Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The following story was found among the many records of the Hillsdale Admissions Office. Dated Wednesday, 17 October 2012, it is an account of an exchange between a soon-after fired student ambassador and a prospective student and his parents. Reader discretion advised.
I knew to pay attention the moment I heard his voice echo through the 2nd floor hallway of Strosacker. One part soothing or irritating, three parts obnoxious or sensuous, the first thing it announced to my ears was the proclamation “Hey! You look like you could cook some meth!”
The uncomfortable chuckle that followed gave me the confirmation I needed: he was giving a tour.
Two ruddy-faced adults and one wide-eyed young man rounded the corner, appearing next to the straight-laced and well-intentioned tour guide.
“So you mean to say that these classes are only taught in order to train classical and charter school science teachers?” asked the woman, as she happily nudged her son and nodded his way.
“Oh yes! Hillsdale’s charter school initiative is taking off across the nation, and the demand for liberally educated teachers is quickly growing! A foundation in our western heritage and American exceptionalism is essential to a well-rounded teacher, and a rudimentary grasp of science or something like it is very helpful to that goal.”
Concerned, the young man glanced skeptically towards the open lab door, and pointed at the students working at the station: “You mean to tell me that they aren’t actually doing research, but are simply preparing for teaching careers as elementary school science teachers?”
“Exactly! Now you’re getting it. Part of the stated purpose of the founders of the college was ‘to furnish all persons who wish, irrespective of nation, color, or sex, a literary and scientific education.’ Why do you think original scientific research would be a component of the mission of the college?”
Dumbstruck, the prospective could do nothing but stare at the ambassador, who continued to blunder along when he said, “A little bit of history for you all: Strosacker, this building, was actually built in the 1960’s. Now, you’ve probably made the connection: it’s no coincidence that it was built near the period of the sexual revolution. It seems our college was not immune to the cultural indecency that swept across the nation.”
The walrus-stached father piped in, “So why is it still standing? I mean, it seems that if it were to be removed, the opportunity for such meaningless studies would be removed too. More students might be turned from frivolous sciences and choose the humanities instead.”
“That’s a great question. Personally, I still hold out hope that the building will be razed and the Liberty Walk extended, perhaps with a statue of William Jennings Bryan or the like. And, if you promise not to tell anyone I told you so, rumor has it that the greenhouse might be sold to Saga and used to grow coffee beans to fuel the English and Philosophy departments!”
“Now young man, I recall that you said you are a sophomore here. What did you say your major is?”
“Politics, ma’am. I’m a Politics major, I plan to go to law school, and with my liberal arts education and legal expertise, I will bring down the debaucherous Progressive regime that has a stranglehold on the noble American people.”
The mother could hardly contain herself as a small cheer escaped her lips, and the father teared up as he tried not to clap.
The son began to laugh.
Appearing slightly confused, the ambassador took the laugh to indicate support and proceeded to join in, before he began to lead the family out the doors.
“Anyway, we’ll head over to where true academics take place, Kendall.” F
Junior Ian Atherton is an English major and Vice President of Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity, where he oversees the house’s internal affairs. He took a break from schoolwork and intramural sports to sit down with The Forum to discuss his winning short story, “Lemons”. F
What’s your normal writing process? Do you have one?
Lemons was a funny one—I needed to submit a writing sample for the work I’m doing with the school’s social media program, so I sat down to write something. A lot of times when I write a paper, I’ll let my mind wander for a while and I’ll end up with an academic paper that turns academic about halfway through, the first half is just stupid poetic musing. So Lemons was the first half of that writing process. A little while later I was reading through and thought, “I actually have something here!” and I edited it again and, almost on a whim, submitted it.
Really, it was just the lemons. Freshman year I remember walking into Saga on a Sunday morning and I got some iced tea and there was a bowl of lemons there. I grabbed one, I knocked that drink down, and as I sat there I thought, “This is great, iced tea and lemons.” When I came back on Monday, really pumped for the lemons, they weren’t there. As it happened, that weekend the college had hosted something like Distinguished Scholars Weekend or a CCA.
