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The folks at First Things have been kind enough to ignore my lame punning and respond to some of my criticisms, which has resulted in some helpful progress on examining certain features of our identity starved, sanitized, homogenized, and sterile cultural landscape.  This reminds me to say that I think the FDA’s war on raw milk in favor of pasteurization is a fitting allegory of American life writ large—all life must be killed before it kills us!!!  But now I’m getting off track.

Bottum’s take away is to point to the extreme difficulty of creating and/or maintaining an authentic local community in the face of the pasteurization chambers of mass society (mobilization, technological proliferation, etc.).  This is always a question worth asking, but I agree with Rusty Reno that it is not without an adequate answer.

This reminds me of Maggie Gallagher leveling the same basic critique of Dreher’s neo-traditionalism several years back:

We have lots of choices in our society but we don’t have the choice to be genuinely traditional, as far as I can see, and nothing in your book suggests otherwise. Yes, the absence of traditional bases for identity creates a genuine hunger. If you want to try to satisfy that hunger by “attaching” to a tradition, I have no objections. I really don’t. I just can’t look at that process and see that its will achieve what you claim for it. Its not being traditional, its choosing tradition as the best of all available consumer goods. You make that choice, other people make other choices. God bless, I hope it works for you. … I personally think the benefits of the modern condition seriously outweigh its liabilities (and so there we may differ). But don’t imagine you are recreating a traditional world. It’s not true. You are creating a personal world.

This has always seemed to me a deeply ironic position for a staunch defender of “traditional” marriage to take.  For this is precisely the stand taken by gay marriage activists such as Andrew Sullivan.  Why should erstwhile conservatives be so upset with gays for wanting to satiate their thirst for consumptive tradition by attaching themselves to bourgeoisie institutions?  This is likely how Sullivan and others like him see themselves and the issue along with their own desire to normalize.

Another gay marriage supporter, Damon Linker, has helpfully clarified this as the “liberal bargain.” Contrary to Linker’s assertion vis-à-vis First Things, there is significant evidence that Bottum has always been willing to take that bargain.  This, I would argue, leads directly to the question Bottum and others have raised as unresolved and, they may argue, irresolvable: “rebellion against rebellion doesn’t escape the problems of rebellion, and a chosen tradition is never quite the same as an inherited one.”  Or more specifically, Bottum says of Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” that “its success at being such an anthem also opens it up to the usurping power of irony from the anti-localist hipster: for capitalism’s engine of postmodernity.”

In other words, the cost of the liberal bargain is that good citizens of the consumptive state must accept a bastardized version of tradition as just one more product on the shelves chosen to therapeutically alleviate certain “itches” that are understood in an entirely materialistic and personalist way.  As I have described it elsewhere, liturgy for you, lechery for me, it makes no difference.  Whether one is nonchalant and unreflective about this problem (Gallagher) or wistful and unhappy with its presence but unwilling to untie the liberal knot (Bottum), the effect remains mostly the same.

This gives us the strange phenomena of people trying to purchase an identity, a heritage, a culture.  Can’t be done, but when have we ever let that stop us from trying!  So we have “distressed furniture” and Skynyrd knock-offs and, as a perceptive commenter noted while discussing Pittsburg: “Look at Steeler Nation, in which scads of non-union, non-blue-collar people masquerade as steel workers. A city of professors and doctors that masquerades as factory workers every Sunday. These are people who have become their dispossesion.”

Just so.  Commodify your dissent!!

After this kind of cultural diet, it is no surprise that many would not have the wherewithal to recognize a genuine cultural artifact if it rose up and bit them in the collective you-know-what.  This is where I circle back to a genuine localism which is not represented by Skynyrd or the Steelers or but by my local bluegrass pickers and my high school football team.  Bottum says: “Successful declarations of localism, by their success, are opened to the modern devices that must inevitably undo localisms.”  Which is why I have cautioned against what I called an over-articulated declaration.  But additionally, Bottum’s standard of “success” here gives away the farm as it is the “success” of the modern market—proliferation, uniformity, mass marketing, etc.  Declarations of localism that are “successful” by the internal standard of the locale are, or should be, resistant to commodification because they will always be detailed, peculiar, particular expressions of a very real and grounded love and not amenable to assembly line reproduction.  Can’t buy me love said the dispossessed ones from Liverpool.  They would know.

