Posts tagged with: literature

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Not Quite Alone in the Wilderness,” I examine the intergenerational infrastructure of innovation and civilization through the lens of Richard “Dick” Proenneke, whose efforts to build a cabin in the Alaskan wild, alone and by hand, are recorded in the popular documentary, often featured on PBS.

Here’s a clip that gives an extended introduction into the project:

As Proenneke says, “I was alone, just me and the animals.” In his recent book Redeeming Economics, John Mueller relates how classical economists would often use the fictional example of Robinson Crusoe, who was shipwrecked on an island and left to survive alone, to get at the anthropological knowledge necessary for a coherent political economy. In this week’s piece, I do something like this with Proenneke, whose experiment has the advantage of being something that actually happened.
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DenethorI’m reading through the Lord of the Rings trilogy with my son, and there’s a striking exchange between Gandalf and Denethor in The Return of the King. Gandalf has just arrived with Pippin from Rohan, and the two have been admitted into an audience with the Steward of Gondor.

As Denethor says of himself to Gandalf, “Yet the Lord of Gondor is not to be made the tool of other men’s purposes, however worthy. And to him there is no purpose higher in the world as it now stands than the good of Gondor; and the rule of Gondor, my lord, is mine and no other man’s, unless the king should come again.”

To this Gandalf responds, “Unless the king should come again? Well, my lord Steward, it is your task to keep some kingdom still against that event, which few now look to see. In that task you shall have all the aid that you are pleased to ask for. But I will say this: the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?”

Consider this claim not only in contrast with the decadent stewardship of Denethor, who conflates the particular good of his realm with the common good of Middle-earth, but also with respect to the corruption of Saruman. For as the resurrected Gandalf the White says, “Indeed I am Saruman, one might almost say, Saruman as he should have been.”

For a funny look at what Gandalf’s stewardship responsibility amounts to in the LOTR, check out the “Gandalf Problem Solving” flowchart (HT: Jon Acuff):Gandalf Problem Solving Flowchart

Update: Rev. Jensen has posted part 2 of his review. You can read it here.

Rev. Gregory Jensen, who writes at the Koinonia blog, recently reviewed Rev. Robert Sirico and Jeff Sandefer’s new book A Field Guide for the Hero’s Journey.

This is what he had to say about it:

Prudence along with justice, temperance and courage, is a cardinal virtue. Unfortunately as contemporary Western culture has become more secularized it has formed generations of men and women who are deaf to the music of human virtue.  Many of us embrace a vision of human life that counsel spontaneity not habit as the mark of a life well and fully lived.  And since any discussion of virtue necessarily brings with it a discussion of tradition such a conversation is an affront to the atomistic individualism that is at the center of contemporary culture.

And as I read [Hero's Journey] something unexpected and wonderful happened—I began to see myself in a new light. (more…)

Rev. Robert Sirico, President of the Acton Institute and Jeff Sandefer, entrepreneur, teacher and educational innovator, have co-authored the new book, “The Field Guide to the Hero’s Journey: inspirational classics and practical advice from a serial entrepreneur and an entrepreneurial priest”. The book is set to be released in early December.

Rev. Sirico and Mr. Sandefer sat down to discuss their collaboration.

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Blog author: jballor
Thursday, April 5, 2012
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Sam Gregg’s response to President Obama’s latest invocation of the “my brother’s keeper” motif brings out one of the basic problems with applying this biblical question to public policy. As Gregg points out, the logic of the president’s usage points to the government as the institution of brotherly love:

But who is the “I” that President Obama has in mind? Looking carefully at his speech, it’s most certainly not the free associations and communities that Alexis de Tocqueville thought made 19th-century America so different and alive when compared to his own already state-centric native France. No: Our number-one “keeper,” in our president’s mind, is the federal government.

To this idea that the president is the “keeper in chief,” I echo the question attributed to the Roman poet Juvenal: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who guards the guards? Who watches the watchmen?

Or more to the point: Who keeps the keepers?

