“…your whole way of life is out of date when compared with theirs. And it is just as true in politics as it is in any art or craft: new methods must drive out old ones…”

Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War

(Corinthians speaking to Spartans, about Athenians, trying to convince them to go to war with the Athenians, in 432 B.C.)

The first line might have come from the lips of my children, as they compare their parents’ ideals to the world around us.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be so hard that one’s way of life–or ideal–is out of date, if it didn’t seem that it’s also being driven out. Can’t our way of life, we wonder, at least still exist next to contemporary ways?

It is interesting that we think of our culture as unusually diverse, and as intentionally accepting of differences—even notable ones—between various ways of life. This is part of the self-understanding of our culture.

Perhaps I’m missing something. But it seems the reality is that our age is monolithically unfriendly to ways of living other than the standard. And ironically perhaps especially unfriendly to ways of living that were common in our own not so distant past.

Here is one example. Some humans grow up and live in a community where they really know and are known by their neighbors. They have a sense of coming from and belonging to a specific place and community. Not only residing there, they work there. They make a living and forge a common life, even across generations, with a relatively stable group of people, on a scale suited to mutual knowledge and accountability. This was once the norm, and theoretically people could still live in such a way.

But by and large today, we can’t. Such a life is not really an option for the vast majority of people. I suppose we can say it is out of date.

It’s value, however, will never be out of date. So if I’m told that thinking about what isn’t feasible is a waste of time, I have a response. Keeping certain thoughts alive might just be the ground in which old realities sprout into new possibilities. Even if just for our children.

Thucydides (460-395 B.C.) was a great Athenian historian and general.

Originally posted at Bacon from Acorns.

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John Cuddeback
John A. Cuddeback is a professor and chairman of the Philosophy Department at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, where he has taught since 1995. He received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America under the direction of F. Russell Hittinger. He has lectured on various topics including virtue, culture, natural law, friendship, and household. His book Friendship: The Art of Happiness was republished in 2010 as True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness. His writings have appeared in Nova et Vetera, The Thomist, and The Review of Metaphysics, as well as in several volumes published by the American Maritain Association. Though raised in what he calls an ‘archetypical suburb,’ Columbia, Maryland, he and his wife Sofia consider themselves blessed to be raising their six children in the shadow of the Blue Ridge on the banks of the Shenandoah. At the material center of their homesteading projects are heritage breed pigs, which like the pigs of Eumaeus are fattened on acorns, yielding a bacon that too few people ever enjoy. His website dedicated to the philosophy of family and household is


  1. That’s a good point about the lack of diversity. And it’s true that most people used to live where they worked. That was especially true when a family was an economic enterprise. But now we have transportation improvements and an eagerness to use up all the planet’s petroleum resources before the next generation beats us to it. This makes possible a greater separation between home and livelihood.

    But generations of people growing up together in the same place? In America, people have always been on the move, leaving family and community behind them. The act of coming to America was often a matter of leaving old communities behind, though sometimes the old communities re-formed to some extent in America. But even the history of western Europe is a history of people trying to escape community ties. “Stadtluft macht frei!” in more ways than one.

    I guess I agree with most of what you say except for the phrase, “This was once the norm…” If you consider all the world’s social systems, there have been lots of norms, lots of type of interplay between kin, state, and community.

    I just finished listening to Francis Fukuyama’s “The Origins of Political Order,” which is not primarily about how people live in local communities, but can’t help but touch on that topic in many places. I would have disagreed with the statement, “This was once the norm…” even before reading/listening to it, but do so more emphatically now.

  2. “Perhaps I’m missing something. ” Could be – I think it was Dalton who mentioned- what was that – oh right, Punk Domestics. Kind of a fun website, but also indicative of something I see quite a bit with younger people. They are reviving all sorts of things. Not all of them are chasing the whirlwind.

    But then yes, Mr. Gorentz. I keep going back to Pytheas the Greek. There is something there, he represents something to me – a puzzle for which I’ve never read a satisfactory explanation. Robert Kaplan – I think – in one of his books used the nomadic culture to make certain points about current geopolitical issues (if I remember it was remarking upon the hostility nomadic and farming communities traditionally had for each other, and that the military and global corporate types were our present day nomads, more or less). It was an interesting application, and his discussion of traditional nomadic life is one I recall when I think about this motive force. (If it was him. I am pretty sure it was, but, heck.) It was something the Greeks indulged, but it was not as big a deal for – I don’t know – the Egyptians.

    Anyway, I think there is something else, something other than Stegner’s boomers. A motivation for a going away might be making a fast buck somewhere, but I think sometimes it’s obeying something in our nature that’s far, far older.

  3. “if I remember it was remarking upon the hostility nomadic and farming communities traditionally had for each other, and that the military and global corporate types were our present day nomads, more or less”

    Hmm. I should go out and mow some more lawn so I can think about that one. (I need to get our riding mower fixed, but on the other hand I’ve always got more thinking done when walking behind a mower. Back when I was a teenager and had to mow lawn against my free will, I noticed that at least it was a good way to get some thinking done. Now that I’m retired I have the luxury of going back to that method. I listened to Fukuyama’s book while mowing and while riding my bicycle, but today it’s too hot for those earphones, so I’ve been doing my own thinking.)

  4. John, Thanks for your comment, as always. By ‘the norm’ I really meant nothing more than that it was basically normal. I think that history would bear me out that the fundamental European practice has been one of stability across generations. Surely those that came to America were not the more stable elements of European society; and Americans have often tended toward pioneering, as Berry points out. But even so, I think such stability approached being normal here in America, at least in some regions.
    Dave, you have a great point–not all young people are chasing the whirlwind. In their dissatisfaction with the status quo, they seek something else. Would that our social, economic, and cultural practices were more supportive of their search.

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