Neither savage nor barbarian

Clara broke in here, flushing a little as she spoke: ‘Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living? — a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate — “nature”, as people used to call it — as one thing, and mankind another. It was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make “nature” their slave, since they thought “nature was something outside them.’

‘Surely,’ said Morsom; ‘and they were puzzled as to what to do, till they found the feeling against mechanical life, which had begun before the Great Change amongst people who had leisure to think of such things, was spreading insensibly; till at last under the guise of pleasure that was not supposed to be work, work that was pleasure began to push out the mechanical toil, which they had once hoped at the best to reduce to narrow limits indeed, but never to get rid of, and which, moreover, they found they could not limit as they had hoped to do.’

‘When did this new revolution gather head?’ said I.

‘In the half-century that followed the Great Change,’ said Morsom, ‘it began to be noteworthy; machine after machine wa quietly dropped under the excuse that the machines could not produce works of art, and that works of art were more and more called for. Look here,’ he said, ‘here are some of the works of that time — rought and unskilful in handiwork, but solid and showing some sense of pleasure in the making.’

‘They are very curious,’ said I, taking up a piece of pottery from amongst the specimens which the antiquary was showing us; ‘not a bit like the work of either savages or barbarians, and yet with what would once have been called a hatred of civilization impressed upon them.’

–William Morris, News from Nowhere, or an epoch of rest, being some chapters from a utopian romance. Edited by James Remond, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970, pp. 154-55. (1890)


“At least I didn’t nail anything to a door.”

The Vatican is an imposing enough place to speak, especially for a Southern Baptist, so I guess I can plead that my mind was distracted with nervousness. I waited in line with several friends and colleagues of various communions and denominations to enter the center of the Church of Rome to attend a gathering, called by Pope Francis, of religious leaders from around the world to talk about marriage and family. Going through security, I fished in my coat pocket for my passport. The problem was that I had worn the same suit the week before, lecturing on the Protestant Reformation at an Evangelical seminary. Without thinking, I pulled out what I took to be my passport, only to find that I was handing the Swiss Guard a pocket-size copy of Martin Luther’s 95 theses.

As I made a fumbling attempt to put the little booklet away and find the right documentation, I wondered which of my grandparents would be more ashamed of me: my Roman Catholic grandmother, for my ushering the tumult of the 16th century right there to the pope’s door; my Baptist-preacher grandfather, for entering the Vatican at all; or all of my grandparents together — Evangelicals and Catholics alike — for my violation of southern manners. My awkwardness was all my own, though. The Swiss Guards didn’t recognize the 95 theses, and my American Catholic colleagues roared with laughter. At least I didn’t nail anything to a door.

–Russell Moore, The Reformation at 500

A moral restructuring of the health economy.

More from Vann R. Newkirk II:

Trump’s rise came as a preacher of the prosperity gospel. His promise to repeal Obamacare and replace it with just about nothing in particular relied as much on dissatisfaction with the current law as it did the delirious optimism of prosperity, and the idea that the real way to better America was to make life better for healthy and wealthy people, and to further link the two.

Will coal miners, unemployed auto workers, and small farmers in Appalachia fare better under the AHCA? Almost certainly not now. But if they work hard enough and have enough virtue, maybe. And at the end of the tunnel of aspiration is the favor that the AHCA’s brazen regressive health tax provides for the healthy and wealthy. It’s a moral restructuring of the health economy.

As Newkirk says elsewhere in his article, most Republicans aren’t as intellectually honest accidentally truthful as Brooks. They argue that their ideas of health care are somehow will make life better for the poor and the sick. I have no doubt that some Republicans have even persuaded themselves that this is, indeed, the case. “To be fair,” Brooks himself says in the unedited interview, “…I think our society under those circumstances”–that is, people being sick “through no fault of their own”– “needs to help.” He probably thinks that the AHCA is helping. Bless his shriveled little heart.

