Tag: Tocqueville

ACF PoMoCon #27: Carl Eric Scott


This week, we’ve got Tocqueville, America, and rock music on the podcast–my friend Carl Eric Scott returns to the podcast to remember our great friend Peter Lawler and how blogging helped him both formulate and get across his thoughts to the great American audience, bridging the gap between his academic vocation and the press. We also talk about what we learned from him that’s led us to our own activity in music and film criticism respectively. We conclude with some talk about Carl’s Rock Songbook, a one-of-a-kind conservative investigation of rock music, the age, the ideas, even reflections on it in cinema, from a perspective educated by Plato, Allan Bloom, and Martha Bayless!

ACF PoMoCon #22: Brian Smith


Friends, here’s our sixth conversation in memory of the late professor of political philosophy and public intellectual Peter Lawler. This week, Brian Smith, managing editor of Law & Liberty–my editor!–joins me for a conversation about his friendship with Peter, their work on Walker Percy, and Peter’s Tocqueville book, The Restless Mind–or rather how his insights shed light on our own crisis, since we have forgotten or neglected to be relational.

The American Zeal for Punching Up


Red-blooded, real Americans are sick of America’s elites punching down on them. Authentic American politics, like authentic American comedy, roots for the underdog and punches up, not down. The problem with today’s elites is their down is up and their up is down: Our elites believe they’re signaling their superior virtue by “punching up” when they ridicule heartland America, but of course what they’re really doing is using their privileged social status to punch down on heartland America instead. Or that’s how it seems to many of us. For those unfamiliar with this punchy lingo, comedian Ben Schwartz explains,

“Punching up” and “punching down” are relatively new pop-political terms, often found not far from words like “mansplaining,” “problematic,” and “trolling.”

Beauty, Power, Babbling, and Tocquevillian Sex Ed


“He drinks because of you.” Even knowing now what I didn’t know then, the claim stinks of false blame, though youth and beauty are said to have great power over those who admire them. Young I was. But beautiful? Not really, I thought. A great many budding young women are kept far too busy frantically scrambling to keep the less-beautiful parts of puberty from turning their bodies into an embarrassment to take the extra step of deliberately using their bodies to gain power over others. Some girls absolutely are Machiavellian little minxes equipped to use “sexiness” to manipulate others before they’re even old enough to drive. Other girls are as absolutely not: these latter are innocents in a society that still claims (however implausibly) to value innocence. And of course, gals come in all stages in between.

Toddlers are innocent. Toddlers are hilarious – and destructive – because they haven’t yet figured out their own agency. Our own toddler likes nothing better than to make something “happen” – but he has little idea what, or why. He’s more powerful than he knows, which adds to the havoc. Much innocence comes from simply not knowing yet what the hell you’re doing. While babies’ innocence of basic motor coordination, language, literacy, and social skills is cute, it’s not inherently valuable. Indeed, the quicker children outgrow that kind of innocence, the better. But we do value youngsters’ sexual innocence. We also value young adults’ sexual agency. Puberty is sexual toddlerhood, only we’d really rather not have our teens exploring the world with their genitals the way toddlers do with their mouths. Fortunately, children are, at least in theory, quite grown up in other ways by the time puberty hits; in theory, able to apply lessons they’ve learned about their agency in other spheres to sexual agency; in theory, able to use reason to assert their sexual agency while maintaining their sexual innocence. In practice, though, developing sexual agency while maintaining innocence is tricky, especially absent wise counsel.

Conservatives want youth – but especially, let’s be honest, young women – to exercise more agency in guarding their genitalia. Even libertine conservatives want today’s young women to recognize their sexual agency better, and most conservatives would also like to narrow the gap between the age at which women lose sexual innocence and the age at which they marry, through some combination of earlier marriage and later loss of virginity. We want this not primarily to control women (though for some, control is part of the appeal), but to make human life generally more flourishing – for women, too. One problem, though, is that, while lack of awareness of one’s own sexual power isn’t all there is to innocence, it’s part of it.

ACF#8: Movies, Poetry, America, and Marvel


Hello, Ricochet! It is my pleasure to share my first public lecture on American cinema and society. I’ll start with thanks to my friends Tom Harmon and Matt Peterson, professors at John Paul the Great Catholic University–and, of course, to the university. And to the kids who did the audio-video work with precious little help from me. They’re too young I think for me to buy them a beer, but if they play their cards right… I’ll soon publish the written lecture, which is somewhat different, just in case not everyone wants to watch…

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A friend reads this journal, which I have not seen advertised on Ricochet, so let me do the honors. I would describe it as Straussian patriotism. Strauss was the one man who restored political philosophy in academia–including your Founders & Lincoln. Professors at Hillsdale–indeed, the man who runs the place–are students of students of Strauss. (In that […]

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A Jewish Atheist for a More Christian America


shutterstock_222016312A few years ago I got sucked into a LinkedIn college alumni chat group where political discussions were going on. For the most part, the participants were smart, articulate adults, not college students, all of whom, moreover, had endured the famously rigorous classical core curriculum of our alma mater. Nonetheless, in due course, every Media Matters talking point and lunatic piece of campus-Marxist SJW nonsense was trotted out one by one and presented as revealed truth requiring no further proof. These debates — which were heated but civil by Internet standards — went on for close to two years before they finally succumbed to a combination of acrimony and the meddling and censorship of the university’s busybody apparatchiks who ran the thing. Apparently, people don’t like to have their core beliefs about the world subjected to critical scrutiny and found wanting. No minds were changed. It was, on the whole, a depressing experience.

Anyone who has ever engaged in political debate must at some point have come to the conclusion that such arguments are pointless. In the long history of political debate, from the Athenian assembly to the lamentable farce that is the so-called World’s Greatest Deliberative Body, no fully-formed adult human has ever walked away from the experience a convert to the opposing position. When conversions do happen, as with Irving Kristol or David Mamet, they are the result not of rational inquiry, but of protracted mugging by reality. You can’t reason a man out of something he wasn’t reasoned into, and politics, like religion, falls into the category of things whose core precepts are not susceptible to rational interrogation.

Which brings me to my subject – the relationship between politics and religion in America. My claim is that the demise of traditional American political values – democracy, individual liberty and limited government – has a lot to do with the decline of traditional Christianity in the United States. I make this claim as a strong partisan of traditional American political values, but as a disinterested nonpartisan when it comes to traditional Christianity. The title of this post is a bit of an overstatement – I am not really a committed atheist. I am, however, as close to an atheist as it is possible to be while still remaining agnostic. I don’t have a God in this fight, in other words.

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In these latter days, I ask myself on occasion what is the last religion of mankind. We live in a world, increasingly, when, as the philosopher says, one can do whatever one wants in the bed–except smoke. I mean, tobacco. Who is the prophet & what is the prophecy? This is not easy to answer, because […]

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