The Two Orders

UofChicago

 

In the dark ages, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, feudalism arose to replace the civilized order lost with the collapse of the Eternal City with the (in the beginning) rougher and simpler order of the strong. Feudalism, though it has become repugnant to our sensibilities, came about so that peasants and anyone else who was not strong enough to care for themselves, could barricade themselves behind the castle walls when the barbarians arrived to sack and pillage. In a sense, it is a pity that feudalism has gone into such ill repute; if it had not, then castles might still be fashionable or, at least, seen as practical. As it is, there are no real fortifications to hide behind when the post-modern barbarians disembark to kill.

 

By now, many are aware of what occurred at Middlebury College on March 2. Dr. Charles Murray, the libertarian political scientist and sociologist, was invited to speak to the small, liberal arts, Vermont based college, specifically regarding his 2012 book, Coming Apart, in which Murray observed that changing patterns, particularly concerning marriage, were in large part responsible for the decline in civilization since the 1960s. Naturally, for today, there were protestors. Unusual still, even for today, was the fact that the protestors managed to keep Murray from speaking publicly on campus as was planned. Murray therefore went into an empty classroom and streamed his talk and took questions via Twitter. The postmodern barbarians found out Murray’s location though and proceeded to congregate in the hall, stuffing the air with chants and pulled fire-alarms. But the coup de grace occurred when Murray and his interviewer, Dr. Allison Stranger of Middlebury, attempted to leave the room and campus; masked assailants physically shoved the two professors (Dr. Stranger even had her neck strained when someone pulled her hair) and once they were outside and in their car, protestors rocked the car back and forth and jumped on the hood. As Andrew Stuttaford pointed out, this was not just a protest since Murray was attempting to leave campus and not speak. This, Stuttaford declares, was punishment for perceived thought crime.

 

Many have taken this incident to speak—correctly—on the erosion of tolerance and freedom of speech. Several have also taken the opportunity to demonstrate that though some on the left are beginning to speak out against the fascism that has reared its head on our campuses, they have no room to speak out since they are the ones responsible for the situation as it now stands. But there is another aspect of our society which has been made apparent by this affair and that is the death of the university. Not death, as in the process but death as in the fact.

 

Two years ago, in First Things, philosopher Roger Scruton declared that the university, as it had existed since the Middle Ages, was dead. It was a curious declaration since by all intents and purposes, universities are far away from being dead. Currently, there are over three thousand four year colleges in the United States; almost nineteen million students attend undergraduate programs and another four million attend graduate programs. But this is looking at the situation only from the angle of quantity. When the focus is shifted to quality and, even more so, essence, it can be more clearly understood why Scruton declared the university, understood as a universal category, is dead. According to Scruton, borrowing a theme from John Henry Newman, the university is supposed to be “quasi-monastic,” a place that is, in a sense, separated from the world in order to renew the world. This, like all good paradoxes, seems counter-intuitive at first glance. What Scruton and Newman meant was that the university is supposed to be an oasis where students could gather and debate, think, and learn from the great books and languages. In effect, the university was the place where culture could be renewed within the minds of the students attending there. It was where men could be transformed into gentlemen. This was necessary because, in Scruton’s words, “the university is so important in an age of commerce and industry, when the utilitarian temptation besieges us on every side, and when we are in danger of making every purpose a material one—in other words, as Newman saw it, in danger of allowing the means to swallow the ends.”

 

As Scruton makes clear, this lofty end of the university extended back to the very beginning of its history, from the schools of the Greeks unto the universities of the Middle Ages.. Even with the advancement of the Renaissance and  Enlightenment, this idea of the university held sway, as the 18th century gentlemen saw the scholarly life as one of discipline, with its own rules and procedures which distinguished it from the other vocations. Until the 19th century, the university was seen as place where men could learn virtue. As Dr. Bradley Birzer has written, a liberal arts education–and so the university in general, where the liberal arts were housed and taught–was seen as necessary for the instillation of virtue in the young men who attended it. Birzer points out that virtue was seen as “involv[ing] duty, loyalty, mercy, justice, and, ultimately, being willing to lay down one’s life for one’s beliefs…” which, as Plato put it, adhered itself to a standard of morality and which was also channeled toward the common or public good. In this sense, universities were means not only of preserving the culture which had given birth to the universities and the intellectual, religious and artistic heritage of the culture, but the only means of reaffirming and re-strengthening republican government.

 

With all of that having been said, it may come as a surprise that universities have not changed structurally or in their end goal since their beginning in the Greek city-states. The modern university today still a semi-monastic or quasi-sacrosanct  place that devotes itself to the teaching of virtue and good. The problem is that the understanding of what these things mean is so widely divergent from their past definitions and understandings, they have effectively mutated into something quite different, though they share the same name. The root cause of this is that the university still teaches a religious world view and is itself still a religious space. The religion, however, has changed radically. The religion is that of leftism. Leftism is a true religion in a sense because, as Dr. Robert P. George explained in First Things last December, the social liberalism–or leftism–that we witness today is another variation of Gnosticism. Although Gnosticism has taken many different varieties, from when it first appeared in the First century A.D. to its various incarnations throughout history, but, as Dr. George points out, these various forms of Gnosticism, have all shared a fundamental premise: That there is an irrevocable divide between the material and the spiritual and that the latter is what truly matters. Persons are thus spirits inhabiting material bodies; we are ghosts caught in fleshy machines. This understanding of leftism as a religious reassertion of Gnosticism helps to understand the basic positions which those on the left take. Abortion does not violate anything because the organism inside the mother is not a person since it possesses no spiritual dimension and thus, cannot think, emote, will, or act–things that only a person can do. Homosexuality, “gay marriage,” and the newest fashion of transgenderism, all explain themselves because the psychic, or spiritual person, is the real person and thus the body is merely an afterthought. With that established, marriage has no objective nature in and of itself that demands that it can only be the union of one man and one woman; the body, which has its sex stamped upon it in every cell, means nothing if the “person” dwelling inside the vehicle of the body believes itself to be something other than the body’s designed sex. Social justice and large government programs are needed so that persons can be “free” to enjoy the pleasures which they desire, and which material constraints might prevent them from tasting without government support.

