A tyrant in fear of eternity

A scene from Notre Dame’s campus, coupled with a thought from Søren Kierkegaard on why we avoid eternity and fear its implications:

“Eternity is a very radical thought, and thus a matter of inwardness. Whenever the reality of the eternal is affirmed, the present becomes something entirely different from what it was apart from it. This is precisely why human beings fear it (under the guise of fearing death). You often hear about particular governments that fear the restless elements of society. I prefer to say that the entire age is a tyrant that lives in fear of the one restless element: the thought of eternity. It does not dare to think it. Why? Because it crumbles under – and avoids like anything – the weight of inwardness.”

Atomistic v. domestic family

Allan C. Carlson introduces Carle Zimmerman’s Family and Civilization:

Carle Zimmerman was the most important American sociologist of the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s. … Zimmerman focused on the family virtues of farm people. “Rural people have greater vital indices than urban people,” he reported. Farm people had earlier and stronger marriages, more children, fewer divorces, and “more unity and mutual attachment and engulfment of the personalit[ies]” of its members than did their urban counterparts.

Zimmerman’s thought ran sharply counter to the primary thrust of American sociology in this era. The so-called Chicago School dominated American social science, led by figures such as William F. Ogburn and Joseph K. Folsom. They focused on the family’s steady loss of functions under industrialization to both governments and corporations. As Ogburn explained, many American homes had already become “merely ‘parking places’ for parents and children who spend their active hours elsewhere.”

Up to this point, Zimmerman would not have disagreed. But the Chicago School went on to argue that such changes were inevitable and that the state should help complete the process. Mothers should be mobilized for full-time employment, small children should be put into collective day care, and other measures should be adopted to effect “the individualization of the members of society.” …

Zimmerman wrote Family and Civilization to recover that “actual, documented, historical truth.” The book stands as an extraordinary feat of research and interpretation. It sweeps across the millennia and burrows into the nature of otherwise disparate civilizations to reveal deeper and universal social traits. To guide his investigation, Zimmerman asks: “Of the total power in [a] society, how much belongs to the family? Of the total amount of control of action in [a] society, how much is left for the family?”

By analyzing these levels of family autonomy, Zimmerman identifies three basic family types:

(1) the trustee family, with extensive power rooted in extended family and clan;

(2) the atomistic family, which has virtually no power and little field of action; and

(3) the domestic family (a variant of Le Play’s “stem” family), in which a balance exists between the power of the family and that of other agencies.

He traces the dynamics as civilizations, or nations, move from one type to another. Zimmerman’s central thesis is that the “domestic family” is the system found in all civilizations at their peak of creativity and progress, for it “possesses a certain amount of mobility and freedom and still keeps up the minimum amount of familism necessary for carrying on the society.”

Where the Chicago School was neo-Marxist in orientation, Zimmerman looked to a different sociological tradition. He drew heavily on the insights of the mid-nineteenth-century French social investigator Frederic Le Play. The Frenchman had used detailed case studies, rather than vast statistical constructs, to explore the “stem family” as the social structure best adapted to insure adequate fertility under modern economic conditions. Le Play had also stressed the value of noncash “home production” to a family’s life and health. Zimmerman’s book from 1935, Family and Society, represented a broad application of Le Play’s techniques to modern America. Zimmerman claimed to find the “stem family” alivand well in America’s heartland: in the Appalachian-Ozark region and among the German- and Scandinavian-Americans in the Wheat Belt. More importantly, Le Play had held to an unapologetically normative view of the family as the necessary center of critical human experiences, an orientation readily embraced by Zimmerman.

This mooring explains his frequent denunciations of American sociology in the pages of Family and Civilization. “Most of family sociology,” he asserts, “is the work of amateurs” who utterly fail to comprehend the “inner meaning of their subject.” Zimmerman mocks the Chicago School’s new definition of the family as “a group of interacting personalities.” …

Zimmerman wrote Family and Civilization to recover that “actual, documented, historical truth.” The book stands as an extraordinary feat of research and interpretation. It sweeps across the millennia and burrows into the nature of otherwise disparate civilizations to reveal deeper and universal social traits. To guide his investigation, Zimmerman asks: “Of the total power in [a] society, how much belongs to the family? Of the total amount of control of action in [a] society, how much is left for the family?”

By analyzing these levels of family autonomy, Zimmerman identifies three basic family types:

  1. the trustee family, with extensive power rooted in extended family and clan;
  2. the atomistic family, which has virtually no power and little field of action; and
  3. the domestic family (a variant of Le Play’s “stem” family), in which a balance exists between the power of the family and that of other agencies.

