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Humanist, Where Art Thou? Print E-mail
By Anthony Esolen   
Thursday, 12 April 2012

The minstrel boy to the war is gone,
In the ranks of death ye will find him;
His father’s sword he hath girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him;
“Land of Song!” said the warrior bard,
“Tho’ all the world betray thee,
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!”
The Minstrel fell! But the foeman’s chain
Could not bring his proud soul under;
The harp he loved ne’er spoke again,
For he tore its chords asunder;
And said, “No chains shall sully thee,
Thou soul of love and bravery!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free.
They shall never sound in slavery!”
      (Thomas Moore, commemorating the Dublin uprising of 1798)

      “It is rare in a working environment that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.’”
     (David Coleman, Department of Education, 2012)

According to new Common Core State Standards, drawn up by the David Coleman quoted above, English teachers in high school shall spend more than half of their time teaching their students how to read nonfiction: not essays, but “informational” texts, such as bulletins from the Federal Reserve, court decisions, and computer manuals. That is because the students must grow into their roles as players in a global economy. 

I am sorely tempted to double the consonant in that word, making it “globbal,” because in point of fact it is a contradiction in terms to suppose that anyone can be a “citizen of the globe.” Citizenship implies a city, and a city exists in a place and a time, with these neighbors, and not mountain dwellers in Tibet or fishermen on the Congo. It also implies the existence of real human beings, with thoughts about the good, and with sometimes unruly passions, who, regardless of their wealth or their age or their station in life, must address the great existential questions. What shall I love? Why am I here? Where am I going? Whom should I obey?

An image comes to my mind – Samuel Adams, having been granted a vision of the people for whose liberty he was fighting, their descendants now submitting prone to the dictates of a vast bureaucracy of education. There I see him, retching over the side of a boat in Boston Harbor. What has happened to the people’s love of liberty? Where has it gone? I suggest that it has gone the way of our belief in the dignity of the human person, who is never to be reduced to a mere counter or cell or drab functionary in an economy, globbal or otherwise. There is a connection to be drawn between disdain for liberty and disdain for the things that are peculiarly human – for example, loyalty to our parents and forebears, or our often faraway longing for what is beautiful and virtuous, or an abiding sense of the sacred, or our common worship of God.

If all I want is a market analyst, then indeed, what do I care if someone has read The Wind in the Willows? But if all I want is a market analyst, what do I care if the analyst is human at all? A computer might do as well – if there are no human or divine things to take into account, or whether I should be marketing such a product in the first place. 


          Moses and Aaron before Pharoah by Pietro Bardellino, c. 1800

But when I lose my sense of the transcendent worth of man, I am the first to be punished; I am the one who suffers the cramping of the soul. I become the sort of person who can read that poem by Thomas Moore, or hear it put to song, and not be moved, or if momentarily moved, to snicker and call it trivial. I will have taken out my heart of flesh, small and needy as it may have been, and replaced it with a heart of stone. And then I will make my way in the world and across the glob, seeking to perform that same cardiac operation upon everyone else, especially the young.

There is nothing wrong with reading court opinions, in a law school class or a civics class. Sit-ups, I hear, are healthful enough. People used to give their children doses of cod liver oil, too. And gray is a color among others. But it is an affront to human dignity to replace poetry (I use the term broadly, to cover all works of imaginative literature) with sit-ups, gray suits, cod liver oil, and court opinions. 

Look again at that short lyric by Tom Moore. I am not Irish, but its deep feeling and bold simplicity stir my heart. I do not have to have been one of the freedom-loving students of Dublin in 1798 to be moved by the poem. Its portrayal of piety and courage is not globbal, but universal. That is to say, it rings true wherever there are human beings who love their native land, whether they are Tibetan or Congolese – wherever there are human beings who give their hearts away and reckon not the cost.

Do I want children raised up on songs and poetry, rather than on manuals and financial news? Yes, a thousand times yes! For I want my neighbors to be human – and free. Sure, it is useful to know something about the chicanery of central banks. But it is more useful, just because it is useless, to sing. 

A person is most human not when he is mulling over the details of a marketing campaign, or carting a wheelbarrow full of clay for the fashioning of bricks without straw. He is most human when he stands free beneath the heavens and joins with his fellows in expressions of love, gratitude, and devotion. I would be honored to stand beside the Minstrel Boy.

