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Before yesterdaySnakes and Ladders

look at what came in the mail

By ayjay
This is a lovely and wise little book.

Monk’s specs

By ayjay
If you’re ever tempted to think you’re cool, just remember that Theolonious Sphere Monk was wearing those specs in 1947.

John Mitchell

By ayjay

David Steele:

Tide offensive lineman Jimmy Rosser recalled that before [Wilbur] Jackson enrolled and Mitchell was recruited, Bryant “told us that he was going to get the best athletes available to play for us and that included black players. He then proceeded to tell us that if any of you didn’t like that, then you could get the hell out of here, because that was the way it was going to be. None of the players left the meeting.”

Still, Mitchell knew what world he was entering because of the world he was raised in. He attended segregated schools in Mobile, and his Williamson High School team was barred from playing at Ladd Stadium, even though it was across the street. He only saw black players there when he sold sodas in the stands at the Senior Bowl, he recalled.

Having lived that life, what greeted him on campus was an adjustment: He had never had white teachers before, nor white classmates, and he was the only black student in each of his classes in Tuscaloosa. The black enrollment at the time — about 3% of 15,000 students — meant this for him: “You wouldn’t see an African American student for three or four days.”

I remember very well what I felt when John Mitchell — the first black football player at the University of Alabama, the first black captain of the team (elected by his teammates), the first black assistant coach (immediately after his graduation at age 20) — and other black players arrived on the scene. I was about twelve. I felt that a Dark Age had ended. I was sure that we in Alabama would soon put racism behind us. Finally, all that would be over.

By ayjay

I’m going to say something I never ever believed that I would say in earnest: I think Arsenal should sack Emery and replace him with Mourinho. It would be only a transitional move, because Mou never lasts more than three years without disaster, but if there is one thing he can do it’s organize a defense. Emery patently cannot do that. At all. And if Arsenal are going to make a change they need to do it soon, before the season slips away. Or slips away any further than it already has.

P.S. This assumes that Mourinho would take the job. I think he would, if only because the club is in London.

P.P.S. And no, the result against Villa doesn’t change my mind. The lads fought back bravely, but they were digging themselves out of a hole their manager’s tactical ineptitude and inexplicable personnel decisions put them in.

intellectuals and influencers

By ayjay

Both the public intellectual and the public influencer play an instrumental role in shaping cultural ideals and tying them to the individual’s sense of self. When the public intellectual was ascendant, cultural ideals revolved around the public good. Today, they revolve around the consumer good. The idea that the self emerges from the construction of a set of values and beliefs has faded. What the public influencer understands more sharply than most is that the path of self-definition now winds through the aisles of a cultural supermarket. We shop for our identity as we shop for our toothpaste, choosing from a wide selection of readymade products. The influencer displays the wares and links us to the purchase, always with the understanding that returns and exchanges will be easy and free.

This from Nick Carr is short and sharp and smart. Please read the whole thing, especially the last paragraph, which ends on a zinger. (I feel zinged, anyway.) Nick’s post is a useful contribution to the understanding of what I’ve been calling metaphysical capitalism, which is the transformation of the commodified self into a religion.

Also, this gives me the opportunity to answer a question some people have been asking me: What exactly is the narrative promoted by the reporting of New York Times that I dislike so much? The short answer is: metaphysical capitalism. For the reporters on the Times, those who tell me that “I am my own” are on the side of the angels, while those who cast doubt on that proposition are to be cast into outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Thus genuinely Left movements get only marginally better treatment in the Times than religious conservatives.) That is the primary means by which Times reporters evaluate everything from political candidates to religious organizations to movies and books. There is not even the slightest attempt in those pages to be fair to people who question self-ownership, for what fellowship has light with darkness?

evangelicalism redux

By ayjay

Another topic I’ve written about frequently here — though with less pleasure than I’ve had writing about Ruskin — is what evangelicalism was and is and (perhaps) shall be. I have a new short essay at that doesn’t add a lot that’s new, but does have the virtue of calling attention to my friend Tommy Kidd’s new book.

about Ruskin

By ayjay

There are many posts about John Ruskin on this blog — click on the relevant tag below — but let me add to that material links to two essays, one by me and one by Gene McCarraher. They’re very different but I think they complement each other.

climate hope

By ayjay

At the end of this interview, the environmental historian Jason Moore says, “Capitalism … had its social legitimacy because in one way or another it could promise development. And I don’t think anyone takes that idea seriously anymore.” Which is a very strange thing to say indeed, because economic development is the one promise that capitalism has delivered on, and massively. (This is the chief burden of the books by Deirdre McCloskey that I wrote about here and here.) In fact, and quite obviously, economic development around the world is the chief reason we have a climate crisis, because that development has ravaged our environment — and the global nature of modern capitalism means that that ravaging has been dispersed over the entire globe.