 

 There is a reason why the university has succumbed to the leftist religion and that is because nothing can really escape from the clutches of religion, of some stripe or color. People cannot really gather together apart from a religion of some sort. This is not to say that people cannot gather at all without a binding religion but that these bonds are much weaker than bonds that are religious. The reason for this is because of the need for order. Russell Kirk, in his Roots of American Order, explained that order is the first necessary consideration for any group of people. Without order, there can be no survival since the opposite of order is chaos and a society cannot survive in a state of continual chaos; nor can individuals. Kirk goes on to say that order can really only come about from religion. Religion is what forges bonds between people who are not related by blood; religion focuses the attention of the people on something outside of themselves; the religion, because of this focus on the outside, also determines the moral norms and taboos of the society in all areas of life and not just the sexual. In this light, the political contests between the left and the right become deeper because the opposition between the two groups is not about politics per se but about two different orders, stemming from two radically different world views and religions.

 

 These two orders, on the left and the right, are contradictions; they therefore cannot both be right. Even more importantly, they both cannot exist in the same space. If we take the “space” as being all of the United States, then both orders cannot co-exist together. Abraham Lincoln foresaw that America could not survive as a nation half free and half slave. One or the other would win the whole country. The same situation is present again. This is not a new revelation nor is it really something that original to say; many people have spoken about the “second Civil War” in America, Dennis Prager being one of the most recent. The real trouble is two different approaches to this news. One reaction–or more appropriately inaction–is not recognizing that we are in a civil war at all. In mid-March, Kevin Williamson wrote a piece for National Review Online in which he discussed why CEOs became such devoted “social justice warriors.” One of the most fascinating aspects of the piece, to my mind, however, was when Williamson contrasted the mindsets of the left and the right on different and important issues. Williamson gave the example of  “gay marriage”–whereas for ” the Right, the question of gay marriage is an important moral and political disagreement, but for the Left the exclusion of homosexual couples from the legal institution of marriage was something akin to Jim Crow…” The fascination comes from the two different attitudes expressed. Only the left seems to see the issue in its proper light in that it is either right or wrong; it cannot be considered wrong but then ignored. This, again, comes from their religious sentiment. The right, on the other hand, sees “gay marriage” as something which can be accommodated since they see it only as a “disagreement” and, therefore, something that can be put aside. Williamson went on to give an example that was particularly illuminating: In 1996, several groups on the right, including Focus on the Family and the Southern Baptist Convention, called for a boycott on Disney theme parks because of their friendliness toward the “gay agenda.” The effort failed dismally because, as Williamson implies, families did not see the issue as that important. They may have disagreed with Disney’s position, but they were not strong enough in their order to actually give Disney up.

 

 The second reaction–and it truly is a reaction–is the one that realizes that we are in a war and that the war is of some importance. The problem comes from the fact that there is nothing of substance holding this reaction together.  Charlie Kirk’s organization, Turning Point USA, is one example where this fact is revealed. To be fair, what Charlie Kirk has accomplished in creating and spreading his organization and its motto–“Big Government Sucks”–though rather crass, does tell a truth. The problem comes from the fact that the idea that big government is wrong because it impedes me is not a durable idea for a sustained movement and it certainly is no match for the left’s religious zealotry. Whereas the left has an order which springs from their Gnosticism and which, in turn, gives them their positions, many on the right, such as Turning Point USA, see their unity only as a way to free themselves, the individual, from the shackles of modern society (in this case, the intrusion of government). Whereas the left at least has an anthropology and seeks to take what might be called the “full man” (though their idea of the “full man” is horribly wrong) and an ethics system and a system of metaphysics, the contemporary right, has discarded much of that and has simply tied itself to the proposition that what elevates the individual and diminishes the government is good. It has, in other words, no moral imagination nor any appreciation for the “permanent things,” as Russell Kirk called them.

 

 Many on the right claim that America is under assault from the left. This is entirely true. What the right needs to understand is that it must become deeper and wider than it is now. Only by forming a genuine order will the right be able to stand firmly against the left.

 

Tomi, Truth & Conservatism

St. Augustine once famously said that he knew what time was until someone asked him. Augustine put his finger on a common problem with words: the more they are used, understanding their meaning does not increase but is more likely to decrease.

 Conservatism is another word and concept which is suffering from this increased lack of understanding. Others have pointed out this reality; John Murdock in 2014 remarked that many of the attendees of that year’s CPAC were not conservatives in the real sense of the word; last month, Steve Deace made the same point, that the meaning of the word “conservatism” has mostly been lost. Examples of this fact have increased: former JPTV commentator, Bill Whittle, has described conservatism as loving “fast cars, loud guns, and hot women;” Milo Yiannopolis became a sensation on the Right because of his attacks on the left and his pop-cultural credentials, even though he is not a conservative. Last Friday, Tomi Lahren made herself the latest example when she revealed herself to be pro-choice on The View.

 What does conservatism mean? Before any other question can be answered or any position on any issue be taken, that first question must be answered. Although many answers have been given, they, of course, cannot all be correct. An aid in answering the above question might be found in another question: What is conservatism for? It seems that many people today see conservatism as whatever they wish it be–as long as they oppose the Left in some fashion. This can help explain the rise of so many different factions within modern conservatism; there is now, Christian conservatism, social conservatism, fiscal conservatism, libertarian conservatism, moderate conservatism, compassionate conservatism, even “conservatism with liberal leanings.” One of the reasons for this split may be the obsession that many on the Right now have for freedom. This obsession is not hard to understand when every action requires an equal but opposite reaction. As the Left has increasingly called for more and more government power over every facet of life, the Right has called more and more for freedom, so that freedom is equated with conservatism. But this obsession with freedom has polluted and corrupted modern conservatism. This perhaps, was put on display in the clearest light when Tomi Lahren, in defending her pro-abortion comments on Twitter, said, “I speak my truth…I will always be honest and stand in my truth.”

 With 1,842 shares and 12, 355 likes on Twitter, it seems that a sizeable number of people share Tomi’s view. The problem is that this is nonsense of the greatest and wildest quality. This is not a personal or ad hominem  attack on Tomi; that is simply the nature of the argument she made. If there is such a thing as Tomi Lahren’s truth, then, logically speaking, there must be such a thing as my truth, and your truth. Everyone, in essence and practicality, must have his own truth. But this is an impossible situation. Tomi says that abortion is licit since the unborn child is not a person; I say that abortion can never be justified because the essence of abortion is the killing of an innocent person. Which of us is right? According to Tomi and her defenders, we both are since we are both “standing firm” in our truth. But this is an impossibility; an act cannot both be right and wrong at the same time; likewise, an unborn child cannot both be a person and not a person at the same time. One position must be right and, since the other option is a contradiction of the first, the other must be wrong. To hold otherwise is to throw the principle of non-contradiction out the window. But to do so is to acknowledge that a thing can both be and not be at the same time. This is not philosophical quibbling, the equivalent of the medieval discussion of how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. In the first place, rejection of the principle is wrong and, therefore, should not be tolerated. In the second place, rejection of the principle creates a world ruled by the will to power. If everything is in flux and there is only “my truth” and “your truth” and no objective, transcendent order, there is no reason to say that a particular action is wrong or evil. Communication becomes impossible. There is, in fact, no reason why limited government, the reason Tomi gave for being pro-choice, is a good thing, other than that is what she wants. Further, there is no logical reason why she should continue to attack people on the left for their views and actions since they are simply standing in their truth.

