touchstone archives


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

Topic: Politics

"The social justice left's entire modus operandi is to implement extreme positions using the language of moderate positions."

Claire Lehmann
from a Tweet quoted by William Voegeli in "Racism Revised," Claremont Review of Books (Fall 2018 )

Politics Commonplaces #24 Jan/Feb 2020

The defendant in this case [Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker] orders you to stay home and pronounces that, if you leave the state, you are putting people in danger [of contracting Covid-19], but his family members traveled to Florida and Wisconsin because he deems such travel essential. . . .

When laws do not apply to those who make them, people are not being governed, they are being ruled. Make no mistake, these executive orders are not laws. They are royal decrees. Illinois citizens are not being governed, they are being ruled.

Clay County, Illinois Judge Michael McHaney
ruling in Mainer v. Pritzker, a suit challenging Gov. Pritzker's lockdown orders (May 22, 2020)

Politics Commonplaces #59 Sept/Oct 2020

A deadly plague . . . is creeping into the very fibres of human society and leading it on to the verge of destruction. . . . We speak of that sect of men who, under various and almost barbarous names, are called socialists, communists, or nihilists, and who, spread over all the world, and bound together by the closest ties in a wicked confederacy, no longer seek the shelter of secret meetings, but, openly and boldly marching forth in the light of day, strive to bring to a head what they have long been planning—the overthrow of all civil society whatsoever. . . .

Although the socialists, stealing the very Gospel itself with a view to deceive more easily the unwary, have been accustomed to distort it so as to suit their own purposes, nevertheless so great is the difference between their depraved teachings and the most pure doctrine of Christ that none greater could exist.

Pope Leo XIII
Quod Apostolici Muneris (1878)

Politics Commonplaces #76 March/April 2021

For even if we recognize the powerful element of emotions and sentiments in politics, we can see that political ambitions are more or less rational ones, whereas this is less true of social ambitions, at the source of which we find the gnarled roots of Vanity, luxuriating in cavernous recesses of the human spirit; and it is therefore that the penetrating eye of the novelist may furnish some guidance here to the cultural historian.

John Lukacs
Historical Consciousness (1968)

Politics Commonplaces #77 March/April 2021

The terrible, tragic fallacy of the last hundred years has been to think that all man's troubles are due to his environment, and that to change the man you have nothing to do but change his environment. That is a tragic fallacy. It overlooks the fact that it was in Paradise that man fell.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (1971)

Politics Commonplaces #78 March/April 2021

. . . When you break the big laws, you do not get liberty; you do not even get anarchy. You get the small laws. . . .

. . . If men will not be governed by the Ten Commandments, they shall be governed by the ten thousand commandments. . . .

G. K. Chesterton

Politics Commonplaces #79 March/April 2021

It was a small matter that they [different sorts of men] reacted differently to that Will—grace—which flowed towards them from the primeval depths of existence. That one man accepted it, feelingly, intently, full of longing and affection, while others let themselves be carried along, resisting, yielding light-heartedly to every temptation, but still hanging on. He recognized, with a clearness that was almost intolerable, what the Church was—an organism with morbid and healthy cells animated by the same mysterious common life, either powerful or weak; but it made all the difference between life and death whether one took one's part or dropped out. It was the same difference as it makes in an army—of good soldiers and splendid soldiers and grousers and skulkers—whether one does one's duty or is already a deserter in one's inmost secret intention. It is the same as feeling solidarity with one's nation—the leaders, the common people, those who work and those who shirk—or planning one's flight to a foreign country, under an assumed name.

Sigrid Undset
The Burning Bush, Book 3, chapter 4 (1932)

Politics Commonplaces #80 March/April 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

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

Augustine of Hippo
The City of God

Politics Commonplaces #91 July/August 2021

Where Communism has been able to assert its power . . . it has striven by every possible means, as its champions openly boast, to destroy Christian civilization and the Christian religion by banishing every remembrance of them from the hearts of men, especially of the young. . . .

Pope Pius XI
Divini Redemptoris (1937)

Politics Commonplaces #99 Sept/Oct 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

Attacks on our personhood always take the form of diminishing what we can do or have say over, sometimes up to the point of forcing us to submit to what we abhor. In the familiar human order, slaves are at the other end of the spectrum from kings. Their bodies and lives are at the disposal of another. Prisoners are, in most cases, several degrees above slaves. And, as the twentieth century has taught us, thought control is worst of all. It is the most heinous form of soul destruction, in which even our own thoughts are not really ours. It reaches most deeply into our substance.

Dallas Willard
The Divine Conspiracy (1998)

Politics Commonplaces #120 May/June 2022

Already we know almost literally nothing about the Revolution and the years before the Revolution. Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right. . . .

