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

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