The Catholic Church in the West is full of corruption—financial, sexual, and spiritual. We are forced to face this hard reality, not the least because the weak pontificate of Pope Francis offers so little of substance. The corruption that afflicts us does not arise from overpowering lusts. Our age is one of nihilism, which empties the soul. The specter of nothingness paralyzes us. In an earlier age, the Church’s swaggering spiritual pride bred vainglorious prelates who preached down at the faithful from what they imagined were supreme spiritual heights. In our age, we suffer weak, managerial clergy who address us in therapeutic tones. Their greatest ambition, it seems, is to broker a concordat with the sexual revolution so that Catholics need never feel the least tension with the world’s ethos.
When I talk this way, listeners wonder about my continuing commitment to the Church. I am a late entrant into communion with the Church of Rome, having been received in 2004 after more than forty years in the Anglican Church, the communion of my baptism. Have I lost my enthusiasm for Rome? Do I regret swimming the Tiber?
I find these questions understandable, but still odd, since they never arise in my own mind. Perhaps this is because of my personal history. From 1990 until 2010, I taught theology at a Jesuit University in Omaha, Nebraska. I knew many priests and was privy to insider gossip. As I’ve written in the past, before entering the Church I knew that some Jesuits held that sodomy does not violate the vow of celibacy, given the intrinsic sterility of the act. I had Catholic colleagues on the theology faculty who urged fundamental changes in Church doctrine. The university was as mismanaged as any diocese. In short, I was well aware of the Church’s corruption before I entered.
But there’s a deeper reason why I don’t entertain second thoughts or regrets. I’ve never had enthusiasm for Catholicism in the first place, at least not in the sense of thinking the Church of Rome is “the best.” I love classical and Gothic architecture, but I’ve never invested the grandeur of historic buildings with much theological significance. The Catholic Church’s liturgy can be banal. (It was only after entering the Church that I encountered her capacity for elevated worship and fine music.) The Catholic faithful are often lukewarm and minimally catechized. My friend’s PCA church in Lincoln, Nebraska, boasted a dozen or more members with more theological knowledge than most Catholic priests. I had no expectations when I entered the Church in 2004, which made it impossible for me to be disappointed or disillusioned on my own behalf.
As a young man, I studied theology, not in preparation for a clerical vocation, but in order to understand what it meant to be a Christian intellectual in the modern West. The Anglicanism to which I was loyal was embroiled in its own struggles with the sexual revolution and other aspects of postwar culture. Over time, a debilitating fear came to dominate my spiritual life. I watched anxiously as the theological, liturgical, and institutional foundations of my Christian life eroded, leaving me with no solid place to stand. I became aware that I was relying on an increasingly notional and disembodied faith, rather than on the living body of the faithful, the communion of saints. This realization intensified my dread, for the self, even the spiritually mature self, is not a reliable basis for Christian discipleship. I knew I could not persevere. I did not “choose” Catholicism, but collapsed into the Church the way a wounded soldier stumbles into the nearest medic station, not wondering whether it has the best staff or equipment, but wanting only to live.
Protestant movements are far-flung colonies of Catholicism. These ecclesial communities are reforms, refinements, and intensifications of one or another aspect of the Church, which remains their home country. As John Henry Newman observed while still an Anglican, “the Church of Rome preoccupies the ground.” Catholicism is the prime substance of Christianity in the West, its font and source. I recently wrote of my visit last December to the excavations beneath St. Peter’s Basilica (“A Failing Papacy,” February). Gazing on what are thought to be the bones of St. Peter, I received powerful consolations concerning the anchoring continuity of the Church. The Church is often—perhaps always—convulsed by conflict, defiled by corruption, and misruled by mediocrities or worse. But she is, and her being is always life-giving.