 This leads to the very word, “conservatism.” If the principle of non-contradiction is still in place (as it must be) then conservatism, like everything else, cannot both be and not be something at the same time. Conservatism, for example, cannot both be for the protection of innocent life and for its murder. To be sure, there are several areas where conservatives of good will can disagree; the correct remedy for educational reform, for instance. But on issues such as the personhood of the unborn, there can be no divergence of opinion as there can be only one right answer with justice then demanding that we follow the right answer.

 What then, again, is the meaning or purpose of conservatism? The common definition today seems to include limited government, low taxes, both staples of conservatism since the days of Ronald Reagan, and a mania for freedom, that, in reality is an obsession with “freedom from” with no regard for “freedom for.” None of these things, in and of themselves, is bad; they are, in the right proportion, good things. The key though is right proportion. Let us take freedom as an example since that is taken to be the root of modern conservatism. Forgotten in all the chatter is that freedom is not a uniform entity but a multifaceted one. The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen differentiated between freedom from, which he defined as freedom from restraint, and freedom for, which he described as the freedom to pursue a specific goal. Neither aspect can exist without the other; freedom from restraint is pointless unless one uses that freedom in order to pursue some goal. The question then becomes, what sort of goal or end should we pursue? As Abraham Lincoln said, “Freedom is the right to do what we ought, not what we want.” The question then becomes: What are those things which we ought to choose with our freedom? The correct answer is that which allows us to flourish. This answer does not allow subjectivism to enter through the back door of our thinking since what we want to do and what allows us to flourish are not the same thing. In other words, what we ought to choose are those things which allow us as human beings to flourish which, in turn, will allow us to flourish as persons. Let us take the virtue of honesty as an example. Honesty is when we express the objective order in the world; it is (to make an obvious example) saying that the clear sky is blue, or that 2+2=4. There are many times when honesty seems to work against our interests; if we are honest, we may be punished, such as when we run a red light, or we may not “get ahead” as when we do not take credit for another’s work. Even if it is not to our immediate advantage though, we ought to choose the truth and honesty. In the first place, we should choose honesty because that is what our minds and our power of speech is for; our minds are there to see and discover the order of the world, the way things are, and our speech is present so that we may communicate that order to others. In the second place, we should always be honest because, as much as it might hurt us in the moment, being honest allows us to truly flourish. On the practical level, we will be known to be honest and so our word will be good on whatever we say. But on a deeper, metaphysical level, honesty allows us to be truly human, since we will be using our faculties as they are supposed to be used and we will thus be aligned with the objective and true order of the world.

Conservatism, then, can be broadly said to be concerned with genuine human flourishing, which comes from allegiance to the “permanent things” as Russell Kirk called them. This is why limited government, low taxes and unrestricted “freedom from” cannot be the essence of conservatism, nor its most important features. Men need beauty, art poetry, history, stories, family, moral order, goodness and truth in order to flourish because we are made for these things. A conservatism that ignores these necessities and which sinks to subjectivism, where everything is chaos, is not conservatism at all but a petty sham.

 

The Adventure of Romance

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It has been said that the present time is the best of all because it is the present and, as such, it is superior to the past. This is as true in philosophical matters as it is in any other sphere. In the old days, one had to work in order to gain divine wisdom, whether it was waiting for the Opet festival in Egypt, traveling to the oracle of Delphi in Greece, or divining intestines from the right animal in Rome. Today, gods and philosophers no longer need to be sought but walk boldly above us and sometimes besides us.

 

 This past St. Valentine’s Day was one such occasion. Scarlet Johansson, probably best known for her part in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, gave an interview for Playboy in which she said that monogamy was unnatural. Her proof for her statement was that it is very hard for a lot of people to actually do.

 

 To be fair to Scarlet, she did say that the idea of marriage was “beautiful” and, unlike so many people today, she did acknowledge that marriage was a responsibility. But, despite these pearls of truth, her matter-of-fact declaration that monogamy is unnatural leaves much to be admired.

 

 In a sense, it’s not so much that Scarlet was wrong (which she was) as it is the reasons for why she is wrong. Anyone can have a flaw in their reasoning since, as Aristotle said, of the three different ways to reason, there is only one correct way—from correct premises to correct conclusions. With that in mind, it is quite easy to see how people can be wrong and to make room for their error. The problem with Scarlet’s method, however, is that is that there seems to be no method besides a vague and hazy inductive method by which, from the fact that “[monogamy] is such work for so many people,” she reasons to the conclusion that it is not natural. But couldn’t this all be, in a sense, circumstantial and cultural evidence rather than objective facts? Our grandparents and great-grandparents were much better at monogamy than their spoiled grandchildren and great-grandchildren; many times, combing through obituaries in the local papers, you will see that the deceased who are seventy-eight years old and older, were married for anything between thirty and sixty years. There were still exceptions, of course—human nature, by any other word, remains the same indifferent to time and space—but the fact remains that monogamy was much better practiced in the past then here in the present. Perhaps then, rather than monogamy being unnatural in essence, it is the culture that has made it seem unnatural. With the sexual revolution of the late Sixties and Seventies, faithfulness and monogamy were laughed to the curb and now, so called “sex experts” such as Dan Savage can say flatly that monogamy is “sexual death” and no one—at least no one in a position of cultural power—bats an eye. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, when we laugh at monogamy, we should not be surprised that people find it hard to practice.

 

Another problem, however, is the fact that if Scarlet’s conclusion is true, then many other habits which the world still declares to be good are equally unnatural and, implicitly, wrong. Many people struggle with weight, many struggle with alcohol, many struggle to control their anger, many people struggle with kindness; are we really, in this time of absolute skepticism, ready to say that a healthy weight, patience, sobriety, and kindness are all unnatural?

