• Jeremy Wane Tate shared a comparison of Noah Webster’s 1828 definition of education with Merriam-Webster’s 2022 definition. First, the 2022 definition:

    education noun

    1 a : the action or process of educating or of being educated
    b : the knowledge and development resulting from the process of being educated

    2 : the field of study that deals mainly with methods of teaching and learning in
    schools

    And here’s Noah Webster’s 1828 definition of education:

    EDUCA’TIONnoun [Latin educatio.] The bringing up, as of a child, instruction; formation of manners. education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations. To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.

    Which dictionary would you choose?

  • Matthew Walther writes on the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the consequence of the pro-life movement’s acceptance of subsuming “a clear moral question into the murk of judicial theory and political strategy.”

    Abortion, Walther writes, is the “state-abetted killing of hundreds of thousands of infants each year.” Yet an allegedly conservative U.S. Supreme Court delivered a decision in Dobbs premised on constitutional neutrality on abortion—and in this way it delivered a decision that would have been as explosive in 1973 as Roe v. Wade itself was. “No one believed abortion was constitutional prior to the Supreme Court deciding it was in Roe,” a friend told me recently. Yet the Supreme Court has advanced in Dobbs precisely that view: that the constitutional is compatible with what Walther calls “state-abetted killing” of preborn persons. Walther:

    For too long, too many members were more focused on overturning Roe v. Wade than on persuading the American people about the nature of personhood. This equivocation about means and ends, which subsumed a clear moral question into the murk of judicial theory and political strategy, has always given me pause.

    In the aftermath of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court case that overturned Roe, I am sad to report that my misgivings have been vindicated. The court’s decision may have been a great victory for proponents of states’ rights and a necessary prelude to ending abortion, but the pro-life movement appears less powerful now than it has in years. Certainly, the blithe assumption that the movement included an overwhelming majority of Republican politicians and voters was spectacularly mistaken. …

    It wasn’t always this way. In the early 1970s, opponents of abortion were often zealous activists like L. Brent Bozell Jr., whose anti-abortion sit-ins, explicitly modeled after those of the civil rights movement, were frequently denounced by the conservative press. After 1973, when Roe was decided, these opponents called for overturning the decision not simply because it was poorly reasoned and insufficiently grounded in the text of the Constitution, but because they regarded abortion as an unthinkable moral atrocity to which no one had a right, constitutional or otherwise. Roe may have been a weak piece of jurisprudence (as even many proponents of legal abortion conceded), but the ultimate goal of those who denounced it was not to rectify the state of the judiciary.

    These priorities should not have changed when the judicial philosophy known as originalism emerged as the most likely means of overturning Roe. But at some point during the intervening years, the wires got crossed.

    For decades now, originalism and opposition to abortion have been treated as synonymous by proponents and detractors alike. Pro-life organizations have routinely issued statements that are indistinguishable from originalist rhetoric in their denunciations of “judicial activism” and their emphasis on “the role of a Supreme Court justice, which is to interpret the Constitution without prejudice and to apply the law in an unbiased manner.” Justice Antonin Scalia, perhaps the most prominent originalist, appears as a matter of course on lists of pro-life heroes, even though he maintained that democratic majorities could legitimately legalize abortion if they chose to do so.

    The pro-life movement is not the Republican Party and it should not be one and the same as the conservative legal movement. It’s conceivable that the Republican Party could one day become for the anti-abortion cause what it was for the anti-slavery cause, namely a wholly committed vehicle for social justice on an issue that appeared intractable. But the Republican Party is not that today, and neither is the conservative legal movement.

    When Americans United for Life filed our first Supreme Court amicus brief in Roe v. Wade, we explicitly argued for constitutional personhood. Yet this is a moral principle, to say nothing of a legal argument, that is now widely rejected within the conservative legal movement, as far as I can tell. I think it rejects this sort of argument because it has come to accept at least three premises of liberalism: First, that even unjust laws can and should carry the force of law. Second, that the Constitution functions without any grounding moral or metaphysical realities. And finally, that human will, or the strictly positive law, is all that there is.

    These three premises are fatal for a pro-life movement that would warm America’s heart to the brutal injustices of post-Roe abortion culture. Walther is writing about the imperative of moral persuasion and cultural change on abortion post-Roe, and that is truly important. But I think he is too quick to write off the importance of reforming how we think about the law and the judiciary, and the vision we cast for their priorities in the years to come.

    Little by little does the trick, and this is an important moment for the pro-life movement to renegotiate the terms of its political alliances if the aim is truly abortion’s abolition.

  • Dr. Howard Tucker is the world’s oldest practicing physician:

    A 100-year-old Ohio man who holds the Guinness World Record for being the world’s oldest practicing doctor said he has no plans to retire anytime soon.