I remember in a seminary class a student ripped into all the flaws and translation mistakes that mark the Authorized 1611 version of the King James Bible. The professor, of course well aware of any flaws in the translation, retorted that it was good enough for John Wesley and the rest of the English speaking world for well over three centuries. The professor made the simple point that it was the standard English translation for so long and there is really no way to diminish the depth of its impact upon the world and the English language. This week marks the 400th anniversary of the translation.

“Reap the whirlwind,” “a law unto themselves,” “labor of love,” and “the root of all evil” are just a few examples of vernacular expressions given to us through the King James translation. Its impact on political freedom, literature, and music is indeed deep. Those in the Protestant tradition should know the stories of the English translators, like William Tyndale, from which the King James Version is largely shaped. The path that translated the Scriptures into English was purchased with blood and often violent martyrdom.

In Benson Bobrick’s book Wide as the Waters: The story of the English Bible and the Revolution it Inspired, he says of the translation:

In the end, the King James Version was such a book, wrote Macaulay (In his essay on Dryden) that ‘if everything else in our language should perish it would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power.’ Its subsequent impact on English (and American) literature might be traced in a thousand ways – in the work of religious writers like Milton and Bunyan, or their more secular brethren like D.H. Lawrence, Walt Whitman, and Defoe. Without the King James Version, it has been said, ‘there would be no Paradise Lost , no Pilgrim’s Progress, no Negro spirituals, no Gettysburg Address.’

On Christmas Eve in 1968, Apollo 8 crew members Jim Lovell and Frank Borman took turns reading from the first ten verses of Genesis. The footage of earth from a brand new vantage point captivated viewers across the world. It was the largest television viewing audience ever at the time. Below is Lovell and Borman reading from the King James Version:

The presence of one group at the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests might be surprising: the Distributist Review has produced this flyer for distribution at the protests.  They don’t seem to have asked themselves whether G.K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc would have gone down to protest with the unwashed masses (the answer, of course, is never in a million years) but contemporary “neodistributists” are a more inclusive set. They go far beyond the metaphysical and aesthetic principles of Chesterton and Belloc’s economics. Since that flyer’s a little hard to read, we’ve put together a list to help you identify your inner distributist: herewith, Ten Signs You May Be a Distributist:

  1. You can’t wait for the Revolution: As we’ve explained before, the changes distributists want amount to revolution. That puts them squarely in line with the rest of the OWS camp, whose communications head told NPR, “My political goal is to overthrow the government.” Fortunately, the revolution will be prosecuted in accord with Catholic Social Teaching. (What’s a little property-snatching among friends?) If this idea excites you, you may be a distributist!
  2. You just want to grow heirloom tomatoes in a co-op: Or maybe your grandfather’s strain of prized carrot. Either way, if think the Catholic Social Teaching mandates this kind of lifestyle, you may be a distributist!
  3. You abominate the seedless watermelon: The seedless watermelon is an unnatural monstrosity, you say? If you oppose genetic engineering on principle and begrudge the one billion lives saved by the Green Revolution, you may be a distributist!
  4. You find yourself supporting environmentalist policies, but for different reasons: If you find yourself always on the side of radical environmentalists, but as with the seedless watermelon, different principles lead you to their extreme positions — well, puzzle no longer. You may be a distributist!
  5. You think you live in a polis: If you’d like to impose virtue on 307 million people the same way you would on 75,000; if you think that what worked on a co-op level in Spain can be scaled up 60,000 percent without distortion; and if you insist on economic self-sufficiency — in short, if you’re more attached to the form of the polis than Aristotle himself was, then you may be a distributist!
  6. You find yourself asking “What would Frodo do?”: Distributists often take The Shire of J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings as a model society (mostly those who consider a return to the polis too fantastical). If you’re convicted that eating two breakfasts a day is more in line with Catholic Social Teaching, you may be a distributist!
  7. You really miss guilds: If you’ve mythologized the quaint, confraternal aspects of medieval guilds, and don’t mind overlooking how controlling they were; if you love the idea of long apprenticeships and don’t mind sweeping grants of patent and absolute trade secrecy, you may be a distributist!
  8. You dislike intellectual property: If you view Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution as a tool for enriching the plutocracy (except of course when monopolies are given to guilds) and identify more with the Swedish-internet-pirate school of thought, you may be a distributist!
  9. You bleed your patients with leeches: If you long for the simpler, more local health care system of the Middle Ages, when your barber performed appendectomies and your doctor’s first instinct in case of illness was to send for leeches, then you may just be a distributist!
  10. You brew your own beer: Coors is the beer of Republicans, O’Doul’s is probably the beer of the Tea Party, and the unwashed hipsters at OWS all drink Pabst Blue Ribbon, but if you brew your own beer, you may be a distributist! (No word on what Chesterton thought of bathtub gin.)