 

There is a scene in The African Queen where Katherine Hepburn tells Humphrey Bogart that nature is what we are set on earth to overcome. We hear a great deal of overcoming nature from technocrats and libertines but, here, Hepburn was speaking of overcoming nature in the right context; not so that it leads to the abolition of man but so that the dignity of man will not be corroded by giving in to every whim and baser instinct.

 

That leads, in a round-about-way to the question of what is romance. We have an idea that romance is a feeling which involves candle light dinners and long walks by moonlight, preferably along a beach. But keeping romance there does not so much dirty it as cheapen it by leaving it incomplete. Romance is not just a sensation that we feel but an adventure to be lived. The real romantic is one who is so in love with the subject of his affections that he can never know enough about it nor spend enough time with it. The real romantic knows that his subject is not a shallow but a well that can never be exhausted. In this way, his subject is like a rich book which he cannot put down and which he must start reading again after he has finished it because a single reading cannot do it justice. Why is this an adventure? Because like with any rich book or anything which one devotes oneself to, you never know where it will lead, and that is the very definition of adventure—to set out without knowing what exactly will happen. Trips planned in minute detail—even to foreign countries—are not adventures in and of themselves because the planning gets in the way of the spontaneity. It is only when our love and our enthusiasm and our faith allows us to pursue the end of the journey without a map that we can say that we are on an adventure. And, added to that, is the fact that when the romantic’s adventure is with another, that is the most spectacular adventure of all. Unlike an adventure simply to a place, an adventure with another means that the uncertainty—and the adventure—is increased, since we are not just adventuring on our own but with another with their own mind, will, emotions, likes, dislikes and story. The clash of these elements in the two people leads to more adventure than being alone much as a chemical reaction is more interesting than a pure chemical sitting by itself. And this, coming full circle, is what deepens the romance of the romantic for even with the clash of the different elements, there is no one else that he would rather be with or to know than his love. It is much like how riding a horse is much more interesting and romantic than driving a car which is why knights always ride them.

 

Why does romance have to be this way? If it is not, we are simply dead leaves, flitting by each other with the wind with no aim and no purpose to our lives. You can only really be romantic with someone that you love, otherwise, you are not being a romantic but a con-man, running through the steps simply in order to get what you want. As soon as you get it or as soon as you become bored, you are off the next victim to repeat the process all over again making one not a romantic but a vampire. Love, on the other hand, requires monogamy—how can one really say that you love someone if you are willing to leave them, cheat on them, or to treat them no differently than anyone else? For the real romantic, the real lover, monogamy is the most natural thing in the world since there is nowhere else he would rather be than with his love.

 

Although she more than likely did not mean to, the world which Scarlet implied is a cold one, where we are enslaved by sexual licentiousness. It is unfortunately arguable that such a world is already born; a recent article in Men’s Health  stated that the percentage of “open” relationships and other such arrangements are on the rise. For all of that, it does not seem that our world or our society in particular has grown better with that rise. Our society—or at least those parts that are still honest enough—are searching for something more. What they are searching for is romance and adventure. And they will be unable to find either in polyamory.

 

Values: The Ghostly Globs

john-adams

I have never had the pleasure of seeing a ghost except in some of the stories I have read. In these stories, the specters always possess a solid shape and can, on occasion, communicate with the living. This is way Hamlet went mad when he saw the ghost of his father walking along the ramparts of the castle–he saw what looked like someone he knew to be dead.

In real life, ghosts do not always have to take an actual shape. Orbs, which “ghost hunters” famously look for in their photographs, can appear as clear balls of light or as misty hints in the background. A ghost can be distinct or just an inky smirk in a photograph or the retina. And though they are bandied about in ordinary conversation, values have the same indistinct substance as the ghosts that haunt actual houses and not the pages of literature.

Both sides of the political aisle have great recourse to the talk of values. On the Right, the Values Voters Summit has gathered in Washington DC during September and October since 2006 offering a podium for social conservatives, often neglected throughout the rest of the year. On the Left, the specter of values is raised against anything which the Left opposes. One of the latest examples was the reaction on the Left after Donald Trump’s temporary suspension of travel visas which was decried as acting against “American values.” Former President Obama and Cheryl Sandburg, the CEO of Facebook, both made this same proclamation.

The first question which naturally rises from all the talk about values and “American values” is what, exactly, are American values? The question is a simple one and, as said, seems to rise naturally from the usage of the phrase. Both the Left and the Right use the term as a blanket which can cover whatever positions they hold. The Left’s conception of “American values”, when it is distilled into its most basic components, can be said to be composed of a radical egalitarianism and an atomized, self-gratifying libertinism, masquerading as liberty, which can encompass asexual insanity, infanticide, and an idea of self-expression which, paradoxically, acknowledges no borders and thus ultimately and logically, destroys itself. On the Right, “American values” usually is taken to mean some mixture of faith, family and freedom. The details of these components are hardly ever investigated after their utterance and the ration of the different components often depends on which segment of the Right one is speaking. Both sides too often reach back to the Founding of the Republic in order to justify their own definition of “American values” an endeavor that often leads to bad history on both sides. As historian, Mark David Hall noted  those on the Left will often see nothing but secular and deistic influences upon the founders and the Founding, while their compatriots on the Right, see nothing but Evangelical Christianity working in the lives and events of the Revolution. But in whatever degree the two versions of “American values” are presented, the truth remains unchanged that these two different definitions are contradictions and thus, they cannot both be true.

Then there is the question as to why, exactly, the :Left can appoint itself the arbiter of “American values.” If the things the Left espouses as values and the things which the Right claims are values are contradictions, neither side can actually claim that their values are universal “American values” without at least a semi-logical argument that attempt to explain the reasoning behind the claim. Unfortunately, neither side is really prepared to do this. Both sides begin with the a priori assumption that their values are the values for the whole country; the Left then proceeds to refuse any attempt at Socratic dialogue in seeing if their thoughts and assumptions are erroneous and, thus, false; the Right, in the meantime, has recently slipped into a low type of fideism in which anti-intellectualism has become a virtue. In both cases, discovering the truth by “reasoning together” becomes almost an impossibility.

