touchstone archives


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

Topic: Culture

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

Culture Commonplaces #12 May/June 2020

After five centuries, things settled down, and today there is a new moral-political orthodoxy we can call individualism. Though it lacks theological trappings, it actually owes a great deal to Jesus, who was a libertarian avant la lettre prophesying the final triumph of the individual soul and its inner experience over the domination of traditional communal bonds and illegitimate religious authority. The new orthodoxy brought a perfectly coherent worldview that makes sense of the human condition (we are bodies that are born and die alone), of what lies beyond (nothing), and of what we need to be happy (carpe diem). And it also, not insignificantly, keeps the peace, since war is bad for business. The new catechism has not reached everyone, and resistance in certain regions is strong and sometimes armed. But if these retrogrades do not convert, their children or grandchildren eventually will. And the world will be as one. . . . It's a compelling story—and an old one, pieced together with fragments from Julian the Apostate, Eusebius, Otto of Freising, Bacon, Condorcet, Hegel, Feuerbach, and today's Silicon Valley futurists. Of course, it is nothing but a myth—not a lie, just an imaginative assemblage of past events and ideas and present hopes and fears.

Mark Lilla
The Shipwrecked Mind (2016)

Culture Commonplaces #38 Sept/Oct 2019

• [I]f evil men were not now and then slain, it would not be a good world for weaponless dreamers.

• Many wear the Robe, but few keep the Way.

• The husbands of the talkative have a great reward hereafter.

Rudyard Kipling
Kim (1901)

Culture Commonplaces #50 May/June 2019

To a small boy, his father is more than his father—he's his vision of the future, his portrait of adult manhood. If that vision is discredited, then growing up itself is discredited.

J. Budziszewski
Ask Me Anything (2004)

Culture Commonplaces #51 May/June 2019

The Glossop method is based on the patient being given an excess of whatever it is he most desires—as it may be alcohol or the companionship of the opposite sex or, as in Lord Bittlesham's case, food. The patient will eventually revolt at the sheer immoderation of it and voluntarily deny himself. . . . It's theoretically impeccable, Bertie, and extremely popular.

P. G. Wodehouse
Jeeves and Wooster, television screenplay (1990-1993)

Culture Commonplaces #54 May/June 2019

The fundamental revolutionary faith . . . the fundamental pagan assumption is that order arises from chaos, and if we want to get a new order, we have to burn it down . . . we burn the whole thing down, we bring in revolution, we level the place, and out of that chaotic set of conditions, order will spontaneously arise.

Douglas Wilson
Plodcast 148: "Sex and the Unreal City" (July 1, 2020)

Culture Commonplaces #66 Nov/Dec 2020

The World is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.

T. S. Eliot
Thoughts after Lambeth (1931)

Culture Commonplaces #67 Jan/Feb 2021

They say the Sultan has eight hundred wives. This almost amounts to bigamy.

Mark Twain
writing from Turkey, published in The Innocents Abroad, ch. 34 (1869)

Culture Commonplaces #72 Jan/Feb 2021

Callum Brown's remarkable book Becoming Atheist is an oral history of modern unbelief, based on interviews with eighty-five adult atheists across Europe and North America. It is impossible to read his account and deny that religiosity in the Western world has undergone an epochal shift during his interviewees' lifetimes.

Brown's people and their stories are enormously varied, but he observes that they share a remarkably consistent ethical code. That code has two key elements. First is the so-called "golden rule" of treating others as you would like to be treated. . . . The other is a linked set of principles about human equality and bodily and sexual autonomy. Brown calls this ethical framework "humanism". . . .

So where does this diffuse, ubiquitous ethic come from? If Brown's humanists did not even consciously adopt their ethics, how did they reach such a consistently shared position? Brown—a proud humanist himself—suggests that it may arise from "within human experience," indeed that "reason alone may construct humanism". . . . It is an appealing idea, but it is demonstrably false. Modern humanism is, perhaps unfortunately, in no sense an expression of universal human values. Its ethical markers—gender and racial equality, sexual freedom, a strong doctrine of individual human rights, a sharp distinction between the human and non-human realms—are, in a long historical perspective, very unusual indeed. Nor do they stand on a very firm logical base, as anyone who has ever tried philosophically to prove the existence of human rights knows. The fact that those values appear intuitively obvious to Brown, and indeed to me, is not an answer. It is the problem.