Moore agrees with my friend Wen Stephenson that nothing serious can be done to avert the oncoming climate catastrophe except a world-wide political/economic revolution. Stephenson:

The sheer depth, scale, and speed of the changes required at this point are beyond anything a mere climate movement can possibly accomplish, because such a movement is inherently unsuited to the nature of the task we face: radically transforming the political-economic system that is driving us toward climate breakdown. Given the sclerotic system in which the Green New Deal — the only proposal ever put before Congress that confronts the true scale and urgency of the climate catastrophe — is dead on arrival, mocked even by the Democratic Speaker of the House, the pretense that anything less than revolutionary change is now required amounts to a form of denial.

I am skeptical about this proposal for two reasons:

  1. The revolution would have to be global, because if it happens only in Europe or North America, or both, then global capital will simply shift its attentions and energies to other parts of the world, East and South (which is already where most of the depredations of the environment are happening). But a single, ideologically unified, worldwide political revolution is simply unimaginable.
  2. I see absolutely no reason to believe that any socialist government, local or global, will implement the changes needed to slow climate change. Socialism has a uniformly terrible record in these matters, from the Soviet Union to Chavez’s Venezuela — totally dependent for its social stability on global petrocapitalism — to this little country you may have heard of called China. I strongly suspect that that pattern will continue: when socialist policies throw a spoke into the engine of commerce, and the economy starts to collapse so that there’s less and less wealth to distribute, then socialist governments, like all others, will not hesitate to exploit the environment to become more productive. (Or will become state-capitalists like the Chinese Communist Party.)

Where does that leave us? Well, you can offer a counsel of despair, as Jonathan Franzen does. Now, he says he doesn’t despair:

If your hope for the future depends on a wildly optimistic scenario, what will you do ten years from now, when the scenario becomes unworkable even in theory? Give up on the planet entirely? To borrow from the advice of financial planners, I might suggest a more balanced portfolio of hopes, some of them longer-term, most of them shorter. It’s fine to struggle against the constraints of human nature, hoping to mitigate the worst of what’s to come, but it’s just as important to fight smaller, more local battles that you have some realistic hope of winning. Keep doing the right thing for the planet, yes, but also keep trying to save what you love specifically — a community, an institution, a wild place, a species that’s in trouble — and take heart in your small successes. Any good thing you do now is arguably a hedge against the hotter future, but the really meaningful thing is that it’s good today. As long as you have something to love, you have something to hope for.

But this is frankly to admit that all the victories are short-term and small-scale. Franzen tries not to think about what’s happening in the longer term and on the global scale.

Does anything remain? Possibly: technological fixes. Any potential fixes are fraught with uncertainty and danger, but more and more scientists are quietly hinting that they just may be our last resort. But why are those scientists being so quiet in their hinting? Largely because almost every climate activist I know of is absolutely and unremittingly hostile to any such proposals. Like my suspicions about global socialist revolution, their suspicions about technological fixes come in two varieties. The first is straightforward and reasonable: Why would we trust the very technocracy that got us into this mess to get us out?

The second one, though, is a little more complicated. I think that many climate activists hate the very idea of technological fixes because if they should happen to work that would mean that the bastards got away with it. That is, if the global capitalist elite that has soo cheerfully and brazenly and heedlessly destroyed the natural world should, at the last moment, pull a technological rabbit out of their technocratic hat that stops the worst from occurring, that would feel like the biggest miscarriage of justice ever, because a group of people who have a very strong claim to the title of Greatest Criminals in History would walk away scot-free and indeed might even be thought of as heroes. It offends one’s sense of justice so profoundly that it’s hard to root for such technological fixes to work, even if they could indeed avert the worst consequences of capitalist exploitation of the planet.

