Food City, by the late Joy Santlofer, shows us the amazing history of manufacturing, in this case food manufacturing, in New York City. Nowadays we don’t associate New York with manufacturing, but as recently as 1950, it was one of the largest manufacturing centers in the country. Reading about this lost past is a fascinating exercise, even if there is much less manufacturing in the city today.
This is not the sort of book I normally read. It is spiritual fluff from a Singaporean megachurch “grace preacher,” Joseph Prince. But a friend of mine sent me a copy and suggested I read it, since he obtained a lot of spiritual benefit from it. I warned him that I would likely abuse the book and the preacher. I am here to execute on my warning.
The Benedict Option is, as I expected, an outstanding book. Rod Dreher has definitively shown that he is the Pope Urban of a new and dynamic movement, and this book has occasioned much commentary in the mainstream press. Unfortunately, the main point of Dreher’s book—to make a countercultural call for individual and group Christian renewal focused on communities of believers—has been somewhat lost in a secondary point, the real and growing persecution of Christian believers in mainstream society. This was inevitable, I suppose, because persecution is more interesting to outsiders than a call to holiness, but unfortunate, because it caricatures Dreher and tends to erode receptivity to his message.
Many years ago, I belonged to a debating society, which, among other activities, sponsored formal dinners at which there was much drinking and then singing, from an official songbook of thoroughly not-politically correct songs. Among them was one, sung to the tune of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, titled God Rot Ye Libertarians. It went, “God rot ye libertarians, you fill us with dismay / Your atheistic tendencies, your anarchistic ways / Your flaunted immorality leads innocents astray / But you’ll get yours on Judgment Day, Judgment Day / Yes, you’ll get yours on Judgment Day!” I don’t know whether Albert Jay Nock will get his on Judgment Day, but the song could certainly have been written for him, and a wise man would not put a lot of money on Nock being grouped with the sheep.
This book failed in the two goals I set for it, either of which I would have accepted. It did not teach me anything new about drugs, and it did not teach me anything new about Nazis. Sad!
We tend to think of Christianity’s global spread as somehow predestined. A little thought, of course, shows this to be far from the truth. In fact, many cultures have strongly resisted the message of the Gospel—most dramatically with violence and the creation of martyrs, but sometimes more successfully with intellectual arguments against the truth of Christianity. For example, Martin Scorsese’s recent film adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s Silence shows the torture and martyrdom of Christians—but it also shows vigorous and successful Japanese efforts to combat Christianity intellectually. In the Preface to this 2003 second edition of The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, the author, Robert Louis Wilken, ruefully relates that the Japanese translator of the first (1984) edition ascribed the book’s success in Japan to that it “has given Japanese intellectuals new arguments against Christianity.” This book, therefore, proves three things—that there are internally coherent intellectual arguments against Christianity, that those have been made for thousands of years, and that Christians equally have thousands of years of sound intellectual answers to those arguments.
Reading this book is like wearing sackcloth and heaping ashes on your head. It certainly brings home to you that things have gone wrong, but unless the act of penance itself calls forth redemption, which sadly today it does not, without further action it only makes you feel bad and gets you dirty.
This book, a book of essays, is effectively a companion to Ryszard Legutko’s The Demon In Democracy. The core theme of both books is that “liberal democracy” is inherently defective; the books explore why and what that implies. Whereas Legutko’s project is to compare liberal democracy to Communism, to explain their similarities and what that has meant for post-Communist Europe, Patrick Deneen’s is to explain how the American founding itself implies liberal democracy, and therefore, in a culture that needs renewal from the evils created by liberal democracy, conservatives are wrong to call for a return to the Founding—for, like the serpent in the Garden, the evil has been there since the beginning.
[This colloquy sprang from a Facebook discussion (largely, but not always, an oxymoron) about “fake news,” which I alleged may exist, but not in the sense used by the Left, and that in the sense used by the Left, it was merely a proxy for suppression of conservative speech. As always, italics are my interlocutor.]
For the past few years, I’ve started thinking of basic economics through the prism of a thought experiment. This involves starting all analysis by considering twenty people sitting around on the savanna, each with literally nothing except his or her ability to work. This frame is highly instructive, because it allows the thinker to easily understand certain economics concepts, including, most importantly, that producing what others want is the only way to advance beyond subsistence. As Henry Hazlitt said, “The poor are poor not because something is withheld from them but because, for whatever reason, they are not producing enough.” This is as true for an entire modern society as it is for twenty people in the state of nature.