41 COMMENTS

  1. We have lots of choices in our society but we don’t have the choice to be genuinely traditional, as far as I can see, and nothing in your book suggests otherwise. Yes, the absence of traditional bases for identity creates a genuine hunger. If you want to try to satisfy that hunger by “attaching” to a tradition, I have no objections. I really don’t. I just can’t look at that process and see that its will achieve what you claim for it. Its not being traditional, its choosing tradition as the best of all available consumer goods. You make that choice, other people make other choices. God bless, I hope it works for you. … I personally think the benefits of the modern condition seriously outweigh its liabilities (and so there we may differ). But don’t imagine you are recreating a traditional world. It’s not true. You are creating a personal world.

    I’ve heard this criticism before and it seems like a great oversimplification to the effect that the existence of choice necessitates modernity. Damon Linker made the same sort of critique of Rod Dreher as if merely making a choice renders traditionalism moot.

    But this is the same as saying that in pre-modern times, choice did not exist, for if people are choosing traditional practices, they are moderns. Ergo, moderns have always existed and everyone is a modern! But this is nonsense, since a limited sort of liberty of will manifesting in making choices and decisions has always been a part of the human condition, and the choice to, for example, be faithful to one’s wife does not make one a modern merely because, in the language of Maggie Gallagher, one has chosen to “purchase” the “consumer good” of monogamous restraint. It seems to me that mere choice does not render someone modern.

    The modern liberal response might be that the substantive difference is the existence of “options” and pre-modern people didn’t really have any option but to worship at their local church, for example, and only had one institution of marriage between one man and one woman. Lack of choice means they were not modern.

    But again, this is false. Pre-moderns in places where there was only one church to attend or one institution of marriage still had the options of not participating. They always, then, had to chose between participation and non-participation (and for some practices, often did not participate). Therefore, choice has always been a part of life for all humans, pre-modern and modern.

    A final response might be that what is significant is not mere choice, but the consciousness of making one option among many. But this is a different thing, and one might imagine that elites have always been conscious of choices more so than the common people, so it is more a function of education than mere choice. And it would be odd to argue that educated consciousness is modernity, for many pre-moderns were educated and aware.

    In the end, “modern anti-traditionalism as choice” seems an oversimplification. A better description of the modern might instead be those who view everything as commodities with no intrinsic worth corresponding to an unchosen nature of things. But then, Dreher et al. would not be modern in their choices.

  2. Albert, whence come you? Your observations are excellent, and forestall my own.

    To offer just one example of the absurdity of the impossibility of tradition argument — an obvious one that calls the anti-Dreherites’ arguments into question:

    We would say that to be Roman Catholic is traditional? Is it now not traditional because of the absence of Ecclesiastical courts and agreements between the Church as temporal officials to maintain Ecclesiastical authority? Can only only be a traditional Catholic (I don’t mean the sect of that name, I mean a Catholic who recognizes no great breach with his ancestors) if one must be so because of that particular genius of Catholicism, the throne-and-altar theory of order?

    If someone says, “Well, no, you can’t be, because you are free to become a Wiccan, a warlock, or an American consumer . . .” I might be willing to concede his point, but his point would be minute.

    That said, as I hope to get round to someday soon, it is clear that the conceptual core of such arguments shares an assumption that I too share: the defining attribute of modernity is the belief that the human reason is sovereign and can create or recreate all things, include human nature, as it likes; from this follows a rejection of the Aristotelian presumption that community is natural. If all things are created by and subject to human reason, then communities and societies, of which such reasons are a part, are artificial as well. And so, “If you think you can create a community, then you are a modern,” seems a fair argument; Dreher has, in quoting Alasdair MacIntyre on several occasions, suggested that he does believe that. But I do not think that is a fair claim regarding those who cling to the broken planks of tradition in general.

    This is going on . . . and so consider yerselves warned what a future post from me will sound like . . .

  3. ditto Albert, with one proviso, “for some practices, (often) did not participate” I challenge a quantification of frequency and propose that “reciprocate” would better render a sense that most folks did NOT have a ‘practical’ choice whether they participated(*) — appearances can be deceptive, intellectual assent of “married” folks doesn’t equal assent of the will to fidelity or parenthood — rather their choice was reserved internally to their conscience, a conceit of will or lack there of, to reciprocate in the relationships being partaken of. Similarly, in the public square participation can be freely assented to in economical acts, going to market as mechanism for price discovery of the goods to be exchanged in furtherance of life-sustaining existence. Yet participation can also do the opposite and obstruct rather than further sustenance, when dishonorable folks elect not to reciprocate but collude amongst themselves, conceited traders with conceited public officials, for example, expropriate others of their goods by corrupting the money supply. (A married person expropriates their spouses “goods” by extending the conjugal union to a third party in adultery, for example).