When I collapsed into the Church in 2004, I was revived. I had no expectations, and yet I received many spiritual gifts, and still do. One of the most important has been the gift of interior prayer. The Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrifice of the Mass awakens our souls and calls us out of ourselves. A particularly humbling experience in my first years as a Catholic accompanied the realization that, though I had studied theology and embraced the truth of Christ crucified and risen, I had never truly prayed. At the Mass, I found it is almost impossible not to pray. Before the sacrament, it is natural to speak to Christ as to a living person who is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
Catholics in the West should be anguished in 2019. There is a great deal of waste in the Church, as we all know. Worldly powers tighten their grip on our moral and spiritual imaginations. Mater Ecclesia is wobbling, as are all Western institutions. The tide of Christian influence on our societies is receding. After Vatican II, a not-yet-old Joseph Ratzinger observed that our time is one of sifting and winnowing. Much of the institutional Church is being pared away. We live with the agony of what is being mismanaged, betrayed, and lost.
But we should also be encouraged and joyful. Sex scandals defile the sanctuary and make the clerical collar a sign of shame, but in so doing they force us to direct our attention to the Risen Lord, the One whom men are ordained to serve. It is my conviction that the whole Church is being driven down to her primitive foundations—Sacred Scripture, her continuous liturgy, and the shining witness of the saints—all of which undergird her like Peter’s bones beneath the altar of the basilica.
We are being tried and tested, which means there is great opportunity for spiritual growth and clarity of witness. It is fitting to speak of a crisis in the Church. It’s been going on for decades and is coming into the open now with special force. My intuition is that our agonies stem from a self-inflicted persecution. After Auschwitz, we have internalized, or so it seems to me, the devil’s lie that death is the supreme and final truth. Believing this lie makes us apathetic, incapable of decisive action. Thus the feckless, see-no-evil leadership that all too accurately reflects back to us our own weakened and dread-ridden spiritual lives. But therein rests the promise of this moment in the life of the Church, the promise that always accompanies persecution, even the persecution we impose on ourselves. We are forced out of our ambivalent mediocrity and into decision. As I see more clearly our failures and betrayals, I find myself believing more firmly in the Church’s indefectible stewardship of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Word of Life.
Dutch voters went to the polls on March 20. An upstart party, Forum for Democracy (FvD), ran a populist, “Dutch First” platform that called for limited immigration and opposition to the European Union. Its leader, Thierry Baudet, denounced “climate change hysteria” and derided the “stupidity and arrogance” of the ruling elites. After a suspected terrorist attack in Utrecht, Baudet declared, “We are being destroyed by the people who are supposed to be protecting us.” With that comment, he targeted not Muslims, but Dutch leaders, who convulse with multicultural platitudes in the face of such threats. Election results catapulted the FvD into a commanding position. As has often been the case in the last three years, the Western political establishment buckled as pressures welled up from below.
The Netherlands has a multi-party system. An establishment consensus against antiestablishment parties means the current government can rejigger its alliances and form a ruling coalition that excludes the FvD, as it almost certainly will. In the short term, nothing will change. Business will seem to go on as usual. But it won’t—at least, not in every respect. The Dutch election is further evidence of a political crisis in the West. Those trained and certified to lead are increasingly distrusted by the masses. I find this distrust merited.
Decadence means persistent, ongoing decay. In social and political contexts, it refers to circumstances in which ruling elites and leading elements of culture become corrupt, self-referential, and ineffective. The historian Stephen J. Tonsor observed that decadence does not entail pessimism. On the contrary, decadence is often characterized by optimistic self-deceptions by which elites convince themselves that they still matter. For Tonsor, decadence is best understood as the condition that arises in “cultures that have lost their form and raison d’être.”
In the Netherlands, fending off the ascendant populist FvD will require a left-right fusion. The liberal pro-business parties will ally themselves with left-wing parties. This alliance will blur the distinctions that once were a main element of the raison d’être for Dutch political parties, which since the early twentieth century have been organized along the axis of tension between capital and labor. That today’s business interests can so easily join forces with radical parties on the left strongly suggests a loss of form.