He traces the dynamics as civilizations, or nations, move from one type to another. Zimmerman’s central thesis is that the “domestic family” is the system found in all civilizations at their peak of creativity and progress, for it “possesses a certain amount of mobility and freedom and still keeps up the minimum amount of familism necessary for carrying on the society.” …

Indeed, the primary theme of Family and Civilization is fertility. Zimmerman underscores the three functions of familism as articulated by historic Christianity: fides, proles, and sacramentum; or “fidelity, childbearing, and indissoluble unity.” While describing at length the social value of premarital chastity, the health-giving effects of marriage, the costs of adultery, and the social devastation of divorce, Zimmerman zeros in on the birth rate. He concludes that “we see [ever] more clearly the role of proles or childbearing as the main stem of the family.” The very act of childbearing, he notes, “creates resistances to the breaking-up of the marriage.” In short, “the basis of familism is the birth rate. Societies that have numerous children have to have familism. Other societies (those with few children) do not have it.” This gives Zimmerman one easy measure of social success or decline: the marital fertility rate. A familistic society, he says, would average at least four children born per household. …

It seems like we’re moving from the “domestic” family of the late 20th century to flirting with the “atomistic” family being more the norm in the early 21st century.

Morris Inn’s terrace

The first full day of the Vita Institute is underway today. I’m staying in Ryan Hall for the next eight days, and our Vita Institute sessions are being held nearby in Eck Hall’s McCartan Courtroom. Today we’ve got four sessions, starting with Carter Snead’s opening remarks. During lunch today I plan to find a Limebike and explore the campus in the summer for a bit.

In the meantime, I’m sharing some scenes from my arrival yesterday afternoon in South Bend—the first two shots are at South Bend Airport, and the rest are from Morris Inn’s back terrace where I had lunch and a beer and worked for a few hours before Ryan Hall opened for check-in.

It was a beautiful Indiana summer day, and today is a lot like it.

To Vita Institute

I’m in Charlotte right now on a layover, headed to Notre Dame for the next week or so. Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics & Culture is hosting its Vita Institute, which I’ll be a participant in this year. I attended Vita Institute’s New York one day seminar earlier this year, and that made participation in the full program attractive:

The Notre Dame Vita Institute is an intensive interdisciplinary training program for leaders in the national and international pro-life movement. Through engagement with our premier faculty, interaction with other pro-life leaders, and exposure to award-winning community outreach programs, the Vita Institute aims to further enhance participants’ expertise and prepare them to be even more effective advocates on behalf of the unborn.

Held for a week every summer on Notre Dame’s beautiful campus, this program is wholly unique: it provides participants with the opportunity to study the fundamentals of life issues with world-renowned scholars across a wide range of disciplines, including social science, biology, philosophy, theology, law, communication, and counseling. Lecture topics include:

  • The Personhood Debate in Contemporary Philosophy
  • Abortion Jurisprudence
  • Basic Human Embryology
  • Dos and Don’ts of Public Policy on Human Life
  • Helping the Abortion-Minded Woman Choose Life
  • Legislative Strategies for the Current Decade and Beyond

It’s often pointed out that the “right to life” is the right that makes every subsequent right possible. As a culture, we should be doing everything we can to support mothers and fathers facing unexpected pregnancies as much as we provide meaningful care for the aging, elderly, and disabled, and everyone in between through better community life and better social and political responses to crisis.

The promotion of suicide as a good and legitimate response to old age’s feelings of loneliness or doubt about the meaning of life as one’s abilities fade is particularly tragic to me. We celebrated Dr. David Goodall’s recent suicide and mourned and lamented Anthony Bourdain’s within the span of four weeks, all the while ignoring the essential questions of meaning, purpose, and appropriate responses to psychological distress that certainly impacted both decisions.

As long as we perpetuate violence against human life in the name of “autonomy” or “self-actualization” or “health and wellbeing,” we’re falling short of our ideals as a people—and worse, we’re lying to ourselves about the nature of what we tolerate in the pursuit of those ideals.

These are some of the reasons I’m eager to spend the next week participating in this year’s Vita Institute. I might share some of that experience, and will at least share some scenes from Notre Dame and South Bend along the way.

Flag Day history

It’s Flag Day, the official commemoration of the Second Continental Congress’s 1777 resolution to adopt a U.S. flag: “Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” That resulted in the replacement of the “Grand Union Flag” with the “Hopkinson Flag.” Some of Flag Day’s history:

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that officially established June 14 as Flag Day; in August 1946, National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress. Flag Day is not an official federal holiday. … On June 14, 1937, Pennsylvania became the first U.S. state to celebrate Flag Day as a state holiday, beginning in the town of Rennerdale.