    Reciprocation is the choice of will that renders acts moral, IMHO. Love is a decision of mutual obligation, one love’s one’s community of origin because it ‘gave’ before we where in a position of developmental maturity to ‘give back.’ We arrive in the world with a “debt” so to speak, a positive account balance of love that one participates in by choosing to reciprocate. At maturity one can recognize other options, for sure, Mr Dreher opted for Orthodoxy by declining to reciprocate in the Papacy as mutually definitive to his understanding of conjugation to the Church Christ instituted (I’ll humbly submit to let Christ be the judge of what “conjugation” He had in mind in uniting himself on the cross with fallen humanity), but the moral deed lies in the imagination, in what is *coveted* not the facts on the ground in what is or is not “chosen.”
    ___
    * many if not most married, many if not most attended public worship since to not have done so would have been a form of ex-communication, an exile from meaningful social flourishing only a few could afford to self-sustain in place, or if prefering uprooted-from-place would have been outlawed as pillagers of a “barbaroi” variety (‘reaping where they didn’t sow’). And yet even transient populations (not all are pirates, one ethical variety in popular imagination is that of the “gypsies/zigeuner” participate in reciprocity with themselves and those they travel amidst and trade with)

  4. After this kind of cultural diet, it is no surprise that many would not have the wherewithal to recognize a genuine cultural artifact if it rose up and bit them in the collective you-know-what.

    What does it say about Jody Bottom that he now runs an irony-soaked blog about religious kitch at First Things?

  5. Sorry, for posting twice. I meant to also say that while the original Pomocon/FPR debate seemed to immediately implode under the feathery weight of labels, this one touched off by R.R. Reno seems to me to be really getting into the meat of things. Please keep it up.

  6. A CALL TO ARMS!!!!! July 2, 2009

    What was thought to be a minor sortie is nothing of the sort! Scouts have reported that corps size units of the Amry of the PoMoCon have sortied into Henry County with intent of laying seige to Port William.

    Evidence of this brutish invasion is provided by the commander-in-chief of the PoMoCon Army, Maj. Gen. Peter Lawler in this communique:
    http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/postmodernconservative/2009/07/02/localism/

    Shots have been fired, blood spilt!
    Rally on the colors PATRIOTS, the land is invaded by the INFIDEL!
    By the Grace of God we will resist the invader!

  7. This is where I circle back to a genuine localism which is not represented by Skynyrd or the Steelers or but by my local bluegrass pickers and my high school football team.

    Having personally witnessed the rush toward the dismantling of localism, I would say that options available to consumers of pretty much everything lies at the heart of this and high school football–at least how I’ve viewed it in Minnesota–is testament to that.

    I grew up in a time when half the town went to Friday night’s game. It was, for the most part, an event defined not by class but by the shared local interest. There was probably no small amount of schadenfreude enjoyed by the farmer who just had a loan application rejected as he watched as his son starred and the banker’s kid sat on the bench (but I digress).

    Now, it seems that high school games are largely the domain of the student body and parents whose kids are participating. Why? My guess is that fans who view the effective application of football skills would prefer to watch those wares plied with more precision by supremely talented athletes on ESPN instead of being subjected to a seemingly endless display of missed tackles, end-over-end passes, and 12-yard shanked punts.

    I think this is another instance of where localism has been diced by the availability of the market to craft and deliver product to the aficionado and blunt, at least in the case of the aficianado, a commitment to a genuine event requiring “real-time” participation that supports the larger community.

    I don’t think this necessarily “undoes” localism, but it certainly blunts it.

    PS–High school football playoffs are a different matter. There, communities seem to rise from their slumbers and pack a whole season’s worth of goodwill and spirit into a two- or three-week timeframe.

  8. I commented on this subject at some length on my blog, (http://rumromeandreason.blogspot.com/)

    Here’s an excerpt (specifically, on the liberal bargain that your religion should not affect your politics, but is merely a “choice”):

    “The separation of human life into discrete categories is an acute problem of modern thinkers, it strikes me. They would have it that our life is a department store, with “Religion” in one aisle, “Politics” in the other, “Sex” in the other, “Family” in one, “Work” in the other, and so on, and that not mixing politics and religion, for example, is so easy a matter as making sure none of Religion’s products stray over to the Political aisle. But life is not a department store -it is a journey and, therefore, a drama. It is a story. And in the story of our lives, as in any story, everything is connected, nothing happens alone, in the abstract, and everything has a purpose; what you think on Religion will affect all other sections of your life and, if it does not, then you have merely not thought.