“Today,” observed former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair in a 2017 op-ed, “a distinction that often matters more than traditional right and left is open vs. closed. The open-minded see globalization as an opportunity but one with challenges that should be mitigated; the closed-minded see the outside world as a threat.” According to Blair, the “closed-minded” can’t grasp the realities of our new, multicultural world. They are motivated by fear, not reason. So, it’s up to the “open-minded” to address their phobias, moderate globalization, or in some other way palliate the disruptive consequences of economic and cultural change. To achieve this goal, Blair calls for us to rally to the “progressive center.” I don’t mean to gainsay his earnest desire to offer responsible leadership. But the formless notion of a “progressive center” strongly suggests decadence.
I was briefly in London in March. Conversations invariably turned to the political circus surrounding deadlines for Brexit, Great Britain’s impending departure from the European Union. A surreal atmosphere prevailed, at once tense with anxiety and bemused, even indifferent. The E.U. represents extraordinary political ambition. It is a post-national project launched in response to the epochal wars of the first half of the twentieth century. If successful, it will become a template for the reordering of political life throughout the world: a reordering around the pacifying influences of commercial relations, dignified by the rigorous defense of human rights. To a great extent, this remarkable project of perpetual peace inspires elites with a sense of noble purpose that transcends ordinary politics. The populist revolt represented by the U.K.’s Leave vote undercuts the world-historical dream, which is why so many in the establishment are anguished.
But the anguish coexists with speculation that Britain’s departure from the European Union will change very little. Adjustments will need to be made. Economic incentives and rewards will shift. But for the most part, things will go on as before. Russian oligarchs and Saudi princes will still own their posh homes in Central London. Financial titans will still prosper, and the Eurostar train will still make its high-speed runs from London to Paris.
The combination of urgency and ease is striking. How could the E.U. project be deeply consequential—and of only moderate consequence? Did the European elite ever really believe in the post-national promise of a globalized world overseen by technocratic managers and human rights activists? Or were they always half-aware that this utopian project only put a shine on their self-interested governance of the nations that they half-admit don’t matter anymore on the world stage? The Cold War provided the West with a mission: Resist Soviet domination and preserve the decency of a free society. After 1989, did the E.U. become an ersatz project meant to keep the spirit of urgency alive? (For that matter, does the politics of global-warming religion play the same role? There, too, one finds great urgency combined with complacency.)
In The Waning of the Middle Ages, historian Johan Huizinga notes that the Burgundian aristocracy became less relevant in the fifteenth century, as social realities changed. Its increasing detachment led to an exaggerated cult of honor and chivalry, which combined elaborate manners with an atmosphere of artificiality:
In order to forget the painful imperfection of reality, the nobles turn to the continual illusion of a high and heroic life. They wear the mask of Lancelot and of Tristram. It is an amazing self-deception. The crying falsehood of it can only be borne by treating it with some amount of raillery. The whole chivalrous culture of the last centuries of the Middle Ages is marked by an unstable equilibrium between sentimentality and mockery.
A similar equilibrium is evident throughout Western Europe today. The heartfelt illusion of a high and heroic defense of the “open society” against the fell forces of fascism, racism, and other forms of “closed-mindedness” is widespread. At the same time, there is plenty of raillery and mockery, much of it directed at the bureaucrats in Brussels. The E.U. is at once an immensely important world-historical endeavor—and a comedy of bureaucratic trivia.
Populist politicians such as Thierry Baudet are branded neo-fascists and racists who must be kept out of government at all costs—until they are voted in, as happened recently in Austria, where the sky did not fall after the center-right party formed a government with the “far right” Freedom Party. Urgency coexists with nonchalance. The establishment leadership allows that immigration, multiculturalism, economic globalization, and progressivism have disrupted the transmission of cultural traditions and undermined social solidarity. Tony Blair suggests as much. And yet the imperative, for Blair, is to prevent political forces (always described as “far-right”) from arising to resist the further influence of these factors. Thus, the conceit of a “progressive center.”
Blair represents the political establishment well, for the project of Western elites (including those in the United States) is to seek ever-greater openness. The elite consensus treats economic and social problems as symptoms of a “closed society” that needs further deconsolidation and openness. But as we head into the third decade of the twenty-first century, it is more and more obvious that our problems stem from too much fluidity and an overstretched social fabric. In this crisis of solidarity, the establishment politics of openness isn’t just irrelevant; it intensifies our problems and blocks efforts to address them. This, too, is a sign of decadence.