I would love nothing more than to be a writer. I think, knowing the path that lies ahead for that, it is a very long one, but to be a great writer has always been a dream of mine.
I think so. Last semester I went a long time without having to write a paper. I finally sat down to write one, actually for Dr. Somerville’s class, and I realized that I had all the ideas—the trouble was getting them into words. I’ve heard the quote from Oscar Wilde, “All bad poetry comes from genuine feeling.” The ideas—the feelings, were all there, but the expression wasn’t what it needed to be. I started to realize that not being in practice means that the vocabulary and the sentence structure and the general organization just aren’t there, you have to access a certain schema of thought. To speak psychologically, those neural connections just weren’t firing. But working with the social media team, and writing for them, keeps me in practice.
My favorite poet is John Keats, I’ve had a great love for the British romantics for a long time—they were really the first time to get me interested in the literary world. More recently I’ve really come to appreciate the warmth of southern storytelling. Somerville’s class helped me along there—Twain is just excellent. This semester I’ve also spent a lot of time reading Emerson, and he’s really the first philosopher to catch my interest.
There are, on occasion, in a small glass bowl to the left side of the iced tea, lemons in our college cafeteria. That. That, my friend, is how you can tell that there are donors, or parents, or prospective students in town.
The details, the small things—they really do count. Who knows, lemons really could be what convinces an all-state athlete, with a 4.0 GPA, to come to Hillsdale College. Of course, he won’t know that it was the lemons, or the moulding along the edge of the wall and the ceiling in the Student Union, or the slightly more purple petunias off to the side of the eagle statue. But they—the petunias, or the moulding, or the lemons (probably the lemons)—may be the final push, the sweet and tangy final push that convince Dash Johnson, the captain of his football team since sophomore year and the heartthrob of McKinney High in Pensacola, Washington, to sign his blue and white letter of intent.
The only problem with lemons, though, is that you only notice them after they’re gone. Maybe Dash won’t pay the lemons more than a passing glance when he takes one at Distinguished Scholars’ Weekend, or even when they’re not here for his first few weeks of freshman year. But he’s sure to be pleasantly surprised when the lemons come back—when the new Dash Johnson—the Dash Johnson of the class of 2017, or 2018, or whatever other year, has come to town. Yes, our Dash will certainly be pleasantly surprised, and he’ll wonder why there are lemons again. He’ll wonder more about the lemons when they’re gone the next day, and, for a while, he won’t really understand those lemons, mostly because he doesn’t play baseball (the new Dash does), and he doesn’t know that the newest class of soon-to-graduate heartthrob geniuses is eating nearby in the private dining room. But then, he will wake up one Saturday on parents’ weekend, and the lemons will be back. Only this time, Dash’s mother will be in town, and she will comment on how nice it is that the college gives its students lemons with their iced tea. And Dash will also notice that the food is a little nicer, and that the dish carousel isn’t quite as messy, and that the bananas are a little riper. But mostly he will notice the lemons. And as he stares at the thin yellow citrus wedge floating in his drink, he will finally understand what the lemons mean. They are the lemons of oppression, and of beguilement, and of lies—they are shined with the waxy polish of Orwellian academia, nourished on the forgetful liquors of the Lethe River and delivered in a crystal bowl by Salome herself.
But Dash will keep sipping his iced tea, and take the lemons when he can get them, because lemons are tangy, and make the iced tea go down a little more sweetly.
If you’re reading this column, I am going to assume that you are, on some level, desperate. Fear not, would-be hipsters! This is a good thing. All true hipsters are closeted gluttons for peer validation. Just try defending a mainstream artist while your indie kid test subject of choice is surrounded by sneering, denim-clad henchmen and you’ll see what I mean.
The first rule: avoid enthusiasm at all costs. It’s like fear or weakness. They can smell it on you, despite the fact that none of you have bathed since last Tuesday. If pressed to render praise, be sure to temper it with a pejorative comparison to some more obscure object of equal or lesser value.
The second rule: begin a strict diet of Pabst Blue Ribbon and cheap cigarette smoke. You’ve got to fit into those skinny jeans somehow, bucko.