But, there is an even deeper issue at work in the talk and references to values and “American values” one which has gone almost unnoticed by many, even those partaking of the dialogue. And this is the fundamental weakness in the concept of values in the first place. The word “values” seems strong on the surface, implying a belief, fiercely held, that unites the believers together. But, in reality, the word is completely subjective, as something only has value if someone gives it value. Rather than being anchored in something substantial, the values that people claim to have only have the value which they have because of the people who want or like them. At the drop of a hat, peoples’ perspective could change and what was valuable in the past could become a fossil in the present. The ball cap that your grandfather gave you when you were ten years old could have immense value for you, but for others, it is just an old ball cap and of no real value at all. This is the reason why the value of money–and even precious metals such as gold–can rise and fall depending on supply, demand, and a whole further host of economic factors. The fatal flaw, besides their inherent subjectivity, is that men may end of valuing something that is, in actuality, harmful for them. The rise in the use of drugs in American society seems to demonstrate that more and more people value things and experiences and feelings that are detrimental to their actual good. With this comes the question of whose subjective values win in the arena of the culture and politics. One of the values of the Right is being pro-life; one of the values of the Left is being “pro-choice.” Which position is true and correct? Because these positions are equal values, just on opposite sides of the political spectrum, there is really nothing enforcing either one except the will to power–my value is correct because I say that it is. Rather than a star to guide us, we are left with  a see-saw with contradictory values gaining the upper hand at different times simply because of a shift of opinion or political fortune.

Principles and virtues, on the other hand, are much firmer and more real than values. The word “virtue” itself, from the Latin virtutem (nominative virtus) means “moral strength, high character, goodness; manliness; valor, bravery, courage (in war); excellence, worth,” infers a strength of character which allows one to do what one ought and not merely what one wants. This, in turn, implies something else. If virtue is the strength of doing what one ought, then there must be practice, sacrifice and self-denial in order to gain the strength of the virtue. There must, in other words, be work in gaining and building this inner strength, just as there must be work in gaining and building physical strength. Principles, in much the same way, connotes a universal which has holding power regardless of time, place, culture or individual, in the same way that geometric and algebraic truths are true regardless of the passage time and the boundaries of cities and countries. This is so because, as with geometry and algebra, principles dealing with human nature must be either true or false, as dictated by the principle of non-contradiction. The word “principle” means that rather than simply finding them agreeable for the moment and liking them, we must actually conform our lives to them if we truly wish to participate fully in our humanity because, unlike the ghosts of values, principles are solid realities which we can either adhere to for our true happiness or disavow for our eventual hollowness and sadness.

This, I suspect, is the reason why we do not hear much of virtues or principals anymore. While values can easily be gathered, held and exchanged, virtues must be worked for–they, in a sense, must be earned through constant effort. In the same way, principles must be adhered to, even if the result is discomfort or some other disadvantage. They cannot simply be exchanged as values can be. As society has become progressively weaker, the effort to culturally adhere to the universal and unchanging virtues and principals has become harder and harder.

But still, if the distinction between principles and virtues on the one hand and values on the other, is sound, then there really are no such things as “American values” to begin with. There can only be American principles. In one sense, these American principles are the same that every nation has tried (or should have tried) to implement since the sunnum bonnum (greatest good) never changes, since the nature of man can never change, regardless of time, place and circumstances. At the same time, American principles, such as ordered liberty, equality under the law, belief in the natural law and in the protection of Providence, these are all deeply rooted in the Anglo-American tradition and, in a broader sense, in the tradition of the West itself. But in order to return to that tradition, we will once again need to distinguish principles and virtues from values. And, then, we will need to live according to that distinction.

The Reason for Our Rights

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Anniversaries should be a time of reflection, a time for remembering the living past and realigning oneself to the vows or principles (if any) which are being marked by the occasion. This was held true last December when NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE published two articles in honor of the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. Although both articles spoke of the Bill of Rights, they were polar opposites. Arthur Milikh claims that it is high time American rethought the Bill of Rights. Recognizing that the Bill has been held captive by lawyers and courts, Milikh tries to accomplish something that is very rarely seen nowadays–he attempts to give a teleological reason for the rights we possess by asking the fundamental question: What are our rights for? Milikh argued that the Bill of Rights was placed inside the Constitution in order to preserve the Republic. In this light, for example, the freedom of speech was never intended to protect any speech indiscriminately but only that speech that cultivated the “virtues of deliberation among citizens” so that men may cultivate the ability to reason and to defend one’s position rationally. This, in turn, brings about “a new image of reverence” in which men respect each other for holding rationality in common, thereby overcoming the narrow tribal identifications of race, religion, and ideology. This history, for Milikh, means that many of the laws on the books today are ultimately self-defeating since many of them–such as laws protecting pornography and flag-burning–are non-rational, as they do not encourage and support rational dialogue. This, in turn, leads many people to disrespect the law, a state of being which, Milikh implies, may lead to the crumbling of the country since laws are needed to “interest men in the destiny of their country.” The implied conclusion for Milikh is that not all speech can be protected by the First Amendment and that it is a very dangerous situation for all forms of speech to be so protected.

In opposition to this line of thinking, Roger Pilon declares that laws protecting free speech are based not on the “content of speech but on the right to speak.” As such, Pilon finds Milikh’s “rethinking” of the Bill of Rights, a slippery slope that immediately dissolves into tyranny. After all, the freedom to speak is a right that is inherent in every individual and which is “essential to human dignity.” By passing laws which decide which speech is to be protected and which is not to be protected in order to inoculate virtue among the people, Pilon sees statecraft becoming soulcraft since the virtuous citizens will be required to make laws outlawing all speech that they deem to be irrational and unvirtuous. This, in turn, will require the state to become larger and more powerful since sanctions against “unrespectable speech” will require more than merely “social sanctions.” In other words, the type of society which Milikh’s vision produces is a modern police state, one that is simply ruled by the right rather than the left. Pilon concludes by saying that such a “rethinking” of the First Amendment is dangerous because it is not respectable speech that is in danger of being censored but “foolish or unpopular speech that is ever in peril.” The genius of the Amendment, for Pilon, is that it does not rest on the content of speech but rather simply on the right to speak. In this vein, Pilon praises former Justice Scalia in his opposition to flag-burning bans.

Although Milikh and Pilon are in opposition, both of their views have glimmers of the truth but also contain some serious flaws that makes it imprudent for either of their views to be established within the mindset of the general people.

Why Do We Have Rights?

