The Magazine

  • October 2019

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  • Our Culture of Narcissism

    Our Culture of Narcissism

    Most Chronicles readers will no doubt recall the sordid Jussie Smollett hoax, which played out over the course of almost three months early this year in a scenario that might have been scripted for reality TV. Given the media’s saturation coverage of the fiasco, I will forego a reprise of the details. Instead, I wish to suggest that the Empire star’s memorable antics on the mean streets of midwinter Chicago were not at all a freakish anomaly, but a perfect illustration of the new American normal.

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Society & Culture

  • Letter to the Bishop

    Letter to the Bishop

    Your Excellency: A few years have passed since we corresponded. After my last letter to you, I’m afraid I took a wrong path, crashed and burned, and now stagger forward, burdened by more ordinary trespasses. But still a believer, grateful, as Graham Greene had the wheezing old priest murmur at the end of Brighton Rock, for “the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.” Without that tender and inexplicable mercy, so different from any we receive from most human beings, my soul might well burn for eternity like a marshmallow over an open fire.

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  • Hope in Little Platoons

    Hope in Little Platoons

    For 26 years, I taught hundreds of home-educated students, including my own children. My checkered teaching career also includes a semester in a university, two years at a prison, and two years in a public high school. During my last 15 years of that teaching, I conducted seminars for homeschoolers in Asheville, North Carolina, offering instruction in literature, composition, history, and Latin.

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  • Can the Greens Change Their Colors?

    Can the Greens Change Their Colors?

    Greens often make conservatives and populists see red—or Reds. In 2004, Australian politician John Anderson called his country’s Greens “watermelons…green on the outside, and very, very, very red on the inside.” His fruity metaphor has become something of a conservative cliché. It is easy to see why.

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Reviews

  • The Conservative of Convenience

    The Conservative of Convenience

    In a Washington Post review of George F. Will’s The Conservative Sensibility, Catholic political thinker Patrick Deneen offers the following observation: This book is not so much a brief for conservatism as it is a learned and lengthy defense of liberalism: the philosophy of John Locke and America’s Founding Fathers; the economic theories of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman; and the theological skepticism of Lucretius and Charles Darwin. His is a rousing defense of a distinctly American form of “conservatism,” one that embraces a political, social, and economic system that encourages novelty, dynamism, and constant, unpredictable change. Thus, American conservatism—or classical liberalism—Will acknowledges, does not, and does not wish to, conserve very much.

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  • The Perpetual Club

    The Perpetual Club

    Such were the deep currents of literary life in 18th-century England that a group of friends meeting weekly in a London tavern included men as monumental as Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, and Edward Gibbon. Even those members who are lesser known today—Joshua Reynolds, Oliver Goldsmith, David Garrick, Richard Brinsley Sheridan—were enormously famous in their time. Leo Damrosch, author of superb biographies of Jonathan Swift, William Blake, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, dives deep to show what happened when the paths of these major figures crossed.

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  • Rhythms of Civility

    Rhythms of Civility

    In Meville’s great novel Moby Dick, Captain Ahab seeks news from Captain Gardiner, whose son has been lost after an encounter with the monstrous whale. Ahab’s refusal to help Gardiner find his boy is foreshadowed in Ahab’s behavior when the two captains first meet aboard the Pequod: “Immediately he was recognized by Ahab for a Nantucketer he knew. But no formal salutation was exchanged.” Ahab’s refusal sweeps aside the rituals and courtesies of public discourse and the civilized life such social norms embody.

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  • Two Faces of Modern Catholicism

    Two Faces of Modern Catholicism

    Much has been written about the modernization of the Catholic Church—especially the crucial years from 1870 to 1970. These histories have been written from a number of perspectives, each with different definitions of modernity. James Chappel, assistant professor of history at Duke University, gives us a new interpretation which succeeds in revising some of these accepted narratives. He does this by focusing on the Catholics of France, Germany, and Austria, which are historically conservative Catholic populations that also experienced rapid social change during the 20th century.

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  • <em>Books in Brief</em>

    Books in Brief

    From Fire, by Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith, by Sohrab Ahmari (San Francisco: Ignatius Press; 240 pp., $22.95). Sohrab Ahmari: Iranian immigrant, Roman Catholic convert, conservative, New York Post editor, and professional David French critic. In May, Ahmari garnered criticism and notoriety for his essay “Against David French-ism,” published in First Things, in which he argued for a new conservative consensus that asserts social conservatism and Christian tradition in the “neutral spaces” of the public sphere. A former Marxist, Ahmari understands the left’s mission to dominate public spaces and institutions. Now, as a Catholic, he advocates a reconquista of the forum in the name of America’s Christian heritage. The 35-year-old London-based Iranian-American journalist’s most recent book, From Fire, by Water, details his philosophical journey from Nietzsche, through Marx, to Christ.

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  • <em>What the Editors Are Reading</em>

    What the Editors Are Reading

    How is it possible to describe Dostoevsky’s great but sometimes neglected novel, Notes From Underground, without provoking repugnance for the nameless anti- hero whose voice dominates its pages? He is, as he announces in the opening lines, “a sick man…a spiteful man,” yet for all his insight into the nature of his own malady, he is, like Oedipus, sicker than he knows.