The third rule: acquire a working knowledge of the blogosphere and associated internet arts culture. Obtuse conversational references to said body of knowledge often prove to be a bonus.
The fourth rule: take up a quasi-artistic activity of your choice. (Instagram’s filters make photography a popular option). If utterly devoid of creativity, hipster proteges may also resort to simply combining organic fruits and/or vegetables with quinoa and posting about their culinary exploits.
The fifth rule: listen to the following albums. Convince your new friends that you actually discovered them through some music blog in Seattle. When they ask what the name of the site was, consummate your indie kid metamorphosis with a dismissive a flip of your fringed bangs.
“Oh, you’ve probably never heard of it.”
First let me say that HAIM is one of the most insanely over-buzzed bands in recent memory. Let me say also that HAIM is one of the best pop groups in recent memory. Their debut full-length, Days Are Gone, is guitar pop as it should be. These girls love what they’re doing, and they’ve been doing it for a long time. Their hooks are tight, the harmonies effortless, and their energy absolutely irrepressible.
Daughter’s If You Leave
Daughter recently released the first advance of their upcoming full-length, and boy is it good. Their tracks are delicate, dark, and breathtakingly gorgeous. Earlier work, like that on The Wild Youth EP, is heartbreaking. The vocals, honest and raw, hover at times barely above a whisper. On If You Leave, Elena Tonra has honed her craft. Feeling depressed never felt so good. F
Paul Gottfried is not impressed by the Straussian project. His latest book, Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America, is part history, part polemic, and part intellectual version of Mythbusters. For anyone confused by the Straussian debate that occasionally rears its head on our campus, this book is a great place to start, but a terrible place to end. Gottfried presents an adequate overview of the intellectual debate, and the dramatic one-sidedness of his critique reflects well the divide between Straussians and their conservative critics. That said, Gottfried’s overgeneralizations and accusations are tinged with a bitterness that undermines any easy confidence in his judgments.
Gottfried’s polemic is less a well-honed blade than a pack of grenades. A book this short might have been better served by a central thesis rather than a general topic. Gottfried spends one chapter on Strauss himself, two on his method and its critique, one on the Straussians’ politics, and the last on the overarching Straussian project.
For the uninitiated, the chapters on the Straussian method will prove the most helpful. For veterans, Gottfried’s argument is a familiar one. Planting his flag firmly on the side of the “historically-minded right,” Gottfried criticizes Leo Strauss’ interpretive method, or “hermeneutic,” which Strauss and his intellectual descendants have applied to a plethora of great thinkers from Plato onward. In caricature, this “esoteric” method is based on the idea that great thinkers of the past were often unable to fully express their ideas because of the intellectual oppression of the prevailing tradition or religion. So they hid their true beliefs within more conformist writing, only to be discovered by those who were privy to the secret conversation. Strauss’ own reading of Spinoza, Maimonides, and Plato encouraged his followers to apply this method to many others, with sometimes absurd results.
Claiming to speak for critics on the far-right, Gottfried claims that the massive failure of the Straussians and their methodology is their disregard for historical context. Every author writes in a certain time and civil environment for a certain audience, and any assessment of the author’s intention is incomplete without adequate historical knowledge of context or purpose. Straussians’ conservative critics prefer particular, historic knowledge to “abstract universal ideals,” such as prescribed, historically-based liberties to abstract natural rights. In terms of the American Founding, Straussians are prone to downplaying the historical influences of Protestantism, for example, and emphasizing the abstract concepts of the Declaration of Independence.
Gottfried’s criticism of Straussians themselves, however, is perniciously less precise. At least he is willing to distinguish between Strauss and his students. Leo Strauss, to whose intellectual biography Gottfried devotes an entire chapter, had “greater erudition than his students” and “came out of a richer cultural world.” In many cases, Strauss simply celebrated philosophers without using them for his own political purposes, and his use of his “esoteric method” was more careful than his students’ use.
