touchstone archives

Commonplaces

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

Issue: July/August 2021



I know what is said by the several admirers of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. . . . [But] there is hardly one frame of government in the world so ill designed by its first founders that in good hands would not do well enough, and story tells us the best in ill ones can do nothing that is great or good. . . . Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them, and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too. . . . Let men be good, and the government cannot be bad; if it be ill, they will cure it. But if men be bad, let the government be never so good, they will endeavour to warp and spoil to their turn.

[A] loose and depraved people . . . love laws and an administration like themselves. That, therefore, which makes a good constitution, must keep it; viz., men of wisdom and virtue, qualities that because they descend not with worldly inheritances, must be carefully propagated by a virtuous education of youth. . . .

[W]e have (with reverence to God and good conscience to men) to the best of our skill, contrived and composed the Frame and Laws of this government [of Pennsylvania] to the great end of all government, viz., to support power in reverence with the people and to secure the people from the abuse of power, that they may be free by their just obedience, and the magistrates honourable for their just administration; for liberty without obedience is confusion, and obedience without liberty is slavery.

William Penn
Preface to the Frame of Government (1682)


Politics Commonplaces #90 July/August 2021


Anyone who is, represents, or possesses anything ought to say quite clearly to himself that the Princes who are now being stalked like game are merely the forerunners of the lot. Peter the Great's system of compulsory westernization, imposed upon the nation for almost two centuries, is now taking its revenge. The Russian national character would have been much better off and much healthier under a tolerable barbarism. . . .

Jacob Burckhardt
on the assassination attempt on Czar Alexander II in December of 1879, in a letter to von Preen (January 2, 1880)


Culture Commonplaces #89 July/August 2021


Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?

Augustine of Hippo
The City of God


Politics Commonplaces #91 July/August 2021


By means of false promises a people is deceived and provoked to hatred, rivalry and rebellion, especially when the hereditary faith, the only relief in this earthly exile, is successfully torn from its heart. Disturbances, riots and revolts are organized and fomented in continuing series, which prepare for the ruin of the economy and cause irreparable harm to the common good.

Pope Pius XII
Anni Sacri (1950)


Culture Commonplaces #92 July/August 2021


I would not represent [Robert E.] Lee as a prophet, but as a man who stood close enough to the eternal verities to utter prophecy sometimes when he spoke. He was brought up in the old school, which places responsibility upon the individual, and not upon some abstract social agency. Sentimental humanitarianism manifestly does not speak the language of duty, but of indulgence. The notion that obligations are tyrannies, and that wants, not deserts, should be the measure of what one gets has by now shown its destructive power. We have tended to ignore the inexorable truth that rights must be earned. Fully interpreted, Lee's "duty" is the means whereby freedom preserves itself by acknowledging responsibility. Man, then, perfects himself by discipline, and at the heart of discipline lies self-denial. When the young mother brought an infant for Lee to bless, and was told, "teach him he must deny himself," she was receiving perhaps the deepest insight of his life.

Richard M. Weaver
"Lee the Philosopher," The Georgia Review (Fall 1948)


Education Commonplaces #93 July/August 2021


Since Jesus was, and still is, true man as well as true God, discernment of the spiritual sense [of Scripture] requires that we see how earlier [i.e., Old Testament] realities, whatever their natural intelligibilities, gain their full import and significance only from the way they are related to the One whom the Lord has anointed. They are like shadows that gain their true significance only from the object which casts them, no matter what object one might have surmised to be casting them when looking at them alone. Jesus is that solid substance whose mere shadow constitutes all the glories of God's dealings with mankind before Jesus.

Paul M. Quay, S.J.
The Mystery Hidden for Ages in God, Part II, chapter 7 (Peter Lang Publishing, 1995)


Christianity Commonplaces #94 July/August 2021


The authentic human being is one of us who instinctively knows what he should not do, and, in addition, he will balk at doing it. He will refuse to do it, even if this brings down dread consequences to him and to those whom he loves. This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people; they say no to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance. Their deeds may be small, and almost always unnoticed, unmarked by history. Their names are not remembered, nor did these authentic humans expect their names to be remembered. I see their authenticity in an odd way: not in their willingness to perform great heroic deeds, but in their quiet refusals. In essence, they cannot be compelled to be what they are not.

Philip K. Dick
1978 lecture


Society Commonplaces #95 July/August 2021

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