As for the Under-Pharaoh of Education – well, there’s an old story that applies to him too.

 
Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest book is Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. He teaches at Providence College.
 
 
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written by Gian, April 12, 2012
"Citizen of the globe" is not necessarily an oxymoron. The globe is getting interconnected and Bombay is a neighbor to New York.

However, we do not love the same things so it is not a City right now but the Pope has called for a global government so perhaps he thinks that the time has come.
Are we to take the word "City" literally?
Could we not say that USA is a City or Christendom was a City in 15C?
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written by Scotty Ellis, April 12, 2012
"A person is most human not when he is mulling over the details of a marketing campaign, or carting a wheelbarrow full of clay for the fashioning of bricks without straw."

I agree that the reduction of man to a cog in a global economic network is dehumanizing, but I do think it equally dehumanizing to go to the other extreme and say that one's role in the global economic network cannot be part of one's humanity. That is to say, sure, not being exposed to the artistic and philosophical side of culture - that part of culture that addresses the big questions and expresses the most common of human feelings and sentiments - can be shrinking, but it can also be equally shrinking and lead to an equal deformation of the soul to not be enmeshed in that other, far more earthy, far more sticky side of humanity: the humanity that works to build the city (whether it be a village or a "virtual city" or network). The man who slaps one brick on top of another to build the university is just as vital (and just as human) as the robed academic who will later spend his days contemplating within; the man who spends his life devoted to managing the logistics of a printing press or maximizing the efficiency of paper delivery is as vital a player in the story of culture as the men who write books on printing presses.

Indeed, the triumph of humanism is recognizing that these things are not a curse; that it is not dehumanizing to build the city of man; the triumph of humanism is that this, too, is part of the fullness of human life. I would never want a city without poetry, worship, and song - but someone must make the paper and ink, someone must build the cathedral with the sweat of his brow, and someone must fashion the instruments. These things are unequivocally human - right down to interest calculations. Is their meaning dependent upon the end towards which they are directed? Of course; but then the achievement of the end towards which they are directed is likewise dependent on them.
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written by Achilles, April 12, 2012
Dr. Esolen, A beautiful, poetic and most profound essay!

The common core standards are a sign of the dark mind holding ever increasing sway in these dark times. The emphasis on “information” that has long superseded truth, goodness and beauty and the clamor of the common core standards it is the death rattle of our civilization. If we are not disturbed by Bacon’s inversion of the scientific method and its increasing misuse globbaly, and Benthem and Mill’s utilitarian roots marbled into our psyches, surely we must be horrified by Dewey’s deadly reduction of the education of a human to a scientific algorithm. We teachers would be wise to remember our Christ’s admonition:

“6 But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Mathew 18.

Public education is both sign and perpetrator of the great indignities done to our children and how is it that we acquiesce?

P.S. Gian, I think you might have missed the point.
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written by Tony Esolen, April 12, 2012
Gian: No, I don't think so. I wish to insist upon the love of neighbor -- and I really do mean that difficult person next door -- as crucial to a genuine Christian life. The incarnational principle is at work here. Love of neighbor is difficult; love of mankind is easy, just because it is so abstract and vague.

And yes, I wish to take the word "city" incarnationally also. The United States is not a city. I wonder whether our government as now constituted isn't instead a dissolver of cities and towns and villages. As for Christendom, it was, paradoxically, a builder of towns and cities; and the social teaching of the Church, if it's properly understood, affirms the reality and the goodness of the family, the neighborhood, and the town. It's at these levels that most truly political action (action for the common good of the polis) should be taking place.
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written by Briana, April 12, 2012
Might I recommend that everyone look up the Scottish folk singer John McDermott. He sings a beautiful version of the song Professor Esolen posted here, along with countless others. He is best known for singing traditional Celtic folk songs, but sings songs from other countries as well. He sang "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" at one of the memorial services for Senator Ted Kennedy, and while I don't have an opinion on Senator Kennedy, I can say that Mr. McDermott has a beautiful singing voice. :)
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written by Ben Horvath, April 12, 2012
"English teachers in high school shall spend more than half of their time teaching their students how to ... bulletins from the Federal Reserve, court decisions, and computer manuals"

Obviously this person hates children and English Teachers. I'm not sure how English teachers, most of whom will have spent most of their working lives in school, would know an effective business document from an ineffective one anyway.
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written by Tina in Ashburn, April 12, 2012
Art can impart in an instant what might take a long dry book to explain.
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written by JT Townsend, April 12, 2012
Tony,

Disclosure: I am a market analyst. Thinking and writing about what you wrote:

"If all I want is a market analyst, then indeed, what do I care if someone has read The Wind in the Willows? But if all I want is a market analyst, what do I care if the analyst is human at all? A computer might do as well – if there are no human or divine things to take into account, or whether I should be marketing such a product in the first place."