On the other hand, in Gottfried’s mind Straussians are all agnostic, liberal internationalist, neocon, pro-Israel Democrats who only switched to the Republican Party when the Left got soft on foreign policy. Their heroes include, not only Lincoln and Churchill, but also FDR and Woodrow Wilson, and they want to spread democracy to the four corners of the earth. They tend to dominate certain political science departments and publishing vehicles and “thuggishly ignore” the historical right’s critique. Gottfried’s problems go beyond the intellectual to the personal; such an overgeneralization breaks down in under almost any pressure.
Because of these gross generalizations, it is tough to separate Gottfried’s criticism from his cynicism as he summarizes the Straussian project. According to Gottfried, the defining characteristic of the Straussian project is not a conservative “march into the past” towards the ancients they so often reference, it is a “celebration of the American present.” Although modernity is full of scary nihilist and historicist philosophy, it has also produced Anglo-American democracy—its “felix culpa” or happy mistake. This form of government, which emphasizes equality and natural rights, is a bulwark against “destructive forms of modernity,” and we must protect it with civics and history lessons on men like Lincoln and Churchill.
Consequently, Strauss attacked the new political science for its “value-free” approach, since it undermines its own regime with its own relativism. We must return to the old political science, which recognizes a common good and teaches that “some things are intrinsically high and others are intrinsically low.” Accusing the American Political Science Association of shirking its responsibility to protect American liberal democracy against the USSR, Strauss famously said of the new political science that “it does not know that it fiddles, and it does not know that Rome burns.” That accusation points to an important question in the study of history: can we learn great moral truths from history, or is it just one damned thing after another?
A final, unfortunate note: in his book Gottfried accuses the Claremont Institute of being “progressive on issues of race.” It is not clear what Gottfried means, but given his history of association with people who believe in real intelligence differences between races, I have a sneaking suspicion that I too have progressive views on race. F
Today’s America is a bitterly polarized society. When people argue politics, they do so presuming that to disagree the other person must either be stupid or malevolent. If someone is prominent in an opposing party, their motivations immediately become suspect; anything they propose to do is considered a conspiracy to destroy goodness and trash America. Whenever something bad happens, it becomes either part of “their plan” or evidence that “they” are just too stupid to hold power or influence.
The political forum is disgraceful on today’s great battlefield of ideas, the internet. Coherent thought or actual evidence is a rarity. Name-calling and profanity grace the screen. Most seem unable to use the language correctly, and many compensate by capitalizing everything, since victory clearly goes to he who yells loudest. If the reader gets lucky, the odd post in the Queen’s English might be something other than a proof that statesman X is the Anti-Christ.
Electoral victory goes to whichever candidate manages to say nothing with the biggest smile. Speeches rarely have any substance, instead relying on marginally relevant anecdotes and sometimes-clever slogans. In debates, candidates never fail to divert any question to a prepared speech, focus-group tested and approved. The objective of everything they say is to prove that they care about you and progress and America, unlike that inept fool across the stage. The ambitious might even think of a clever “gotcha” line and thereby secure victory from the entertainment-driven electorate. Anyone with concrete proposals, however, should give up before they embarrass themselves by using too many dweeby graphs or basic economic principles.
But before contemporary America drowns in self-pity, she should remember this is the result of human nature. Consequently, humanity has been here before. Even from the earliest days of our republic, polarization and partisanship ruled the day. Remember the Revolution and those Tories who so hated liberty and justice? The historically literate know better: typical loyalists feared revolutionary excess or held traditional beliefs about authority and rebellion. But many patriots, hearing mostly Adams and Paine, concluded that a loyalist was by definition a traitor and frequently tarred and feathered such men for their politics.
One might look to the post-war founding era as the golden age of republican politics. Fine works like the Federalist Papers and their equally well-crafted opposition response might seem to justify such a stance if one ignores the occasional popular uprising against government schemes to enslave the common man with debt and whiskey taxes. But by the election of 1800, the argument was that though His Rotundity John Adams was a closet monarchist, the atheist Thomas Jefferson had a taste for slave girls.
