“On Not Knowing Esperanto.” Peter Mommsen introduces the new issue of Plough. It’s a great introduction, and while I haven’t read the full issue yet, it looks to be another good one.
“What Makes Moby-Dick a Great American Novel?” On October 5th, Andrew Delbanco, Robert K. Wallace, and I will be discussing this question during an online event hosted by the National Association of Scholars.
“History as a Way of Knowing.” Bill McClay reflects on the discipline of history and warns, “A culture without memory will hardly be a culture at all; it will be barbarous and easily tyrannized, even if it is technologically advanced, because the incessant drumbeat of daily events will drown out all reflective efforts to connect past, present, and future, and thereby understand the things that unfold in time, including the path of our own lives.”
“No, John C. Calhoun Didn’t Invent the Filibuster.” Robert Elder responds to the oft-repeated claim that Calhoun invented the filibuster. In the process, he questions the contemporary obsession with “origins” and offers some lessons in good historical thinking: “Setting the record straight is not a defense of the filibuster, and even less of Calhoun. Instead, it is a reassertion of the inconvenient fact that history rarely provides easy answers, and that we should be wary when told it does.”
“The Future of Conservative Constitutionalism.” Yuval Levin challenges Conservatives to revivify congress: “The Congress has the power to reassert itself. What it lacks is the will. And that means that the project of reassertion must begin by changing how Congress understands itself, and how our society understands it. . . . A healthier citizenship is a precondition for a more robust constitutionalism, but it would also be a product of it. This is how virtue works — it is by practicing it that we make ourselves more capable of it.”
“Doctor’s Orders.” In a perceptive essay regarding vaccination debates, Aimee Walleston draws on Ivan Illich and others to trace the “history of the progressive medicalization of American society, and the understanding of almost all problems as solvable through a medical intervention administered on an individual basis.” Her conclusions regarding the myopia of an individualized medical system recall Wendell Berry’s claim that “health is membership.”
“Covid Is Boring.” Justin E. H. Smith links the COVID hygiene regime to the decay of intellectual and artistic life: “so many of my friends and peers, heels dug in so deeply on the side of anti-anti-vaxx signaling, refuse to acknowledge anything worrisome about the new high-tech hygiene regime, about how hard it might be to dismantle it once it has outlived its purpose, about how it might sprout new purposes that are inimical to human thriving.”
“Firefighters are Girding one of Earth’s Biggest Trees.” María Luisa Paúl describes efforts to save the sequoias and talks to Daegen Miller about their recent history.
“Broken Badlands.” Joe Wilkins ponders the threads that connect his father’s death, his place, and his memory: “My father died. I lost my father. Yet he was all about me. I’m telling you the place took his place. They became one and the same. Like thin stalks, we rise. We sway and bloom. One day let ourselves back down. The places are what remain.”
“Agroecology Is the Solution to World Hunger.” Raj Patel pushes back against the common trope that conventional agriculture is necessary to feed the world: “on every continent, research shows that farmers who adopt agroecology have greater food security, higher incomes, better health and lower levels of indebtedness.”
“Status Anxiety.” Alan Jacobs reviews Jonathan Franzen’s newest novel and concludes, “I enjoyed Crossroads quite a lot, and look forward to the next installment in the series; but my fear is that Franzen will write a very long and ambitious trilogy that is disabled, by its very narrative method, from achieving what its author wants to achieve.”
“The False Allure of the Pagan Right.” Daniel J. Mahoney takes stock of Matthew Rose’s recent book and calls for “a conservatism at once more moderate and yet more daring, one willing to renew the true roots, at once classical, conservative, Christian and liberal—of Western civilization.” Stay tuned for FPR’s review of Rose’s book next week.
“Original Sin in American Democracy.” Jonathan Den Hartog considers how democracies should account for human frailty and sin in his review of We the Fallen People by Robert Tracy McKenzie.
“The Post-COVID Classical-Education Boom.” Christopher Perrin and Anika Prather offer an explanation for the rise in classical schooling: “No person — black, white, brown, or otherwise — can live a flourishing life without confronting [the fundamental] human questions. This is why many parents and students of all races are turning to classical academies.”
“A Life Well-Lived.” Stephen Kamm reflects on the lessons in Gracy Olmstead’s recent book: “Uprooted is more than a family memoir; it is also an “exercise in discernment.” Olmstead wonders if she, like Ulysses, has been beguiled by longing, uprooted from land, people, place, and history. Is this soil essential for her own flourishing? Through the story of Emmett and her family, she asks readers to consider the same questions. What roots us? What tears us out of good soil?”