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“ISI WAS HANDS DOWN THE MOST MEANINGFUL PART OF MY COLLEGE CAREER.” —SAMANTHA LEAHY, CLEMSON UNIVERSITY ALUM
The Intercollegiate Review is the flagship publication of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. ISI was founded in 1953, when a young journalist named William F. Buckley Jr. led a counterattack against the progressive ideology taking over American colleges. ISI offered students a compelling alternative: conservatism. Join the ISI community and discover why so many prominent Americans—scholars and CEOs, journalists and judges, authors and politicians— point to their ISI experience as transformative.
JOIN.ISI.ORG “ONE OF THE MOST FORMATIONAL INTELLECTUAL EXPERIENCES I’VE EVER HAD.” —AURORA GRIFFIN, RHODES SCHOLAR
CONTENTS 2 PUBLISHER’S NOTE 3 CAMPUS CHAOS 7 Ridiculous Courses at Top Colleges
24 NOTES FROM THE CONSERVATIVE UNDERGROUND Campus leaders report from the front lines
26 STUDENT VOICES 5 Apps to Help You Get More Out of College
Chris McCaffery’s list will save you both time and money
Mark Twain vs. the Moral Statistician James Bollen’s apologia for a good cigar may leave you smoking mad
32 GOD ON THE QUAD Can any good come out of vicious smears? Michael Medved has the answer
34 ARTS & MANNERS The 12 Funniest Books Ever Written Watching Interstellar with Wendell Berry 5 Bands Every Conservative Should Know
The Competition Myth
40 Urgent Memo from
Peter Thiel shows why competition is for losers
Leviathan University’s Director of Interpersonal Space Relations
The Privilege of Freedom Daniel Hannan explains the English-speaking peoples’ gift of liberty
28 OFFICE HOURS
Mary Eberstadt says intolerance, not education, is killing churchgoing
Wilfred M. McClay answers students’ questions about conservative complacency, idiotic professors, and the good life
30 FREEDOM HALL
From Campus Bullies to Empty Churches
Lord of the Permanent Things Jonathan Witt and Jay W. Richards explore J. R. R. Tolkien’s political ideas
Edmund Burke: The First Conservative
INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW · Spring 2015
“The Time That Is Given Us”
PU B LISH E R
Christopher Long E DITOR
Jed Donahue MANAG I NG E DITOR
here is a poignant dialogue between Gandalf and Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings when the hobbit tells the wizard that he wishes he had not been born in an age of tumult and turmoil. Gandalf replies, “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Throughout Tolkien’s saga, the good in Middle-earth outweighs the evil— and I believe the same is true in America today. It is up to each of us to make the most of our time here and advance the culture of individual freedom and human dignity. This exciting issue of the Intercollegiate Review is chock-full of wisdom to help set us on the right path. On page 8, entrepreneur Peter Thiel writes about the importance of challenging conventional wisdom, and on page 12, you will find British politician Daniel Hannan’s thoughts on the unique tradition of ordered liberty that is America’s greatest patrimony. On page 16, Mary Eberstadt explains how the prevailing culture of intolerance on college campuses is eroding Americans’ faith. Both Eberstadt and Thiel point to political correctness as one of our country’s foremost problems. IT IS UP TO EACH OF Despite the frigid attitude toward conserTHE CULTURE OF vatism and ordered liberty on campus, there is hope. As Hannan reminds us, our challenge AND is not merely to oppose the Left’s vision of a world in which individuals are enslaved by a Leviathan state but also to offer in its place something brighter and better. I hope that you will be encouraged and motivated after reading the issue, and that it will increase your courage and fortitude as you make a difference in this momentous time in which you have been born. If there is anything that ISI can do to help you in your journey, my teammates and I would love to hear from you.
Christopher Long President, ISI
INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW · Spring 2015
ASSOCIATE E DITORS
Joseph Cunningham Stephen Herreid DESIG N E R
Daniel Trost ADVE RTISI NG MANAG E M E NT
Publishing Management Associates Inc. CONTR I B UTI NG E DITORS
Alyssa Barnes, University of St. Thomas James Bollen, Colorado Christian University Carly Hoilman, The King’s College Rich Lizardo, Yale University Allison Maass, University of Minnesota Chris McCaffery, Hillsdale College
US TO ADVANCE
INDIVIDUAL HUMAN DIGNITY
The I ntercollegiate R eview (ISSN #0020-5249) is published two times during the academic year by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Inc., 3901 Centerville Road, Wilmington, DE 19807-1938. Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Inc. © 2015. All rights reserved. All student members on the ISI mailing list receive the I ntercollegiate R eview free of charge during the academic year. Nonmembers may subscribe to the magazine at $15/two issues or $28/four issues. Please visit www.intercollegiatereview.com to subscribe or for further information. Direct all correspondence to the above address. Address changes may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Direct advertising inquiries to Publishing Management Associates Inc., 129 Phelps Avenue, Suite 312, Rockford, IL 61108-2447, 815-398-8569, pma-inc.net. Opinions expressed in the magazine do not necessarily represent the views of ISI or the editors. The responsibility for opinions and accuracy of facts in articles rests solely with the individual authors. For more information on ISI, visit www.isi.org.