But a planet saved is better than a planet ruined. Even if in the saving the Greatest Criminals walk free.

So I am thinking a lot about the various technological means of addressing climate change. I’m looking for actions less dangerous than the great big global fixes that some of the more imaginative technocrats propose, but that also would have, at least potentially, far greater effects than the strictly local actions that Franzen recommends. Ideas in this post seem to come in twos, so here are two very promising ideas:

The first involves making plants a little better at holding carbon dioxide:

Chory believes the key to fixing that imbalance is training plants to suck up just a little more CO2, and to keep it longer. She is working on engineering the world’s crop plants to have bigger, deeper roots made of a natural waxy substance called suberin — found in cork and cantaloupe rinds — which is an incredible carbon-capturer and is resistant to decomposition. By encouraging plants to have bigger, deeper, more suberin-rich roots, Chory can trick them into fighting climate change as they grow. The roots will store CO2, and when farmers harvest their crops in the fall, those deep-buried roots will stay in the soil and keep their carbon sequestered in the dirt, potentially for hundreds of years.

The second would turn air conditioners into carbon-capture machines:

A paper published Tuesday in the Nature Communications proposes a partial remedy: Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (or HVAC) systems move a lot of air. They can replace the entire air volume in an office building five or 10 times an hour. Machines that capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — a developing fix for climate change — also depend on moving large volumes of air. So why not save energy by tacking the carbon capture machine onto the air conditioner?

Let a thousand such flowers bloom — a thousand ways to address our changing environment that are technologically feasible and highly scalable but do not require the complete transformation of the whole human order. Keep those ideas coming, scientist friends. We desperately need them.

excerpts from my Sent folder: localism

By ayjay

More broadly, you should understand that I am a deeply committed localist and doubt the legitimacy of all nation-states and all ecclesiastical structures larger than the diocese (and ideally the old city-sized diocese, not the hypertrophied things we have today). I don’t think there should be any polis larger than McClennan County, and within that local structure I advocate a fruitful hybrid of distributism and anarcho-syndicalism. And yes, I’m serious.

I have sometimes said that future generations will refer to this period of history as the Late Roman Era, because church and state alike have borrowed their understanding of political action and political legitimacy from the Roman model. When the church decided that the Roman administrative structure was what it should imitate, it drank from a poisoned chalice. (Hodie venenum effusum est in ecclesiam Christi.) The church should have seen the Roman way of organizing and disciplining people across great distances as the antithesis of the ecclesia, not something to imitate.

In the first 200 years or so of the Way, the church at Rome considered itself bound to offer other churches prayer, encouragement, and sometimes money. It was first not in power but in service. Then its bishops increasingly began to demand obedience from other dioceses. That was the Original Ecclesial Sin from which we have never recovered.

Or so I think.

after the platforms

By ayjay

Ross Douthat:

Yes, it’s understandable for conservatives to worry that if Silicon Valley censors the likes of Molyneux, it will end up censoring them. It’s sensible for them to join parts in the left in worrying about the concentrated power over information that the stewards of social-media platforms enjoy. And it’s necessary for them to recognize that the influence of redpillers and white-identitarians reflects their own failure, across the decades of movement-conservative institution building, to create something that seems more compelling to fugitives from liberalism than the Spirit of the Reddit Thread.

With all that said, though, a humane conservatism should still be able to thrive in a world where white nationalists have trouble monetizing their extremism, in which YouTube algorithms are built to maximize something other than addiction.

I’m not sure what Ross means in the last sentence I’ve quoted by “should.” Does he mean that “humane conservatism” is likely to thrive, or that if the system is fair it ought to be able to do so? I doubt the first and doubt the conditional of the second.

Here’s the situation as I see it. First, as Alexis Madrigal has recently written, the big social media companies will from now on find it less likely to take refuge in the claim that they are “merely platforms”:

These companies are continuing to make their platform arguments, but every day brings more conflicts that they seem unprepared to resolve. The platform defense used to shut down the why questions: Why should YouTube host conspiracy content? Why should Facebook host provably false information? Facebook, YouTube, and their kin keep trying to answer, We’re platforms! But activists and legislators are now saying, So what? “I think they have proven — by not taking down something they know is false — that they were willing enablers of the Russian interference in our election,” Nancy Pelosi said in the wake of the altered-video fracas.