I agree that poetry (as you define it) informs our sense of humanity’s transcendental worth – a sense essential to being truly human. I would go so far to say that poetry is essential to being human at anything - especially a human market analyst (some are). Why? Because as you more elegantly state in your latest book, despite the effort by current psychologists, political theorists, anthropologists and journalists to reduce humanity to something indistinguishable by gender, age, culture or taste; real people do conform to distinguishable types.

Markets (even manipulated markets) function according to the truths – however altruistic or sinister - of who people are. Market behavior demonstrates that people accord to something like the caricaturized "types" you introduce in your chapter “Replace the Fairy Tale with…”. To synthesize something truthful of markets, and to serve those markets, businesses must admit the surprisingly real differences between men and women and, more broadly, the types of their customers. Businesses are beholden to the truths. Which cricket bat you sell to Badger depends very much on what sort of cricketer he really is, and the economic realities (interest rates, property values, the price of potted meat) in the Wild Wood are different than those of Ratty’s neighborhood because of policies and behaviors reflecting the best and worst of humanity.

Not all - perhaps little - of market behavior and commercial actions are wrought with considerations of "whether [we] should be marketing such a product in the first place,” and I ought not sterilize the need for poetry by reducing it to utilitarian market applications. In particular, I wish to relate how poetry informs being a human market analyst. In general, I wish to echo that poetry is essential for any human vocation.

I very much enjoy your latest book and this article. Thank you.

Best,

JT Townsend
attempting human market analysis
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written by Tony Esolen, April 12, 2012
I think I've written quite a lot on the nobility of hard work ... but the slaves forced to build bricks without straw were building tombs for their overlords. That's a different thing entirely. I presume that there will be plenty of opportunities for people who like that sort of thing to learn how to keep accounts and do business; but to raise that to the height of human learning is a mistake, and to deprive young people of poetry is simply inhuman.
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written by jsmitty, April 12, 2012
Nice piece, Tony. Two in a row....not only refreshingly free of straw men, but you even avoided your usual hobby horse of every baleful social trend leading inexorably to libertinism.

More broadly, as a fellow liberal arts teacher I sympathize. But the world has been moving away from us for quite sometime. Everyone seems to have embraced a utilitarian view of education, even tacitly the college professors themselves who know that their institutions have somehow to justify the huge tuitions and grants they receive by citing future earnings potential and social utility. Even many conservatives these days mock English lit and art history majors.
In this climate its surprising many liberal arts departments are able to justify their continued existence at all as many great colleges slide slowly into becoming expensive trade schools.

The root cause it seems to me is that there are just too many people in college.
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written by Other Joe, April 12, 2012
Men without chests abhor fun and wonder, notes in the chord of love. To a hammer, everything of interest is a nail. To a bean counter, everything of interest is a bean. Human beans don’t require the poetic. It is a meaningless distraction from the empirical business at hand. Four thousand and one, four thousand and two, four thousand and…
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written by Achilles, April 12, 2012
“Who could write a Shakespearian tragedy? Yet how many millions of minds have to be trained to think the thoughts and to assimilate the language of the great poet!” Anscar Vonier 1918

There has never been a need in school to train brick builders, or efficient paper counters, or any of the other humanists projects- to the contrary- to create good citizens the school must return to the basics- grammar, logic and rhetoric and certainly not the modern definitions of these three disciplines. If we don’t train our children to see reality rightly, to see the transcendent as Professor Esolen so beautifully portrays, there is no hope for the advancement of civilization. The comment that “art can do in an instant what a long boring book takes so long to do” is a wonderful illustration of how dismally the secular humanist project has failed and precisely why we will continue to decline in this dark age that the confused call the enlightenment.