Note: If you would like a more serious response to distributism, see here and here.

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
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On The Freeman, PowerBlog contributor Bruce Edward Walker marks the 70th anniversary of the publication of Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon and the essay “The Initiates” published a decade later in The God that Failed. As Walker notes, “it’s a convenient opportunity to revisit both works as a reminder of what awaits all democratic societies eager to abandon liberties for the sake of utopian ideologies.” Koestler’s Noon, he says, is where the author is at the height of his powers “capturing the mindset of the collectivist fantasy in order to completely dispel its flawed precepts.” Walker also reminds us that class struggle leads to a dead end:

What differentiates Koestler’s work from other highly lauded literary attacks on collectivism by George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and Stanislaw Lem is perspective. Whereas the other writers projected the results of communism in novels depicting dystopian futures—Lem by necessity since he was living in Soviet-controlled Poland; Orwell and Huxley by choice—Koestler, recognizing the Soviet Central Committee’s initiatives to reconstruct all history as a class struggle between the bourgeoisie and proletariat, documented what had already occurred under Stalin’s reign of terror during a decade of famine, the Great Purge, and the Moscow show trials. While the famines and purges resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of Soviets, the show trials are characterized as an absurd travesty of Kafkaesque proportions in which Soviet apparatchiks obtained public confessions from old-guard Bolsheviks on trumped-up charges, resulting in the coerced “confessions” of counterrevolutionary activities and subsequent executions.

Here’s Orwell on Koestler:

The sin of nearly all left-wingers from 1933 onwards is that they have wanted to be anti-Fascist without being anti-totalitarian. In 1937 Koestler already knew this, but did not feel free to say so.

Read Bruce Edward Walker’s “Tyranny Afoot: Arthur Koestler’s Communist Chronicles” in The Freeman.

The recent English riots, soaked as they are in unrestrained Marxism, bring to mind one of the 20th century’s great anti-Marxists, the British novelist Evelyn Waugh. Waugh was a staunch—even curmudgeonly—defender of social order, and a derisive critic of Marxism, calling it in The Tablet “the opiate of the people.”

Waugh would no doubt have been a booster of the Acton Institute (his best man was Lord Acton’s grand nephew), and a passage in his 1945 classic Brideshead Revisited artfully sums up the Institute’s founding justification. It is a conversation between Charles Ryder and Lady Marchmain in which her ladyship reveals a history of a conscience troubled by great wealth.

It used to worry me, and I thought it wrong to have so many beautiful things when others had nothing. Now I realize that it is possible for the rich to sin by coveting the privileges of the poor. The poor have always been the favourites of God and His saints, but I believe that it is one of the special achievements of Grace to sanctify the whole of life, riches included. Wealth in paganRomewas necessarily something cruel; it’s not anymore.

Lady Marchmain is not the most sympathetically drawn character, and at first it seems strange what she says about coveting the advantage of the poor. But of course what she was coveting was not the earthly simplicity of Lazarus’s existence, but a perceived spiritual primacy.

What she neglected to do was to put her trust in Providence, which sees to the distribution of wealth according to an Eternal Law she cannot read. What she came to see is that she is merely a stewardess of “so many beautiful things.” The cruel Roman world was that of Nero’s nihilistic tyranny, but the Domus Aurea has become the ornately restored chapel at Brideshead.

The conversation continues with Charles (the first-person narrator),

I said something about a camel and the eye of a needle and she rose happily to the point.