    Dr. Howard Tucker of Cleveland was initially certified as the world’s oldest practicing doctor in February 2021, when he was 98 years and 231 days old.

    Tucker, now 100, said he continues to work full time, with his typical day lasting from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.

    The doctor said he caught COVID-19 shortly after his 100th birthday in July, but he continued to teach his residents via Zoom while recovering.

    “I regard this Guinness World Records title as a singular honor and look upon it as another achievement in a long, satisfying and happy life,” Tucker told Guinness World Records.

    The centenarian, whose wife, Sue, 89, is also still working as a practicing psychoanalyst, said he has no plans to retire.

    “Gosh, no! I believe retirement is the enemy of longevity. Even in my younger years, I never once contemplated retirement,” he said. “When you love what you do and are still capable of doing it, why would you want to retire?”

    What a life.

  • Brooke Masters sat down with Adrian Vermeule to speak about common good constitutionalism for this Financial Times feature:

    Adrian Vermeule wired up the explosive but didn’t stick around to watch it go off.

    A Harvard law professor and conservative scholar, Vermeule had been working on a new legal philosophy for years when the Atlantic magazine asked him to write about it in March 2020. Known in academia for his provocative commentary, Vermeule let loose, declaring that the dominant conservative legal theory in the US had “outlived its utility”.

    Originalism, the theory arguing that the US constitution should be interpreted in the light of its original intended meaning, had united social conservatives and free-market libertarians for 40 years. …

    “I think originalism is coming unglued in a number of ways. There really is such a thing as natural law and natural reason about the governance of society. When our society gets sufficiently violent and decaying, people start to notice more that maybe there really is an intrinsically better way to do things.”

    The “natural law” he is referring to is the belief that society should be governed by unchanging moral principles. The idea is rooted in classical law dating back to Greco-Roman times and was fleshed out by the medieval Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas. While most legal scholars, both on the left and the right, prioritise individual rights and liberties, Vermeule argues that the community is paramount. “Almost all liberties are, in a sense, social. That is, all exercises of human powers affect the society around one and vice versa,” he says.

    Vermeule’s “better way to do things” means that laws should be interpreted to conform with precepts “written in the hearts of all people”. When he talks about the US government ruling “well”, he means not just conservative concerns such as preserving traditional family structure and banning abortion, but also addressing inequality, the opioid epidemic and climate change.

    “Positive law,” says Vermeule at one point, “is a human judgment that is supposed to promote the good of the community.”

  • Vatican II at 60

    Francis X. Maier writes on George Weigel’s new book To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II:

    Weigel’s friendship with the late pope gave him unique access to background on the council’s major players and issues, and its sometimes fractious dynamics. That special relationship and the knowledge gleaned from it undergird To Sanctify the World.

    As Weigel notes, Vatican II was a response to circumstances never before encountered by the church. Previous councils had typically dealt with heresies, doctrinal disputes, or clarifications of belief. But they had operated in a world saturated by religion, even when the religion was pagan or alien to Christianity. The Second Vatican Council was called to deal with a world increasingly irreligious; a self-confident, materialist world of science and technology — and in the developed nations, material abundance — that saw no need for a God. The reforming task of the council thus had two themes: aggiornamento, updating the message and spirit of the church wherever possible, the better to engage modern man; and ressourcement, recovering the zeal of the early church by a return to her ancient sources. The goal of the church, however, remained the same: to sanctify, or “make holy,” the human experience in a fractured world.

    Weigel breaks To Sanctify the World into three simple divisions: why the council was necessary; what it actually taught; and the interpretative keys needed to unlock its real meaning. He takes care to explain not just the context but also the content and importance of the council’s central documents. His research is exhaustive. He thus builds his case elegantly and persuasively for the Karol Wojtyła–Joseph Ratzinger understanding of Vatican II. No period in the life of the church is without its failures, but these two men, in their pontificates, simultaneously fulfilled John XXIII’s original intent for the council and served as countervailing centripetal forces against post-conciliar unraveling. The result was 30-plus years of both pastoral renewal and intellectual excellence, married to a confident evangelical spirit — qualities now sorely missed. In contrast, the sheer shabbiness of the intellectual enterprise now dominant in Rome is embarrassing. This need not be an indictment of Pope Francis. But it’s very much an indictment of some who claim to serve his ministry.

    We’ve arrived at one of the periodic inflection points in Catholic life. On the one hand, we have those — including some of our leaders — eager to sign a peace treaty with the sexual revolution and other ambiguous traits of the modern world, and on the other hand, those who see our times as a graced moment for evangelical courage and zeal. Remembering and explaining the past is sacred work because it grounds our identity. It also recalls our purpose. What Weigel achieves in To Sanctify the World is an American version, applied to Vatican II, of Hubert Jedin’s brilliant multivolume study of the Council of Trent, its prelude, content, aftermath, and meaning. And as with Jedin’s work, Weigel’s book will be a standard of conciliar scholarship for many years to come.

