One pernicious aspect of our age is its commitment to techne, the quasi-religious belief that all manner of things shall be made well with the right tool, expertise, specialist, or method. All that is, is to be controlled, subdued, and tamed. Like the White Witch and her wand, or all those lured by the Ring of Power, we trust mechanisms and forces much more than we do the agency of our own character and collaboration with others of solid character—we have no patience, we are unwilling to bear things.

The taming of the world assumes mastery, and, moreover, mastery over the inert, the formless, the merely factical. If the world mattered, if it bore the glory of God, the density of Being, the imprint of Logos, we might stand before it in wonder, humility, or piety.

If reality had weight, purpose, we would not assume it served us, that it existed at our (for our) pleasure and whim; instead, we would acknowledge the “rights of the real” and our obligation to act in conformity with what the real gives us in its basic generosity.

An older tradition claimed that all things sought their own perfection, but such seeking was not isolated or individuated only, for one aspect of perfection was the capacity to give being to another, even to give of one’s own being to another. The greater a being, the greater its capacity for perfection and the more it could give of itself. A rock could give very little, merely standing in its physical presence to be used or known; a plant could have more presence, not only taking in nutrition but giving of itself in reproduction, food, and organic matter for other life; animals could do all this, but also interact, and relate; humans could do the same, and love and be loved.

The perfection of the human was to love in an ordered way. Such order implied that while all things, insofar as they existed, possessed some perfection, there was still an order, hierarchy, to that perfection, and so to be ordered was to love the most lovely things most, and the less lovely things less.

But all that is, is lovely. All that is, is loveable. All that is, gives of itself in some manner for us to know and love, which is, in the end, the same. All reality, in some way, speaks out itself, claiming “love me, I am.”

Technique does not wish to allow reality to present itself, to give its presence, but rather seeks to take, to have, to bend. It does not love, it subdues.

For those of us worried about the character of our time and our people, slow conversion to the loveliness of things is the task at hand. So much to do, so many bad ideas, so many neglected fences and overgrown windbreaks, so much overgrazed pasture, so many used and discarded persons. Each idea needs replacing, each fence mending, each windbreak pruning, each pasture fallowing, each person restoring, but we’re in it for the long game, we need to think in terms of centuries, not years; of cathedral (re)building, not petition signing. And the long game ahead needs the conversion of our loves, our advertence to the loveliness of the real.


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R. J. Snell lives and gardens (or at least watches his children garden) just outside of Philadelphia in Havertown, a place where Sinatra, baseball games, and cigar smoke waft from his neighbors' porches onto his own. If Philadelphia had colder and longer winters, as this Canadian thinks natural and fitting, it would be almost perfect. The fact that his four children and wife live there (almost) redeems the overly warm weather. He directs the philosophy program at Eastern University, in St. Davids, PA. He also co-directs the Agora Insitute for Civic Virtue and the Common Good, a research center devoted to understanding and sustaining the virtues and institutions of human flourishing. The author of Through a Glass Darkly: Bernard Lonergan and Richard Rorty on Knowing without a God's-Eye View, and the forthcoming (with Steve Cone) Authentic Cosmopolitanism, he writes and teaches on Thomas Aquinas and contemporary Thomism, Bernard Lonergan, natural law, decent life, and the liberal arts.


  1. After I read this gorgeous piece (atypically without a partied agenda) I went back and reread your other two pieces. Nice, not so rich as this. What was amusing was the strange way “A Sense of Owingness” drew the lunatic fringe commentary.

    This piece is the first that I’ve read that grasps the awful extent of our tasks. So, so against the stream, too. Luck to us, God willing.

  2. The task at hand is both in the realm of the nanosecond and the century and given this generation’s blithe acceptance of the justification for nano-seconds, perhaps this generation might finally come to grips with its spawn.

    I expect it to…..after a stubborn period of narcissistic avoidance.

  3. Spoken like an engineer not a craftsman or even artist. We need both, but one plans and theorizes while the other gets it done and most of all, knows when they are finished (a little appreciated requirement) meaning they perhaps know more than others where the quest for perfection ends and reality begins. To a craftsperson the right tool is as much a goal and thing of beauty as the object (or project). Sorry, I am not seeing where your first paragraph leads to the last paragraph. Perhaps character isn’t the right word- are you avoiding another?

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