The last sixteen months have been extraordinary. In April and May 2020, the pandemic precipitated the cessation of nearly every aspect of everyday life. Government control of our comings and goings reached extraordinary proportions. Warnings of peril and exhortations to redouble our efforts cascaded down upon us. Churches and synagogues locked their doors.
Spring 2020 was a time of anxiety and isolation—and dry tinder exploded into flame. We were hectored about our purported racism. Countless cities experienced protests, riots, and mayhem. We were subject to a great deal of social coercion: “Silence is violence.” The cancel culture went into overdrive, and frenzied Twitter mobs gathered to mete out “justice.”
As stores were looted, a bitter presidential campaign got underway. In my lifetime, I have never experienced propaganda as blatant as the anti-Trump media. Then came rancorous accusations of electoral fraud, more bitterness, and an invading mob taking over the Capitol in Washington.
It felt like we experienced a decade’s worth of tribulation in one year. But that was to be expected. We declared war on COVID, and wars are the forcing beds of history. They gather dispersed energies and release dammed-up tensions, resentments, and angers. Did civil authorities imagine they could put an entire society into a medically-induced coma with no negative consequences?
In the face of last year’s turmoil, readers have rallied behind First Things. With your support, we have affirmed timeless truths when others have been swept away by the passions and fears of the moment. Together, we have refused to kowtow to progressive bullies.
Yes, recent months have brought many disruptions. Many afflict us. But some are harbingers of a better future.
The pandemic, lockdowns, and society-wide convulsions over race and accusations of “racism” have had a spiritual effect on young people. The “woke revolution” is without a doubt more religious than political, fired by sin-consciousness and a panicked quest for atonement. But not all young people are kneeling before St. George Floyd. Surveys and clerical reports indicate that more young people are in church today than was the case before the pandemic.
Political changes are afoot as well. A number of my friends are moderates. For a long time, they dismissed the warning signs of radicalism in the universities. No longer. As one friend told me, “I’m not woke, but now I am awake.” This is encouraging. We can only recover our footing if we take a sober, clear-eyed measure of our challenges.
I’m also encouraged by what I’m hearing from our readers. Over the last five years, conversations have matured. We recognize that we must not have a society of winners and losers. This requires us to think long and hard about how to restore the promise of economic prosperity, moral stability, and spiritual transcendence to high-school-educated Americans. We see the need to resist an arrogant globalism and support a capacious but unapologetic national pride. And we’re aware that American power is not limitless.
In a word, we are entering a time of reconsolidation—religiously, morally, culturally, and economically. The upsurge in woke intolerance, which borders on tyranny, represents a correct but perverted intuition: We need unity in pursuit of noble ends. We must counter this perversion with a true vision of solidarity, one that accords with the best traditions of the West rather than engaging in destructive rebellion.
Our task is one of renewal. Religious people are uniquely well-suited to lead. Our reason is not perverted by futile skepticism or debasing materialism that cannot make sense of human dignity. Our faith teaches us that we cannot walk away from our fellow citizens, but must rather seek the commonweal. And that same faith raises our eyes heavenward, guarding us against the political idolatries so rampant today.
Please join us in this task. June marks mid-year, a time when we ask our readers for financial support. Please donate now and ensure that First Things remains a strong voice—a voice against the perversions of our time, yes, but more importantly, a voice that can lead us to a better future.
R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.