The widely publicized revelations that rich parents have attempted to buy slots for their children at well-known American universities were as unsurprising as they were unsavory. Getting their children into fancy schools has become the leading preoccupation of parents in the top one percent. Many try to game the system in order to secure advantages for their kids, including, it seems, by illegal means. The parents who broke the law by participating in the scam should be prosecuted. But the larger solution requires breaking up the monopoly held by just a few universities on financial resources, the best students, and social prestige.
Well-to-do parents send their kids to selective prep schools and exotic summer programs and hire special tutors and college application advisers in order to improve their kids’ odds in the mad scramble for college admissions. The competition for elite college admissions occurs as much among parents as among high school seniors: The grown-ups are competing for status, too. All of this is quite new. In my lifetime, the prestige of top-ranked schools, and corresponding intensity of competition to get in, has increased tenfold.
The causes are many. The rankings published by U.S. News & World Report have formalized and reinforced the educational hierarchy. Globalization widens the gap between those who are networked into the system through wealthy institutions with global reach, and those who are not. Affirmative action and the growing number of international students at elite universities reduce the number of seats for the mostly white upper-class kids whose parents want to pass on their high status, while population growth increases the size of the top one percent. This combination goes a long way toward explaining why the college application process has become a tremendous source of stress and anxiety among the richest and most successful families, the very people who ought to feel most secure in our society, given their high status and vast resources.
The college admissions scam is an alarm bell. It signals that our educational hierarchy has become too extreme. A good society minimizes the temptations to vice, and good political leaders reform social systems that encourage dysfunctional and criminal behavior. It is imperative that we break up the monopoly on status and prestige that elite universities currently possess.
To start, we need to prevent the flow of still more money to the super-rich schools at the top of the heap. The 2017 tax bill included a levy on returns earned by super-sized university endowments. But the tax is minimal—1.4 percent of net investment income for institutions with more than $500,000 in endowment assets per student. What’s needed is a tax on endowment principal, ranging from 1 percent to 5 percent as endowment assets per student rise from $500,000 to $1 million. This tax will affect only the very richest institutions. America’s colleges and universities have a total of $500 billion in endowment assets, but fully half that amount is held by just twenty-three institutions. Our country would have a much healthier educational environment if resources were spread widely, allowing for a varied range of institutions to appeal to talented kids—rather than our current system, in which a few institutions are the object of intense competition for admission.
We also need to modify grants, student loan guarantees, and other sources of federal tuition support. Legislation should be passed that doubles grant and loan amounts for students who attend a college or university in their state of residence. This policy would deter the migration of talent to the globalized educational hubs and slow down the process by which the educationally rich get richer, while most of the country suffers from a brain drain.
First Things is not a policy shop—and I’m certainly not a qualified wonk. But the problem is obvious. Too few institutions occupy the top of an educational hierarchy. It’s a sure sign of perversion that a tiny number of institutions are flooded with so many applications that their acceptance rates are below ten percent. We need a more varied educational ecosystem. We won’t get one unless we take action to break up elite universities’ cultural monopoly.
Williams on Islam
In this issue, Jacob Williams explains his conversion to Islam (“Why I Became Muslim”). He insists that his newfound faith offers the best hope for the survival of the West, which is otherwise doomed to a self-willed death administered by social justice warriors. I’m unconvinced by his claims about Islam and the West. But his story is sobering. Islam looks attractive to a young man who needs a solid place to stand against today’s velvet barbarism.
The facts on the ground seem to vindicate Williams. In midwinter, a primary school in Birmingham, England, announced a “No Outsiders” curriculum for students. The curriculum includes explicit stories about same-sex relationships and gay marriage. The school serves a large Muslim community. Fatima Shah was the first to pull her child out of school in protest. “We are not a bunch of homophobic mothers,” she said. But she wants her ten-year-old daughter to be protected from sexualized pedagogy. One day in early March, six hundred children were kept home by their parents. The protest was effective. The school administration agreed to postpone implementation of the new curriculum, pending “discussions” with parents.
