I enjoyed some time off email and social media this past month, but I’m ready to resume these Water Dipper posts. I also want to take this opportunity to say a heartfelt thank you to all the Porchers who make this site a vibrant place for conversation. The internet seems to foster vituperative shouting matches, so I’m grateful for the more thoughtful mode of discussion and debate among our contributors and readers. We’ve had the opportunity to publish some really excellent essays recently (and there are more good ones in the queue), and the fall issue of Local Culture on Christopher Lasch promises to be both substantive and timely. Thank you as well to all those who have donated to our work in the past weeks and months–your support is greatly appreciated.
“Removing an Offensive Mural from the University of Kentucky isn’t ‘Racial Justice’.” A few years ago, controversy surrounding the O’Hanlon mural at the University of Kentucky prompted the university to commission Karyn Olivier to create “Witness,” an installation that is in dialogue with the mural. Now the university plans to remove the mural, and Olivier explains why she disagrees with this decision: “Removing the mural chooses silence, erasure and avoidance over engagement, investigation and real reconciliation. Is the hope that we’ll simply forget our shared history?” Wendell Berry also weighed in on the mural a few years ago; more recently, he has joined a lawsuit asking the university to keep the mural.
“How a 1990s Book Predicted 2020.” Ed West summarizes Christopher Lasch’s The Revolt of the Elites and uses it as a lens through which to make sense of current political and cultural dynamics: “It was Lasch who saw more clearly than anyone that the New Left had a symbiotic relationship with the culture of modern corporate capitalism — emphasising choice, therapy, self-actualisation, narcissism and the rejection of limits, not just physical but financial and moral.”
“Why Conservatism is the Natural Home for Working-Class Americans.” Patrick Deneen sounds Laschian notes in his definition of conservatism: “The best and most natural arrangement for political conservatism is a coalition between a properly constituted elite aligned with the needs of ordinary people against the disruptions of, and hostility toward, the commitments of family, home, and place that have always animated the party of ‘Progress.’”
“Lessons on Citizenship, Place, and a Humane Economy.” Gerald J. Russello reviews Allan Carlson’s collection of Free America essays and considers how their vision of conservatism might be revived for today’s challenges.
“We Shall Not Be Moved.” Audrea Lim narrates the history of New Communities, a black farming cooperative in Georgia whose founders were inspired by Henry George, kibbutzim, and others to find modes of collective ownership that would empower families who didn’t have access to land.
“Beyond Distributism to Solidarity Economics.” In a similar vein, Elias Crim reflects on the rich evidence that “the distributist vision is alive and well in certain Black communities.”
“The Berry Center Journal.” This year’s Berry Center Journal has been published. It includes an introductory note from Ben Aguilar, speeches from John Berry Sr. and John Berry Jr., an interview with Wendell Berry and the Klines, reflections from Mary Berry on the purchase of a farm, and more.
“The Real White Fragility.” Ross Douthat links meritocracy, anti-racism, and economic anxiety.
“Immigrants and the American Dream.” Chris Arnade writes about the communities he found that rejected the myth of meritocracy: “Newer working class immigrants haven’t fully accepted America’s dominant secular and material culture that views credentials as the central goal of life and individual liberty as the central form of meaning.”
“British Workers Try Their Hand at an Unfamiliar Job: Berry Picking.” Claire Moses and Geneva Abdul talk with some of people in England doing the kind of farm work normally done by migrant workers, who have been kept away by the pandemic.
“Are Protests Dangerous? What Experts Say May Depend on Who’s Protesting What.” Writing for the New York Times, Michael Powell wrestles with the fraught politics of public health that the recent protests against racism have brought to the fore.
“Political Wisdom and the Limits of Expertise.” Jennifer Frey distinguishes between expertise and political prudence. Political wisdom “will draw on expertise, but cannot and must not be reduced to it.”
“Flaunting a Presumptuous Innocence.” Jason Peters considers the recent rush to tear down statues: “it is a species of moral arrogance, not to mention a profound failure of historical imagination, to pass a breathtakingly severe judgment on your forebears, whether near or distant, especially having made no attempt whatsoever to historicize them. And only that same arrogance can then fail to imagine that your descendants, even more bereft of historical awareness than you are, won’t do the same to you, or that there will be no standard left to judge you by—the standard having already been set, today, by you.” He also joins Solomon in suggesting that at times wisdom manifests in silence: “Tell me, though: does the quietude that comes of circumspection also fall within the new axiomatic verities concerning silence? ‘A fool uttereth all his mind,’ said Solomon, ‘but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards.’ Is even the wise man violent now?”
“Handmind in Covidtide.” Alan Jacobs on the pleasures of trimming hedges by hand: “Nothing about Covidtide made it impossible, or any more difficult, for me to use electric hedge trimmers. But I think it has made me aware of the power of technological habit, and of my ability to break any such habit, should I choose. It has brought to my attention something I knew already, but only, as Cardinal Newman has said, notionally: that newer technologies are not necessarily superior ones.”
“England’s Real-Time Wendell Berry.” Robert Grano reviews Richard Hawking’s At the Field’s Edge: Adrian Bell and the English Countryside and puts Bell in his broader agrarian context.
“Drinking Alone.” Jonathan Malesic wrestles with the tensions between a desire to belong and a desire to “make it” in the American economy: “The desire to belong is incongruous with the individualistic culture of America’s elite. To live out the cosmopolitan ideal means you know someone everywhere but have close ties nowhere, because you’ve moved so many times for work. It means you never realize the dream of the Cheers theme song. There’s no place you can go where everybody knows your name.” Don’t miss the end of the essay, which turns on the promises and limitations of a front porch.
“For Batavia’s Muckdogs, the Fireworks Might Finally Be Over.” Sean Kirst talks with Bill Kauffman and others about the prospects for baseball in Batavia.
“The Black Legend Lives.” Jeremy Beer reviews a new book on the 1776 expedition led by Domínguez and Escalante from Santa Fe. He concludes: “America’s Spanish heritage is a complicated one, and the Jesuits, Franciscans, and Dominicans who participated in the conquest and colonization of the Southwest have things to answer for. But we cannot adequately evaluate their legacy if we do not at least try to escape the imaginative restrictions, scholarly biases, and moral self-satisfaction of our own time.”
“A Deep-Thinking Storyteller on the Rise.” Stephen Mirarchi reviews Joshua Hren’s new collection of short stories: “In the Wine Press exhibits the riveting work of a deep-thinking storyteller on the rise, one who understands all too well that while redemptive suffering answers many difficult questions, accepting and enduring it means being crushed to death—hopefully to bear great fruit.”
“The Ungoverned Globe.” Benjamin Studebaker considers the uneasy relationship that nationalist politics on the right and radical democratic reforms on the left have with the liberal global order. The upshot is a growing instability with little prospect for resolution. (Recommended by Dominic Garzonio.)
“Why the Chinese Frontier Matters.” Michael Brendan Dougherty summarizes recent, disturbing reports trickling out of Xinjiang Province. Are Western companies and countries willing to profit from this ongoing genocide?
“Christopher Lasch and Finding Our Limits.” Andrew Figueiredo offers a reconsideration of Christopher Lasch’s True and Only Heaven and argues that American politicians should heed his warnings.
“The Sincerity of a Single Fresh Flower.” Anthony Daniels describes why he likes to walk through cemeteries and what he finds there: “In [one] cemetery was a section set aside for the graves of children. There was here a little grave of a child aged two who had died nearly fifty years before. On this grave was a vase with a single fresh flower in it; and two years later, when I visited again, the vase was still there, and still with a fresh flower.” (Recommended by Rob Grano.)