touchstone archives

Commonplaces

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

Issue: July/August 2020



Now, while the problem glared out at the world in those symptoms [of evil], and while the symptoms were and remain terrible, none of that alters the hard fact that if you throw all of your energies into a struggle to better the symptoms, to change nothing more basic or more causal than those symptoms, the general deterioration will continue. In fact, more and still more symptoms will arise to harass you and the people for whom you intended to be an apostle.

Moreover, while you continue to expend all your energies on material symptoms, even with the purest intentions in the world, you will probably cease to be an apostle at all; almost necessarily, you will become what you are doing. If the material symptom that inflamed you with a desire to help is social degradation, you will become a sociologist. If poor housing becomes your mission field, you will become a building contractor or a lawyer. Political oppression will make a guerrilla or a politician of you. But none of it will make you an apostle; or a Jesuit; or a Catholic; or a Christian.

Malachi Martin
"On Fire to Build Man's World" in The Jesuits (1987)


Society Commonplaces #1 July/August 2020


Yes, the Time article was ghastly: but I suppose no one of sense believes such things. I wouldn't hang a dog on a journalist's evidence myself.

C. S. Lewis
Letter to Margaret Fuller (April 8, 1948)


Media Commonplaces #2 July/August 2020


Inquisition as such, that is, apart from methods and severity of results, has remained a live institution. The many dictatorships of the twentieth century have relied on it, and in free countries it thrives ad hoc—hunting down German sympathizers during the First World War, interning Japanese-Americans during the Second, and pursuing Communist fellow-travelers during the Cold War. In the United States at the present time the workings of "political correctness" in universities and the speech police that punishes persons and corporations for words on certain topics quaintly called "sensitive" are manifestations of the permanent spirit of inquisition.

Jacques Barzun
From Dawn to Decadence (2000)


Society Commonplaces #3 July/August 2020


That was one of the great things about the law; they couldn't help but make it too complicated, so that in the nooks and crannies an actual person might live.

Donald E. Westlake
Put a Lid on It (2002)


Law Commonplaces #4 July/August 2020


All too often, relativists relativize others but not themselves. They relativize the past but not the present. They pour the acid of their relativism over all sorts of issues but jealously guard their own favorite ones. A recent study of classical education in the universities [Victor Davis Hanson in Who Killed Homer?, 1998] points to this attribute when it defines the present-day American academic as "a well-fed, elite, institutionalized thinker of the late twentieth century, who crafts ideas for his peers, with the assurance that the consequences of those solutions should not and will not necessarily apply to himself."

Os Guinness
Time for Truth (2000)


Education Commonplaces #5 July/August 2020


If you know what you are saying and believe it to be true, make it clear—and not just to dons, but to everyone. . . . Descent into jargon to give the impression that obscurity is profundity is a temptation indulged not only by ecclesiastics, for it luxuriates in the ivied halls of academia and the labyrinthine corridors of government. But it parades with colorful panache in the Church, and it can bewitch even in English translation. If you make a list of jargonish adjectives and another of jargonish nouns, you are on your way to writing your own neoplastic academic speech, papal audience address, Apostolic Exhortation, or even your own Encyclical. . . .

By switching back and forth, or by occult inspiration, you can construct prophetic sounding platitudes such as: "integrally ecological field hospitals," "planetary coprophagists," "dialectical nominalists," "epochal soap bubbles," "nuanced rigidities," "ontological peripheries," "clericalist paradigms," and "pickle pepper-faced ecological debts." Then you can start crisscrossing: "issue-oriented coprophagists," "paradigmatic consequentialists," "sloth-diseased nominalists," and so forth. You can even describe "planetary field hospitals," "osteoporotic nominalists," "epochal peripheries," and "schizophrenic clericalists." It's fun, and might have been the sort of pastime the late imperial senators in moth-eaten togas engaged in while the Ostrogoths menaced the crumbling Roman walls in the sixth century.

Fr. George W. Rutler
Crisis Magazine, (September 23, 2019)


Education Commonplaces #6 July/August 2020

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