“Christians Need the Liberal Arts Now More Than Ever.” John Fea argues that the value of a liberal arts education has been made particularly apparent by the coronavirus:
A nurse can learn how to insert an IV tube in a patient’s arm, but how will he develop the fortitude to enter a room filled with people suffering from infectious diseases? A medical doctor may know how to operate on a patient or prescribe medicine, but how does she decide who dies and who lives when ventilators and other essential equipment are at a minimum? A politician may know how to win elections, but where does he find the inner strength to offer hope in anxious and uncertain times? A successful businessman understands how to make money, but where does she learn to serve the common good during a pandemic? Engineers build things, but what motivates them to volunteer their expertise in the construction of a make-shift hospital? How do we sift through the array of COVID-19 information that endlessly crosses our screens? How do we know who to trust?
“The Next City: An American Experiment’s Lessons.” Solidarity Hall, led by Elias Crim, invited Chuck Marohn from Strong Towns to imagine how the pandemic might affect American cities. Russell Fox responds, and he and Chuck have a fascinating conversation about cities, debt, civic culture, and viruses. Look for Russell’s follow-up to this conversation here at FPR next week.
“To Be Studied, or Pitied?” Chris Arnade reads two recent books as examples “of the two narrow ways well-intentioned elites deal with less-successful people: As a thing to be studied, or a thing to be pitied.” As he concludes about those who pity “less-successful” Americans,
This intellectual colonialism from the educated elite strip-mines America of its talent, taking what they want and leaving behind towns filling with death and despair. Lots of Americans want to stop being told they are on the wrong ladder. They want to live in a country that doesn’t insist you have to live like the elites. They want to stop being considered losers for not wanting to shape their life around building a résumé.
“Small is Beautiful—And Critical.” Paul Schwennesen hopes this might be a moment when we realize the grave dangers of a centralized, precarious food system (Recommended by Jason Peters):
Now more than ever, as major meatpackers shut down amidst COVID-19 concerns, we are reminded why vibrant, prosperous, small-scale agriculture is so vital, not only to our national food supply, but to our national character. This crisis reinforces just how far we’ve strayed from republican ideals of frugal self-sufficiency, as we now live in the shadow of twin leviathans: a bloated bureaucracy that beggars belief and a crony elite that hides behind the skirts of the nanny-state.
“Most Farmers in the Great Plains Don’t Grow Fruits and Vegetables. The Pandemic is Changing That.” Daphne Miller reports on a fascinating and promising trend: large-scale commodity farmers sowing “chaos gardens” as cover crops and either selling the produce or giving it to those willing to harvest the vegetables.
“Are the Wages of Sin Really Death?: Moral and Epidemiologic Observations.” David Lyle Jeffrey and Jeff Levin look at the evidence to suggest that yes, immoral behavior leads to death. In many ways, this essay bears out what Wendell Berry told the 1978 graduating class at Centre College: “What ecological insight has done is reveal again the practical foundations of ancient morality.”
“A Commencement Address Too Honest to Deliver in Person.” David Brooks recommends stepping outside our culture’s status hierarchy, tending the seeds of wisdom planted by earlier generations, and feeding on challenging intellectual fare.
“Boldly Declaring That ‘I Am Alive and This is Where I Live’.” Bill Kauffman revisits Josephine Young Case’s long, blank verse poem published in 1938: At Midnight on the 31st of March. It imagines what might happen in a small, upstate New York village suddenly cut off from the rest of the world: “It’s look homeward or die, physically and spiritually.”
“The God Trick.” Susan McWilliams Barndt reviews In the Shadow of Justice: Postwar Liberalism and the Remaking of Political Philosophy by Katrina Forrester and takes the occasion to reflect on Rawls’s legacy.
“The Great Uncertainty.” Damon Linker wisely reminds us of just how little we know about the coronavirus. And yet people have to make difficult decisions on the basis of woefully inadequate knowledge. As Wendell Berry writes in “Standing by Words,”
I do not believe that it is possible to act on the basis of a “tentative” or “provisional” conclusion. We may know that we are forming a conclusion on the basis of provisional or insufficient knowledge—that is a part of what we understand as the tragedy of our condition. But we must act, nevertheless, on the basis of final conclusions, because we know that actions, occurring in time, are irrevocable. That is another part of our tragedy. People who make a conventional agreement that all conclusions are provisional—a convention almost invariably implied by academic uses of the word “objectivity”—characteristically talk but do not act. Or they do not act deliberately, though time and materiality carry them into action of a sort, willy-nilly.
“Thinking about COVID and Ivan Illich with David Cayley.” Elias Crim has gathered three thoughtful responses to Cayley’s essay I linked to a few weeks ago. Sam Rocha, William Cavanaugh, and Sam Ewell all attest that Illich remains a vital voice in these discussions.
“I’d Like to Learn to Love It Anyway.” A crushed bluebird nest prompts Helena Sorensen to wrestle with how to love broken things in a broken world.
“Scraps and Ruins.” Zito Madu draws on Simone Weil and others to find hope while living with and trying to protect his parents in Detroit.
“The Outsider Art of Ralph Meatyard.” Scott Beauchamp reviews a recent exhibition of Meatyard’s photos. Meatyard was a friend of Thomas Merton and Wendell Berry, and his photos appear in The Unforeseen Wilderness.
“Are Great Novels a Thing of the Past?” Darren Dyck reviews The Decline of the Novel by Joseph Bottum and wrestles with its provocative thesis that the novel, because of “its emphasis on interiority,” is a distinctively Protestant genre.
“Farmers’ Hopes for Respite from Trump-era Struggles Fade Amid Pandemic.” David J. Lynch, Annie Gowen and Laura Reiley describe the challenges farmers face these days. It’s not a good sign when the president says “You got to buy a lot of land, and you’ve got to get much bigger tractors right now.” The pandemic doesn’t help matters, but it does expose the fragility of a bigger-is-better food system.
“First Things & The Future Of Religious Conservatism.” Rod Dreher has a thoughtful, elegiac consideration of the state of First Things and the broader conservative media ecosystem; he continues this line of thinking in a follow-up essay. Alan Jacobs’s account of his relationship with First Things is also of interest. And over at Mere Orthodoxy, Jake Meador reflects on the challenges of sustaining a clear editorial vision in today’s political climate.