    The liberal bargain is not some compromise struck in an Istanbul spice market, as Mr. Linker would make it sound; rather it clothes within itself first a radical compartmentalization of our life, one that is grounded neither in reality nor good sense, and second, a radical secularization, one that grants the religious believer the ability to believe, but not the ability to take his belief seriously.

    There is nothing to do on such a bargain than to walk out.”

    Yours, &c,

  9. My my Mr. V.M. G….well said.

    The delicious irony of the so called Post Modernist is that they seem to relish wallowing around in the various color-coded categories of the Modern Mosh Pit. Not that this is a bad thing, it just aint the only thing.

    It reminds me of the time I was working with craftsman who had been charged with welding a mounting flange on a rusty old section of a harrowing disc plow so I could mount it vertically like a bird gargoyle on a stone wall (along with some nice Farmall Tractor Hoods acting as a tryptych of louvered lights) enclosure around a pool. It seems as he drove the rusty bechained totem on a trailer through the village….with it’s trendy art galleries and shops, one of the gallery owners ran out as he was idling at the light and in their yankee-french cried “mon dieu…what artist has done theese!” as though it were a piece of modern sculpture and not a beat up old high dirt breaking mileage piece of plow procured most impetuously from the local farm surplus part yard for my very own bit of modern-traditionalism. Somebody call this “post modernism” and I will chase you down and brain you with one of the old crankshafts I like to use as table legs.

  10. I am middle-aged and left-of-center and I cannot fully comprehend what Linker is driving at (or maybe I can comprehend it, but just find the logic so baffling) in his excerpt.

    How one views one’s self in relation to the cosmos (whether theologically–which I assure you all that I do–or through some other metaphysical gymnastics) cannot help but inform and affect how one expresses themselves in the political and economic arenas. It is inseparable from the self.

    My question to you VMG is the use of the word “seriously” in describing your inability to embody your belief.

    Our democracy allows all of us to vote for (and comment upon) a vast array of candidates and measures and we further have the right not to participate if that is the choice. I seriously consider my religious views when contemplating my actions in the sphere of public policy. Perhaps I am on the slow side, having just started to visit this site in the past week, but are you merely tossing a jibe and Linker or do you feel you are prevented from seriously expressing your religious views in the political realm.

  11. My dear Mr. Sabin:

    First, you gave us the Alabama Chain Gain rock pile–and I have mine in place ready for the next crabby Saturday–and now the rusty disc as sculpture. I owe you.

  12. Albert said: “…as if merely making a choice renders traditionalism moot.”

    It doesn’t render it moot, exactly, but it does render it inauthentic.

    Albert said: “But this is nonsense, since a limited sort of liberty of will manifesting in making choices and decisions has always been a part of the human condition, and the choice to, for example, be faithful to one’s wife does not make one a modern merely because, in the language of Maggie Gallagher, one has chosen to “purchase” the “consumer good” of monogamous restraint.”

    There is a difference between “choosing” to abide by an objective truth of human nature—something that is true for all humans across all localities—such as to be faithful to your wife (choosing to sin or not) versus choosing one non-moral option over another—such as choosing to listen to your local bluegrass picker over choosing to listen to U2. —unless you want to make the argument that this is, indeed, a moral choice. Choosing to do good over evil is not always the same thing as choosing the traditional over the modern. Along these same lines, Mr. Wilson’s example about Roman Catholicism seems off. Isn’t the point of a “catholic” Church that it is universal—something that transcends the various cultures, localities, and time?

    I am relatively new to FPR, have grown up familiar with Wendell Berry, and see the merits of localism and agrarianism. But I understand where critiques like Maggie Gallagher’s come from.

    Most Americans live in vast urban/suburban areas that are already homogenized, built around the car, inhabited by non-locals, and have been so for at least a generation. Drive through North Texas, for instance, and you’ll find that the only thing that distinguishes one burb from the last is that it’s shopping center is built around a Kroger instead of a Tom Thumb. Considering where our “communities” are today in this county, most of us don’t really have a real local tradition upon which to orient ourselves. What defines our local culture these days? The Blockbuster on the corner? The Pizza Hut? The Best Buy? The fact is, most of us didn’t make the choice to accept or reject our local traditions—that choice was made at least a generation or two ago. Therefore, one necessarily has to go back searching for a tradition, and, indeed, choose this one or that one from the shelf of history. And, perhaps once you’ve chosen one, you’ll probably decide to strip it of some of its warts (e.g., racism and other unreasonable aspects)–and rightly so. But this isn’t really authentic. How is this not doing what Maggie Gallagher describes? And once you have chosen a tradition, you’ve only chosen it for yourself. Your neighbors will still be choosing to stay home and watch Transformers on the blue-ray…or play it on the Wii. That’s what they know. That’s our inherited tradition. You may venture out of the cave, but chances are, you’ll be the only one for miles.