RIDICULOUS COURSES AT TOP COLLEGES by JOHN ZMIR AK
o outsiders or unbelievers, the rituals and dogmas of any creed may seem silly. But it’s bad manners to mock them. So we forbid readers to laugh at the following courses that major universities offer during the 2014–15 academic year. Elite schools today may not demand much in the way of foreign languages, mathematics, or science, but they are fulfilling their high moral purpose: forming future leaders in West-hating multiculturalism, Marxist suspicion, and utilitarian hedonism. And don’t pay too much attention to those price tags (derived here by dividing the college’s annual tuition, room, and board by the eight courses per year most schools require of full-time students). Such is the price of admission to a very exclusive club. Courses like these will teach you the club’s secret handshake.
Brown University: “Global Macho: Race, Gender, and Action Movies” Spend four months (and $7,925) at an Ivy League institution figuring out why guys like to watch things blow up and learning new ways to tame them and render them harmless. “Carefully sifting through an oft-overlooked but globally popular genre—the muscle-bound action [film]—this class asks: what sort of work does an action movie do? What is the role of
women in this genre? How should we scrutinize these supposedly empty trifles of the global popular? How should we think critically about movies that feature—often without apology—a deep, dangerous obsession with masculinity, patriarchy, war, and lawlessness, with violence outside of civil society. In short, from Hollywood to Hong Kong to Rio to Paris to Mexico City, what makes the action movie genre tick?” INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW · Spring 2015
Wesleyan University: “Critical Queer Studies” Ah, Wesleyan. Where you can fulfill your science requirement by taking “The Biology of Sex.” Where the Queer Resource Center has lent students videos like Goat Boy and the Potato Chip Ritual. And where, if you’re an American Studies major, this class can be your required junior colloquium—as long as you send your $7,616 to the bursar. “Although ‘queer’ is a contested term, it describes—at least potentially—sexualities and genders that fall outside
normative constellations. However, as queer studies has been institutionalized in the academy, in popular culture, and in contemporary political movements, many argue that today, ‘queer’ shorthands gay and lesbian (or LGBT . . .), is too easily co-optable (e.g., Queer Eye for the Straight Guy), or that queer studies’ construction of the body, desire, and sexuality effaces or ignores crucial material conditions, bodily experiences, or cultural differences. This course, a reading-intensive seminar, will address these debates. After a brief exploration of some of the
Princeton University: “Isn’t It Romantic?” Congratulations, you got into P rinceton. Now you can skip that Milton course and instead take this English Department offering on “The Broadway Musical from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Sondheim.” The “reading list” includes The Phantom of the Opera and A Chorus Line—all for just $6,930. “Song. Dance. Man. Woman. These are the basic components of the Broadway musical theatre. How have musical theatre artists, composers, lyricists, librettists, directors, choreographers, and designers worked with these building blocks to create this quintessentially American form of art and entertainment? Why are musicals structured by love and romance? This course will explore conventional and resistant performances of gender and sexuality in the Broadway musical since the 1940s.”
INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW · Spring 2015
foundational works in queer theory, we will focus on the relationships—and disagreements—between queer theory and other social and cultural theories designed to illuminate and critique power, marginality, privilege, and normativity: critical race theory, transgender studies, queer anthropology, Marxism, feminist theory, and disability studies. Rather than understanding queer studies as a singular or coherent school of thought, we will continuously problematize queer studies as a field and a mode of analysis.”
Rutgers University: “Politicizing Beyoncé” How can a women’s studies professor take an avowed Christian who is a successful capitalist, a wife and mother, and a registered Republican and turn her into an icon of radical change? Spend $4,924 to find out. “Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is known as many things: singer, songwriter, actress, performer, half of hip hop and R&B’s most powerful couple, even fashion designer. But few take her seriously as a political figure. This course will attempt to think about our contemporary U.S. society and its current class, racial, gender, and sexual politics through the music and career of Beyoncé. On the surface, she might deploy messages about race, gender, class, and sexuality that appear conservative in relation to social norms, but during this course we will ask: how does she also challenge our very understanding of these categories? How does Beyoncé push the boundaries of these categories to make space for and embrace intercollegiatereview.com
other perhaps more ‘deviant’ bodies, desires, and/or politics? We will attempt to position Beyoncé as a progressive, feminist, and even queer figure through close examination of her music alongside readings on political issues, both contemporary and historical. We will
Bryn Mawr College: “Queens, Nuns, and Other Deviants in the Early Modern Iberian World” Skip lightly over Shakespeare, Moliere, and Cervantes and complete Bryn Mawr’s single required literature course by studying Spanish texts in English through a modern feminist lens, for only $7,353. “The course examines literary, historical, and legal texts from the early modern Iberian world (Spain, Mexico, Peru) through the lens of gender studies. The course is divided around three topics: royal b odies (women in power), cloistered bodies (women in the convent), and delinquent bodies (figures who defy legal and gender normativity). Course is taught in English.”