Alec Ryrie
Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt (2019)

Culture Commonplaces #74 March/April 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

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 have known a vast quantity of nonsense talked about bad men not looking you in the face. Don't trust that conventional idea. Dishonesty will stare honesty out of countenance, any day in the week, if there is anything to be got by it.

Charles Dickens
"Hunted Down" (short story), 1860

Culture Commonplaces #100 Sept/Oct 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

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

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

Modern egalitarians, by failing to understand that there can be no equality except in the abstract and that inequality is the essence of the concrete, have merely displayed the extraordinary vulgarity of their minds as well as their amazing political clumsiness.

Julien Benda
The Treason of the Intellectuals (La Trahison des Clercs), ch. 3 (1927)

Culture Commonplaces #116 Jan/Feb 2022

If it is not offensive, it is probably not worth believing.

Pr. Larry Peters
Pastoral Meanderings (October 30, 2021)

Culture Commonplaces #119 Jan/Feb 2022

His name was on too many dotted lines. The too little he earned by too much work already belonged to other people before he even earned it.

Wendell Berry
Jayber Crow (2001)

culture Commonplaces #143 Sept/Oct 2022

What a talker he was, what a persuader!

All appearances took on whatever coloring he imposed on them. The great persuaders are those without principles; sincerity stammers.

Men of faith and men of genius have this in common: they know (observe and remember) many things they are not conscious of knowing. They are attentive to relationships, recurrences, patterns and “laws.” . . . Minds that are impatient for clarity—or even reasonableness—become gradually narrower and dryer.

Thornton Wilder
The Eighth Day (1967)

culture Commonplaces #145 Sept/Oct 2022

History has no sides. That this has been easily missed by modern conservatives arises, I suspect, from the dearth of conservative historical consciousness. The bulk of modern conservative intellectual energy has been devoted to politics, economic policy, and political philosophy; there has been no corresponding conservative historical theory, much less a natural law theory of history. But there should, and must, be one. We will need it, too, because all the major movements of the last century into tyranny and intellectual vacuity have been built on theories, not of economics or politics, but of history.

Allen Guelzo
in a review of Joel Richard Paul’s Indivisible: Daniel Webster and the Birth of American Nationalism, in the Claremont Review of Books (2022)

Culture Commonplaces #176 July/August 2023

The western erotic revolution has deconstructed reality, nature, culture, civilization, tradition, authority, the rule of law, the image of the father, morality, religion, truth, good and evil, rationality, consciousness, objective knowledge, individual personality, personal happiness, eternal life, immorality, love of neighbor, friendship, affection. It has replaced reality with sensual gratification, spiritual progress with regression, reason capable of discernment with the reasoning of denial, normal sexuality with perversions, spiritual love with narcissistic love, moral conscience with the unconscious, imagination and sensuality. . . . The cultural fruits of deconstruction have been transformed into global norms during the global consensus-building process of the first half of the 1990s.

Marguerite Peeters
The Globalization of the Western Cultural Revolution (2012), cited by Rod Dreher in The American Conservative (January 26, 2023)

Culture Commonplaces #173 July/August 2023

The value of any particular belief or effort cannot necessarily be judged by the amount of courage it takes to defend it.

Christopher I. Thoma

Culture Commonplaces #178 Sept/Oct 2023

Is it possible to believe that when we now wear polo shirts, khakis, and hyper-designed athletic shoes to weddings, funerals, and graduations, it’s a sign that we have forgotten how to enjoy the events by which we measure life?

G. Bruce Boyer
former fashion editor, Town & Country magazine

Culture Commonplaces #206 May/June 2024

Yet to establish the fact of decadence is the most pressing duty of our time because until we have demonstrated that. . . modern man has about squandered his estate, we cannot combat those who have fallen prey to hysterical optimism. . . .

We approach a condition in which we shall be amoral without the capacity to perceive it and degraded without the means to measure our descent . . . we have the feeling of watching actors who do not comprehend their roles.

Hysterical optimism will prevail until the world again admits the existence of tragedy, until it again distinguishes between good and evil. . . .

We must consider that we are in effect asking for a confession of guilt and an acceptance of sterner obligations.

Richard Weaver
from the introduction to Ideas Have Consequences (1948)

Culture Commonplaces #208 May/June 2024

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