    For this reason, I see FPR as more of a handbook for beginning anew after TSHTF, and less as an answer to be effected in America today—even if it should be.

  13. the defining attribute of modernity is the belief that the human reason is sovereign and can create or recreate all things, include human nature, as it likes; from this follows a rejection of the Aristotelian presumption that community is natural. If all things are created by and subject to human reason, then communities and societies, of which such reasons are a part, are artificial as well.

    Well, I’m just a grateful participant, er, *nod to Clare* reciprocater in these excellent discussions. Thank you for your kind words, James. I think your description here is spot on. What separates true traditionalists from modern “cafeteria” traditionalists is not choice per se, but a recognition that some things cannot be chosen or changed by the will, including human nature and the natural order of creation into which we are born, and so we must submit to it.

    Clare, I agree your use of “reciprocate” brings something deeper to the discussion that “participate” may not, namely a recognition of a kind of mutuality in well-ordered relations.

  14. Mr. Lundell:

    I use the word “seriously” not in the meaning that, in the current society, I cannot take my religion seriously, but in the meaning that if I took Mr. Linker’s “liberal bargain,” I would not be able to do so; for, if I took that bargain, I would be saying that be banning my faith from influencing or informing an entire area of my life (namely, the political) and in so doing would have a deformed faith, one that I keep bottled up in certain corners as if it were a disease. A serious faith enlightens us as people, and therefore influences every aspect of our existence.

    Yours, &c,

  15. Ustedes makes a fair observation; one with which I would agree. But I think it ignores mine — or rather, misunderstands my point. Perhaps in replying, I can make another with which we’ll both agree. Because “tradition” is an even more problematic genus than “religion” (and the latter is impossibly problematic), the categorical argument that in “choosing” to observe or become part of a tradition one is merely engaging in one more consumer choice seems an unjustifiably broad one. But just such broad claims are the sort that critics use to attack Dreher’s position. Indeed, if he’s choosing to dress like a gypsy and cackle in front of the caravan . . . that’s a choice as irrelevantly self-fashioning as the rebellions of tattooed faux-dive-bar denizens. But, as Ustedes observes, this is distinct from choosing the good; Dreher’s minding the chickens in his backyard for eggs may look like a gypsy but it doesn’t cackle, it rather chuckles like the truth.

    I’ll be trying to lay this out more clearly when I at last write a little essay on the one dogma of the Treasonous Clerk essays.

  16. Some, I hope, pertinent and thought provoking thoughts about choice, traditionalism, and modernity from Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age” and from myself:

    Taylor:

    “[T]here has been a titanic change in our western civilization. We have changed not just from a condition where most people lived “naïvely” in a construal (part Christian, part related to “spirits” of pagan origin) as simple reality, to one in which almost no one is capable of this, but all see their option as one among many. We all learn to navigate between two standpoints: an “engaged” one in which we live as best we can the reality our standpoint opens us to; and a “disengaged” one in which we are able to see ourselves as occupying one standpoint among a range of possible ones, with which we have in various ways to coexist. . . . The shift to secularity in this sense consists, among other things, of a move from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed unproblematic, to one in which it is understood to be one option among others. . . .[A] secular age is one in which the eclipse of all goals beyond human flourishing becomes conceivable; or better, it falls within the range of an imaginable life for masses of peoples.”

    “We have undergone a change in our condition, involving both an alteration of the structures we live within, and our way of imaging these structures. This is something we all share, regardless of our differences in outlook. But this cannot be captured in terms of a decline and marginalization of religion. What we share is what I have been calling “the immanent frame”; the different structures we live in: scientific, social, technological, and so on, constitute such a frame in that they are part of a “natural,” or “this worldly” order which can be understood in its own terms, without reference to the “supernatural” or
    “transcendent.”

    Me:

    Whatever modernity is, one thing we can say for certain is that it, and it alone, was the mid-wife for the birth of the choice-making individual. As MacIntyre has pointed out, the “individual” is not a natural type of human being, but a kind of scripted role created by modernity itself according to its own peculiar dramatic exigencies. Whatever we eventually become, whether postmodern, isolated, fragmented, secularist, therapeutic, urban connoisseurs of private self creation; or anti-modern, communitarian, traditionalist, paleo-conservative, “back to the land” aspirants of a neo-medieval Christendom—we do so by choice as individuals, before we do and are anything or anybody else. For all the alternatives that modernity offers, modernity does not permit us to escape this fundamental precondition for the shaping of our identities. The non-chosen and communally provided identity of the choice-making individual is, like secular modernity itself, neither good nor evil itself, but it is potentially both, depending upon the “spin” we put on it.