  • The Carmel of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is under construction in Fairfield, Pennsylvania, which is about two hours from Washington, DC. MaryKate and I contributed to their campaign to build a monastery “to last a thousand years:”

    The Fairfield Carmelites describe themselves and and their project:

    ABOUT THE NUNS: Steeped in the rich tradition of their heritage, these Discalced Carmelites in the rural farmlands of Pennsylvania live out the centuries-old rule of their Holy Founders, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Completely in communion with the Roman Catholic Church and under the approval of the diocesan Bishop of Harrisburg, the nuns trace their roots back to sixteenth century Spain and seventeenth century Mexico. They are one of six other traditional foundations from the Carmel in Valparaiso, Nebraska. The Carmelite charism of prayer is the backbone of this monastery. Living a life of solitude, prayer, and sacrifice, the nuns’ primary mission is to pray for the Church and its priests. They are the Heart of the Church — beating with continuous prayer and sacrifice, bringing the vital flow of grace to the other members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

    ABOUT THE PROJECT: Delving into their rich Carmelite history of architecture and tradition, the Nuns are seeking to re-create the beauty of the monasteries of old. This monastery is being built around a traditional courtyard with the Church standing in its center. The outdoor cloisters (monastic terminology for hallways) connect the different sections of the monastery. On the perimeter are fields and pastures for crops and livestock. Following in the footsteps of their Holy Mother, St. Teresa of Avila, the new monastery farmstead is designed on a small scale, meant for a family-sized religious community. Keeping in line with the local historical architecture of the Gettysburg area, the monastery is being constructed using only the authentic materials and craftsmanship of our forefathers. Stone masonry, timber framing, slate, and plaster are used to recreate the simple and humble style of our American heritage.

    It will take at least another 10 years to complete their monastery. Contributions help them achieve this work for the glory of God and the sanctification of His people.

  • John M. Grondelski writes on “connecting the generations” when we think about issues like youthful opportunity or planning for retirement:

    America’s economic geniuses appear to assume that your situation in old age is your affair. Individually. No familial dimension. Certainly no corporate dimension after “pension reform” pushed responsibility for old age on employees.  Uncle Sam’s role is conflicted: enhanced dependency (“pension reform” didn’t reduce tax bites much) on a system funded in such a way that, if it were not run by the government, would be an indictable Ponzi Scheme.

    But if a system, modeled on youthful indebtedness followed by a lifetime of payoffs, deters or even prevents the young from taking greater responsibility for elders, the elders – two generations on from the “Great Society” that declared “war” on poverty – also increasingly face a situation where, having paid off debts, they are likewise deterred or even prevented from doing much for their kids.

    With uncertainty about being able to rely on children, older Americans increasingly hold on to assets to provide for their old age, given that they are unaware of how many years they will have until the bucket will be kicked. Perhaps scheduled euthanasia should become an important element of financial planning?

    Societal encouragement of economic models built on isolated individualism, which in practice pit generations against each other, is not just bad policy. From a Catholic social perspective, it’s inhumane and unjust because it is built on a false ideal of the person, shorn from relationality. 

    We are in need of an American family policy that moves beyond liberalism’s false vision of autonomy and right liberalism’s false vision of individualism. We need an American family policy, expressed through smart politics and economics, that prioritizes the family.

  • A radical conservatism

    Jon Askonas writes that conservatism failed because it failed to perceive that technology, when at the service only of markets and profits, reorders our homes, communities, and economies in ways incompatible with tradition:

    What defined modern conservatism was its attempt, against the onslaught of revolutionary ideologies, to set aside foundational questions in order to make common cause in defense of the actually existing human order. But the movement failed because it neglected the true revolutionary principle: technological transformation. Conservatives “lost the culture” not because they lost the battle of ideas, but because they lost the economy. Communists sought to transform society by transforming the organization of the household (the oikonomos, the etymological origin of “economy”)—but in the end, the efforts of political revolutionaries and party apparatchiks paled beside the impact of the Pill and the two-income trap. …

    Conservatism failed because it didn’t consider how to build technologies to fortify tradition and advance human flourishing, or understand that it needed to. A technological society is incompatible with a blithe conservatism, but not with the furtherance of human flourishing and the transformation of wilderness into garden. As Grant notes, before we recover a human way of thinking, we may first need to address a more practical question, first posed by Nietzsche: “Who deserve to be the masters of the earth?” Corporations? The Chinese Communist Party? The National Institutes of Health? The Department of Defense? Or human beings living according to their natures?