Scotty, your sic et non of the global village is quite contradictory to the sic et non of the paradoxes between the City of Man and the City of God. The tail that wags your dog is egalitarianism and your argument is so colossally misguided that it is invulnerable to brief reasonable argument.
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written by will manley, April 12, 2012
This is a wonderful essay that I agree with completely, but I would add that the same educational bureaucracy that is mandating the reading of information over the reading of literature committed an even bigger mistake decades ago when it succumbed to pressure to disallow prayer and Bible readings in school. The damage of this decision is beyond calculation. We are now saddled with several generations of students who have absolutely no religious or even spiritual frame of reference. They may be citizens of the globe buy they are aliens to heaven, hell, and purgatory.
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written by Tony Esolen, April 12, 2012
Thank you, Mr. Townsend. You put me in mind of a line uttered by the father in one of my favorite movies, "How Green Was My Valley." One of his sons was saying that the rich coal mine owners would lower the compensation for the miners, given a sudden glut of extra laborers. They won't do it, he said, and why not? "Because they are men, as we are." Well, old Mr. Morgan was proved wrong, in the event; but he was right -- we do not need ruthless "personal utility maximizers" in charge of our mines and other economic instutions. We need human beings, as we are -- who recognize a hierarchy of human goods, including devotion.

Smitty: Thank you again! Believe it or not, I don't actually enjoy writing about libertinism, but I figured that somebody had to do it. For me it's like putting on rubber boots and going down to the overflowed sewer to see what's the next thing to try to clean up. My heart is in writing about poetry, art, music, and Scripture....
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written by Scotty Ellis, April 12, 2012
"Scotty, your sic et non of the global village is quite contradictory to the sic et non of the paradoxes between the City of Man and the City of God. The tail that wags your dog is egalitarianism and your argument is so colossally misguided that it is invulnerable to brief reasonable argument."

I would appreciate a more substantial criticism. My main complaint was about the attitude that is summed up in the phrase:

"A person is most human not when he is mulling over the details of a marketing campaign, or carting a wheelbarrow full of clay for the fashioning of bricks without straw."

These activities are both necessary for and have priority to any poetic, religious, or other "higher" cultural act. As such they constitute the most fundamental level of human social activity - they constitute the most immediate form of participation in culture. As such, they are fundamentally human, and engagement in them is no less human than jotting out a sonnet (something that can only be done by the sweat of the laborer who felled the trees to make the paper, a sonnet mixed with the efforts of those who prepared the inks, who crafted the pens, who built the bench and desk upon which the writer spins his literary yarns). I believe that this is a far healthier view of human culture than the ivory tower view of the useless arts as fundamentally superior to the useful (the heart of the aging mechanical/liberal arts distinction), because it is foremost far more honest in revealing the dependency of the latter on the former and accepts the mechanical arts as a different but ultimately united endeavor with the liberal arts.
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written by Mack Hall, April 12, 2012
But did you vote in your last school board election?
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written by Charlotte Baker, April 12, 2012
We will never be able to see how much there is to learn, without the wisdom of the masters. I know when I read, poetry and literature, my mind is expanded to see more,
much more,than the beans I have counted all my life...
I pray we will be not settle to be bricks,but stones in the Makers hand,that he may carve us, to be a perfect arrow to pierce the souls of men.
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written by Tony Esolen, April 12, 2012
I've written a lot about the nobility of manual labor, and I have done a fair amount of it myself. That's not the point here. I want farmers and masons and carpenters and quarriers and miners and sailors and painters and bricklayers and janitors and cooks and everybody to have a genuinely human education. I'm not simply talking about reading Milton (though I think that's a good thing). Note the works I mentioned: The Wind in the Willows, and The Minstrel Boy. That ain't ivory tower....
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written by Gian, April 13, 2012
Mr Esolen,
Is "Citizen of United States" also an oxymoron?

Do you think Aristotle was right that the city could only have five thousand people.

Bentham and Mills are not much revered but what will it take the Conservatives to stop revering Adam Smith?

The essence of the liberalism is the view of neighbor as somebody to be feared rather than somebody to be loved.

To tackle the fearsome neighbor, the liberal either tries to control everybody thus the collectivization response or he tries the mutual separation thus the libertarian response.

Both of them are destructive of City, Family and Man in different ways. Collectivization yielded gulag and libertarianism is yielding abolition of man and abortion (offspring is also to be feared) --they explicitly view a fetus as an alien parasite.

The libertarian tendency is unstable since man must live together and it actually promotes collectivization.

