An Irrelevant (and Irreverent) Celebration of Hope and Fun


After fifteen largely joyful years of existence, it seems appropriate to ask whether we have retained our relevance. The struggle to catch and hold the public’s attention proves even more difficult now than it was in 2009. Events have transpired at such dizzying speed that vertigo seems our natural state. Hell, in 2008 the Democrats ran two candidates for the presidency who both argued that marriage was a sacred bond between one man and one woman, a position from which, they promised, but only in the way that politicians do, they would not budge.

When FPR started, we brought to the table a series of concerns. Consider:

  • A tottering financial sector considered “too big to fail,” failed.
  • An economy that increasingly elevated finances over productivity. Could we possibly survive, much less thrive, in a non-productive (and non-reproductive) age?
  • An increasingly bloated and sclerotic government whose main achievements were a bankrupting of the country, largely by engaging in wrong-headed foreign wars, paid for by passing the bill to future generations.
  • An ever-expanding administrative state that actively took sides in the culture wars and used its coercive power to reward friends and punish enemies.
  • Our cities becoming less livable, less walkable, less safe, less humane.
  • An energy policy strained by the constant demand for cheap oil to maintain fragile supply chains, commuter traffic, and the odd idea that human beings should be able to spend 24 hours a day at 72 degrees.
  • The instability of the dollar and markets.
  • Unsustainable and hugely expensive agricultural and land-use policies.
  • Educational institutions that did everything except, you know, educate.
  • The decline of civility and democratic norms.
  • Confusion about sexual norms.
  • The loss of community, and the concomitant rise of chronic alienation and loneliness with all the attendant negative mental health consequences.

As the discerning reader will note, if our goal was to reverse any of these trends our efforts can only be considered an abject failure. My earlier question—are we still relevant? —is a lie that tells the truth, for FPR was never really relevant and, in many ways, never sought to be. I don’t think any of us were particularly optimistic that we could stem the tide. So why bother?

Because FPR has always been about two things that are more important now than ever: hope and fun. Nothing is more hopeful and fun than having children—hopeful in the conception and fun in the conceiving. FPR is a fecund enterprise in an age of sterility. Let the stockjobbers and corporate shills with their four-inch heels and business suits have their Mercedes and their three-quarter-million-dollar childless condos. I’ll have no issue with them, but neither will I have any truck with them. They are guilty of the worst crime a human being can commit: they’re boring, and they’re boring in no small part because they’re predictable. In fact, I can predict how some of these enlightened despots who voyeur on our benighted pages will respond to the above. I can spare them the trouble. They have not yet learned the valuable lesson that a good income doesn’t make one rich, and that working for someone else makes you their tool. They don’t understand the value of using tools rather than being one.

But still, why a website? Why a conference? Why a journal? In part, the impulse is evangelistic: any group of friends believing that they have found joyous and life-giving truths ought to share that good news with others. I had a dean once say to me: “You think so many things are wrong, but yet you’re about the happiest person I know. I don’t get it.” Of course you don’t, I replied, because I only feel a need to speak up to defend the things I love. Inasmuch as you, as a dean doing his job, seeks to destroy things I love as a matter of policy, I will fight you, and I will take my stand with and sometimes on those things. And from that position I can always find sustained joy and happiness.

And this is why we write and why we speak. But not only that. The FPR ethos is a celebration of the incarnate condition, an embrace of its inherent limits, and a delight in the source of all meaning and purpose. The Porcher recognizes even death as a source of joy, for it provides the ultimate limit without which the pictures of our lives would have no borders, no frame. Our time in-between the never-having-been and the no-longer-being is a precious gift, a miracle that fills one with wonder. It’s too short to waste on vain and perishing curiosities, on here-today-and-gone-tomorrow triflings, on the energetic and self-important posturings of deans and politicians and celebrities, or on technology with its endless supply of distractions that require constant renewal.

FPR has thus been evangelistic but also prophetic in the sense of sounding the warning. Something that can’t go on forever, won’t. The contemporary American experiment in foreswearing all limits as well as the accumulated millennia of trial-and-error and hard-won wisdom will surely end badly—which is to say it will surely end. But there’s a great deal to be said for delaying the end as long as possible and for softening the blow when it does come. No one wants to tell their grandchildren that they were shot in the ass while the battle raged. Our impetus to write simply repeats the words of Richard Hooker during an equally unsettled period in English history: “Though for no other cause, yet for this—that posterity may know we have not loosely through silence, permitted things to pass away as in a dream.”

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Jeffrey Polet grew up in an immigrant household in the immigrant town of Holland MI. After twenty years of academic wandering he returned to Holland and now teaches political science at Hope College, where he also grudgingly serves as chair of the department, having unsuccessfully evaded all requests. In the interim, he continues to nurture quirky beliefs: Division III basketball is both athletically and morally superior to Division I; the Hope/Calvin rivalry is the greatest in sports; the lecture is still the best form of classroom instruction; never buy a car with less than 100,000 miles on it; putts will still lip out in heaven; bears are the incarnation of evil; Athens actually has something to do with Jerusalem; and Tombstone is a cinematic classic. His academic work has mirrored his peripatetic career. Originally trained at the Catholic University of America in German philosophy and hermeneutical theory, he has since gravitated to American Political Thought. He still occasionally writes about European thinkers such as Michel Foucault or the great Max Weber, but mostly is interested in the relationship between theological reflection and political formation in the American context. In the process of working on a book on John Marshall for The Johns Hopkins University Press, he became more sensitive to the ways in which centralized decision-making undid local communities and autonomy. He has also written on figures such as William James and the unjustly neglected Swedish novelist Paer Lagerkvist. A knee injury and arthritis eliminated daily basketball playing, and he now spends his excess energy annoying his saintly wife and their three children, two of whom are off to college. Expressions of sympathy for the one who remains can be posted in the comments section. He doesn’t care too much for movies, but thinks opera is indeed the Gesamtkuntswerk, that the music of Gustav Mahler is as close as human beings get to expressing the ineffable, that God listens to Mozart in his spare time, and that Bach is history’s greatest genius.


  1. These are great essays. This one and yesterday’s by Katherin Dalton were especially enjoyable. What a great company of folks. Now if the FPR conference could just happen further west, I’d be able to meeting many of you in person.


  2. Jeff,

    This is such a lovely essay. What was striking was your encounter with the Dean. “…but you are the happiest person I know.” Perhaps it is necessary for us not to pass too quickly over this story. Those realities embodied at FPR that you defend and love are the causes of the joy you possess.

    This seems obvious in some respect, but rather difficult to perceive in another. In some way, it seems right to say that we have not chosen to be happy. Such a proposition seems unsettling to even say. And yet, I would say that FPR has succeeded in reminding its readers and listeners that our happiness can only be discovered in loving those things that are good and fulfilling of the kinds of creatures we are.

    Thank you again for this great essay! Always a wonderful reminder about what makes FPR worth coming back to each week.


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