• Queen Elizabeth II, RIP

    Queen Elizabeth II’s extraordinary life and extraordinary 70-year reign have come to an end. Elizabeth died on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. May God rest her soul and save her people.

    Tributes abound, from Jordan Peterson to Sebastian Milbank to Edward Pentin to Carl Trueman to Yuan Yi Zhu. And Peggy Noonan writes:

    “Now I am imagining the royal funeral, the procession, the carriages of state going slowly down the mall, the deep crowds on each side. The old will come in their chairs and the crowd will kindly put them in front, the best view, to wave goodbye to their friend, with whom they had experienced such history together.”

    I know that some Americans find it puzzling that we should be moved by the goings-on of a monarchy in a country from which we long ago declared independence. I think there are a few reasons why we should care, and why the monarchy is in fact owed our prayer for its continued flourishing.

    First, despite American independence we should be able to look across the Atlantic and see the obvious: the reason that the United States and United Kingdom have been described as having a “special relationship” is because our peoples are related. We’re cousins, and have the chance to retain bonds like those of family should we choose.

    Second, with the time of kings and kingdoms apparently past, the persistence of the English monarchy nevertheless reminds us that there are some things in the cultural and political life of our nation we that do not simply make but that we inherit. In this way, the monarchy can remain a symbol even for Americans. The strength and success of our constitutional system relies in powerful part on the same virtues of gratitude, responsibility, filial piety, and frankly awe for those good and lasting aspects of our public order that we did not create and can only hope to pass along to the future.

    Finally, the Commonwealth of Nations, whose members now recognize King Charles III as their head, consists of some 2.5 billion people. That is a remarkable association of peoples that seems worth paying attention to.

    I also have ancestral and familial reasons for my Anglophilia, for my gratitude to England and hope for her wellbeing. Genetically, I’m 92.8% British and Irish and 5.1% French and German.

    Michael Shakley (1735-1817), meanwhile, emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1754 from a town today known as Walzbachtal in the German Rhine Valley. In 1763, Michael was naturalized at the Pennsylvania State House—what we now know as Independence Hall. Nicholas Alleman, another early ancestor, was born in French Alsace and fought in the War of Independence. It’s thanks to Nicholas that I am a life member of the Sons of the American Revolution. Nicholas’s daughter Elizabeth would marry Michael’s son, and the family grew from there. We owe our lives and the life of our family, in a very real sense, to what the British built in Pennsylvania—both to what encouraged Michael to come from the old world to the new and what led Nicholas to fight in the War for Independence.

    (Truly, although we often talk about the “American Revolution” it’s far more precise and sheds far more light to call it the War for Independence. Our American ancestors, whether ancestors by blood or spirit, did not fight for a “revolutionary” system of government—most fought for their independence for the sake of attaining in America the rights and liberties they felt the crown was wrongly denying them in practice. “We claim nothing but the liberty and privileges of Englishmen in the same degree,” declared Virginia’s George Mason, a founder and later father of the Bill of Rights, “as if we had continued among our brethren in Great Britain.” The cause of independence was unifying because it sought to secure for Americans the rights and responsibilities they understood as their English inheritance. There was, in this sense, no “revolutionary” change, but rather an attempt through independence to more firmly root an ancient inheritance in a new way.)

    In any event, knowing the story of my family—both those who emigrated to Pennsylvania and those who were already colonists—and the reasons for separation from Britain are reminders for me to be grateful for those who came before and who built so much of the world as we know it. We have many challenges, just as we have much to be grateful for. It would be wrong to deny the gift of the “liberty and privileges” for which all Americans today rightly give thanks. I think we owe thanks to God for all that we enjoy and, yes, to the peoples across the Atlantic who were the original architects of so much of the American order.

    As an aside, my grandfather John Shakely spent much of the decade after he graduated from Penn State sailing and working overseas. He happened to be in Nassau, The Bahamas in the days leading up to Elizabeth II’s coronation in June 1953 and took these photos:

    That’s the Bahamian Parliament in the first photo, and my 26-year old grandfather with his bike in Nassau in the second photo.

