jan. 17, 2022, The Guardian followed up from the left:
In a red-meat-for-the-base address at the opening of Florida’s legislature last week, themed around the concept of “freedom” but described by critics as a fanfare of authoritarianism, DeSantis gave a clear indication of the issues he believes are on voters’ minds. They include fighting the White House over Covid-19, ballot box fraud, critical race theory in schools and defunding law enforcement.
The view from the right is starkly different.
On March 14, Rich Lowry, editor in chief of National Review, heaped praise on DeSantis as “the voice of the new Republican Party,” a politician who “opens up a vista offering an important element of Trumpism without the baggage or selfishness of Trump.”
Lowry argues that DeSantis has strategically positioned himself on the cutting edge of a political movement with the potential to have “broad appeal to GOP voters of all stripes without the distracting obsessions of the former president.”