    As Taylor argues in his essay “A Catholic Modernity?”, the greatest mistake secular moderns have made regarding their new identity is to construe the radical responsibility and high dignity that attends it for radical autonomy and spiritual independence. This, and not secular modernity per se, is arguably the main cause of the culture of death. What, then, is the alternative to such a construal?

    “Unless you become as little children . . .” Knowing in the center of his being, before the onset of any rational reflection or self-consciousness, that he is utterly incapable of independent existence, the child naïvely, immediately, and joyfully opens himself up to the existence, influence, and guidance of what is other. Childlike, trustful openness is the indispensable requirement for divine faith, and faith requires the capacity and willingness to give assent to the authority of someone other than ourselves. For this assent to be given, freely and with love, we must possess a certain attitude of soul, one receptive to the influence of others, and willing to be continually transformed by that influence. What Charles Taylor is advising as the proper response to the inescapable existential milieu that secular modernity is, and the inexchangeable identity of the “choice-making individual” that it offers, is a radical, questioning openness to what is—for each particular person—the divine and human other. The existence of even one person with a genuine spirit of erotic, Socratic questioning is the most effective antidote to the suffocating, anti-questioning culture we live in, in both its traditionalist and modernist varieties.

    According to Alasdair MacIntyre, our “enlightened, free-thinking age” is, ironically, a culture of suffocating dogmatism. If so, it becomes vitally important for us to use the great gift we have been given in these times, a heightened capacity for god-like freedom, for others. But to give to others the gift of ourselves, we must first have an intimate experience of what is not ourselves, for, as Edith Stein has claimed, we can only know ourselves adequately through the eyes of others. All of this requires a willingness to expose ourselves to the other in the most vulnerable way, to ask, to seek, to venture out existentially in humble questioning of ourselves and all that is around us—even when we think already to know the answers given to us by the gift of Faith.

    What really is important in life is not so much to provide answers, as to discern true questions. When true questions are found, they themselves open the heart to the mystery. Origen used to say: “Every true question is like the lance which pierces the side of Christ causing blood and water to flow forth.”
    Do we truly experience our spiritual answers as answers to questions, to questions we, ourselves, have truly asked? Those who do not experience answers this way, who believe themselves to have obtained the answers without having first endured the existential agony of searching in the darkness, whether because one has judged that there are no answers, or because they are believed to be already quite securely “possessed,” should recognize in such an attitude neither a humble plea of ignorance nor a simple and pious submission to God’s word—but a type of idolatry.

    Conclusion: a new axial age

    Modernity involves the coming to be of new kinds of public space, which cannot be accounted for in terms of changes in explicit views, either of factual belief or normative principle. Rather the transition involves to some extent the definition of new possible spaces hitherto outside the repertory of our forebears, and beyond the limits of their social imaginary.

    The essential message of Charles Taylor’s groundbreaking A Secular Age is, I think, this: Notwithstanding the serious spiritual dangers that secular modernity uniquely occasions, such as the illusion of the self-sufficient, mentally invulnerable “individual,” what Taylor calls the “buffered self,” the virtually irresistible inclination to “spin” the world according to one’s existential preferences, or the suffocating epistemological dichotomy of answers without questions and questions without answers; the present age in which Providence has blessed us to live is, nevertheless, spiritually rich, robust, and exhilarating. Our secular age affords a uniquely intense existential awareness of the primacy of questioning, and an unsurpassed urgency to discover the right questions.

    In short, what Taylor is telling us is that we are in the midst of a second—and perhaps final?—Axial Age, one in which we are all called to play the role of Socrates, even when—and perhaps precisely when—our questions have already been answered.

  17. re; Thaddeus K.
    I detect an eruption of small bubbles on the floor of the pan and it would seem this brew can start boiling but good now……

    Ms. Dalton,
    Them rocks aint just lithic, they’re little missiles of love they is and when the crabby little delinquents hoist them, there aint no escaping the message of boredom, our most futile bad habit. Everytime my brothers and I mention “rock pile”, three gigantic grins appear As to anything owed….. you , my dear, are current.

  18. Mr. VMG, Thank you. I thought that is what you meant and apologize if my question came out sideways.

    Linker’s position seems to be one of competence divorced from ideology (however informed, but clearly divorced from spiritual influence) similar to a statement of Michael Dukakis’ in the 1988 general election. Democrat that I am, I winced when Dukakis uttered that and then watched in absolute awe as Lee Atwater and company turned it into a billy club.

