touchstone archives

Commonplaces

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

Issue: May/June 2020



There is a twofold liberty, natural (I mean as our nature is now corrupt) and civil or federal. The first is common to man with beasts and other creatures. By this, man, as he stands in relation to man simply, hath liberty to do what he lists; it is a liberty to evil as well as to good. This liberty is incompatible and inconsistent with authority and cannot endure the least restraint of the most just authority. The exercise and maintaining of this liberty makes men grow more evil and in time to be worse than brute beasts: omnes sumus licentia deteriores. This is that great enemy of truth and peace, that wild beast, which all of the ordinances of God are bent against, to restrain and subdue it.

The other kind of liberty I call civil or federal; it may also be termed moral, in reference to the covenant between God and man, in the moral law, and the politic covenants and constitutions amongst men themselves. This liberty is the proper end and object of authority and cannot subsist without it; and it is a liberty to that only which is good, just, and honest. This liberty you are to stand for, with the hazard (not only of your goods, but) of your lives, if need be. Whatsoever crosseth this is not authority but a distemper thereof. This liberty is maintained and exercised in a way of subjection to authority; it is of the same kind of liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.

John Winthrop
On Liberty (1645)


Society Commonplaces #7 May/June 2020


The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment; or as the Nazi liked to say, "of Blood and Soil." I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.

Victor Frankl
The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy (1955)


Education Commonplaces #8 May/June 2020


Men often willfully isolate and emphasize one side of a double truth, because for various reasons they are determined to see one side only; and by so doing they miss the meaning, and fail to realize the full consequences, of the truth with which they are concerned. In these days we do not like to talk about orthodoxy and heresy; or if we do, we are apt to assume that orthodoxy is only another name for the bigotry of ignorance, and that heresy is synonymous with fearless devotion to truth. We ought, however, to look at the right meaning of the words, and behind the words to the things they represent, and to recognize that the things they represent have vital and eternal issues. . . . The heretical temper may show itself in defense of the articles of the Creed; and the spirit of orthodoxy may co-exist with ignorance. All depends on line of development, and not on degree of progress. . . .

The history of the church affords many examples of heretical tendencies in ultra-orthodox circles. Most famous heretics were not assailants of Christian truth as a whole, men who had assumed an utterly un-Christian standpoint, but zealous Christians whose orthodoxy was narrow and one-sided, who out of devotion to one truth, or to one side of truth, resolutely refused to look at any other. . . . The attitude of mind which invariably leads to error and inefficiency pounces on a pet principle, isolates and exaggerates it, and is hysterically blind to every other.

Frederick Joseph Kinsman
Catholic and Protestant (1913)


Christianity Commonplaces #9 May/June 2020


The education of women must be important, as the formation of character for the first seven or eight years of life seems to depend almost entirely upon them. It is certainly in the power of a sensible and well educated mother to inspire, within that period, such tastes and propensities as shall nearly decide the destiny of the future man; and this is done, not only by the intentional exertions of the mother, but by the gradual and insensible imitation of the child; for there is something extremely contagious in greatness and rectitude of thinking, even at that age; and the character of the mother with whom he passes his early infancy is always an event of the utmost importance to the child.

Sydney Smith
from "Female Education" in The Selected Writings of Sydney Smith (ed. W. H. Auden, 1956)


Family Commonplaces #10 May/June 2020


As neurologist-psychologist Erwin Straus once wrote, the truth that "only with eyes can we see" does not mean that we see with the eyes. On the contrary, it is the person, that unified living being, who sees. "Seeing is," as Straus put it, "located neither in the eye nor in the retina, nor in the optic nerve . . . the brain does not see." It is the person who sees. For certain limited purposes, we may think of or reduce the embodied person to a collection of parts, thinking of the person (from below, as it were) simply as the sum total of those parts. But we do not know either ourselves or others that way.

Gilbert Meilaender
"The Giving and Taking of Organs," First Things (March 2008)


Society Commonplaces #11 May/June 2020


I am very glad that our fashionable fiction seems to be full of a return to paganism, for it may possibly be the first step of a return to Christianity. Neo-pagans have sometimes forgotten, when they set out to do everything the old pagans did, that the final thing the old pagans did was to get christened.

G. K. Chesterton
(1926)


Culture Commonplaces #12 May/June 2020

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