If you can’t plead platform neutrality, what do you do? Well, these companies being what they are, they’ll write algorithms to try to filter content. But the algorithms will often fail — after all, they can’t tell the difference between sites that promote hatred and sites that seek to combat it.

Where does that leave you? As Will Oremus points out, it leaves you with mob rule:

What should be clear to both sides, by now, is the extent to which these massive corporations are making up the rules of online speech as they go along. In the absence of any independent standards or accountability, public opinion has become an essential part of the process by which their moderation policies evolve.

Sure, online platforms have policies and terms of service that run thousands of words, which they enforce on a mass scale via software and a bureaucratic review process. But those rules have been stitched together piecemeal and ad hoc over the years to serve the companies’ own needs — which is why they tend to collapse as soon as a high-profile controversy subjects them to public scrutiny. Caving to pressure is a bad look, but it’s an inevitable feature of a system with policies that weren’t designed to withstand pressure in the first place.

Whatever should happen to humane conservatism on the internet, I don’t know what will, but as a person who is somewhat conservative and who would like to be humane, I wish I knew. In light of all the above, one thing seems nearly certain to me: If I were on a major social media service and a vocal group of that site’s users started calling me homophobic or transphobic or a white supremacist and demanded that I be banned, I would be banned.


By ayjay

A little less than a year ago I wrote a post about cultivating my blog as a kind of garden. I made reference there to something I heard about from Robin Sloan, the game designer Gunpei Yokoi’s idea of “lateral thinking with seasoned technology” — taking established and perhaps unsexy technologies and finding unexpected new uses for them.

Since I wrote that post I have started a newsletter, because a email newsletter is also a seasoned technology, and I wondered if I might be able to do some things with it that I can’t do with this blog. I’m still experimenting, still learning, still looking for what will make that project sing — but I am really enjoying it so far, and getting some lovely responses from people, and this morning I realized that one of the reasons I like doing the newsletter so much is that I have (quite unconsciously) understood it as a place not to do analysis or critique but to share things that give me delight.

What brought about that realization was reading the most recent edition of Warren Ellis’s newsletter, in which he writes this:

Here’s a thing that came up in an email conversation the other week, that I don’t think I’ve ever made explicit to you: herein, I only talk about the things I like.

This was an important decision for me, made some years ago. It is great fun to annihilate something in a storm of arch Menckenesque hail, and I’ve done it in the past. But I came to the place where I questioned its utility here. If I’m spending time and space on something that is bad, then that is time and space not used to boost the awareness of something good. And that is a poor trade-off, these days.

A thousand times yes.

I mentioned earlier that I learned about “lateral thinking with seasoned technology” (LTST) from Robin Sloan, and Robin with his Year of the Meteor project is doing just that, employing Risograph printing, the U.S. Postal Service, a print-and-mail service called Lob that’s typically used by businesses for mass mailings, and who knows what else in the future.

Similarly, for his Ridgeline project, Craig Mod, while on a long-distance walk in Japan, tried sending brief messages and photos to subscribers all over the world by plain old SMS. The project ended up having some bugs, but the idea is enormously generative. As Robin wrote about Craig’s project, “Craig is always making new tools, trying new things, like the SMS experiment. Like he is really TRYING. What if 10X more people were TRYING?” I want to be one of those people who is trying, too. Trying to share things I like in unexpected ways.

excerpts from my Sent folder: civility

By ayjay

I think the question [of whether civility is a Christian virtue] hinges on whether “civility” is a useful shorthand proxy for a series of traits that certainly are Christian virtues: patience, forbearance, kindness, generosity, turning the other cheek, blessing those who spitefully use you, etc.

responsible scholarship and the growth of Christianity

By ayjay

I’ve talked a bit lately about what Christians today might be able to learn from the early church. Let’s do that again.

Celsus was a second-century Greek philosopher who, around 175 A.D., wrote an extremely thorough critique of Christianity, which he believed to be a philosophical and moral abomination. Alas, no copies of it have survived. And yet we know in detail not just what Celsus argued but also the specific words in which he argued it. How?

Because 75 years later, when a Christian theologian named Origen wrote a book called Against Celsus, he quoted his opponent often and at great length — and in such a way that we can see that Celsus knew Jewish and Christian writings and history pretty thoroughly. That is, thanks to Origen’s scholarly integrity, it is possible for readers to follow the dispute and decide that Celsus got the better of it.