Pilon is right to point out that the freedom of speech is a natural right and, as such, it is inherent in the individual merely by being human. The problem that Pilon runs into is that he does not ask why men have the right of free speech as men? In other words, what is the end of free speech? The answer to that question can only be to communicate the truth. Man is a rational person; that is what separates him from the rest of the animal kingdom. As such, man is the only earthly creature which can see the truth in its fullest.  Rationality and speech are closely linked. It may be a mistake to say that the two are really the same thing but it is true that rationality and speech are tied tightly together since our rationality is publicized (not, it should be noted, actualized) by making our thoughts known to our fellows. As such, the freedom of speech and the freedom to write (the press) are vitally important since these are the means by which we communicate with our neighbors, our countrymen and our fellow man in general. Rational speech can easily be defined as such: Speech which aligns itself with reality and, thus, the truth. This does not mean that one’s speech must align itself completely with reality; individuals are fallible and our finite minds do not come pre-programmed with the entire system of the cosmos, both physical and metaphysical. That is why free speech is necessary; it allows men to come together in their shared capacity of rationality to reason and discover the truth together, as Socrates would say. There is an even deeper reason why reality and truth is end or reason of speech and this has to do with the nature of words themselves. Words are not just signs of reality, though they definitely are that; words—language—is the “house of Being” as philosopher Max Heidegger put it and “For this reason the misuse of language…destroys our authentic relation to things.”

This line of logic does lead to a very definite conclusion, however: Only rational speech is true speech since it is the only type of speech that fulfills the end or purpose of speech. Pilon seems to grasp this truth to an extent, as he does realize that speech can be used foolishly but he does not come to the logical conclusion that such foolish speech should not and cannot be protected by the First Amendment as foolish speech is actually a perversion of speech as it does not fulfill the end of speech. The reason for this is that Pilon has the danger of a powerful State ever in his mind; to stop the State from accruing too much power, such evils as flag burning and pornography must not only be tolerated but also granted First Amendment protection. But Pilon makes two mistakes in this regard. In the first place, though he says that placing limits on speech turns statecraft into soulcraft, it is true, contra Pilon, that the state does have a duty in protecting and promoting the common good. Since the nature of man is rational, man can only be truly happy with what is true and what is good. That is why so many thinkers—from Cicero and Aristotle to the Founding Fathers—declared that the true happiness of man was found in virtue. The state, as the natural and therefore good uniting of men into society, is not merely to be neutral between two contradictory propositions and allow people to decide which one to choose for themselves; the state is not to hold out a prolife and a pro-abortion position as equally valid and good. The state that has the common good truly in mind, will come down on the side of the prolife position every time. Furthermore, fears of the central government creating speech codes is a strawman argument. Such an act would be and is unconstitutional but according to the original understanding the Amendment, local polities and governments could outlaw certain types of irrational speech or expression, such as flag burning. Some local governments have done similar actions; Ave Marie, Florida, home of Ave Marie University, outlaws pornography within its jurisdiction. These are the acts of power-made polities but efforts to secure the common good for people.

Are All Laws Sacred?

Milikh’s position—his rethinking of the First Amendment—also possesses certain problems. Although he never articulates why some speech should not be protected by the Amendment (other than the fact that it is irrational) and, thus, never says what the end of speech is, he is correct in that not all speech is protected by the Constitution. Where Milikh errs is in the sacrosanct place that he places the law. Now, to be sure, the law is very important in the matter of government and society in general. Law is also a teacher, as Milikh recognizes and the law should be rational; as Thomas Aquinas says, law is rationality set down for the common good of the state. But, contrary to what he suggests, the law cannot be the only teacher of good and evil; if that were the case, morality would be reduced to legality when, in truth, morality is supposed to be much deeper and wider than legality. Following that, simply because a thing is evil, it does not follow that it should be made illegal. The reason for this is not that the evil is not recognized as evil but that it is recognized as not always prudent to do so, especially if the legal eradication of the evil would, in itself, lead to other evils, such as the curtailing of too many freedoms. For example, lying is wrong but the state can only prudently outlaw some forms of lying (such as perjury) without gaining fantastic powers over the lives of its citizens. This is where the “little platoons” of families, churches, organizations and neighborhoods, so praised by Edmund Burke, come into play. Since they should be much more intimately connected with individuals than the State, it is in these platoons that an aversion to moral and legal evils should be properly installed.

These little platoons require their own foundation, however and that foundation cannot be found in the law, making a circular argument. Rather, the foundation for Burke’s platoons and the law itself is in what Russell Kirk called the “moral imagination.” For Kirk, the moral imagination exists to teach us what it means to be truly human and it can be found most powerfully in the great literary works of the West, in the works of Plato, Cicero, Vergil, Pope, Dante, Shakespeare; even something as supposedly “juvenile” as Treasure Island, Kirk says, can instruct the moral imagination. If people have a true sense of what it means to be human—if they have a grasp of what philosopher Peter Kreeft calls the three transcendentals of the True, the Beautiful, and the Good—not only will the laws be rational and good, but people will recognize them as rational and obey them because it is the right thing to do for the community and for themselves.

The Answer to the Riddle

So many problems which face us in modern America run so much deeper than politics that political solutions will not suffice anymore. A “rethinking” of the First Amendment needs to be done, but its rejuvenation will not come merely from laws. The passing of more laws will actually be a sign of the Republic’s continuing collapse since it will demonstrate that individuals are incapable of ruling themselves. This realization is the first step that must be taken.

The second step is to destroy the nominalist distinctions present in Pilon’s thinking. The distinction that needs to be made is not between popular and unpopular speech, as Pilon does, but between speech that reflects the truth and that which does not. And, again, while it may not be prudent to legally forbid genuine foolish or evil speech in all cases, the distinction between the two must be clearly present.

Thirdly, and most challenging, the moral imagination of Americans and Westerners must be rekindled. This means that it is necessary not only to teach minds but to transform souls. This can and must be done not only in re-introducing the great works of literature and art but in creating great works, not only in reforming schools but in creating new schools. It will mean not only arguing with statistics and logic (which we must continue to do) but also through story and poetry. As C.S. Lewis said, “Reason is the natural organ of truth but imagination is the organ of understanding.” All of this will take time but Rome was not built in a day.

If Hollywood Went on Strike

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Children are often naughty in order to gain attention, whether that attention is good or bad. The reason for the lack of discrimination in regards to which kind of attention is received is because in the child’s still-developing mind, the distinction between good and bad is still ripening. On top of that, young children are intrinsically selfish; they believe themselves to be the center of the cosmos and, therefore, they think that they should have the absolute attention of everyone. This is not to disparage children; it has been argued that this selfishness can be explained as a biological survival mentality in which the child assures itself food and attention by acting like the center of the universe. Fallen human nature also takes a substantial hand in this inherent selfishness in children. The true problem, however, comes when the child grows but the selfishness of the age does not evaporate. It would thus appear that many Hollywood stars are children masquerading as adults.

