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Commonplaces

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

Issue: March/April 2020



[The Creator] gave to the world the figure which was suitable and also natural. Now to the animal which was to comprehend all animals, that figure would be suitable which comprehended within itself all other figures. Wherefore he made the world in the form of a globe, round as from a lathe, having its extremes in every direction equidistant from the center. . . .

Plato
Timaeus, 33d (ca. 350 b.c.)


Nature Commonplaces #13 March/April 2020


A theological statement—especially when made by a churchman to a mass audience—should be clearly orthodox on a natural reading, not merely arguably orthodox on some creative reading.

Edward Feser
LifeSite News (May 8, 2019)


Christianity Commonplaces #14 March/April 2020


Because the outlook of progressives was based on the idea of a liberated future, there was no way to disagree with them without appearing to oppose what was decent and humane. To criticize the radical project placed one in opposition to a world in which social justice and harmony would prevail. . . . Surveying the recent past, I pointed out that socialists had contrived to demonstrate by bloody example what everyone else already knew: Equality and freedom are inherently in conflict. This was really all that socialist efforts had shown, over the dead bodies of millions of people.

In talent, intelligence, and physical attributes, individuals were by nature different and unequal; consequently, the attempt to make them equal could only be achieved by restricting—ultimately eliminating—their individual freedom. For the same reason, economic redistribution could be carried out only by force.

David Horowitz
Radical Son, Part 7, "Coming Home" (1997)


Society Commonplaces #15 March/April 2020


It is the common experience of all, that humanity moves between these two poles of simplicity and complexity. People who have the sort of mind that sees only one side of every question tend toward vigorous action. They succeed in everything they do because they do not stop to split hairs and have abounding confidence in their own abilities. Your successful journalist, for instance, is inclined to simplify every problem and condense it into an arresting phrase. On the other hand, those with subtle and cultivated minds tend to get lost in a maze of fine distinctions. They always see how complicated things really are, so their powers of persuasion are nil. That is why the world is led by those who are least suited to raising its cultural and moral standards. It is only very few who manage to combine both tendencies, and in my view a lively Christian faith is the best precondition for the accomplishment of this miracle, because it gives both profound understanding and simplicity of heart.

Paul Tournier
The Person Reborn (1966)


Christianity Commonplaces #16 March/April 2020


The child learns by believing the adult. Doubt comes after belief.

Ludwig Wittgenstein
On Certainty, ¶160 (c. 1950)


Education Commonplaces #17 March/April 2020


Envy has been said to be pure evil because it wishes to deprive others even though we gain nothing for ourselves. That is not quite the case. The political action [Christopher] Lasch called for results in redistribution. It may be that academic intellectuals would gain only the satisfaction of seeing the better-off lessened, but there are many classes of people who will receive income that is transferred to them from the wealthy through government. For such folks, the emotion of envy is reinforced by cupidity. . . . Helmut Schoeck states:

Since the end of the Second World War, however, a new "ethic" has, astonishingly, come into being, according to which the envious man is altogether acceptable. Progressively fewer individuals and groups are ashamed of their envy, but instead make out that its existence in their temperaments axiomatically proves the existence of "social injustice," which must be eliminated for their benefit. Suddenly it has become possible to say, without loss of public credibility and trust, "I envy you. Give me what you've got." This public self-justification of envy is something entirely new. In this sense it is possible to speak of the age of envy. [Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior, 1979, p. 179]

. . . The desire for equality of incomes or wealth is, of course, but one aspect of a more general desire for equality in such matters as social and cultural status. "The essence of the moral idea of socialism," historian Martin Malia wrote [in The National Interest, Spring 1993], "is that human equality is the supreme value in life." Socialism is thus merely the manifestation in the field of economic organization of a more general yearning that operates across the entire culture.

Robert H. Bork
Slouching Towards Gomorrah (1996, pp. 69f)


Society Commonplaces #18 March/April 2020

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