In short, Celsus was scrupulously fair to the person whose ideas he wanted desperately to refute. He did not take refuge in the kinds of phrases we see so often today, from Christian and non-Christian alike: “In other words, Celsus believes…” or “In effect, Celsus is saying….” Nor does he take up the evasive strategy of “some critics have claimed” — evasive, but tempting, because you can’t be accused of misreading someone when you won’t say who you’re responding to. Origen wasn’t trying to dunk on his enemies on social media. Instead, he said: (a) Here are Celsus’s words, (b) Here’s why I think he’s wrong.

A surprising large amount of the Christian theology and philosophy produced in the period between, say, Tertullian and Augustine was extremely vigorous: responsible but also bold and imaginative, and considerably more of all of that than the pagan thought of the period. Eric Osborn, in his book The Emergence of Christian Theology, claims that the power of Christian intellectual life was a kind of secret ingredient in the faith’s phenomenal growth throughout the third century. A word to the wise — and especially to the not-yet-wise.

By ayjay

Rusty Reno:

Many of my friends find Donald Trump intolerable. I tell them, “He is a symptom, not a cause, of what you dislike and fear.” It’s past time for leaders of the conservative movement to acknowledge that they’re part of the problem, promoting a right-leaning liberalism that is cruel, soulless, and lacking in civic nobility. It is time for religious and social conservatives to speak up and take the lead.

Amen! So let’s get out there and demonstrate our commitment to true leadership by … attacking David French!

the theater of concurrence

By ayjay

Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House was one of the sensations of the nineteenth century because of its portrayal of Nora Helmer, a wife and mother who ultimately finds the confines of bourgeois life unbearable and leaves her family. Even the suggestion that Nora might be right to do so was outrageous at the time — so much so that one of Ibsen’s contemporaries said that the play “pronounced a death sentence on accepted social ethics.”

Indeed, when the play was first performed in Germany the famous actress playing Nora refused to perform the final scene: “I would never leave my children!” Since Ibsen had no copyright laws to protect his play, and anyone could change it in anyway they wished, he, with gritted teeth, wrote an alternative ending in which Nora, on the verge of departing her home, is forced to look into her children’s bedroom, whereupon she sinks to the floor in mute acknowledgment that she could never leave her children. Fade to black. Ibsen called this ending a “barbaric outrage” upon his play, but figured that changes made by other hands would have been even worse.

In 2017, a new play reached Broadway: A Doll’s House, Part 2, by Lucas Hnath, which revisits Nora and her family fifteen years after she walked out of the “doll’s house” in which she had been kept by her husband, slamming the door behind her. And in Hnath’s sequel Nora is very glad that she left her husband and children all those years ago.

To which the shrewd critic Terry Teachout said: Well of course. Can you imagine a play on Broadway in 2017 suggesting that Nora perhaps should have swallowed her frustrations and remained to raise her children?

The favorable reception of A Doll’s House, Part 2 was as much a foregone conclusion as is its ending, which is a quintessential example of what I call the “theater of concurrence,” a genre whose practitioners take for granted that their liberal audiences already agree with them about everything. The success of such plays is contingent on the exactitude with which the author tells his audience what it wants to hear, and Hnath obliges in every particular. Above all, the viewer is never allowed to doubt that Nora was right to abandon her family for the sake of her own fulfillment.

I haven’t seen the play, but I have read it, and I don’t think Teachout is right about Hnath — though he might be right about the performance he saw. Reading Hnath’s play I found myself disliking Nora very much, especially the way she recasts her abandonment of her family in terms of heroic sacrifice. For instance, she tells the family’s servant Anne Marie about the great personal “discipline” she had to exercise in order to prevent herself from sending Christmas presents to the three children she left without a mother. How brave of you, Nora! (Later, whern Anne Marie tells Nora it was terrible for her to leave her children, Nora replies that it’s not a big deal, men leave their families all the time.)