    If we believe in a human future, we must build it, not with kind words or tax credits, but with a serious program of technological development. Marx showed how a material transformation of the economic order could have enormous social and cultural effects. Forging the human order anew means building technologies that make it easier to live well. In some places, the renewal, revival, and reoccupation of the human order of things requires a return to what was done within living memory. In other places, however, it will need to be far more radical in the literal sense: It must return to human nature rooted in man’s bodily dwelling upon the earth. Simone Weil called this process enracinement—actively putting down roots where none exist.

    To further the agricultural metaphor, in some places the topsoil of tradition is strained but not exhausted, such that a return to practices of conservation might make it flourish again. In other places, the soil has been decimated and the traditional practices no longer work. Here, the recovery or reinvention of a heirloom or now-extinct variety may do the trick; it may even be necessary to find new non-native species that provide what the native no longer can. Lastly, we must not fear the forging of wild new technological practices, the equivalent of vertical farming or hydroponics, if the result is revitalizing.

    Realizing what time it is, that we are living after tradition, isn’t a counsel of despair. Those who look to build a human future have been freed from a rearguard defense of tradition to take up the path of the guerrilla, the upstart, the nomad. We can bid farewell with fondness to the modern defenders of tradition. But we must heed the words of the Lord: “Let the dead bury their dead.” Come with me if you want to live.

    Now that the “actually existing human order” has been almost wholly reshaped by technology, human and political projects designed to actually govern technology and markets alike are in order—not for the purpose of recovering traditions for their own sake, but for obtaining what traditions existed for: the good life.

  • In June 2015, Peter Thiel wrote:

    The history of the twentieth century is a history of this loss of hope in the future. With the benefit of hindsight, the dawn of the nuclear age and the Manhattan Project may appear to have been a key turning point, a great achievement that led to tremendous disillusionment. This disillusionment hit with full force in the 1970s, when the successor Apollo program collapsed and the baby boomers redirected their energies toward interminable cultural wars. Whether by chance or design, scientists were placed on a short leash and made to spend their time writing grant applications for modest extensions of existing paradigms. The reign of science foretold in New ­Atlantis culminated and terminated at Los Alamos.

    The optimism of Bacon and Hobbes belongs to a bygone era. And perhaps there always was something profoundly contradictory in optimism and atheistic materialism. In the nineteenth century, Engels could still finesse matters by noting the apparent discrepancy between the never-ending progress of dialectical materialism and the heat death foretold by the second law of thermodynamics, but then reassure his readers that such a decline was far in the future and could therefore be ignored! If atheist optimism meant an escape from nature, then today’s atheist pessimism means an acceptance of nature, and of the many gruesome accidents and the terrible rule of chance that that entails. The physical theories of our age resemble the Epicurean accounts of the atoms randomly moving through the void, and it should be no wonder that quasi-Epicurean physics naturally lead to Stoicism and Epicurean hedonism.

    Fatalism on the one hand and hedonism on the other are not wholesome choices. In turning back to God, we have the chance to recover the sort of hope and dynamism necessary not only for relationship with God in eternity but also for thriving in this life.

  • Success requires virtue

    John Hawkins, in a particular way, writes that success requires virtue:

    Most of what makes people happy, healthy, and successful is boring. It’s trite. It’s things you’ve heard a thousand times before. The sad truth is that if you or I wrote down a list of all the things going wrong in our lives and allowed an average person to watch what we did day and night for a few weeks, they could probably tell us exactly what we’re doing wrong that’s causing us to fall short. An appalling percentage of life is no great mystery to a well-read person with a bit of life experience.

    Want to be muscular? Go to the gym consistently and lift weights. Do progressively more weight each time you go in. Get a trainer.

    Want to get good grades in school? Show up for class, pay attention, do your homework, study with friends, and get a tutor if you need it.

    Want to get a raise? Show up early. Leave late. Work hard. Kiss the boss’ behind.

    There are still plenty of mysteries, big debates, and unanswered questions in the universe, but there are also an awful lot of places where we KNOW the answers.

    Dealing drugs? Bad idea. Trading out chips for fresh vegetables? Good idea. Finishing high school? Good idea. Living paycheck to paycheck? Bad idea. Starting smoking? Bad idea. Following a police officer’s instructions when he pulls you over? Good idea. Getting blackout drunk? Bad idea. Learning to drive a stick shift? Good idea. Getting into a fistfight on the subway? Bad idea. Tipping a waitress that gives you good service? Good idea. On and on it goes.

    Success requires virtue, but sometimes (often?) virtue can feel boring. Important to live virtuously anyway.