Conference Videos, Jon Stewart, and Frodo

Photo by George W. Ackerman

If you weren’t able to join us two weeks ago for our conference, you may want to set aside some time to watch the video recordings of the talks. We’ll also be releasing audio versions via the Brass Spittoon podcast. These recordings don’t convey the delights of in-person conversation and mingling, but they do give a sense of the day, and they also showcase–I hope–the productive disagreements that mark any conversation worth its salt. The Porch isn’t a place marked by ideological conformity but by a set of shared commitments–commitments to the goods of place, limits, and liberty–and a spirit of good will. We also enjoy a good joke, and Bill Kauffman can always be counted on to end our day with plenty of those.

How Stewart Made Tucker.” In a wise essay, Jon Askonas details the dysfunctions of a media world oriented around catering to the biases of a committed group of fans: “in an era of subscription-based narrative production and superabundant facts, what journalism gets produced and shared comes down to which kinds of stories are needed for different narratives. The trouble is not that misinformation is destroying facts but that, even if all of the fact-checking procedures are followed to a letter, facts only matter now as far as they’re useful to monetizing a worldview.” (Recommended by Aaron Weinacht.)

A Change of Hart?” Phil Christman on David Bentley Hart’s new books of fiction is the perfect pairing: “It isn’t only Hart’s view of the world that has been consistent. It’s also his style. Clause follows clause like the folds in a voluminous garment, every noun set off by beguiling and unusual modifiers (plus some of his old favorites, like “beguiling”). In one way, at least, he is the least American of writers, in that adjectives and adverbs do not give him that twinge of guilt that so many of us have picked up from Hemingway and Twain, the suspicion that we are using them to distract the reader from our failure to describe some particular action or detail—some verb or noun—precisely enough.”

Why Conservatism Failed.” Jon Askonas argues that the pace and scale of technological transformations mean conservative efforts to sustain traditions are insufficient. Our task, instead, is to build more radical traditions and institutions that can sustain fundamental human ends: “As new technologies enter a society, they disrupt the connections between institutions, practices, virtues, and rewards. They can render traditions purposeless, destroy the distinction between virtuous and vicious behavior, make customary ways of life obsolete, or render their rewards meaningless or paltry. If the institutions that shepherd traditions aren’t regenerated, and if no one adopts their practices, traditions will fade into nothingness.” (Recommended by Adam Smith.)

Highest & Best Use (Part 1 of 2): A Letter to My Cousin.” Seth Wieck meditates on poetry and place from the outskirts of Amarillo: “All of this stretch of land between here and Umbarger wasn’t, and still isn’t, a place. It was merely land. As important as land is, I can understand why those families packed up. There was no name for this stretch; there were no communities with attendant rites and festivals and celebrations; no history and no way to imagine a future. Mere land. And according to the bank who held the mortgages, the highest and best use for the land wasn’t farming. But Umbarger was and is a place.”

The Many Faces of Christian Nationalism.” John D. Wilsey surveys the history of religiously inflected nationalism in America and brings this history to bear on contemporary debates: “Since the early seventeenth century, American Christian nationalism has evolved around the contours of historical circumstances. It is not one thing, nor is it a unique problem for one group or faction. Our conversations about Christian nationalism should be marked with humility before this complexity.”

The Import Quota that Remade the Auto Industry.” Wells King and Dan Vaughn, Jr. look at the history of Reagan’s import quota on Japanese cars and argue that these kinds of government policies can serve local economies: “The Japanese auto industry, insulated from foreign competition and subsidized by the state, was not a catastrophic failure, but a global leader in quality and innovation. America’s open market did not foster more resilient, productive, or innovative firms; it exposed them to near-fatal import competition. Only when American policymakers stepped in did the domestic manufacturing base improve and grow.”

If We Can’t Reason Together, How Can We Worship Together?” Robert Tracy McKenzie reviews Bonnie Kristian’s new book, Untrustworthy, and commends its wise counsel: “Gradually remade by the devices that mesmerize us, we become less and less willing to listen, less and less tolerant of dissent, less and less able to engage constructively and charitably with others in pursuit of a common good.”

The Right’s New Divide: Frodo versus Boromir.” Tony Woodlief relies on two Tolkien characters to name a split among attendees of the recent NatCon gathering: “where NatCons would replace federal agency personnel with loyalists to reward friends and punish enemies, we Frodoists would fire the lot of them, remand their authority to states and communities, and go back to our gardening. While NatCons would ban CRT, Frodoists would break up big school districts, with confidence that local citizens can best decide how their children should be educated.”

What Do the Physical Costs of Pregnancy Mean for the Abortion Debate?” Ross Douthat tackles some core tensions at the heart of abortion discussions: “the great ambition of feminism has always been to right the wrongs of patriarchal power, not merely to match its most self-interested maneuvers. Its aim has been to champion a vision of society free from all forms of oppression and deliberate violence, not just to establish a gender-neutral or gender-reversed equivalent of whatever men in power would impose.”

Loretta Lynn, R.I.P.” Matthew Walther remembers the life and art of a Kentucky singer: “Like many great artists before her, Loretta lived to see the destruction of the art form she had done as much as anyone to perfect, if not quite pioneer.”

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