Here are some links worth reading this weekend:
1. Alan Jacobs wrote an essay about Christian public intellectualism and its apparent decline. The article is long-form and has been much discussed in recent days, scandalizing both the right and the left for different reasons. Whether his assessments are spot-on will no doubt be much debated in the near future, but his analysis is worth considering.
In was in this context — a democratic West seeking to understand why it was fighting and what it was fighting for — that the Christian intellectual arose. Before World War II there had been Christians who were also intellectuals, but not a whole class of people who understood themselves, and were often understood by others, to be watchmen observing the democratic social order and offering a distinctive interpretation of it. Mannheim, who was born Jewish but professed no religious belief, joined with these people because he saw them pursuing the genuine calling of the intellectual. Perhaps Mortimer Adler felt the same way: it would otherwise be difficult to explain why he, also a Jew by birth and also (at that time) without any explicit religious commitments, would think that the West could be saved only through careful attention to the thought of Thomas Aquinas.
Though the key Christian intellectuals of the day and their fellow travelers — Mannheim and Adler, Eliot and Oldham, W. H. Auden, Reinhold Niebuhr, Dorothy Sayers, and many others — did not oppose their social order, they were far more critical than their predecessors had been during World War I. The Christian intellectuals of World War II found their society shaking at its foundations. They were deeply concerned that even if the Allies won, it would be because of technological and economic, not moral and spiritual, superiority; and if technocrats were deemed responsible for winning the war, then those technocrats would control the postwar world. (It is hard to deny that those Christian intellectuals were, on this point at least, truly prophetic.)
But their voices were heard, throughout the war and for a few years after its conclusion. On both sides of the Atlantic, they published articles in leading newspapers and magazines, and books with major presses; they gave lectures at the major universities; they spoke on the radio. C. S. Lewis and Reinhold Niebuhr (to take just two examples) were famous men — appearing on the cover of Time in 1947 and 1948, respectively.
2. Jake Meadors responds to Alan Jacobs' interesting essay with a discussion of Francis Schaeffer as a public intellectual:
In this telling, the post-Christian America that emerged in the 1960s is something that might have been avoided with better management of institutions and more careful interaction with the public square on the part of orthodox believers. This seems naive to me given the way new technologies changed the media landscape in the US and the fact that the post-war economy, which was always hostile to the traditional family, was already being established in the late 40s and early 50s.
What we need is a different kind of interpreter, less Reinhold Niebuhr, that establishment figure who lived and taught in New York City, and more Francis Schaeffer, the missionary-in-exile, far removed from the hubs of power and influence and better equipped to speak to them in distinctly Christian ways precisely because of his distance from them. We need to recognize that the modern western social project (if it even rises to the level of “social project,”) is not something which can be reconciled with the faith by simply making some basic alterations to the machine. Market-backed, government-subsidized expressive individualism is the founding principle of today’s western world. And there can be no salvaging such a project.
3. BBC reveals why it pays to be grumpy and ill-tempered.
Like most emotions, anger begins in the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure responsible for detecting threats to our well-being. It’s extremely efficient – raising the alarm long before the peril enters your conscious awareness.
Then it’s up to chemical signals in the brain to get you riled up. As the brain is flooded with adrenaline it initiates a burst of impassioned, energetic fury which lasts for several minutes. Breathing and heart rate accelerate and blood pressure skyrockets. Blood rushes into the extremities, leading to the distinctive red face and throbbing forehead veins people get when they’re annoyed.
Though it’s thought to have evolved primarily to prepare the body for physical aggression, this physiological response is known to have other benefits, boosting motivation and giving people the gall to take mental risks.
4. Alan Noble writes about how Christian colleges can keep the faith without harming LGBT students. This is an important question that must be considered in the days ahead.
As societal views of sex, gender, and sexual orientation have shifted, an increasing number of LGBT advocacy groups have started lobbying against the Title IX exemptions on the grounds that they’re a license for religious schools to discriminate. Some have pushed for a change to the law: A recent bill proposed in the California legislature, SB 1146, recommended restrictions to religious exemptions. Legislators like the bill’s sponsor, Ricardo Lara, argued that schools should be required to publicly declare when they apply for exemptions, should not receive state grants if they discriminate, and should be subject to private lawsuits over such discrimination. If SB 1146 had been enacted in this form, it may have eliminated religious exemptions from the discrimination provisions in California’s Equity in Higher Education Act, which require equal treatment in education regardless of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, among other classifications. Because of California’s influence on national politics, many religious schools were concerned that if this bill passed, similar laws would be established in other states. This could affect schools’ tax-exempt status or even accreditation, a fear that many in Christian higher education seem to share.