To Victor Morris of Hartford, Conn., is popularly given the credit of suggesting “Flag Day,” the occasion being in honor of the adoption of the American flag on June 14, 1777. The city of Hartford observed the day in 1861, carrying out a program of a patriotic order, praying for the success of the Federal arms and the preservation of the Union.

There were so many great flags and emblems during the Revolutionary Era. A few of my favorite: the Moultrie “Liberty” flag, the “Pine Tree” flag, the “Betsy Ross” flag, the “Join or Die” emblem sometimes used as a flag, the “Gadsden” flag, the “Bennington” flag, and for its simplicity Washington’s headquarters flag—whose distinctive stars adorn the Museum of the American Revolution in Old City, Philadelphia.

I think this 1885 high school textbook illustration is remarkable for showing how states memorialized and passed along national history in the light of their own history in developing national identity and unity:

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Illustration from an old High School textbook, titled “History of the US”. Shows the “Appeal to Heaven” pine tree flag and Gadsden flag at the top, the “Grand Union” flag and a 45-star version of the United States flag (used 1896-1908) in the center, and two versions of the New England flag … at the bottom.

And here’s a photo for Flag Day from a few weeks ago during a layover in Chicago:

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Fountain of the Three Rivers

Visited Sister Cities Park yesterday for the first time in a while for lunch with Bobby Schindler, who’s in town this week. It was a perfect summer day to sit outside and enjoy the unfolding scenes. I brought my MacBook and worked outside the office for a bit. After work, I walked back to Logan Circle and captured these scenes.

Logan Circle’s 1924 Fountain of the Three Rivers frames the foreground in the footage below, with City Hall in the distance, with a bit of its history below.

Adapting the tradition of “river god” sculpture, [Alexander] Calder created large Native American figures to symbolize the area’s major streams, the Delaware, the Schuylkill, and the Wissahickon. The young girl leaning on her side against an agitated, water-spouting swan represents the Wissahickon Creek; the mature woman holding the neck of a swan stands for the Schuylkill River; and the male figure, reaching above his head to grasp his bow as a large pike sprays water over him, symbolizes the Delaware River. Sculpted frogs and turtles spout water toward the 50-foot (15 m) geyser in the center…

Entertainment, in its proper place

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I took this photo on Friday afternoon while walking through the little village of Lemont in Central Pennsylvania. I think it fits with these Benedict XVI observations:

“Entertainment, in its proper place, is certainly good and enjoyable. It is good to be able to laugh. But entertainment is not everything. It is only a small part of our lives, and when it tries to be the whole, it becomes a mask behind which despair lurks, or at least doubt over whether life is really good, or whether non-existence might perhaps be better than existence.”

Scruton and Solzhenitsyn

Gerald J. Russello reviews Roger Scruton’s “Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition”:

Conservatism is not the unbounded “I” of the progressives (and some libertarians), but neither is it the undifferentiated mass of the socialist state. Rather, Scruton posits that the essence of conservatism is the I–thou, the “second person” perspective “in which the ‘we’ of social membership is balanced at every point against the ‘I’ of individual ambition.” This tension therefore allows for communication between people of differing views to whom we owe an obligation, which allows for society and political organizations. In contrast, to posit an endless array of fully autonomous individuals — as, for example, Rousseau did — is to render civil society impossible. …

Conservatism is older than the 1789 revolution, and built into the human condition. “Modern conservatism is a product of the Enlightenment. But it calls upon aspects of the human condition that can be witnessed in every civilization and at every period of history.” The most important is what can be called the physicality of conservative belief in the person. The person is not self-created and limitlessly changeable, subject only to the individual will. A conservative believes in contingency; individuals do have choice, but our identities are shaped by loyalties and communities not of our own choosing. Society must balance “the need for custom and community” with “the freedom of the individual.” Scruton sees that “extreme individualism” is a myth; it ignores “the indispensable part played by social membership in the exercise of free choice.”

This social membership is in part what we call tradition, which, echoing Oakeshott, Scruton defines as a kind of knowledge. Tradition helps us to know how to act in accord with our human needs and relational obligations. Political bonds among liberal individuals are weak, because there are no other bonds. For Scruton, this is a category mistake in understanding how political societies come into being and how they remain stable, even under great pressure. For the basic bond is pre-political. That is, legitimacy precedes consent, not the other way around. We recognize a political authority as ours, made by a particular people at a particular place for goals we share. This is why people continue to live peaceably in a society even when the vote might go against their wishes. …

So when conservatives say they defend “freedom,” it is not some abstraction: “What they mean is this kind of freedom, the freedom enshrined in our legal and political inheritance, and in the free associations through which our societies renew their legacy of trust. So understood, freedom is the outcome of multiple agreements over time, under an overarching rule of law.” How this happens, how a society maintains the balance between freedom and order, is conditioned by history, religion, custom, and tradition.