And there’s a powerful moment when Nora meets her daughter Emmy — the daughter who doesn’t remember her because she was so young when Nora left. Emmy knows that Nora has written books denouncing the institution of marriage, and so is reluctant to tell Nora that she herself is engaged. “You think no one should get married,” she says, which Nora at first denies, but then goes into a lecture about how “Marriage is this binding contract, and love is — love has to be the opposite of a contract — love needs to be free.” And when Emmy resists this (I’m adjusting Hnath’s eccentric punctuation):

NORA: How much do you even know about marriage?
EMMY: Nothing.
NORA: Exactly.
EMMY: Because you left, I know nothing about what a marriage is and what it looks like. But I do know what the absence of it looks like, and what I want is the opposite of that.

And ultimately Emmy forces Nora to admit that the only reason Nora is speaking to her is to enlist her help in getting Torvald to give Nora a formal divorce.

This does not, to me, look like a situation in which “the viewer is never allowed to doubt that Nora was right to abandon her family for the sake of her own fulfillment.” You could perhaps play it that way. You could do something to make Emmy unattractive — in fact, perhaps the only way to make Nora seem unquestionably right is to make every other character in the play seem unquestionably awful — but Hnath’s writing is not handing you that interpretation on a platter. (Very much the same is true of his earlier play The Christians.) If the director and cast of the performance Teachout saw managed to make the play’s meaning unambiguous, then that’s a sign of how desperately the performers as well as the viewers of plays can feel the need for a “theater of concurrence” — even when the playwright wants to deny them that comfort.


By ayjay

The Epistle to Diognetus is a second-century letter, a brief work of Christian apologetics. In the fifth section of the letter, the author talks about what sets Christians apart from other peoples in the Roman world. Christians are peculiar, he admits that. To be sure, they live with everyone else, and in many ways they live like everyone else: they work in the same kinds of jobs, they wear the same kinds of clothes.

But they are also different in significant ways: they are sexually chaste, they don’t kill unwanted children, they are generous and committed to sharing both within their churches and with people outside those churches; and, above all, they refuse to worship the Roman gods. For these differences they are hated, and hated the more the kinder they are.

And there’s one more thing that sets the Christians apart: when they are attacked, when they are persecuted, they don’t reply in kind. Others say to the Christians, “You are my enemy”; Christians say to the others, “You are my neighbor.”

Were they wrong to live this way?

The best scholarly estimates we have — I’ve seen these numbers in several places but most recently in Larry Hurtado’s book Destroyer of the Gods — suggest the following:

  • In 40 A.D. there were about a thousand Christians
  • In 100 A.D. no more than ten thousand
  • In 200 A.D. around two hundred thousand
  • In 300 A.D. around six million

Note that the stratospheric growth occurs before Constantine, and in a period of intermittent persecution.

Here’s a passage from an essay by the theologian Brad East:

In Decreation: The Last Things of All Creatures, Paul Griffiths imagines what it might mean for the final rest (quies) of heaven to be enacted by the church in via. His proposal is a particular kind of quietism: a quietism, that is, “with respect to political interest, not with respect to politics simpliciter.” It is a quietism “of consequentialist interest in the consequences of political advocacy, a cultivation of a sancta indifferentia” regarding the narrowly measurable and altogether unknowable effects of political advocacy — advocacy that Christians should continue, note, but because of the intrinsic rightness of the cause, or because of a policy’s beauty or fittingness, or because the Lord wills it. Not because “studies show …” Such “quietist ascesis of political interest in the consequences of what we advocate in the sphere of politics” is one pole of a continuum. The other pole is Vox.

In a follow-up blog post, East writes:

The martyrs teach us, at a minimum, that sometimes letting go is more faithful than fighting, dying more faithful than continuing to live. The first three centuries of the church’s life attest to the vitality of this witness precisely in the arena of politics, as does the church’s experience across the globe at present and in recent centuries.

The martyrs were not doormats, and martyrdom is not despair or acquiescence before evil or persecution. It is the power of the cross made manifest in the world. Surely that power has a word to speak to our moment, and to the dispute alluded to above. If we listened, what might it say?

