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This article is part of our 2023 year-end campaign series, featuring reflections from prominent authors on why First Things matters. To make your year-end campaign gift now, visit

When snowflakes start to stay on our nose and eyelashes (I write from the Northeast), many of us turn to the task of supporting First Things and other worthy causes with year-end donations. But did you know that individual charitable giving is down overall? Americans, who are famously generous when it comes to contributing time and money to social and cultural institutions, are parting with ever less of their personal disposable income—the lowest percentage in 2022 since 1995.

One reason to tighten the purse strings is that the economy is uncertain, especially after Covid. But another is surely that so many organizations have abandoned their mission, often grossly.

Not First Things. For over thirty years, the journal has remained focused on principles—and through the finest writing on what are sometimes the most controversial of topics, it encourages us readers to take on and proclaim these principles as our own. To quote from the founding editorial, “first things means . . . that there are first things, in the sense of first principles, for the right ordering of public life.”

In the great poem “On the Nature of Things” (De rerum natura) by the first-century b.c. Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius, two standard terms for “first things”—the atoms of both the physical world and the words used to describe it—are primordia and elementa. You do not need to know Latin to understand that they are connected to the English adjectives “primordial” and “elemental.” But there is more to say: Latin elementa also means “letters of the alphabet,” and the word goes back, probably, to the central alphabetical sequence LMN.

In our world and in our words today, the elements are under steady attack. Primary schools don’t promote the ABCs, the most common L-initial sequence of letters is LGBTQIA2S+, and our understanding of XX and XY is being trashed by Gen Z.

It is a privilege to write for First Things and, even more, to read each day online and each month in print the compelling, orderly prose of some of the sharpest critics of the state of religion and public life today: Helen Andrews, Mark Bauerlein, and this year’s Erasmus Lecturer, Carl R. Trueman, to name just three. These and many other writers regularly remind us that disturbing the universe’s alpha-to-omega gamut may lead to chaos. I hope you will join me in giving what you can to a journal that has not lost its way.

Joshua T. Katz is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. 

Image by Marsyas via Creative Commons. Image cropped.

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