British newspapers reported that hundreds of “predominantly Muslim” parents were involved in this successful pushback against determined efforts to indoctrinate even the youngest children. In truth, “exclusively Muslim” seems more accurate. All the courageous voices quoted in the media were Muslim. Not a single Catholic bishop made a peep. It was as Williams describes: “Christian voices sounded all too agreeable and compromising”—that is, if they were heard at all.
I wish to be clear: An ascendant Islam will transform England and Europe, not renew its distinctive cultural heritage. The West is Judeo-Christian. Our political and moral imaginations are biblical: aspiring to transcendence, yet rooted in the particular; activist in spirit, yet alive to the tragic and paralyzing weight of original sin; ordered toward obedience to God, yet infused with a contentious, even rebellious independence. The God of the Bible governs the affairs of men with a mighty hand and outstretched arm, and often does so fiercely. (The Book of Revelation!) Yet the divine anchors his power in covenantal love, the mysterious “all-too-human” nearness of God that baffles Williams.
Above, I reflected on the decadence of the West. One indication of decay is the flaccid, feckless Christianity that takes refuge in sentimentality and can’t muster the courage to enter the public square and protect children from ideologies of perversion. As a student, Williams rightly rejected this Christian decadence. His account of his frivolous conservative peers is harsh, and perhaps exaggerated. But it captures something true. Conservatives haven’t the slightest ambition to defeat progressivism and take responsibility for the cultural future of the West. (That’s true in the United States as well.) During the dustup in Birmingham, conservative politicians were as silent as Christian leaders.
The remedy for this decadence in the West comes from within, not without. There is nothing weak about the cross of Christ high above the altar. It testifies to an unfathomable power, one that descends from on high to drive a lance through the throat of death. If I may speak strongly, the God of the Qur’an is all-powerful, but lacks love’s bold ambition. Allah reigns, but does not enter our sin-wrecked world with a flaming sword, breaking through the Enemy’s defense and plunging into the very depths of hell to dispossess Satan. As Jesus teaches, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace; but when one stronger than he assails him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoil.” The Son of God incarnate is that stronger man.
I sympathize with Jacob Williams. The once strong voices of the West have been weakened. The verses from the eleventh chapter of Luke I quoted above are from the old Tridentine lectionary, replaced decades ago by the common lectionary. The new lectionary draws our attention to different passages—worthy ones, to be sure, but not verses that evoke the church militant.
“I wanted something stronger,” Williams reports of his university years, “something that didn’t bargain with secularism.” He found substance, and a fighting spirit, in Islam. Although mistaken in the highest truths, Williams does not misjudge the cultural reality of Islam. It does indeed possess those qualities. Even more so, however, does Christianity (as does, in a different way, Judaism). The renewal of the West requires that we recover our spiritual confidence, ambition, and, yes, militancy.
while we’re at it
♦ “I became Catholic after concluding that Catholicism is true.” So writes Sohrab Ahmari in From Fire, by Water, an engaging account of his journey to faith—a journey that took him from Tehran to Utah, through American higher education to Teach for America, and to a career in journalism after a detour to law school. It’s not your typical Catholic conversion memoir. Ahmari was born in Iran to a cosmopolitan family, and his parents were bohemian in spirit—very much against the grain of the Islamic Republic established by the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. Yet in certain ways, Ahmari is typical. By the time of his birth, the post-sixties culture that swept the West had infiltrated the educated classes in Tehran. Not even the virtue police in Iran could prevent American pop culture from reaching into the lives of youngsters like Ahmari. Shiite Islam was always in the background, but his parents were secular, liberal, and soon enough divorced.
Had he remained in Iran, perhaps Ahmari would have become a recusant poet or a filmmaker who tested the limits of censorship. But in 1998, when he was thirteen, his mother secured a visa and they immigrated to the United States, landing with an uncle in Eden, Utah, before moving to Logan, where his mother, scraping by, set up house in a trailer park. Ahmari was an alienated teenager, part of the “goth” crowd in high school, attracted to radical politics and existentialism. Off he went to college—first to Utah State, where he won a scholarship based on a philosophy essay, then to the University of Washington. He was on track to become a miseducated social justice warrior who, after working for a radical organization for a few years, would have become a speechwriter in a Democratic administration or, given his extraordinary talents as a writer, a columnist for the New York Times.