 

 Award shows are often when this inherent selfishness and need for attention becomes manifested the most for the modern actors and actresses; having just received an award, and reaffirming their vital importance in the universe in their own minds, the stars appoint themselves Delphic oracles and prophets. The 2017 Golden Globes was no different in this regard and the chief prophetess of the evening, Meryl Streep, made a very predictable spectacle of herself. In another performance which her co-religious of the left boringly termed “courageous,” Streep gave the predictable speech making most of her five minute onstage a personal attack against Donald Trump, as well as making foreigners, the press and Hollywood the victims of the culture wars against the bullying and hatred of white, middle, rural America. Perhaps the facet of her speech that has received the most attention was the point where Streep, for all intent and purposes, threatened middle America with the phantom of a Hollywood that would no longer entertain them. Her train of logic ran along the following course: Trump hates foreigners and Hollywood, ergo the people who voted for Trump hate foreigners and Hollywood; foreigners and Hollywood are the only ones who can provide the entertainment that Americans, regardless of where they live; if the inhabitants of rural, middle America continue along the path they chose in November, the only things they will be able to watch for entertainment will be football and mixed-martial arts.

 

Many conservatives promptly and rightly pointed out that Streep was being condescending to these two sports and to the people who enjoy watching them; they also pointed out, correctly, the presumption in Streep’s dismissal of the skill needed to actual succeed in these two sports. What was left unsaid was that Streep’s threat of an entertainment Ragnornak was the only ray of light in her speech.

 

Conservatives often and rightly complain about the deluge which comes from Hollywood but what would actually happen if Hollywood was incapacitated (or, what seems, more likely, went on strike?) Contrary to what Streep claimed, even if Hollywood was to abdicate and seclude itself in its own bubble in Los Angeles, entertainment would still be available in the thousands of movies and television shows released to DVD. A Hollywood strike might even encourage people—after the list of modern movies and shows had been depleted—to venture back into the films made in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Not every film made in the Golden Age was a classic, just as every movie made today is not a waste of time and effort but movies of the Golden Age were, for the most part, much more substantial and richer than the movies made today; there is a reason why Hollywood of 1936 to 1963 is called the Golden Age and why Ray Bradbury encouraged would-be writers to fall in love with the old movies. Films today, more often than not, speed through in order to arrive at the next salacious segment, whether it be an action sequence, a love scene or a chance to show off their CGI tricks or cinematography. Movies of the past, while not eschewing showing off the latest special effects, took what might be called the human condition much more seriously than movies today. Movies of the Golden Age spoke of the universalness of being human and what it meant to be human, rather than turning humans into action heroes, cynics, and buffoons in every movie. Take, as an example, the contrast between the 1943 version of Cat People  and the 1982 remake. The original, though a B movie with no major stars and a shoe string budget, still taps into the nature of evil in the soul of man and what happens when that evil is allowed to gain dominance in one’s soul. The 1982 version was much more interested in sex, violence and special effects, even terming itself “An erotic fantasy about the animal in all of us.”

 

Past movies, a Hollywood strike might even mean that people return to reading again. It is one of the ironies of the 21st century that while books are cheaper and more available than ever before, people are much more likely to be seen with their noses in their phones rather than in a book. Once upon a time, however, reading was the primary means of entertainment. It is true that people do still read and bookstores are filled with the latest New York Times bestsellers but, as with movies, the quality of the books of today are often inferior to the books of the past. The Harry Potter series, for example, was praised for its ability to excite children to actually read again and the books do indeed possess several good points, both in terms of action and development and in the morals which they possessed. But when compared to The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter is revealed to be much more impoverished than it first appeared. Tolkien’s world is deep and discoverable by both the reader and the author himself whereas the world of Harry Potter, while imaginative, also seem to be consciously created. Beyond even the classic literature of the 19th and 18th century, the great works of the West, such as Dante, Shakespeare and the Greek legends of Jason and Herakles and the poems of Homer, have the potential to enrich our souls as they did for our great-great-great grandparents. This enrichment comes from the universal character of man that is portrayed in these classics—we can sympathize and draw strength from Odysseus, not because we are ancient Greek kings like him, and so cannot “relate” to him in that sense, but we are all men who all face hardships and that is where the power of the Odyssey comes.

 

A re-communion with nature could be another product of a Hollywood strike. When the federal government feels that it is necessary to sponsor radio ads, encouraging families to take advantage of the outdoors, something has gone definitely wrong. But, with the evaporation of entertainment as Meryl Streep threatened, bored individuals and families might once again venture into the wilds of the outdoors and find themselves fed by the sun and wind, the water and the grass, and the music of the animals.

 

It is a pretty picture but if Hollywood actually did initiate a strike, I do not think that it would blossom. Rather, the vast majority of the grassroots of the conservative movement would collapse. Far too many people who identify themselves as conservatives do not seem to have the courage of their convictions when it comes to entertainment. They will, for example, complain loudly when Mark Rufflo stand atop his social-justice-warrior soapbox or when Robert Downey, Jr. and Scarlett Johansson appear in an anti-Trump video, but they will be in line at the box office when Avengers: Infinity War Part I is released. I have had personal experience with this type of thinking: the younger brother and father of my ex-fiancé are serious science-fiction fans and were planning on seeing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, when it was released in the theatre, this, in spite the fact, that the writer for Rogue One, called the Empire of the Star Wars universe a white supremacist organization in the aftermath of Trump’s electoral victory. Both my ex-fiancé’s father and brother voted for Trump and both consider themselves to be conservative. The makers of Rogue One not only insulted the man they had enthusiastically voted for but themselves, equating them with the Empire. Rather than expressing their displeasure by forgoing the movie until it came out in Red Box, both of them, I know, went to see it in theatres. My ex-fiancé herself, as another example, would often voraciously watch Friends on Netflix, even though many of the show’s elements (most particularly in the realm of sexuality) were in opposition to her values as a conservative. This is a demonstration of compartmentalization—the ability to see life in different categories rather than as a unified whole. In the examples cited above, entertainment is separated wholly from any sort of conservative world view. The idea seems to be that Hollywood is liberal but it makes entertaining movies and as a free-market capitalist, one should be able to see whatever entertainment one wants, even if the actors in a particular movie, aspects of the film itself, and Hollywood in general spits on everything which conservatives claim to believe. This compartmentalization seems to be widespread in the conservative movement: we know what Hollywood is and yet their movies still make hundreds of millions of dollars; Robert Downey Jr., may take part in a ridiculous video but he is the Iron Man that we will go to see on the big screen; Starbucks may publicly tell conservatives that their business and money is not wanted and yet the Starbucks outlets in middle America remain open. Some may defend this compartmentalization—as I have heard it be defended—with the mantra that we have to keep living our lives. It is never asked at what cost must we keep living our lives, or even of what the good life consists.

