touchstone archives


Piquant excerpts lifted from Touchstone editors' own reading & listening.

Issue: Sept/Oct 2019

Civilization is a spiritual labor, an openness to revelation, a venture of faith subsisting to a great degree on things no more substantial than myths and visions and prophetic dreams; thus it can be destroyed not only by invading armies or economic collapse, but also by simple disenchantment.

David B. Hart
"Future Tense IV, America & the Angels of Sacré-Cœur," from The New Criterion (December 2011)

Society Commonplaces #33 Sept/Oct 2019

Then shall Religion to America flee:
They have their times of Gospel even as we.
My God, thou dost prepare for them a way
By carrying first their gold from them away:
For gold and grace did never yet agree:
Religion always sides with poverty.

George Herbert
"The Church Militant," from The Temple (c. 1633)

Christianity Commonplaces #34 Sept/Oct 2019

Dostoevsky famously said: "If there's no God, then everything is permitted." It's a view the west might consider more often. Dostoevsky's not saying that if there's no God then no one's watching us and we can do what we like. He's really asking: what's the rationale for living this way and not otherwise? If there's no God, then there's no shape to our lives. Our behaviour needs to be in tune with something. If there's no divine tune, how do you know where to go, what to do? To believe in God is not a business of rewards, but an ability to make sense of things.

Rowan Williams
Prospect Magazine (May 2007)

Christianity Commonplaces #35 Sept/Oct 2019

The Master said, the good man does not grieve that other people do not recognize his merits. His only anxiety is lest he should fail to recognize theirs.


Society Commonplaces #36 Sept/Oct 2019

Hitler has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all "progressive" thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won't do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don't only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin's militarised version of Socialism. All three of the great dictators have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their peoples. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, has said to people, "I offer you a good time," Hitler has said to them, "I offer you struggle, danger and death," and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet.

George Orwell
from his 1940 review of Mein Kampf

Society Commonplaces #37 Sept/Oct 2019

After five centuries, things settled down, and today there is a new moral-political orthodoxy we can call individualism. Though it lacks theological trappings, it actually owes a great deal to Jesus, who was a libertarian avant la lettre prophesying the final triumph of the individual soul and its inner experience over the domination of traditional communal bonds and illegitimate religious authority. The new orthodoxy brought a perfectly coherent worldview that makes sense of the human condition (we are bodies that are born and die alone), of what lies beyond (nothing), and of what we need to be happy (carpe diem). And it also, not insignificantly, keeps the peace, since war is bad for business. The new catechism has not reached everyone, and resistance in certain regions is strong and sometimes armed. But if these retrogrades do not convert, their children or grandchildren eventually will. And the world will be as one. . . . It's a compelling story—and an old one, pieced together with fragments from Julian the Apostate, Eusebius, Otto of Freising, Bacon, Condorcet, Hegel, Feuerbach, and today's Silicon Valley futurists. Of course, it is nothing but a myth—not a lie, just an imaginative assemblage of past events and ideas and present hopes and fears.

Mark Lilla
The Shipwrecked Mind (2016)

Culture Commonplaces #38 Sept/Oct 2019

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