Several groups opposed the legislation and tried to work with Senator Lara on a more mutually acceptable bill. The Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities asked Lara to restrict the bill so that it would only require religious schools to disclose their exemptions, as opposed to ending these exceptions. Similarly, the Coalition of Christian Colleges and Universities strongly opposed the bill because of its potential effect on students’ ability to choose religious schools. On August 10th, Lara announced he would amend the bill to only focus on the disclosure provision and a requirement to report instances in which schools expel students for morality-code violations.
5. George W. Bush is a popular target for mockery. However, a recent biography by a recognized academic seems to have significantly crossed the line from critical analysis to incautious slander. This long review of a biography is interesting, if only to see how strong (and uncomplicated) the negative bias is.
Informed readers will know that the primary tools that we historians bring to our craft are original research — most often in archives, and sometimes through interviews in the case of more recent history — and the passage of time, which cools partisan passions and lends perspective and insight. Smith avails himself of neither of these tools. Other than a couple of cursory interviews with Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, and his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, the book relies almost entirely on secondary sources and previously published books. Even a gratuitously sympathetic reviewer like Jason Zwengerle in the New York Times, concedes: “Smith’s biography of Bush unearths little new information on its subject. Most of Bush relies on previous books by journalists like Peter Baker, Robert Draper and Bob Woodward or the memoirs of key figures including Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Bush himself.”
The book’s opening broadside puts Smith’s vendetta on full display: “Rarely in the history of the United States has the nation been so ill-served as during the presidency of George W. Bush.” A strong charge, to be sure, and yet over page after page, instead of building a scholarly case for this scathing historical indictment, Smith instead produces a profoundly distorted caricature of Bush based on unreliable accounts, factual errors, and wildly implausible judgments. He also on occasion indulges in a viciousness that is unbecoming in a scholar of his stature.
6. I dislike shopping at Walmart. Dislike is not a strong enough word. However, I'll leave it at that. In contrast, Target is normally a much happier place. A recent article in the Bloomberg Businessweek highlights the public nuisance that many Walmarts have become. Walmart often gets kicked around for various practices, but Bloomberg tends to be generally business friendly. This seems to be more than the usual "I hate corporate giants" schtick.
Police departments inevitably compare their local Walmarts with Target stores. Target, Walmart’s largest competitor, is a different kind of retail business, with mostly smaller stores that tend to be located in somewhat more affluent neighborhoods. But there are other reasons Targets have less crime. Unlike most Walmarts, they’re not open 24 hours a day. Nor do they allow people to camp overnight in their parking lots, as Walmarts do. Like Walmart, Target relies heavily on video surveillance, but it employs sophisticated software that can alert the store security office when shoppers spend too much time in front of merchandise or linger for long periods outside after closing time. The biggest difference, police say, is simply that Targets have more staff visible in stores.
“Target doesn’t have these problems,” says Ferguson. “Part of it may be the lower prices at Walmart or where Walmart is located, but when I walk into Target I see uniformed security or someone walking around up front. You see no one at Walmart. It just seems like an easy target.” A Target spokeswoman declined to comment on the two companies’ security policies.
7. A solid post over at Acton explaining why people need to read Solzhenitsyn. I agree.
The appeal of Bernie Sanders’ socialism is a puzzle to many, but it shouldn't be, not if we understand how most people think about economics. Sanders' appeal rises when economics is understood mechanistically, subject to impersonal forces and nefarious individuals. As a result, an economy can only be directed by the macro decisions of large and powerful entities like governments. Shallow moral appeals arise to justify socialist policies where success is not measured by the objective results of the policy, but by the moral good they ostensibly foster.
It is easy—very easy—to appeal to free education, the eradication of poverty, unlimited minimum wage ceilings and all the other promises made by those who don't have any real experience in wealth creation. Most often their supporters don't either, including the millennial followers of Bernie Sanders. We need to be patient with the ignorance of the young, but we should never acquiesce to it.
Economics is not a mechanistic enterprise. Economics is closely tied to human anthropology—the precepts that define what a human is, how one produces artifacts first for survival and then the building of culture, how one values nature and the principles applied to refashion matter into something new.