America overcame such rhetoric for a few years after the War of 1812, but only because the Democratic-Republicans were the only national party around. Regardless, factions sprang up soon enough, and the rhetoric got so bad that accusations of bigamy and living in sin stressed Rachael Jackson into a heart attack. At the same time, her husband’s men avoided engaging President Adams by lampooning his proposed national observatories as “lighthouses of the sky.” The same thing happened when Jackson took on the Bank of the United States: his opponents were called “pawns of the Bank” while he was named a pawn of New York’s envy-and-greed driven bankers.
The examples continue throughout our history, especially during the long era of party newspapers. In Hillsdale, one might go years reading the “political insights” of the Whig-Standard and belief that all Democrats were belligerent simpletons, or faithfully follow the Herald-Democrat and never doubt that Abraham Lincoln was a “negro-lover” trying to tear apart the Constitution. The whole sectional period itself is an exemplar of political discourse gone wrong: each side was so sure of the other’s malice that they split and killed a half-million men in the process.
Even that icon of American rhetoric, the Gettysburg Address, was a pretty speech with little substance. Lincoln claimed that the Confederacy was trying to destroy America, an absolute absurdity, and that he was fighting a war for democracy—democracy being 39% of the electorate empowering someone to violently override the democratic decisions of state legislatures. Though a beautiful piece, it is the distant ancestor of our modern fluff speeches.
The subsequent era of machine politics differs from today only in degree. While today’s parties love to slander opposition candidates, every candidate used to accuse every other candidate of being machine pawns and having multiple mistresses. Just as today’s debaters might just shout “Reagan!” and “Roosevelt!” at each other, the Republican Party campaigned almost entirely on Lincoln’s mantle, just as the Democrats pointed towards Jefferson and Jackson as sufficient justification for election.
Like today, people discussed meaningful issues and principles only when radicals hijacked the party. But today’s Tea Party is nothing next to the Prohibitionists, who preferred to argue not with empty talk, but by raiding saloons and trashing liquor stocks. The Republicans were fortunate in that their radical offshoots never got far politically; the Democratic Party, however, frequently fell under the sway of Greenbackers, Populists, and others whose argument consisted largely of utopian promises and accusations that everyone else was a pawn of Wall Street.
The following generations were no exception to the rule. In the 1920s, many folks got their politics from the Ku Klux Klan and would vote based on a candidate’s personal views. Even in the midst of the supposed New Deal consensus, some children from Republican families stood up and clapped in school when they announced Franklin Roosevelt’s death. Every election after that war was life-or-death: Democratic victory meant communism and Republican victory meant World War III. The re-election campaigns of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon are especially good examples of this tactic.
The fact of the matter is that there never was a golden age of civil discourse; what we have today is more or less what we’ve always had. The times change, but humanity doesn’t. Because man is a fallen creature, his life as a political animal has always been the tale of the partisan animal, and no doubt always will be. While pursuing intelligent dialogue in our own lives is a virtue, a world of intelligent debate among informed citizens is a utopia in the truest sense of the word. F
F.A. Hayek typically receives credit for the term ‘spontaneous order,’ but the term actually originated from none other than Michael Polanyi, the great Hungarian polymath. Although referenced by both men in the 1940s, the term ‘spontaneous order’ did not receive explicit use until Polanyi’s 1951 book The Logic of Liberty. Hayek, on the other hand, did not pen the term until his 1960 book The Constitution of Liberty. Drawing from Polanyi’s works, I hope to show how Polanyi’s conception of spontaneous order reaches further than Hayek’s idea of the term.
Michael Polanyi (1891-1976) was a physical chemist who was on a track to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry. When the Nazis came to power in Germany, he accepted a professorial chair in England and soon became increasingly interested in social sciences and philosophy. His new-found interests eventually led him to abandon publishing scientific articles in lieu of writing books on economics, politics, and philosophy. He often drew on his experience in the scientific community to explain concepts in these disciplines. His most famous work, Personal Knowledge, provides a ground-breaking view of epistemology that influenced the rest of his writings. Although relatively unknown, Polanyi’s conception of spontaneous order is more comprehensive and inspiring than Hayek’s.
