touchstone archives


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

Issue: Nov/Dec 2021

Liberals and humanists are always saying that art is the soul of truth. But they are quite often ignoring the truth when they say so.

Clive James
Cultural Amnesia (2007)

Culture Commonplaces #104 Nov/Dec 2021

The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. It may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but it will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man's home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

Fr. Joseph Ratzinger
German radio broadcast, Christmas Day, 1969

Politics Commonplaces #105 Nov/Dec 2021

In my introductory poetry workshop, I find I need to discourage half the class from writing about puppies, rainbows, and Grandmother's praying hands, but another kind of sentimentality also threatens. It turns away from Hallmark naivete, yes, but then cultivates the gritty irony of the urban dweller. These students, raised on The Hunger Games and postmodern hip, fill their poems with broken glass and the smell of urine in alleyways. Surprisingly, there is really very little difference between the two tones; both are shortcuts and generalizations. Neither version, one a stock sentimentality and the other its snit-sentimental mirror image, is truly incarnational; both are comprised of commonplace images only seemingly aimed at the actual world. Given the choice, I suppose I would rather read a student's version of Baudelaire rather than one of Swinburne, but both are failures of art, failures at creation. The writer, especially the Christian, is today as obligated to avoid the sentimental anti-sentimentality of the edgy as he is to avoid puppies and Pollyanna.

Benjamin Myers
The Sentimentality Trap," First Things (November 2016)

Culture Commonplaces #106 Nov/Dec 2021

[T]he art of prostration was growing there in exact ratio to the increasing efficiency of first Lenin's, then Stalin's political police, and the successful Soviet writer was the one whose fine ear caught the soft whisper of an official suggestion long before it had become a blare.

Vladimir Nabokov
Speak, Memory (1966)

Society Commonplaces #107 Nov/Dec 2021

The magic of social media—because it's a place where stupid people can be stupid and unashamed.

Kurt Schlichter
in an interview with Sebastian Gorka, July 30, 2021

Culture Commonplaces #108 Nov/Dec 2021

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one's prejudgment simply need not be believed—in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical— and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Letters and Papers from Prison (c. 1944)

Education Commonplaces #109 Nov/Dec 2021

Utopian endeavors inevitably produce totalitarian results. Trying to build a perfect society out of imperfect people is more daunting than the Labors of Hercules. Usually sooner rather than later, those in charge start reforming people by killing them. So the simple formula is:
utopia + time (a variable)  = dystopia.

Nelson L. Dawson
Democracy Betrayed (Algora Publishing, 2020)

Society Commonplaces #110 Nov/Dec 2021

The public holds to a touching belief in the absolute unanimity of science. Encouraged in dogmatic habits by the words of popularizers, it accepts what "science says" or truths that "we now know . . ." as if some agency existed for creating agreement among the workers of a particular age or ascertaining their consensus. . . . [T]he conviction that knowledge comes out of the observation of matter tended to dwarf the role of intelligence and idea.

Jacques Barzun
Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage (2nd ed., 1958), p. 122

Education Commonplaces #111 Nov/Dec 2021

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