Mo Brooks made a Kinsley gaffe, which is to say that he fully comprehends what he’s talking about and inadvertently demonstrated his competence to a public that should be properly horrified at the prospect that he meant what he said and has the power to do something about it. Democrats seem to think that the AHCA is a major political blunder. I’m not convinced. Voters were willing to support a House Speaker who baldly proclaims that wealth = freedom and a president who espouses, according to the very same House Speaker, the “textbook definition of racism.” The only question facing low-income Republican voters with pre-existing conditions, I suspect, is which scapegoat is going to bear the blame next for the consequences of their own political choices. I guess we’ll find out.

An actual statement from our president’s press secretary:


via Talking Points Memo


Politics as fandom.

Fandom is an especially fertile lens through which to view such questions, because fandom is premised on shared passion, and that shared passion creates tribal affinities and emotional attachments that obliterate rational thought. (If you want to analyze digging-in-your-heels, against-all-evidence self-justification, look at fan behavior.) We can see the real-world consequences of fandom when we turn to politics. Much of the vomitorious 2016 U.S. election was a clash of fandoms: Bernie fans versus Hillary fans versus Donnie fans. The U.S. is so besotted with celebrity culture that we’ve handed our fate over to perceptions of politics that are the intellectual equivalent of liking or disliking a Kardashian. Fascism doesn’t need the leader principle anymore; it thrives much better in the politics of style and image.

–Matthew Cheney, The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge

Yes: ego, too.

The most notable populist in history was Julius Caesar. He—N.B., those who’ve been saying the 2016 election “had a sharp edge”—was stabbed to death by dozens of senators. The conspiracy was a confused mess. Some of the senators ended up stabbing each other. And the political aftermath was so much of a confused mess that it took Edward Gibbon 3,589 pages to describe it in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

–P. J. O’Rourke, The Revolt Against the Elites

Always already guilty

There is always something new, as my students understood, that you aren’t supposed to say. And worst of all, you often don’t find out about it until after you have said it. The term political correctness, which originated in the 1970s as a form of self-mockery among progressive college students, was a deliberately ironic invocation of Stalinism. By now we’ve lost the irony but kept the Stalinism—and it was a feature of Stalinism that you could be convicted for an act that was not a crime at the time you committed it. So you were always already guilty, or could be made to be guilty, and therefore were always controllable.

–William Deresiewicz, On Political Correctness

A is A

The Gospel According to Paul Ryan:

Wealth = Freedom.

Or, to paraphrase George Orwell, all people are free, some are just more free than others. (And the pigs tend to prefer it that way.)

“I am obviously missing something.”

I should be clear about this: I don’t believe in magic of any kind, in any form. If I thought magic was real I would be doing it, not writing about it. But I don’t.

For people who don’t believe in magic I recommend Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf. It’s the best book I can think of. For people who do believe in magic: maybe you could recommend a few books for me, because I am obviously missing something.

–Lev Grossman, interviewed by Emily Temple

Enigma and apocalypse

When Oedipus solves the riddle of the Sphinx, the creature flings itself off a cliff to its death; conversely, his inability to solve the riddle of his own birth leads to his mother’s suicide and his own self-blinding and exile. Similarly, when in The Libation Bearers Orestes comes to kill his mother Clytemnestra and a servant cries out “The dead are killing the living!” — because Orestes was believed to be dead — Clytemnestra replies, “Ah, a riddle. I do well at riddles.” But she hasn’t done well: she never penetrated the riddling words of Cassandra, or she would not have acted as she did. And now her understanding of her own peril arrives too late to save her life.

The word there translated as “riddle” is ainigma. A form of that word appears also in the New Testament — only once, but in an especially famous verse, 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly” — en ainigmati, in obscurity, enigmatically, as though riddled to — “but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” The key point here, I think, is that this is not a condition we can remedy through our own efforts — not even the most ingenious. In order to “see face to face,” to “know fully,” we must wait along with the whole Creation which (paraphrasing the second half of Romans 8 here) awaits its deliverance from enslavement to decay. When we are all delivered, redeemed, when the expectation of the children of God is realized, when the “great mystery” — Ephesians 5:21, not just a mysterion but a mega mysterion! — of the marriage of Christ and his church is consummated in glory, all of that will happen as an unveiling, a revelation: apokalypsin (Romans 8:21).

–Alan Jacobs, Tolkein’s riddles