  • Campus walk in late summer

    Campus walk in late summer

    One of the greatest benefits of living in the city is being able to walk—whether walking to run an errand or simply walking for pleasure. We live near The Catholic University of America and walking on campus is a particular pleasure, where traffic is at a minimum and there are plenty of green spaces. It’s a great place to walk to let your mind roam, to bring a laptop and work, to do calls, or whatever.

    We shouldn’t take for granted either the beauties of the places we live.

  • The midterm elections are two months away. Chris Arnade writes on the American non-voter:

    Voting means entering institutions that have given them problems. From schools, where they were tested, measured, and prodded endlessly, only to be then ignored, scolded, or demeaned. To municipal buildings where they were taxed, fined, or charged.

    Voting means interacting with a class of people who filled and embodied those institutions. Who either ignored or scolded them in school, or taxed and fined them in the court house. It is rejoining a part of America that doesn’t value them, from the way they dress to the way they think.

    Voting means getting further entangled with a bureaucracy that has done nothing before but tangled them up. Hell, it might even come with jury duty. They can’t do that because they are working two jobs and got kids to care for.

    All to pull a lever, to be one single vote out of 122 million? Hell. ‘No way my vote is going make one bit of difference with that many people voting. So you want me to have to drive into town when I only got enough gas to get to work and don’t want to have to fill up tomorrow because I am on a tight schedule and need to switch to my back up card because I misplaced the first charge card. All for a vote that won’t change a thing. Even if, miracle of miracles, my vote swung the election. Now what? I got the president I wanted, and nothing has changed. My street still has potholes and my job still sucks.’

    That isn’t to say non-voters don’t have views about politics, or don’t have a side they root for, or won’t trash talk the president or a candidate. They have strong views, and they might get emotionally involved for a bit, but they know their place is to watch. They are spectators of a sport that doesn’t involve them, or care about them. The outcome won’t change their life because it never has.

    They are the fans with no money on the line, only in it for possible bragging rights. That is different from the wealthy, successful, and highly educated. We all have money on the line, whether we acknowledge it or not.

    When we choose not to vote, it’s because we do not feel like stakeholders—literally, we do not believe we have anything at stake in the outcome, maybe because the power of voting matters less than the power of elite classes or institutions.

  • G.K. Chesterton writes in The Superstition of Divorce:

    “It is often said by the critics of Christian origins that certain ritual feasts, processions or dances are really of pagan origin. They might as well say that our legs are of pagan origin. Nobody ever disputed that humanity was human before it was Christian; and no Church manufactured the legs with which men walked or danced, either in a pilgrimage or a ballet. What can really be maintained, so as to carry not a little conviction, is this: that where such a Church has existed it has preserved not only the processions but the dances; not only the cathedral but the carnival. One of the chief claims of Christian civilisation is to have preserved things of pagan origin. In short, in the old religious countries men continue to dance; while in the new scientific cities they are often content to drudge.”

    Christianity transfigures, rather than destroys, all those authentically human things of humanity that were a part of us before the coming of our Lord and remain a part of us still.

  • Happy Labor Day. Adam Barnes reports:

    Independent workers – including freelancers, gig workers, or even those who rent out living spaces to others – make up an increasingly sizeable portion of the American labor force.

    McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey (AOS) found that about 58 million Americans, or 38 percent of employed respondents, identify as independent workers.

    The projection of independent workforce numbers includes both full-time work and those engaged in a side job. Yet 72 percent said they only hold one job. …

    The survey showed that 50 percent of independent workers who hold bachelor’s degrees expect to experience continuous economic growth over the next five years.

    But a majority still expressed concern about job stability, when compared to workers in permanent positions.

    Reasons for independent work varied widely, according to the survey. About a quarter of Americans said their motivation is “out of necessity to support basic family needs.” Around half say they work independently for flexibility or because they enjoy the work – more than a quarter apiece for either response.

    But independent workers still face challenges compared to traditional employees despite outsized positive economic moods and the added flexibility independent work offers. Only around 32 percent said they receive insurance from their employers. The survey found that independent workers also experience challenges relating to food security, transportation and childcare.

    McKinsey noted that these issues could likely be the reason independent workers are more than twice as likely to seek assistance through government programs.