The standard conservative view of society as an arrangement for mutual benefit is wrong. The human society is not an animal herd since man is a political animal. So the conservatives need to accept the classical dictum
"City is prior to to the individual and the family"
But of
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written by Scotty Ellis, April 13, 2012
"I want farmers and masons and carpenters and quarriers and miners and sailors and painters and bricklayers and janitors and cooks and everybody to have a genuinely human education."

I guess my point is that farming, carpentry, rock-quarrying, mining, sailing, painting, bricklaying, cleaning, and cooking are all themselves "genuinely human." Perhaps a carpenter has no interest in poetry or literature, no matter what your tastes in the matter might be? Perhaps he is illiterate, has not time or money for the leisurely arts - yet what he does in itself is part of genuine human education: the reception, participation, perfection, and handing-on of a distinctly and genuine human craft.
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written by Brian A. Cook, April 13, 2012
How do you explain pundits and protesters who clamor for democracy? What's love for liberty, is it not? How do you explain people who clamor for basic human rights and civil rights? Is that not love for the dignity of the human person? How do you explain those who criticize the excesses of big business? How do you explain those who try to help the natural environment?

The sad fact is that the Church is routinely accused of being a theocratic, anti-humanist Pharaoh. The Church is accused of reducing humans to cogs or bricks or beans. The Church is accused of viewing the other person as a parasite to be feared rather than a person to be loved. Mother Church has a lot of work to do in convincing people otherwise.
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written by Beth, April 13, 2012
Thank you, Dr. Esolen. You have again affirmed our decision to home educate our children in a classical curriculum. I am learning as much if not more than my children in the process. Although I have always been a serious reader, I never would have dreamed ten years ago that reading and memorizing poetry would bring such joy into our home. Our nine year old is working on Tennyson's Spring (from In Memoriam). As she recites and repeats, you can just see the minds and souls of the rest of the children within earshot wondering, growing, sighing. I know you understand what I mean. Until you experience it yourself, you just can't fathom the profound effect beauty can have on a soul.

Thanks again, and Happy Easter!
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written by Tony Esolen, April 13, 2012
Scotty, Brian, Gian: You will never catch me cheering for Adam Smith (though I'll take him before Marx any day, because he was a wiser and better man; still, it isn't much to say that somebody was wiser and better than Karl Marx).

On a human education: I have yet to encounter a single human being who was not, by nature, attracted to beauty, including the beauty of song. It wasn't university professors who invented folk song, and it was roving troubadours who gave us our long tradition of love poetry in the west. I believe that all people thrive when given an education that is human as I have described -- not simply utilitarian. I don't see how that is to undervalue the work of farmers and so on.

Brian: You are arguing beside the point. All the people you describe, those who love the natural world, those who are suspicious of the depredations of business leviathans, and those who fight for the common good, would be assisted immeasurably by a genuinely human education. Indeed, it would prevent them from lurching into bizarre excesses -- or at least it would help to prevent that. As for the Church, it will always stand before Pilate and be scorned, but the fact is -- and it is a fact -- that the Church is the last really HUMANIST institution standing.

Gian: Aristotle allowed for a polis eight or ten times larger than you suggest, but yes, I do believe that the exercise of genuine political activity must be local; we need to recover that activity. But that is an argument that my friends at Front Porch Republic proffer all the time, and I'll let them do it there, as that is their calling.
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written by Tony Esolen, April 13, 2012
Gian: I don't agree that the city is prior to the family; my Church doesn't teach that, but the reverse. And yet, of course, I agree with you entirely about the errors of classical liberalism (now mistakenly called conservatism) and the errors of collectivism. But I've written about the true meaning of the term "common good" before. I'd suggest Russ Hittinger's great book, "The First Grace," for an analysis of what politics is for -- and a nice definition of the common good. But again this is not exactly to the point ...
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written by HJ Elden, April 13, 2012
Scotty Ellis Thanks, BAC (bricklayers) Local #1 Detroit Mi
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written by Achilles, April 13, 2012
Dear Scotty, I can try to be more specific, but I don’t think specifics will be too helpful for you. I hope Professor Esolen corrects me if I am wrong, but I took the “wheel barrow full of clay to make bricks without straw” to mean what you do with your reason Scotty. I don’t think it was any slight to the nobility of manual labor which is necessary and vital human activity. I took it to mean to make bricks that were only for temporary constructs that will not stand the test of time, just like the pseudo-intellectual sophistic propositions you put forward in your posts. You construct your own meaning for yourself and because of skepticism assume that there is no absolute truth, your construct will fall and the labor will have been in vain.