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Editorials

  • The Epstein Enigma

    The Epstein Enigma

    According to the official narrative, on Aug. 10, 2019, Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire playboy charged with sex-trafficking minors, committed suicide in his jail cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City. Only a third of American

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  • Judging the Past

    Judging the Past

    Joshua Tait, who is completing a dissertation on the American conservative movement at the University of North Carolina, is a virtue-signaling expert on his object of study. Never does Tait hold back in judging past conservatives by his super-duper progressive standards. For example, he offers this on one particularly revered conservative icon: “[Russell] Kirk was an idealist and an ideologue, but this was in the context of massive resistance to school integration and the Jim Crow regime enforced by state sponsored violence. He was willfully ignorant of the realities of white supremacy.”

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  • The Grip on Comedy Slips

    The Grip on Comedy Slips

    Comedy has long been under the left’s control, as just one province of the U.S. entertainment empire centered in Hollywood—which is itself a bastion of leftist control over mainstream culture. But comedy is a rebellious province by its nature, as what comics and their audiences find funny is often the opposite of what the left decrees politically correct.

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Correspondence

  • Inky Eyes Into China

    Inky Eyes Into China's Mind

    The newspaper boxes can be found around Washington, D.C., ranging from Union Station near the Hill to Foggy Bottom in the vicinity of the State Department. Inside, the newspaper articles emphasize positive, even entrepreneurial themes: investment opportunities, technological advances, the virtues of trade and economic integration. This world view, at first glance, could be mistaken for that of the Western-style capitalist outlook of a U.S. or European business daily. But the reality of these newspapers’ agendas, and their ownership, are an ideological universe apart: it’s that of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

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  • Amazon Fires Spark Global Hysteria

    Amazon Fires Spark Global Hysteria

    The afternoon of Monday, August 19, I was at home in my apartment in the city center of São Paulo. Glancing out the window, I noticed the sky was unusually dark. I figured it was about to rain, so I told my children we had to cancel our trip to the park. I thought no more of it, and the next day everything was back to normal. However, to my amazement, I started receiving messages from friends back in the United States asking me if I was “doing OK in the darkness from the smoke.”

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  • Boris

    Boris's Literary Language

    For the first time since Winston Churchill, Britain is governed by a master of language. There have been few such in Downing Street history; most of those who become prime minister have devoted their entire life-effort to climbing “the greasy pole.” Of the partial exceptions, George Canning, in 1797 a co-founder of the Anti-Jacobin, was a gifted versifier to whom we owe this description of a type still very much active today: A steady patriot of the world alone, The friend of every country but his own.

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Columns

  • NY Cops Retreat From the Heat

    NY Cops Retreat From the Heat

    The English actor Beatrice Lillie had no inkling of 2019’s sweltering summer heat in 1931 when she debuted Noël Coward’s ditty “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” in the Broadway musical The Third Little Show. The song’s mocking refrain, “Mad dogs and Englishmen/ Go out in the midday sun,” expressed a sentiment normal Americans subscribed to during this past July’s scorching heat waves.

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  • American Ideas, Then and Now

    American Ideas, Then and Now

    Ten years or so ago Stephen Fry, English polymath, writer, TV personality, stage and screen actor, and many other things, gave a Spectator-sponsored lecture at the prestigious Royal Geographical Society. His theme was appreciation for America, where he said he would choose to live “in a heartbeat.” I know Stephen and paid extra attention to his speech because I’ve lived between his country and the U.S. for most of my adult life.

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  • Time for an Immigration Pause

    Time for an Immigration Pause

    The postwar American conservative movement had many factions, but most at least feigned to revere British statesman Edmund Burke. Those who read the movement’s books and magazines were told Burke abhorred radical change, and so should we. In practice, however, most movement conservatives proved powerless to stop the many radical changes America has seen since the 1960s, either because they were too busy cheering the changes brought by free market forces or too timid to resist the ones brought about by leftist cultural forces. Most movement conservatives could barely mount a whimper of protest, much less stand athwart history yelling, “Stop!”

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  • Out of Afghanistan

    Out of Afghanistan

    President Donald Trump on September 7 abruptly cancelled secret meetings with unnamed Taliban representatives and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Citing a deadly bombing in Kabul a few days earlier, Trump also said he was cancelling the talks with the Taliban that started a year ago in Qatar.

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  • Which Terrorism?

    Which Terrorism?

    The U.S. is about to make a disastrous blunder in its terrorism policies. In recent months, a series of savage shootings has drawn attention to the dangers posed by far-right, or white-supremacist, terrorism. Commentators from across the political spectrum have demanded a robust response, and law enforcement agencies are clearly listening. In principle, such a focus on the terroristic far right is an excellent idea.

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  • Hiding in Delusion

    Hiding in Delusion

    Although Where’d You Go, Bernadette stars the incomparable Cate Blanchett along with a strong cast that includes Billy Crudup and Kristen Wiig, the film is a serious disappointment. I shouldn’t have been surprised, given it was released in mid-August, which is when studios dump films they suspect will be losers.

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