But Ahmari was saved. His voracious appetite for books propelled his mind forward. The formidable conscience of a young Jewish colleague in the Teach for America program awakened in Ahmari a desire for integrity. This was something other than “idealism,” something not easily won, because it requires a sacrifice of the me-centered self for the sake of truth.
Anselm formulated the ontological argument for God’s existence: God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived. Existence is always greater than non-existence. Therefore, God exists. Once Ahmari embarked on truth-seeking rather than politically correct moral posturing and self-complimenting radicalism, he began to ascend the ladder of love implied in Anselm’s argument. Cultural and moral truths came clear in his mind; they pointed upward to truths greater still. The weight of sin dragged him down, as it does all of us. One desires that than which nothing greater can be conceived—but then again, one doesn’t, preferring instead present pleasures and illusions of self-sufficiency. Until, by divine grace, the fetters are smashed, and we taste, if only for a moment, the delicious satiation of our desire for God.
Stories of conversion have a certain sameness, even as circumstances vary widely. This is not surprising, for in the end God is the supreme Agent, the master Storyteller of our lives, not we. As his journey nears its end in baptism, Ahmari’s story flows into this common stream. Iran, Utah, the communist-turned-conservative, the avid reader now an accomplished writer—all this falls away. Like all who are brought into the Body of Christ, he is a miserable sinner, stripped naked before the holiness of God, born again in water, and sealed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
♦ Here is another proposal for higher education: Prohibit federal scholarship aid to institutions that overspend on administration. How Colleges Spend Money (howcollegesspendmoney.com) presents data drawn from mandatory government reporting in readily accessible form. You can view ratios of administrative spending to instructional spending. Lean institutions have administrative budgets that amount to less than 20 percent of what is spent on instruction. We need to encourage such prudent use of resources. Congress should phase out direct support (Pell Grants, for example) and indirect support (student loan guarantees) to institutions whose administrative budgets exceed 20 percent of the amount spent on instruction. This is a good stick with which to discipline higher education’s profligate spending habits.
♦ A recent study by the General Social Survey shows that 51 percent of Americans between ages eighteen and thirty-four say they don’t have a “steady partner.” That’s up from 35 percent in 1986, the first year the question was included in the survey. Not surprisingly, rates of marriage have fallen as rates of singleness have risen. Twenty-eight percent of the eighteen-to-thirty-four cohort said they were married, compared to 48 percent of that cohort in 1986. Perhaps this decline is a function of delayed marriage, which is increasingly common. But the data also suggest that an increasingly dysfunctional male-female dance leads to a great deal of loneliness, which is likely to persist.
These survey results indicate cultural failure. We were not created to be alone. Angus Deaton and Anne Case have published data on “deaths by despair” that offer further indicators. The truculent voters who bash the conservative and liberal establishments are another sign of cultural failure. One truth to remember as the despair, anger, and frustration build: We are not living in a culture midwifed by evangelical pastors in Texas. Today’s culture manifests the goals and ideals of the libertarian right and the progressive left. They are the true and proper targets of populist rage.
♦ Hans Urs von Balthasar on the insufficiency of social justice and the priority of prayer: “Whoever does not come to know the face of God in contemplation will not recognize it in action, even when it reveals itself to him in the face of the oppressed and humiliated.”
♦ Ernst Jünger on writing: “Our words are stones we throw, and we cannot know whom they may hit behind that wall of years.”