 

It is worth remembering that the American colonists held the Boston Tea Party because they would not pay a pittance of a tax on the tea because of the principle it represented. Although there are still Tea Parties vowing to “fight for America” the heart to actually fight has shriveled up.

 

The Circle at the End of the Year

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Another year has passed and gone with both its joys and tears. Ahead of us is 2017, an entirely new year that will bring with it its own sorrows and laughs, in spite of all the hope we invest in the thought that this year will be the “best year ever.” Due to the nature of the day, it is reasonable for minds to turn to the idea of time itself. With the passing of the old year, it is very easy to see time as a straight arrow, moving inexorably from past, through present, to future. But this belies the complexities of the subject, the root of which is the question: What is the nature of time?

St. Augustine quipped that he knew what time was until he was asked. The humor of his remarks still hold because it is the same conundrum that we face. Time is simple in that it is one of the first concepts of which we become aware, and yet it is foundational to our very thinking. We cannot conceive a state of being without time, which is why the state before the Big Bang–when there was no space and no time–is impossible to imagine. This is not to say that answers have not been posited, with the philosophers of the past especially eager to answer the riddle. Aristotle posited that time could not exist apart from change and that time was simply the temporal relations between things and events. Plato, on the other hand, taught that time was an independent entity, almost an empty vessel into which flow different things and events. These positions belied another question: Was time subjective, living only in the mind of the observer, or, was it objective , existing independently of any observation? The Scholastic philosophers–the masters of balance–said that time was partially objective and partially subjective in that “[time] becomes concrete in continuous, notably, local, movement; but movement becomes time only with the intervention of our intelligence.” But one of the most interesting questions–and one which exists outside the kingdom of the philosophers–is the question of time’s dimensions: Is time like a circle or a line?

That question, like the nature of time itself, might seem simple at first: time is moving from the past to the future in a straight line, an understanding that holds true on a deeper plan as well. Out innate understanding of past, present, and future depends upon the idea of time as a line, if it was not, and if it was taken to the radical degree of the old Greek materialists, then the future could become the period in which one was born. But wrinkles appear when the issue is kept in mind. Take, for example, the turning of the seasons. Every year, the four seasons cycle through, each taking approximately three months of the year. Although every year is different and so, it could be argued, every spring is different, it is also true that every spring is the same in that it is spring. Spring’s nature–its essence–is to be spring. This idea of circular time is not unfamiliar in the history of civilizations; the Celts had a circular calendar of eight “seasons” that began on the solstices, the equinoxes, and the times in between these four dates; the Aztecs had two calendars and the Mayans had five. These, like the Celtic one, were circular, which allowed them to have distinct features: the Aztec calendars aligned every 52 years, which marked a great event, according to the Aztecs, of wither good or ill; the Mayan calendar was like a huge wheel that, once it completed a cycle, would begin again. Far from predicting the end of the world in 2012, the Mayan calendar simply started another cycle. Arguments as to whether time was a circle or a line extended all the way to the American Revolution, with the inhabitants of the South holding more to a cyclical understanding of time, while New England taking the linear approach to the subject.

The two understandings of time may be reconciled with the image of a wheel rolling down a road. As the wheel roles, it is moving in a straight line but it is also turning in a circle. In this sense, the spring of 2017 will be different from the spring of 1955 in that our wheel will have moved further down the road but at the same time, the springs will be the same since the wheel will simply have come upon that portion of itself again. All of this brings us back to the New Year, but also, to Christmastide. Lost amidst the parties and resolutions is the fact that Christmas Day did not end on December 25, but extends into the New Year itself.

Many people have forgotten that Christmas lasts for twelve days–from December 25 to January 6 (the Epiphany)– a tradition that extends back to the Middle Ages. The reason for this is that it was recognized that the birth of Christ was of such monumental importance in and to the history of the world, that one day was not enough to commemorate it. Cynics may claim that the twelve days were created as an excuse for bacchanalian celebrations, which were the reasons why Oliver Cromwell outlawed the celebration of Christmas during his time as Lord Protector of England. But the cynics, as Oscar Wilde noted, are those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. If their was such a person as Christ (I believe there was) and if He was born (he would have to have been if He actually existed) and if He was God (I also believe He was) then it is not surprising that the time of Christmas could be extended for more than one day to celebrate an event hat only took a few hours. Time, as modern man has discovered, is an elastic reality, running slower or faster depending on one’s velocity, and changing according to where in the world one is. Given the natural oddities of time, a supernatural oddity would not be amiss for a supernatural event. If Shakespeare could write of Christmas in Hamlet:

Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long.
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad.
The nights are wholesome. Then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallowed and so gracious is that time.

then an “extension” of time itself is not entirely out of the realm of possibility or even probability.

There are other seasons which last longer than Christmas’s twelve days; Easter, according to tradition Christian counting, is a season that lasts forty days. But Christmas is unique in that it is the only season that spans the old and the new year. As people begin to slip back into the habits of work and play with the recognized “end” of the “holidays” Christmas actually continues for another six days. It is a beautiful reminder that there is more to this world then merely what can be seen and touched and sensed. The power of the event that can extend itself for twelve whole days is a power to be reckoned with, but it is a power that has come to save and not to burn. Furthermore, it is a powerful reminder of the work that still needs to be done. As I wrote previously, it is the bad Christian who understands that there is still improvement to be made in his soul with the time with which he has been given; as Dr. Peter Kreeft has said, our identities are not fixed until death; here on earth, every action or inaction we take make us more into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature. With Christmas behind us, Christmas present, and Christmas extending before us, it is another reminder of what we are still working towards. Finally, it is a source of hope. Christmas, even if it lasted for only one day, would be a well for hope to gathered. The fact that it lasts for twelve days in the old and new year, is a sign that however bad things have become, either in our own lives, in our country and the world, or both, the Child who was born two thousand years ago and whose birth can extend itself for 288 hours, the past can be redeemed and the future can be changed, perhaps not by much, but maybe by enough to make all the difference in the world.

 

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