Please listen to what the good professor said, “ I want farmers and masons and carpenters and quarriers and miners and sailors and painters and bricklayers and janitors and cooks and everybody to have a genuinely human education.” Contrary to your assertion that these manual labors are a human education in themselves, which they are not, they are vocational and not worthy subjects of what the term education means.

Scotty, as with most of your statements, you have it just upside down. You think manual labor precedes Christ. With Christ as the way the Truth and the Life, when we see primarily that Christ is our life, our manual labor proceeds from that and has incalculably more meaning. I can’t think of a way to give you a more substantial criticism, I wish I could. I think “modern education” has not been good for very many, it has served much more to sow seeds of confusion than to shed light.
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written by Achilles, April 13, 2012

Brian, it might be worth your while to consider who it is that is accusing Mother Church of the things you say. Certainly no one who has even a cursory understanding of Mother Church would say those things, rather, those steeped in monist ideologies and leftists certainly would, but that is only corroboration. Why would Mother Church have to work to convince those without the eyes to see or the ears to hear what can only be seen and heard by those who submit their wills and broken hearts to the Father through Christ? Mother Church is not a popularity contest and She is Truthful regardless of the opinions of disordered men.

The ideas you express are steeped in ideologies of materialism and fly far afield from the universal truths of Mother Church. It is like you lost a quarter in a dark alley and are looking for it under a street lamp down the street because where you lost it has no light. I hope you find what you are looking for, but what is not under the lamp will not be found under the lamp.
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written by Aeneas, April 13, 2012
"I agree with you entirely about the errors of classical liberalism (now mistakenly called conservatism)"

Now that was an interesting quote! I have heard it before, and I'm inclined to believe it. But what about those people like Russel Kirk (who also fought the good fight) and others like him who are designated as consevative in the classical liberal sense? What do you make of them? The Imaginative Conservative is a great site, one which really adheres itself to Kirk and other conservative thinkers. I see articles by you posted on their all the time...am I missing something here? Granted I may be getting things a bit mixed up, but I thought Kirk and his posse were all classical liberals? And what about Edmund Burke?
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written by Scotty Ellis, April 13, 2012
Aeneas:

"I took it to mean to make bricks that were only for temporary constructs that will not stand the test of time, just like the pseudo-intellectual sophistic propositions you put forward in your posts."

Of course my propositions will not stand the test of time. Nobody's will. Eventually, the human race will be extinct, perhaps or perhaps not replaced by another species of rational being - and they will eventually go extinct as well. Eventually, even the light of the stars will die and become dust and ash. I think that your mistake is in believing that this fact would render their shining meaningless: I do not. I do not believe my propositions - or anyone's, for that matter - are any less meaningful because they are enmeshed in temporality. There's simply no other way for things to be.

"Contrary to your assertion that these manual labors are a human education in themselves, which they are not, they are vocational and not worthy subjects of what the term education means."

Tell that to HJ Elden above, who I am sure is a man familiar with what you call education but who also values his work as essential to his humanity. Or tell that to anyone whose life and meaning - and humanity - have come from their practice of a trade, maybe in complete ignorance of what you consider necessary to qualify as a "human education." Every trade - their "gear and tackle and trim" to quote G. M. Hopkins - are the signs of human culture and actually embody them. In the end, it is unclear to me who is better off: the man who reads Walden, or the man who lives Walden. Perhaps they are both well off in their own ways, but I hardly believe the man whose life is filled with action, practice, and techne is worse off in any way than the man of theory and poetry.

"You think manual labor precedes Christ."

Even Christ lived as a carpenter before He lived as the Messiah. Without the mechanical arts and their human artisans - no shepherds to greet him, no manger for his birth, no on to build the temple where he amazed the scribes, no one to build the cross - there would be no Christ story as we know it.
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written by Tony Esolen, April 13, 2012
Aeneas: I believe that neither Kirk nor Burke may properly be called a "classical liberal." Of course, they are both of them full of rich insights into the human condition, and they are lovers of tradition, not because tradition is always right, but because it is a deeply human thing, and we hardly thrive without that pious gratitude towards those who have come before us. Kirk dislikes the liberal systematizers intensely -- Mill, for example. He's fond of the same quote from Burke that I'm fond of, that there is nothing more purely evil in nature than the heart of a metaphysician -- by which Burke had in mind the "mathematical" philosophes of France, the reducers of all human questions to an abstract political system. It's not a just use of the word "metaphysician," but that's what the term meant at the time Burke got to it.