♦ My recent reading of Jünger’s journals from World War II sent me back to J. Glenn Gray’s extraordinary book The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle. Gray includes snippets from letters and journal entries written during the Second World War, but the main body of the work involves “applied philosophy” that seeks to make sense of his war experiences. Gray completed a PhD in philosophy before entering the U. S. Army, where his fluency in German got him assigned as an intelligence officer. He served with frontline troops in Italy, France, and Germany. He saw many hard things: “Joy and beauty have many different faces but brutality and hatred have but few.” After Germany’s defeat, his assignment to interrogate war criminals exposed him to the darkest truths about our fallen humanity. Yet Gray also knew the allure of war: “The delight in seeing, the delight in comradeship, the delight in destruction.” A spectacle beyond imagining, war cements men in solidarity that liberates them from the narrow compass of the “I.” And it satisfies a furious desire for annihilation.
Gray wrote his dissertation on Hegel and read deeply in Heidegger, whom he later translated. Those who foolishly imagine these philosophers, especially the latter, to be woolly-headed charlatans would do well to read The Warriors. Neither is cited, but both are presiding presences. “The deepest fear of my war years,” Gray admits, “one still with me, is that these happenings had no real purpose.” This is the haunting specter of nihilism, the God-forsakenness against which Hegel and Heidegger struggled in different ways. So, too, did J. Glenn Gray.
♦ On March 12, we hosted Fr. Wilson Miscamble for a discussion of his new book, American Priest, a biography of the storied president of Notre Dame, Fr. Theodore Hesburgh. Fr. Miscamble is a superb historian. His specialty is the evolution of American foreign policy after World War II. (From Roosevelt to Truman: Potsdam, Hiroshima, and the Cold War is excellent.) He possesses a wide knowledge of mid-century American culture, the setting for Fr. Ted’s ascent to the highest reaches of the American elite. Fr. Paul Mankowski reviewed American Priest in our last issue, sharpening Fr. Miscamble’s critical assessments of Hesburgh’s legacy. You can view or listen to our conversation, on video or podcast, at firstthings.com/media.
♦ Caldwell Auditorium at the Catholic University of America was standing-room-only on the evening of March 7. More than three hundred people turned out to hear Patrick Deneen deliver the 2019 First Things Lecture in Washington, D.C., on “Aristopopulism: A Political Proposal for America.” They were not disappointed. Deneen offered a trenchant analysis of our troubled politics and outlined a plan of vigorous action to reform America’s elite and restore the proper equilibrium between the few who lead and the many who are led. Video and a podcast of the lecture are available at firstthings.com/media. We will publish the lecture in an upcoming issue.
♦ We often feature the poems of James Matthew Wilson, and last October he offered our fourth annual poetry reading in New York. In his poem in this issue (“Epithalamium, October 20, 2007”), the Muse guides Wilson to rue that “we stow our judgments in the attic.” This summer he’ll be unpacking those judgments, leading an intensive summer course and workshop on the art of poetry, sponsored by the Colosseum Summer Institute at the Franciscan University of Steubenville (July 8–11). It’s a great opportunity for aspiring poets.
♦ 2018 was an exciting year for First Things. We published many fine articles, both in these pages and on firstthings.com, including Michael Doran’s Washington Lecture (“The Theology of Foreign Policy”) and Rémi Brague’s Erasmus Lecture (“God as a Gentleman”). We hosted a number of other events, prosecuting the cause of truth with vigor. You can read about all this, as well as get vital statistics and budget information, in our 2018 Annual Report. It is now available at firstthings.com/annualreport.
♦ As I reviewed the Annual Report I was again struck by the great generosity of First Things readers. Without your support, we would not have been able to achieve such great successes. Please accept my sincere thanks.
♦ Bill Werner has started a website for ROFTERS members worldwide. His ambition is to build a virtual conversation that allows readers of First Things to stay in touch with one another. For more information, visit roftersnetwork.com or email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
♦ It grieves me to end these notes with the report of the death of Anna Sutherland, a former Junior Fellow at First Things (2012–2013). We knew her then as Anna Williams, a recent graduate of Hillsdale College who had an aptitude for language that destined her for a love affair with words. She married soon after leaving First Things, but she carried on as our copyeditor, making sure we maintained high standards. Mother of three, she passed away suddenly at age twenty-nine. All of us at First Things extend our condolences to her family. Please say a prayer for them, and for Anna.