“But of course,” she said, “it’s very unexpected for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, but the gospel is simply a catalogue of unexpected things. It’s not to be expected that an ox and an ass should worship at the crib. Animals are always doing the oddest things in the lives of the saints. It’s all party of the poetry, theAlice-in-Wonderland side, of religion.”

(Against charges that Waugh was a snob need only be set this comparison of himself to the ox and the ass in Bethlehem.)

The socialist rejects this Alice-in-Wonderland aspect of life, and tries to impose his own order on it. That was the folly of the Soviet Union, and it is the folly of the modern comprehensive state.

The Circle of Protection radio advertisements being broadcast in three states right now make their arguments, such as they are, from a quotation of the Bible and a federal poverty program that might be cut in a debt ceiling compromise. But the scriptural quotation is a serious misuse of the Book of Proverbs, and the claims about heating assistance programs are at best overblown: the ads are really no better than their goofy contemporary piano track.

The Circle of Protection, of which the group Sojourners that produced the ads is a founding member, enjoyed the high honor of a meeting at the White House last week, which was supposed to be about the debt ceiling crisis and which poverty programs are in danger. But they came away without even discovering President Obama’s thoughts on the program they were about to feature in a radio campaign.

LIHEAP, the federal heating assistance program Sojourners wails about, doesn’t even have the blessing of the President. The program’s $5 billion budget is twice what it needs to be, he said in February. What the President knows, but can’t say publicly, is that LIHEAP is a waste- and fraud-ridden program operating with exactly the kind of money-is-no-object attitude that precipitated the debt ceiling crisis. Believe it or not, one hundred percent of the fraudulent applications for heating assistance made during a Government Accountability Office investigation were approved.

And not only is the program inefficient, it is actually redundant. As the Heritage Foundation has pointed out, state laws prohibit energy companies from turning off the poor’s heat in the winter, so LIHEAP funds simply go to utility companies that wouldn’t have otherwise collected their fees. Sojourners set up the $2.5 billion in LIHEAP cuts against $2.5 billion in “tax breaks for oil companies.” I don’t see the towering social injustice there, but Sojourners seems to think that energy utilities are eminently more deserving of federal largess than oil companies.

The more serious distortion is the group’s misuse of the Book of Proverbs, with which they begin their ads. “The Book of Proverbs teaches that ‘where there is no leadership, a nation falls’ and ‘the poor are shunned, while the rich have many friends,’” intones Pastor Tom Jelinek at the beginning of the Nevada ad. He is actually quoting two different chapters in Proverbs—eleven and fourteen—which I have indicated by the use of quotation marks. There is no such indication in the radio ad, however: he continues right from chapter eleven to chapter fourteen as if the two passages were one. That is what we call deceitfulness, and it’s best kept out of discussions of Sacred Scripture.

The effect of the deception is that Proverbs’ statement about the poor and the rich seems quite clearly a political one, which in the context of chapter fourteen it is not (unless, like the Circle of Protection, you think that religion exists to serve politics). The surrounding verses say nothing of “nations” or “leaders,” so Sojourners went back to chapter eleven to establish their interpretation. “The poor man shall be hateful even to his own neighbor: but the friends of the rich are many,” reads Proverbs 14:20, and the message is super-political. The wise man of chapter fourteen will be mindful of this friendship gap, and tend to the needs of the poor, who often lack the social safety net of the rich. But the verse is certainly not an anachronistic call to bureaucratic political action.

How ironic. Sojourners, blinded by its own topsy-turvy approach to religious engagement in political debate and reading the Bible as a political document, didn’t see that the verse they were going to quote is an exhortation to private charity. And by welding the verse to another one from another chapter, all the while pretending that they are quoting a singular passage, the group imposes that false interpretation upon radio listeners. I am not suggesting that the trick is deliberate, for how could an organization that sees the Church as the bride of Caesar understand that the Bible is more than a manual for the curing of earthly injustice?

That the ads sound like the work of a Washington PR firm ought to alert listeners to the inherent disorder of the Circle of Protection message. Political activity must be inspired by an evangelical spirit, and when instead the use of Sacred Scripture is inspired by political ends, the Gospel is profaned.