Polanyi has a similar understanding of spontaneous order in economics to Hayek. He affirms the working of the price system by saying that “each consumer adjusts his purchases to the ruling price, which he affects in his turn by his purchases” (The Logic of Liberty 145). This system leads to a “series of continuously repeated mutual interactions” that tend “to produce a distribution of resources in which each element of resource is used by producers to the greatest satisfaction of the consumers” (“Growth of Thought in Society” 436). In a nutshell, the collective actions of individuals work to distribute resources across the economy in an efficient manner.
Yet Polanyi does not stop at applying his idea of spontaneous order to economics. He thinks the concept has merit in law as well. He argues, “[The] operation of Common Law thus constitutes a sequence of adjustments between succeeding judges, guided by a parallel interaction between the judges and the general public. The result is the ordered growth of the Common Law, steadily re-applying and re-interpreting the same fundamental rules and expanding them thus to a system of increasing scope and consistency” (The Logic of Liberty 199). In making their judgments, judges refer to laws from previous cases, which in turn modifies all previous rulings in a manner similar to the way every purchase modifies the price in a market.
Polanyi experienced firsthand the workings of spontaneous order in the scientific community. Scientists select their field of concentration based on their intellectual passions. They study their chosen subject within the framework of the scientific methods and procedures accepted by the field. If they make a discovery, it is based on the history of discoveries in the field. Once a scientist makes progress in a discovery, he immediately places his findings in front of his colleagues for their evaluation. In this way, a scientist’s discoveries are constantly honed and improved by his contemporaries. Polanyi concludes that “science is thus seen to be growing by the characteristic process producing dynamic order. New scientific claims are made in due consideration of all previously established ones, and the results thus obtained continuously modify the previously achieved positions of science” (“The Growth of Thought in Society” 437). Polanyi believes scientific knowledge is dispersed in a way similar to Hayek’s argument that economic knowledge is scattered throughout society:
[S]cientific opinion is an opinion not held by any single human mind, but one which, split into thousands of fragments, is held by a multitude of individuals, each of whom endorses the others’ opinions at second hand, by relying on the consensual chains which link him to all the others through a sequence of overlapping neighborhoods.
(“The Republic of Science” 4)
Hayek and Polanyi think alike on the subject of dispersed knowledge, each emphasizing their favored discipline.
Where Hayek stops at economics, Polanyi recognizes that spontaneous order applies throughout human society. He claims, “The coordinating functions of the market are but a special case of coordination by mutual adjustment” (“The Republic of Science” 2). The spontaneous ordering of the economy is a simplification of a larger principle that orders everything in society. This principle works in this way: “self coordination of independent initiatives leads to a joint result which is unpremeditated by any of those who bring it about. Their coordination is guided as by ‘an invisible hand’ towards the joint discovery of a hidden system of things” (“The Republic of Science” 1). Polanyi believes economists restrain this greater principle by limiting its application to the market: “the self-coordination of independent scientists embodies a higher principle, a principle which is reduced to the mechanism of the market when applied to the production and distribution of material goods” (“The Republic of Science” 10). The reduction of the principle of spontaneous order prevented economists reaching the additional logical conclusions of own arguments.
Polanyi claims that spontaneous ordering can explain the ultimate striving of a free society towards truth. Society reaches truth through constant mutual adjustments and improvements. He writes, “In this view of a free society, both its liberties and its servitudes are determined by its striving for self-improvement, which in its turn is determined by the intimations of truths yet to be revealed, calling on men to reveal them” (“The Republic of Science” 10). The free society constantly searches for self-improvement in all its facets. Spontaneous order is the principle that explains this outcome occurs in society without the central planning of any individual or set of individuals. Hayek and other economists did not realize the breadth of the principle they used to explain markets. But Polanyi did. F
This article is adapted from a lecture given by Mr. Meadowcroft to the Fairfield Society.