O'Brien smiled faintly. 'You are no metaphysician, Winston,' he said. 'Until this moment you had never considered what is meant by existence. I will put it more precisely. Does the past exist concretely, in space? Is there somewhere or other a place, a world of solid objects, where the past is still happening?'


'Then where does the past exist, if at all?'

'In records. It is written down.'

'In records. And—?'

'In the mind. In human memories.'

'In memory. Very well, then. We, the Party, control all records, and we control all memories. Then we control the past, do we not?'

George Orwell
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

Politics Commonplaces #122 May/June 2022

The further left one goes, the more one finds that the ideology provides moral cover for a life that is not moral.

Dennis Prager
on his radio show (2016)

Politics Commonplaces #136 July/August 2022

After he had read Witness, André Malraux, the author of Man's Fate, wrote me: "You are one of those who did not return from hell with empty hands." I did not answer him. How is one man to say to another: "Great healing Spirit"?

Whittaker Chambers
from "The Direct Glance," an essay published in Cold Friday, a posthumous collection of his writings (1964)

Politics Commonplaces #138 July/August 2022

In centrally planned economies, we have seen the planners overwhelmed by the task of trying to set literally millions of prices and keep changing those prices in response to innumerable and often unforeseeable changes in circumstances. It was not remarkable that they failed so often. What was remarkable was that anyone had expected them to succeed, given the vast amount of knowledge that would have had to be marshalled and mastered in one place by one set of people to make such an arrangement work. Lenin was only one of many theorists over the centuries who imagined that it would be easy for government officials to run economic activities—and the first to encounter directly the economic and social catastrophes to which that belief led, as he himself admitted.

Thomas Sowell
Basic Economics, 4th ed. (2011)

Politics Commonplaces #179 Sept/Oct 2023

The logic of lying requires no explaining from PR Departments: once you start lying, there’s no going back, and then the lies keep mounting until you are incapable of knowing the truth and can’t remember what lies you’ve told to cover up the Ur-lie whence all the other prevarications issued. You’re just flat-out busted, but since you’re a liar you won’t admit it.

Jason Peters
“Tone Deaf Experts in the Hour of Grift,” Front Porch (August 10, 2022)

Politics Commonplaces #180 Sept/Oct 2023

Laws against hate speech protect and fortify the ideological worldview of those who enforce them—and here I don’t mean cops, but the politicians, the law profs, the prosecutors, the judges, and (most importantly) the media elites who beam the spotlight of their antagonism on some group they find noxious while giving others a pass. What makes hate speech a crime is not what the perp actually does or intends to do, but what the victim claims to feel—and de facto, only certain groups are accredited as victim groups. . . . For Christians, hate speech laws are a lose-lose proposition. We have excellent reasons to doubt the elites will accord us victim status, and excellent reasons to believe the same elites will find crimes in our ordinary evangelical discourse.

Paul Mankowski, S.J.
Diogenes Unveiled, ed. P. Lawler (Ignatius, 2022)

Politics Commonplaces #182 Sept/Oct 2023

“You won’t mind my calling you Comrade, will you? I’ve just become a Socialist. It’s a great scheme. You ought to be one. You work for the equal distribution of property, and start by collaring all you can and sitting on it.”

Chapter 32 of Mike by P. G. Wodehouse

Politics Commonplaces #183 Sept/Oct 2023

Plato says in a well-known passage in his Republic that something good can result only if those men come into positions of rule who have no liking for it. His meaning doubtless is, that ability being assumed, unwillingness to rule is a good guarantee that a man will rule truly and ably, whereas an ambitious man may only too easily become one who abuses his power to tyrannize, or one whom a liking for rule brings into an obscure dependence upon those whom he is supposed to rule, so that his rule becomes an illusion.

This remark may also be applied to other situations where something really serious has to be done. Ability being assumed, it is best that the person in question should have no liking for the task. For doubtless it is true, as the proverb says, that liking makes the work go swiftly, but real seriousness only appears when a man with ability is compelled by a higher power against his liking to undertake the work—so it stands with ability opposed to liking.

S. Kierkegaard
The Instant, No. 1, Part 1 (May 24, 1855)

Politics Commonplaces #184 Sept/Oct 2023

There is, of course, neither love nor merit in the taxes I pay for [social] services. I pay them because I have to. The governmentalization of charity affects not only the donor, but also the recipient. What was once asked as a favor is now demanded as an entitlement. When I was young, there was a saying, “He thinks the world owes him a living.” But the teaching of welfare socialism is that the world does, indeed, owe him a living.

Christ’s love for the poor was attributable to one quality they possessed in abundance—meekness and humility. It is humbling to be an object of charity, which is why mendicant friars and nuns used to beg. The transformation of charity into legal entitlement has produced donors without love and recipients without gratitude.