  19. I have no idea what Bob Cheeks or D.W. Sabin’s comments on my comments mean. But I am amused, not bemused, by this fact.

  20. T.K.,
    My comment was meant as a tribute to your acuity, e.g. your comments on Dr. Stein/St. Edith were happily recv’d in these quarters, and keep it up, while always prepared to be sharply critiqued.

  21. T. Kozinski,
    O.k, how about simply “attaboy”

    My fogbank gets a tad metaphorical at times, adding to low visibility already in effect.

  22. A culture of commodification and religion as therapy for the insufficiently adapted is the default position of the age, which, according to the old Christian adage, is evil. That we all absorb it and to some degree also advocate for it is regrettable, but perhaps inevitable for those who would be in the world and not of it. Born into the world, we often come out of the cradle tickling our over-priced stuffed Elmos; our process of growth is a process also of rejection of these earth-bound baubles.

    I ended up at your thread, however, not to respond to an attack on the publication for which I currently work, First Things, but to evaluate your presentation, which according to Deenen moves beyond the “simplifying language of ‘localism.'” Unfortunately, I do not find anything defining what love is, only what it is not.

    What is an “authentic local community” and how does one determine whether or not it is ‘good’ or has ‘love,’ however you would define those words?

    For my part, I addressed this already at First Things.

  23. RE; Joel Anselm Dietz,

    “What is Love”?

    Why…of course, it’s two Brazilian Hookers , a full stomach and empty beachfront.

    Why do you ask?

  24. Joel, I tried for a moment to read an article at “First Things” but quickly came up short on a kind word for somebody’s “friend” William Kristol or maybe it was one of the Poddy’s …whatever the case….and this made me chomp down so hard on my Nat Sherman that it became unraveled and I choked on the resulting effluvia, causing me to thence vigorously eructate an unholy mess upon my framed copy of Ted Kaczynski’s mugshot. Recovering though, I found it gave the photo a richly mellow and textured sepia tone, befitting my addictions to the archaic and sentimental.

    As to Wheat, it is far too contemporary a grain for my tastes, Hairshirts prefer the meager seeds of Panic and Cheat Grass with a side of tumbleweed.

  25. You smoke Nat Sherman’s…dude. If’in I’da smoked Nat’s I wouldn’t-a quit!
    It’s all a dream now, two fingers of Buffalo Trace, a decent or semi-decent cigar…alas! Just like a cold, dull knife down the center of the brain, but I shall prevail……………..

  26. Thad K, If you’re out there:
    “Do we truly experience our spiritual answers as answers to questions, to questions we, ourselves, have truly asked? Those who do not experience answers this way, who believe themselves to have obtained the answers without having first endured the existential agony of searching in the darkness, whether because one has judged that there are no answers, or because they are believed to be already quite securely “possessed,” should recognize in such an attitude neither a humble plea of ignorance nor a simple and pious submission to God’s word—but a type of idolatry. ”

    You might expand on the above. Spengler over at First Things is talking about “talking” to God, but not “talking” if you know what I mean.
    Sorry, I should have been paying closer attention. I’m older, my mind wonders or is that wanders?

  27. I’m afraid I’ve left my spittoon in my mother’s basement, and until spontaneous expectoration (or is that eructation?) is under control, I’ll just roll on over to the next town (where hopefully folks are more interested in fighting for republics than talking about how nice they’d be).

    Next time you see a over-sized piece of tumble weed with a strange blinking red light, be suspicious. Very…

  28. Bob Cheeks:

    I’d elaborate on that passage, but I think it would be too off the main topic of the discussion. If you send me your e-mail, I’ll send you a couple of articles I wrote where I talk about the issue.

  29. Good Mr. Dietz,
    To properly “fight” as you say for a Republic, one needs to have a clear picture of what that hoary thing is. I’m not quite certain the Kristols and Poddys of the world actually do . I think perhaps it has to do with not enough time spent amidst the Tumbleweeds and entirely too much time in the swamps of the Think Tank or Debauched Media where a little spitting might improve “actionability” or whatever else they call the Grand Plan of The Moment. Like say, spitting in one’s hands and rolling the sleeves up and putting shoulder to rock…as opposed to agitating Congress and the Executive to send somebody else out to fight endless un-funded war on behalf of the quarterly report of the military contractor of choice.

    A person of your obvious sense of humor should avoid the World Improvers because they never met a joke they don’t want to kill at a thousand meters.

    But, glad to hear you say you’re off to another “town” and not some metroplex devoid of porches. Drop in again , any time.