You all have a vocation. Not just a future calling for future fulfillment. You have a vocation now. And while you each possess a unique vocation, one that you will fail or succeed in fulfilling someday, now, in this time and place, you share the call to be a student. Whatever your plans, hopes, and dreams, by becoming a Hillsdale student you have committed yourself, for a time, to the intellectual life. Whatever God’s calling for your future, his providence has placed you hear, now. Embrace that vocation and work it out with fear and trembling before God.
|Plato's Academy, mural from Pompeii|
A French Dominican and Thomistic scholar, A. G. Sertillanges wrote the 1946 book The Intellectual Life, Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods. A practical treatise for those wishing to dedicate their lives to scholarly pursuits, those with a vocation to study beyond school, The Intellectual Life nonetheless contains in its text much applicable to the life of the student and invaluable for their edification and encouragement. Read it. It is hard and convicting and will do you good. That book’s pages contain too much meat to digest all of it here; it would be a meal too rich and long for a single sitting. Let us look at a single line of ten words and see what in them we may learn.
“To have a vocation is to be obliged to perfection.”
The vocation to be a student may be a “vocation of the moment”, but it is as real in this moment as any career or call to follow. In setting out on the path of collegiate study, whether called to it or arriving by default, you have declared a goal. A vocation can be defined as, “One’s ordinary occupation, business, or profession,” and so clearly a student has made study his vocation. Yet, even disregarding this definition and considering the more providential, “the fact of being so called or directed towards a special work in life; natural tendency to, or fitness for, such work,” one may consider that one is most fit for the work that he finds before himself. Rest content in your present state. As you are called student, so you are called to study.
The vocation comes with an obligation. You have set before yourself a work to complete and an end to fulfill. Proverbs 18:9 says, “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.” Here Solomon draws the connection between good work and completion. To work poorly to an end is to never fulfill it, for the end of a thing is in its perfecting. When one sets out to study, to be a student, he rests under an obligation to do his work well, for to not do so would not bring his work to completion. The life of a student bears responsibilities. Only in the striving for perfection and mastery does a student fulfill her vocation.
Yet that does not mean that students who fall short of what their professors have classified as the culmination and perfection of their scholastic works fail to fulfill the obligation of their vocation. The end of the student is study, that is, learning and mastery. Grades fulfill an ordering role in that process, measuring the performance of the individual against an ideal aggregate, but they are not themselves the telos of study. The perfection of study is found in the full application of each student’s talents and abilities. The measure of completed study is to each one according to his gifts. To have the vocation of student is to be obliged to the perfection of study with a whole heart to the best of one’s ability.
You may readily assent to this. The ideal of “one’s best” may be one you hold, like me, unrealized in much of life, but one that you nevertheless cherish. The vocation of the student is under constant attack by the many distractions of life. Many are such as are common to all. Some are particular to individuals and institutions. Hillsdale student’s love of country, a good thing of no negative effect upon the capacity for perfected study, gives rise too often to an unhealthy preoccupation with politics, whether national or state.
Notice I say “preoccupation with politics.” This is not a critique of an educated awareness of the political landscape. College students can vote. I hope they know who for, what for, and why. The preoccupation with politics is found wherever the intellectual eye is turned outward to the cold mechanics of policy and campaign, of ideology and partisanship, rather than inward to its own growth. A mind called to the nurturing of itself, called to study, fails when it occupies itself with the world beyond its present state, beyond its vocation. A focus on politics at Hillsdale, which may very well be a person’s vocation in the longer sense, is, in the circumstance of the student called to study while at school, both irresponsible and indicative of discontent.
The studious vocation requires contentment. Only in contentment with present circumstances can studies be brought to a full completion. A student who finds herself at Hillsdale should rest content in the calling to be a Hillsdale student. The responsibility of that student is her obligation to work wholeheartedly and labor diligently in her studies, perfecting and completing her work in the full application of those gifts and abilities she has been given. To become preoccupied with politics is to become unsatisfied with the present life of study before bringing this “vocation of the moment” to its completion. It is to disregard the responsibility to fully commit the self to the obligations of study and to become slack in one’s work — to become brother to one who destroys. It is to not fulfill one’s vocation to be a Hillsdale student. F
On one side, law reflects justice in an unqualified and universal sense: namely, justice as set down by natural law. On the other, law reflects justice only in a qualified sense: justice as it is determined by the society to which it is applied. Man has the power to create his own law. By extension, modern liberals see history not as an act of providence, but as a providential force unto itself. Man is his own god, the maker of both his history and his future.