    One reading of this is that more Americans are seizing the opportunity to build freer and more flexible lives. Another reading is that it’s time for changes in American law to better provide for the common good—changes that would promote single earner householders, changes ghat would reward growing families by reducing taxes, and changes relating to healthcare and transportation.

  • Dr. Peter Kilpatrick, the new president of The Catholic University of America, delivered remarks at the Mass of the Holy Spirit—a mass that marks the opening of the academic year—that took place yesterday in Washington, DC:

    Peter Kilpatrick has a background in the hard sciences but on Thursday, the new president of The Catholic University of America spoke about matters of the soul.

    Addressing students, faculty, and staff for the first time since assuming his new post on July 1, the 65-year-old chemical engineer discussed the importance of seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. …

    “The Spirit will not prey upon your insecurities or make false and overblown promises. Nor will the Spirit shrink your soul to fit worldly purposes,” he said. 

    “Instead, the Spirit of the Lord will show you your authentic worth and guide you toward true happiness.” 

    He encouraged students to ask “life’s big questions.”

    “Who are you? What is the meaning and purpose of your life? Where will your happiness lie? How do you become the person you most want to be?” he said.

    “These questions will determine the trajectory of your life,” Kilpatrick said, adding his recommendation to “ask them of the Holy Spirit.”

    The university’s 16th president, Kilpatrick, a Catholic convert, succeeds John Garvey, who led the school for 12 years.

    Kilpatrick previously served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Illinois Institute of Technology from 2018 to 2022. Before that he was a professor and dean at the University of Notre Dame and was a longtime faculty member at North Carolina State University.

    Meanwhile Catholic University’s brand-new Garvey Hall, named in honor of former President John Garvey, is a welcome addition to campus.

  • Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” appeared nearly a decade ago. Now Helen Andrews believes it’s time to “lean out:”

    Obviously there are women today in America who are trying to have it all, and many appear to be doing so successfully, at least insofar as they have both demanding careers and children. But look more closely at those households, and almost invariably you’ll see that behind every woman who is balancing work and family, there is an army of low-paid labor, immigrant cleaning ladies, nannies who are paid cash under the table, Door Dash delivery men who deliver the meals that mom never had time to cook. It’s no coincidence that the vast increase in female workforce participation has coincided with the reappearance of something that the more egalitarian America of the early 20th century did not have, and that is a servant class.

    America today is more prosperous than it was 70 years ago, and yet it is no longer possible for an ordinary worker to support a middle-class family on a single income. The story of how that happened is bound up into a lie that has become gospel today, which is the lie that women can have it all. Undergirding that lie is a further lie that the Republican Party can have it all. The GOP has very much hitched itself to the idea that it can be the party of stay-at-home moms and girl bosses equally. Again, superficially this seems like it ought to be possible. Live and let live, it’s a free country. But this bargain is unsustainable in practice. We only have to look at the last 30 years to understand why.

    The official position of the Republican Party today is that the government’s job is to make it possible for everyone to make the right choice for their family. This rhetoric of maximizing choice requires politicians to talk as if some women will choose to be moms and some will choose to be girl bosses, and it’s really 50/50 which one you end up being. You know, both are equally valid. Who’s to say one is better? But that’s just false, and it’s false according to women’s own preferences. The number of women who say they do not want to have children is very low, in the single digits, around 5%—and that’s just the number who will tell surveys that they predict they won’t have kids when their childbearing years are over. The number of women who actually reach old age and feel satisfied with their life, being just a girl boss with no children to keep them company, is even lower.

    Squaring away all this family happiness is and ought to be a higher priority than maximizing women’s career success. It is also a more urgent priority. A woman cannot simply wake up at age 35 and decide she wants to have a family. Everyone says that the sexual revolution was brought about by the advent of the contraceptive pill, which was supposedly ushered in at an amazing new age of a new human experience thanks to science. But it actually changed a lot less than we think. We’ve gotten quite good at not having children when we don’t want to have them, but the science that gave us the pill has not made us very much better at making children arrive when we do.

    Look at the Supreme Court—a perfect example. The first woman on the court, Sandra Day O’Connor, had three kids, Ruth Bader Ginsburg had two kids, and both of them had their kids quite young. I think the last one was at 32. Both of these women followed the life course of having kids young and then pursuing their career ambitions afterward. And apparently it worked. They wound up on the Court.