  30. D.W. Dude! That’s like poetry…I got tears in my eyes! That was profain or is that profound?
    Is there anyone you haven’t pi**ed off? You really, really don’t play well with others!
    However, I did tell Joel, now didn’t I. Yes, yes, Bob the peacemaker!
    BTW, I gotta new name for the president, may his name be etched in diamonds, “Jacko-Barracko.” Whadda ya think?
    Here’s the problem…I don’t think he’s got rhythm…have you ever notice our president’s never have rhythm!
    “Ugh…It’s Twine Time!” now that was a sound!

  31. Joel, don’t go! It gets better! Hang in there..a blogger with thin-skin?
    I think Joel was just raiding.
    D.W. Dude! That’s like poetry…I got tears in my eyes! That was profain or is that profound?
    Is there anyone you haven’t pi**ed off? You really, really don’t play well with others!
    However, I did tell Joel, now didn’t I. Yes, yes, Bob the peacemaker!

    BTW, I gotta new name for the president, may his name be etched in diamonds, “Jacko-Barracko.” Whadda ya think?
    Here’s the problem…I don’t think he’s got rhythm…have you ever notice our president’s never have rhythm!
    “Ugh…It’s Twine Time!” now that was a sound!

  32. Bob, No rhythm in our Presidents? I’ve got my Elvis/Nixon meeting poster displayed prominently in my office. RMN was a veritable hunk-a-hunk-o-burning love (strike burning love and insert shredded documents).

  33. Albert said: “…as if merely making a choice renders traditionalism moot.”

    It doesn’t render it moot, exactly, but it does render it inauthentic.

    I don’t think so. As I’ve said, one always has the choice to accept or reject even the traditions one inherits, and one is not thereby inauthentic. The prodigal son left before he came back.

    If you mean the choice of a different tradition than the traditions one inherits is inauthentic, it really depends on the context. Suppose a father rejected the traditions of his people and place; is his son therefore “inauthentic” to receive the cultural inheritance from his forefathers and people? Surely not. Surely one is authentically traditional, i.e. true to the tradition, by carrying on the traditions of a place and past in the acknowledgment of their rootedness in the natural order.

    It seems to me that the difference between an inauthentic modern choosing a tradition as a “lifestyle choice” and an authentic traditional man is not a matter of the absence of choice, which is psychologically impossible and historically false, but in the authentic traditional man’s recognition, submission and commitment to the limits of place and community rather than individual Will as the source of culture.

    Albert said: “But this is nonsense, since a limited sort of liberty of will manifesting in making choices and decisions has always been a part of the human condition, and the choice to, for example, be faithful to one’s wife does not make one a modern merely because, in the language of Maggie Gallagher, one has chosen to “purchase” the “consumer good” of monogamous restraint.”

    There is a difference between “choosing” to abide by an objective truth of human nature—something that is true for all humans across all localities—such as to be faithful to your wife (choosing to sin or not) versus choosing one non-moral option over another—such as choosing to listen to your local bluegrass picker over choosing to listen to U2. —unless you want to make the argument that this is, indeed, a moral choice. Choosing to do good over evil is not always the same thing as choosing the traditional over the modern. Along these same lines, Mr. Wilson’s example about Roman Catholicism seems off. Isn’t the point of a “catholic” Church that it is universal—something that transcends the various cultures, localities, and time?

    I’m not sure what the concern is here. I do think that while “all things are lawful,” not everything is beneficial or equally wise or loving. Perhaps it would be wiser to listen to your local bluegrass picker if he’s your neighbor and you love him. Perhaps not. The point is, he is your neighbor. I’m sure he’d appreciate your help if he were in need, whether that help comes in the form of listening to him or suggesting and helping him find a new career.

  34. My apologies for the delay. It’s been quite some time since someone accused me of having a sense of humor, and it took some time to recover. In any case, my next roll does indeed take me through the metroplex, where I plan to win a life time supply of cheap consumer goods and choice seats in the megaple. As we feature on the front cover of the latest issue of First Things — ‘Armageddon, coming soon to a theater near you!’

    I leave you with a ditty of my own creation:

    I don’t have a porch
    I don’t have a gun,
    I don’t have a pick up truck,
    Just a broken song.

    For another soon to be ghost town,
    on another new frontier,
    as wave after wave of virtual immigrants
    wash up upon digital shore.
    A few pennies, a few parades,
    A new fortune, a new life we’ve made

    A life without a future.
    A life without a past.
    A life that runs on a perpetual supply
    of foreign produced, foreign made gas.

    Boom!

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