Antonin Scalia
from the lecture, “Is Capitalism or Socialism More Conducive to Christian Virtue?” (Sept. 6, 2013)

Politics Commonplaces #191 Nov/Dec 2023

The cardinal sin of capitalism is greed, but the cardinal sin of socialism is power.

Antonin Scalia
from the lecture, “Is Capitalism or Socialism More Conducive to Christian Virtue?” (Sept. 6, 2013)

Politics Commonplaces #192 Nov/Dec 2023

Human beings, in their settled condition, are animated by oikophilia: the love of the oikos, which means not only the home but the people contained in it, and the surrounding settlements that endow that home with lasting contours and an enduring smile. The oikos is the place that is not just mine and yours but ours. It is the stage-set for the first-person plural of politics, the locus, both real and imagined, where ‘it all takes place’. Virtues like thrift and self-sacrifice, the habit of offering and receiving respect, the sense of responsibility—all those aspects of the human condition that shape us as stewards and guardians of our common inheritance—arise through our growth as persons, by creating islands of value in the sea of price. . . . We must vest our love and desire in things to which we assign an intrinsic, rather than an instrumental, value, so that the pursuit of means can come to rest, for us, in a place of ends.

Roger Scruton
How to Be a Conservative (2014)

Politics Commonplaces #193 Nov/Dec 2023

When the corrosion of reason has reached a certain depth and has befallen a sufficiently large number of the people, effective leadership in terms of reason becomes difficult and perhaps impossible, even if a man at the head under more favorable conditions could exert such leadership. In a further degree of corrosion, a man of such qualities will, precisely because he possesses them, find it impossible to reach the position of leadership. And in the final degree, the society by its corruption will prevent the formation of a man of such qualities.

Eric Voegelin

Politics Commonplaces #194 Nov/Dec 2023

King Edward the Confessor] enshrined in himself and exhibited to the world the two essential elements of right authority—the truths that all authority descends ultimately from God; and that all government exists for the wellbeing of the governed, not of itself. Christianity commits the Christian to no form of government as essentially better than any other . . . the Christian, objecting as indeed he must to anarchy, demands government, but not (save by reason of purely personal preference) this sort or that. On the other hand, he knows that political life, like social, artistic, moral, familiar—every kind or department of life—has to recognize God as sole ultimate source of Power, and the Christian must be able to be obeying God when obeying the mandates of his prince. To fail to remember this is to begin to offer to Caesar what belongs to God, and to worship the Beast and his Image, to adore what is fain to set itself up (as the Scriptures so often say) in the Holy Place itself above all that can deserve the Name of God. No State, no Government, is Absolute over Conscience.

C. C. Martindale, S.J.
from a homily on St. Edward published in Saints Are Not Sad, Frank J. Sheed, ed. (1949)

Politics Commonplaces #196 Jan/Feb 2024

[Our farm] is a witness against the world. By deliberately choosing this life of hardship and immense satisfaction, we say in effect: The modern world has nothing better than this to give us. Its vision of comfort without effort, pleasure without the pain of creation, life sterilized against even the thought of death, rationalized so that every intrusion of mystery is felt as a betrayal of the mind, life mechanized and standardized—that is not for us. We do not believe that it makes for happiness from day to day. We fear that it means catastrophe in the end. We fear it if only because standardization leads to regimentation, and because the regimentation that men distrust in their politics is a reflection of the regimentation that they welcome unwittingly in their daily living.

Whittaker Chambers
Witness (1952)

Politics Commonplaces #201 May/June 2024

Radical egalitarianism necessarily presses us towards collectivism because a powerful state is required to suppress the differences that freedom produces. That raises the sinister and seemingly paradoxical possibility that radical individualism is the handmaiden of collectivist tyranny.

This individualism, it is quite apparent in our time, attacks the authority of family, church, and private association. The family is said to be oppressive, the fount of our miseries. It is denied that the church may legitimately insist upon what it regards as moral behavior in its members. Private associations are routinely denied the autonomy to define their membership for themselves.

The upshot is that these institutions, which stand between the state and the individual, are progressively weakened and their functions increasingly dictated or taken over by the state. The individual becomes less of a member of powerful private institutions and more a member of an unstructured mass that is vulnerable to the collectivist coercion of the state. Thus does radical individualism prepare the way for its opposite.

Robert H. Bork
Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline (1997)

Politics Commonplaces #211 July/August 2024

Enlightened opinions are always superficial.

David Stove
Darwinian Fairytales (1995)

Politics Commonplaces #212 July/August 2024

With pronominal landmines everywhere and not enough sappers, many people now find themselves stepping gingerly across what was until recently ordinary linguistic territory. . . . you may decide that the safest course of action is not to speak at all.

Joshua T. Katz
The New Criterion (April 2024)

Politics Commonplaces #213 July/August 2024

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