Sexuality, morality, and justice according to modern liberalism are all subject to change according to the needs of the individual. They would have conventional law as the only law: what is just is what society says is so. Conservatives form principles based on observation of what human nature is. Liberals have formed principles based on what they wish human nature could be.
Liberalism is, put simply, the perfunctory rejection of all that conservatism holds dear. It is not the abstract nature of their beliefs that is fundamentally irreconcilable with conservatism, but the fact that their beliefs are utterly unaccountable to the world as it is. The tenets of liberalism are unmitigated by reality, untempered by practicality, unfettered by the need to reconcile what is with what they think should be. It has stripped men of all that makes them most enduringly human, replacing what is lost with a series of egalitarian platitudes and meaningless gestures toward utopian worlds to come.
Though we may be unable to thwart liberal degeneration by means of precedent, we may yet return to our principles.This nation was founded upon a few self-evident truths and may perhaps be saved by them. In one famous line, the Founders set forth the first of a series of principles by which all Americans may guide their argument: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is to these fundamental beliefs that we must turn in order to confront the ravaging influence of modern liberalism.
Russell Kirk is considered by many to be the father of modern conservative thought. When Kirk wrote The Conservative Mind in 1953, it was for a very specific purpose: to give strength and coherence to the post-World War II conservative argument, which had long been in a state of popular decline and was finally brought to its knees with the broad public acceptance of liberal internationalism after the war. He strove to validate conservative philosophy by producing a catalog of conservative thinkers through history, giving his contemporaries precedents from which to draw. From "The American Cause," published in 1957: “We [Americans] have maintained a degree of order and justice and freedom very rare in history. And behind these outward marks of success lie certain enduring principles of thought and action which, in very considerable part, have created and protected our national life. Certain concepts in Americans’ minds are responsible for our private rights, our sound government, and our worldly prosperity” (TAC 5-6).
Kirk went straight to the roots of American tradition for his argument. He approached history as a narrative, plucking seemingly incoherent representatives from its depths and using his own perspective to weave them together. His imagination was heavily influenced by a sense of providential order. Confident that history, like the men acting within it, was ordered by Providence, Kirk appears to feel no scruples grounding abstract theory firmly within conventional law. He was utterly unafraid to chalk up the events of history to God’s work and let them be. Morgan Knull of The Imaginative Conservative writes, “At the heart of Kirkian piety is a historical consciousness, rooted in a sense of place and chastened by labor and suffering, that locates our own struggle within a larger tradition of human pilgrimage.”
Kirk could afford to draw upon mutually accepted values and argue from a highly contextualized perspective when defending conservatism because the majority of both conservative and liberal thinkers of post-World War II America accepted the tenets of traditional morality. American values were still seen as things to be affirmed, accepted, and passed down to future generations. Kirk’s conclusions were in question, but the moral and traditional premises were still widely accepted.
Today’s liberal thought has rejected not only Kirk’s conclusions, but his premises as well. Kirk was addressing an America that had yet retained its sense of self. His America had not yet rejected reality. Kirk’s argument that natural law is manifest in conventional law is no longer adequate. Tradition is no longer sufficient. We must reach past history and find absolute means by which to combat radically dehumanized arguments.
Kirk, a man of immense genius, a man who savored the beauty of subtle differentiation, can no longer stand against the aggressive liberal ideology with which we are confronted today. Liberalism reduces all men to absolute, inhuman equality. It denies completely the grounds upon which Kirk rested his arguments. It defaces history, relentlessly droning the anthem of progress, mindlessly urging men past its complexities and vibrant nuances. There is no room for individuality within the collective. There is no allowance for differentiation where all mankind is subsumed under the overwhelming tide of social evolution.
Liberalism wishes to reduce America to abstract, noncommittal notions of liberty, equality, and justice. It is the duty of modern conservatism to hold them absolutely accountable to reality, to remind them of the laws of nature and of nature’s God. F