My aunt, one of my father’s two sisters, died in 2020, at the age of eighty-five. She never married, because when she was young, she convinced herself that what mattered was having a career—in her case, as a virologist. She attended all the best schools: Miss Porter’s; Bryn Mawr; and Harvard Medical School, graduating in 1959. She was pretty, quirky, engaging, but most of all, she thought she was always the smartest person in the room. She believed, she knew, that by placing career over family, she would earn a Nobel Prize. She did not get a Nobel Prize.
It’s time for a palate cleanser, a turn away from politics and from endless talk of the evil man does to man. Today our focus is a lovely and inspiring book of Eastern Orthodox meditations on prayer, revolving largely around the natural world as a manifestation of God’s will and love. I have been saying at my own Orthodox church for the past few years, to some skepticism from the cradle Orthodox, “Orthodoxy is the coming thing!” And maybe I am right. After all, as the subtitle of The Sunlilies says, Orthodoxy offers a radical counterculture, and given that sweeping change is what our society needs, and will get one way or the other, Orthodoxy may well be a major part of building our future.
I suspect not one in a thousand Americans could locate Galicia, a historically-important area spanning what is now southeastern Poland and western Ukraine, on a map. To be fair, Galicia is today not on most maps, since it’s not a country, and never has been. It is, or was, a land of many ethnic groups, ruled by the Austrians from the 1700s until 1918, and before that by the Poles. In the middle of Galicia lies Przemyśl, now a Polish town near the Ukrainian border. During the early days of World War I, Przemyśl was repeatedly the scene of ferocious battles, which are the topic of Alexander Watson’s The Fortress. The history offered here is vivid and compelling, and it also usefully illuminates today’s Russo-Ukraine War.
Christopher Rufo has earned a stellar reputation as both analyst of, and strategist against, the poison of “critical theory.” In America’s Cultural Revolution, with verve, precision, and clarity, he explains what critical theory is, where it came from, and how, over the past fifty years, it was used by the Left to conquer America. His real target, however, is much older, because critical theory is merely the latest iteration of Left ideology, inevitably corrosive and parasitical, conceived in the Enlightenment and birthed in 1789. And, no surprise, the fruit of the Left’s latest conquest has been the same as always—the extreme degradation of a decent, productive society. Rufo’s explicit purpose is to inspire a counter-revolution. This is a tall order. After all, despite successes Rufo and his allies have had in several quarters, the Left today utterly dominates all areas of American life, not only all levels of government, directly or indirectly, but also private enterprise, education, media, culture, the military, and religious institutions. That this has led America to a dead end is irrelevant …
The Glass Bees, a novel by the crucial Ernst Jünger, is not directly a political work. The focus here is the relation of man to technology, especially the resulting alienation of man, not from the fruits of his labor, but from his grounding in the real. At first, this seems very different from the focus in Jünger’s “tyranny trilogy” of The Forest Passage, Eumeswil, and The Marble Cliffs (or tetralogy, if you include Heliopolis, still not translated into English). Jünger’s constant focus, however, in all these works, although with different emphases, is how a man should govern himself, regardless of the forces that push and pull him. And in these desiccated and atomized days, such a call to individual action is more needed than ever.
Vladimir Lenin taught that “he who says A must say B.” He was correct, but Patrick Deneen has not listened. Deneen says A, that our Regime, our ruling class, is destructive and evil. But he then refuses to say B, that the Regime is therefore wholly odious and illegitimate, and before any new system is possible, it must be destroyed. Instead, Deneen’s response to A is magical thinking. When the people peacefully complain enough, you see, the Regime will dismantle itself voluntarily and hand over power to a new ruling class, which will hold and implement opposite views on every matter under the sun. This absurd fantasy, even when cushioned within much fancy philosophy, harms rather than advances the postliberal project.
It is frequently said, and it is entirely true, that the Regime which rules us is illegitimate. But what does that precisely mean? No surprise, Carl Schmitt lights the way to an answer, in one of his lesser-known works, Legality and Legitimacy. This book should be more talked about—it was published in Berlin in 1932, when and where everyone knew that matters could not continue as they were, and that dramatic change was sure to come. As with the Germans of 1932, so with the Americans of 2023. Thus, studying and reflecting on this work is worth the effort.
“I would have lived in peace, but my enemies brought me war.” This is the attention-grabbing opening line of Red Rising, the first book in a popular young-adult science fiction trilogy, published between 2014 and 2016. The author, Pierce Brown, aims to draw Space Rome in roughly A.D. 3000. Within these books (the other two are Golden Son and Morning Star, and I read all three) are themes that could be fascinating, of hierarchy and oppression, of love and war, of duty and honor, of the price a man will pay to make his dreams real, of how our future should be organized. But, sadly, it’s all downhill after the first line, straight into the pit.
As our ruling class drives the West into the ditch, from which a reborn society will probably emerge, but they and their rule will certainly not, it is natural for us to focus on elite theory—that is, who rules? This is an ancient question, although how the question is analyzed has changed with the rise of modern industrial societies. Unsurprisingly, much ink, from James Burnham to Neema Parvini, has been spilled on this important topic. Martin Gurri’s The Revolt of the Public continues the analysis, but he asks not who rules, rather how they maintain their rule, and if those mechanisms will continue.
Reality, like God, will not be mocked. This is the core message of Mary Harrington’s excellent new work, Feminism Against Progress. In challenging and compelling fashion, Harrington shows how so-called feminism destroys women, body and soul. Unhinged worship of unfettered autonomy, the core demand of an insane ideology falsely sold as progress, powers this destruction. True enough, but Harrington’s aim is not mere complaint. Rather it is to tell us that both women and men can truly flourish, even in this age of liquid modernity, by building a new system — one informed by the wisdom, not of the 1950s, but of the pre-industrial age.