By ayjay

Quick addendum to my previous post: As much as I am convinced that hegemonic liberalism will never be fair to even vaguely traditionalist religious believers, I’m not convinced that I personally would be any better off in Ahmari’s Utopia of Enforced Orthodoxy. I joked to a friend today that I’ve been able to get my hands on the initial sketches by the staff of First Things for the social order they’ll impose when they take over and enforce [their] orthodoxy and it looks like this: 

Senatores: Catholics
Equites: Orthodox
Plebs: atheists
Proletarii: Protestants

At least I think I’m joking. I’m truly not sure whether hegemonic liberalism or Orthodox Utopia would be more likely to let me keep my children. But hegemonic liberalism is happening now and Ahmari’s vision (like that of the Catholic integralists, if there’s a difference) hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in Hell. 

fair play to you

By ayjay

I’m getting a good bit of email today, most of it saying, in cleaned-up language: How dare you accuse us on the left of not playing fair, you Trump-supporting jerk?? (Maybe try entering “Trump” in the search box on this site?) Here’s why I say what I said, courtesy of my colleague Frank Beckwith

For the political liberal, the government should not only restrain its hand on matters of moral controversy, it should in some cases go out of its way to offer exemptions to generally applicable laws to idiosyncratic sects for the sake of civic peace (e.g. conscientious exemption statutes, Wisconsin v. Yoder, Sherbert v. Verner). But for the hegemonic liberal, the role of the state is to make men moral, as he understands morality. It is to scrupulously enforce “social justice” by direct coercion of the actions, speech, and private associations of those who remain unconvinced of the wisdom of the left side of the culture war. So, for example, the Little Sisters of the Poor must assist in providing contraception contrary to their Church’s teachings, a Christian baker must use her talents to help celebrate what she believes is a faux liturgical event or face crippling fines, and a religious college may have to set aside its moral theology or be singled out for special retribution by the government. 

(Go to the original to read the whole thing and get the links.) (Also read other posts on this site tagged “religious freedom.”) And that trend has continued. Conscience exemptions ain’t what they used to be — about that there is surely no disagreement. The dispute is simply whether that’s good or bad. For many on the secular left — for, as far as I can tell, the significant majority, though numbers on this are hard to come by —, the elimination of religious-conscience protections is a wholly good thing. But it’s indubitable that the goalposts have moved dramatically in the past decade — remember, in 2008 few Democratic voters were bothered that Barack Obama didn’t support same-sex marriage — so that religious commitments that were legally acceptable (if socially disapproved) from time out of mind have very quickly become altogether forbidden. For the (declining) “political liberal” fairness towards religious conscience was a virtue; for the (ascendent) “hegemonic liberal” it’s a vice. 

There’s a conversation on these matters that I’ve had a number of times, and it goes something like this:

Me: I’m concerned about the erosion of support on the left for religious liberty.

They: That’s a disgraceful calumny, we are passionately devoted to religious liberty.

Me: Only when you agree with, or at least are not offended by, the religious beliefs involved.

They: Another disgusting lie!

Me: So what do you think about that Masterpiece Cakeshop guy?

They: What a bigot! I hope the law comes down on him like a ton of bricks.

Me: But he says he’s acting out of his long-held religious convictions.

They: I despise it when people use religion to cover for their bigotry.

Me: So it’s like I said, you only support religious liberty when you agree with, or at least are not offended by, the beliefs involved — the ones you think are not bigoted.

They: Bigotry and religion are not the same thing! Religion is about a person’s relationship with whatever God they happen to believe in, it’s not about passing judgment on their neighbors.

Me: So having claimed the right to define what bigotry is, you’re now defining what religion is?

They: Look, you can go ahead and defend bigotry if you want to, but thank goodness there are laws against that in this country.

I’ve been trying to remember what these conversations remind me of and I finally figured it out. It’s this:

“And you can’t get away from it that, fundamentally, Jeeves’s idea is sound. In a striking costume like Mephistopheles, I might quite easily pull off something pretty impressive. Colour does make a difference. Look at newts. During the courting season the male newt is brilliantly coloured. It helps him a lot.”

“But you aren’t a male newt.”

“I wish I were. Do you know how a male newt proposes, Bertie? He just stands in front of the female newt vibrating his tail and bending his body in a semi-circle. I could do that on my head. No, you wouldn’t find me grousing if I were a male newt.”

“But if you were a male newt, Madeline Bassett wouldn’t look at you. Not with the eye of love, I mean.”

“She would, if she were a female newt.”

“But she isn’t a female newt.”

“No, but suppose she was.”

“Well, if she was, you wouldn’t be in love with her.”

“Yes, I would, if I were a male newt.”

A slight throbbing about the temples told me that this discussion had reached saturation point.