    Then look at the two women appointed to the court afterward. Sonia Sotomayor had a brief marriage to a high school boyfriend when she was young. It was annulled shortly after she graduated from law school. Elena Kagan never married. There was some speculation during her confirmation that she might be a lesbian, but her friends confirmed to reporters that she’s straight. She just never managed to put it together, to have a family.

    So, this generation gap between the female Supreme Court Justices born in the 1930s and those born in the 1950s illustrates the paradox of having it all. If you put family first, you can end up doing both. If you set out trying to do both, you will end up probably or likely enough with just the career. And worst of all, you’ll end with neither in the sense that you’re not going to be a Supreme Court Justice, you’re not going to have wonderful, stimulating, intellectually accomplished work to console you in your childlessness. You’re going to have a laptop job doing corporate busywork.

    Sotomayor and Kagan are both boomers, and even among the boomers childlessness is still relatively rare. That’s not the case for millennials. Millennials are on track to be the most childless generation in American history. Projections have it that 25% of millennials will be childless. By comparison, for boomers it’s closer to one in nine. For millennials, it’s going to be closer to one in four.

    Andrews concludes by offering “three things we could do right now that would put a big dent in the multiplying lies” concerning happiness.

    It should be fairly obvious that most husbands and wives, most American households, would prefer to be able to rely on a single income rather than two (or more) incomes. Elizabeth Warren’s book “The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are (Still) Going Broke” underscores the frustrating point that two (or more) incomes is not only not a path toward empowerment for many families, but is in fact a trap whose numerous trade-offs are too often taboo.

    Blake Masters, the U.S. Senate candidate in Arizona, picked up where Elizabeth Warren left off, releasing this campaign ad during the primary last year:

    Let’s have more courage to speak about this.

  • Alasdair MacIntyre’s God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition contains this passage, which I came across at some point thanks to Urban Hannon:

    “From [the standpoint of the atheists] a theist is someone who believes in just one more being than they do and who therefore has the responsibility for justifying her or his belief in this extra entity. But from the standpoint of the theist this is already to have misconceived both God and theistic belief in God. To believe in God is not to believe that in addition to nature, about which atheists and theists can agree, there is something else, about which they disagree. It is rather that theists and atheists disagree about nature as well as about God. For theists believe that nature presents itself as radically incomplete, as requiring a ground beyond itself, if it is to be intelligible, and so their disagreement with atheists involves everything.”

    God is not simply another creature or thing out there in the universe.

  • Bad, even in the best light

    I took this photo while at a red light on Leesburg Pike in Falls Church, Virginia near Bailey’s Crossroads.

    What we’re seeing is a whole built environment, an entire intentionally crafting landscape, in what is probably literally its best possible light. And still, nearly everything is still bad and suggests a lack of intention.

    A gargantuan, undistinguished, glum-to-look-at rectangular apartment tower, with another just off to the left. Super-tall highway-style street lamps. Traffic lights strung across suspension-wire. An intersection too large for the youngest and oldest living nearby to cross comfortably. A thin median offering no protection from oncoming traffic that might jump the meager curb height. A sea of asphalt.

    The trees and modest shrubs are arguably the only soft and attractive things in this scene. The apartment tower would look all the more titanic without those two large trees obscuring its lower floors.

    They’ll tell us this is normal, but all that has been normalized is banality.

  • Saint Teresa of Calcutta in Schwenksville

    Earlier this month we attended mass near Philadelphia at Saint Teresa of Calcutta in Schwenksville. It’s a newer church, one of the last of the expansionist wave of new Catholic Churches that were built in the past generation when population projections forecasting regional growth implied a similar growth among faithful Catholic church-goers. Unlike so many of the suburban churches that I’m familiar with, this one got its architecture right. The altar here is visually striking as the focal point of the sanctuary, and it is striking not for its novelty but for its ancient reverence in elevating our gaze toward God. In contemplating Christ crucified, we are called literally to raise our gaze higher—to the heavens and toward all those things necessary for divine filiation.

    Thanks be to God.