This “thicker” conception of culture requires thinking about society as more than just an Enlightenment-style consent-based system. Instead, maybe it’s useful to think of culture in evolutionary terms, in the same way we do with psychology. That is, the strongest and “thickest” and most resilient cultures avoid radical mutations as much as possible, and when revolutions must occur, they generally should be conservative revolutions that seek to preserve or enshrine existing practices and norms (as did the American Revolution), rather than assert experimental values or rights.

In Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s memoirs, he reflected on his famous 1978 Harvard commencement address where he used his platform not to attack the Soviet Communists who had exiled him, but to warn Western societies of threats he saw to their own health and wellbeing. He later reflected:

Western society in principle is based on a legal level that is far lower than the true moral yardstick, and besides, this legal way of thinking has a tendency to ossify. In principle, moral imperatives are not adhered to in politics, and often not in public life either. The notion of freedom has been diverted to unbridled passion, in other words, in the direction of the forces of evil (so that nobody’s “freedom” would be limited!). A sense of responsibility before God and society has fallen away. “Human rights” have been so exalted that the rights of society are being oppressed and destroyed. And above all, the press, not elected by anyone, acts high-handedly and has amassed more power than the legislative, executive, or judicial power. And in this free press itself, it is not true freedom of opinion that dominates, but the dictates of the political fashion of the moment, which lead to a surprising uniformity of opinion. (It was on this point that I had irritated them most.) The whole social system does not contribute to advancing outstanding individuals to the highest echelons. The reigning ideology, that prosperity and the accumulation of material riches are to be valued above all else, is leading to a weakening of character in the West, and also to a massive decline in courage and the will to defend itself, as was clearly seen in the Vietnam War, not to mention a perplexity in the face of terror. But the roots of this social condition spring from the Enlightenment, from rationalist humanism, from the notion that man is the center of all that exists, and that there is no Higher Power above him. And these roots of irreligious humanism are common to the current Western world and to Communism, and that is what has led the Western intelligentsia to such strong and dogged sympathy for Communism.

At the end of my speech I had pointed to the fact that the moral poverty of the 20th century comes from too much having been invested in sociopolitical changes, with the loss of the Whole and the High. We, all of us, have no other salvation but to look once more at the scale of moral values and rise to a new height of vision. “No one on earth has any other way left but — upward,” were the concluding words of my speech.

If the only way we can imagine a worthwhile future is “upward”, rather than imagining that peace and harmony and tranquility and the context for individual flourishing doesn’t require transcending every physical and cultural reality, then we’ll naturally sacrifice all sorts of norms, values, and eventually people along the way.

Mount Nittany rainshowers

Peter Atkinson and I slept in after last night’s barbecue, eventually making our way to Mount Nittany by mid-morning for a hike in fairly steady rainshowers from the trailhead to the Mike Lynch Overlook and back. It was one of my favorite hikes.

The Mike Lynch Overlook was totally obscured, with the look of a veil of mist and rain having been lowered almost directly in front of us as we peered out onto the imagined view of Penn State’s campus. Along the Mountain’s ridge the rain continued, thick and chilly and spring-like.

Afterwards we ate breakfast at Lemont House, then drove back into State College where we showered and cleaned up, made it to Our Lady of Victory for mass, and closed out the trip with a Corner Room lunch before Peter caught his ride back to New York.

As I was finishing some errands, I walked out onto Allen Street where Ray Cromie was slowly making his way toward College Avenue. We walked slowly together to his destination as we caught up for the first time in at least a year. I met Ray when I was involved with The LION 90.7fm as a Penn State student, when Ray’s “Avant Garde” show took listeners on journeys to strange and wonderful soundscapes.

Still raining as afternoon gave way to evening, I hopped into my rental car and made my way back to Philadelphia.

In Park Forest, and nearby

A few snapshots from a beautiful summer day in State College, introducing Peter Atkinson to Penn State and the Nittany Valley for the first time.

We spent the afternoon visiting with Ben Novak and Maralyn Mazza in Park Forest Village. Maralyn will be celebrating her 91st birthday later this month. Like her husband, Paul, Maralyn has been a pillar of the State College community. She’s an incredible woman with an ageless spirit.

After visiting, Peter and I met another friend and took Hollow for a walk to Park Forest Elementary and the nearby woods. After a power nap at the Glennland Building in State College, we picked up supplies at the grocery store and grilled burgers, dogs, and corn for friends for an evening on the deck. And as the burgers were cooking, Justify became the second Triple Crown winner in my lifetime.

I don’t think days like today can be planned, exactly. They’re a gift.