Kirk was sufficiently conservative to believe in the presumptive rights of custom, so much so that you'll find him edging towards John Calhoun, without dealing forthrightly with the evils of slavery. I'm not saying that Kirk was pro-slavery; he certainly wasn't. Still, if you're going to have a chapter on Calhoun (in The Conservative Mind), you do have to address that issue and not skirt it.

I'll insist that true conservatism is anti-ideological. Conservatives have ideas, sure; and they have a way of looking at the world. But the conservative, as it seems to me, addresses the world with a mingled wonder and obedience: I mean an attempt to hear the word of God, as spoken either in revelation or through the natural law. Such an attitude not only cannot be codified in legal prescriptions and constitutions good for all people at all times; it denies that there can ever be legal prescriptions and constitutions good for all people at all times. Human rights do not change; good and evil do not change; but our attempts to secure justice and the common good depend upon who and where we are. A constitution that might work for England would be absurd in India; positive laws in New Jersey that stand a decent chance of promoting genuine human flourishing would be destructive in the Philippines. More than that: it is inseparable from a truly human life that people, in their own persons and not submitting to unknown bureaucrats from thousands of miles away, should come together to work or play or celebrate or teach their children or police their streets; to take their largely local authority away from them, or to steamroller their customs, is to play the part of a tyrant, benevolent tyrant or otherwise.
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written by TeaPot562, April 14, 2012
For education, one should hear Beethoven symphonies, or some of the Beatles' songs; should see a sunrise, some starry constellations in a clear night sky and maybe some Ansel Adams photos. No matter that one will earn his/her bread by counting beans. There was a fable told of three laborers asked what they were doing. The first said, "I am carrying these bricks to the brick-layer." The second said, "I am building a wall." The third, also carrying bricks, replied, "I am building a cathedral."
Even for manual labor, an appreciation of beauty is helpful in understanding.
TeaPot562
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written by Aeneas, April 14, 2012
@Tony Esolen
Thanks for the response! See I had heard Kirk/Burke labeled as "classical liberals" before, so thank you for clearing that up for me!

"I'll insist that true conservatism is anti-ideological."
Amen to that! And amen to your description of what the consevative is, that is how I understand it as well. Too many reduce conservatism to an ideology, or reduce it to a specific moment in time.

@Scotty Ellis
I think you meant to direct your comments at Achilles, not me. You mistook the trojan for the greek :)
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written by jy, April 15, 2012
Dear Dr. Esolen,

Thanks for all the great commentary here (and the translations of Lucretius). I'm always glad to read what you've written, and would be thrilled to work alongside you someday.

—a former attendee of a talk you gave in Irving, Texas.
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written by Gian, April 15, 2012
Prof. Esolen,
The anti-ideology of true conservatism conforms to the idea, presented by you in Introduction to Paradiso, that Justice is a Person, not a Principle.

For instance, last year, there was a big discussion of the ethics of lying and what is lying and whether it is licit to lie to a Nazi. The discussion was mostly done in Thomist terms of what a faculty of speech is for.

But shouldn't Christians argue on the basis of "Have Charity and Do what you will"? Certainly, deceiving the Nazi at the door is charity to the victim and perhaps to the Nazi himself, don't you agree?. However, depending upon circumstances, it may be more loving not to deceive the Nazi.

So the important point is that there is no context-free answer.

Nazi has murder in his heart but still he hasn't actually committed the murder
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written by Scotty Ellis, April 16, 2012
Gian:

"So the important point is that there is no context-free answer."

I think you're right; even if someone posits the existence of universal moral principles, the duty of judging how those principles apply in a particular situation is an act of contextualized particular judgment - however, I think this is getting away from the point of the article, eh?

But one could argue that what counts as a human education is not simply fixed and universal, that the particularities of the individual's time, place, and circumstance are important in determining how valuable it would be for him or her to read Homer or read a how-to-garden book (or how valuable it would be to simply garden rather than read a how-to-garden book).

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