Georgetown University: “Dogs and Theology” This Jesuit-scented college retains its trace Catholic identity by requiring two theology courses—a survey on the “problem of God” or “biblical literature” and then a choice of electives like this one ($7,453). “There is not much clarity among Christian writers about whether and how animals will
juxtapose Beyoncé’s music with writings on black feminism and the black female experience in the U.S. (and beyond), to attempt to answer: can Beyoncé’s music be seen as a blueprint for progressive social change?”
have a role in the next life. We will appeal to material in the earlier part of the course—contemporary concerns about the environment and Christian theological approaches to nature—to construct and test out possible ethical norms that arise out of a Christian world view (including the traditional view that humans have [a] distinctive and privileged place in God’s plan and that ethics must reflect that anthropocentric priority). Finally, the course will consider the possibility that animal life, past and present, will be redeemed and share in the world to come. Dogs present a particularly interesting case in that they are partly the result of human intervention (humans as co-creators?) and have come to occupy an often-cherished role in the human community.”
Stanford University: “History of Ignorance” You might think that this course considered Socrates’s notion of learned ignorance, mystical approaches to God via negation, or the epistemology of skepticism. That just shows how clueless you are. That will be $7,963, please. “Scholars pay a lot of attention to knowledge—how it arises and impacts society— but much less attention has been given to ignorance, even though its impacts are equally profound. Here we explore the political history of ignorance, through case studies including: corporate denials of harms from particular products (tobacco, asbestos), climate change denialism, and creationist rejections of Darwinian evolution. Students will be expected to produce a research paper tracing the origins and impact of a particular form of ignorance.”
John Zmirak is coauthor of The Race to Save Our Century: Five Core Principles to Promote Peace, Freedom, and a Culture of Life. INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW · Spring 2015
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INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW · Spring 2015
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INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW 路 Spring 2015
The Competition Myth
by peter thiel
If I could go back and give advice to my younger self, it might be this: Competition is for losers. That was actually the headline the Wall Street Journal used when it excerpted a chapter from my book Zero to One in which I argue that great companies succeed not by competing with everybody else but by differentiating themselves—by becoming so good at what they do that no other firm can offer a close substitute. Think of Google, which hasn’t competed in search since the early 2000s, when it clearly distanced itself from Microsoft and Yahoo! Competition is supposed to be healthy. In economics, Americans mythologize competition, crediting it with saving us from socialist bread lines. But if you’re an entrepreneur who wants to create and capture lasting value, you don’t want to compete with a bunch of interchangeable businesses. You want to build a monopoly. This counterintuitive idea extends well beyond business. All life is a competition, it seems, and we always think of the losers as the people who are not good at competing—the ones who can’t make the high school varsity or who don’t have the grades or test scores to get into the right college. The competition only gets more intense the higher up one moves. All through 8
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school you have been graded and subject to standardized tests. You probably went through an intense process to get into college, and soon enough you will be (if you’re not already) competing to land the right job or get into the best law school or grad school. But as we engage in all this competition, we usually don’t stop to ask: why are we doing this to ourselves? I wish I had asked myself that question when I was younger. In my teenage years and in my twenties, my path was insanely tracked. In my eighthgrade yearbook, one of my friends wrote, “I know you’re going to make it to Stanford in four years.” I got into Stanford four years later. Then I went to Stanford Law School. I ended up at a big law firm in Manhattan. The firm was a place that from the outside everyone wanted to get into; on the inside it was a place that everybody wanted to leave. When I left— after seven months and three days— one of the lawyers down the hall from me said, “You know, I had no idea it was possible to escape from Alcatraz.” Of course that was not literally true, since all you had to do was go out the front door and not come back. But psychologically this was not what people were capable of, because when their identity was defined by competing so intensely with other people, they could not imagine leaving. This is, I think, the big problem with competition: it focuses us on the people around us, and while we get better at the things we’re competing on, we lose sight of anything that’s important, or transcendent, or truly meaningful in our world.
Imitation and Conformity I use some contrarian questions to get at this escape from competition, this move toward doing something where, counterfactually, if you were not doing it, it wouldn’t happen. The business question I like to ask is, “What great company is nobody building?” The more intellectual one I like to ask is, “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” intercollegiatereview.com
This is a shockingly hard question for people to answer in interviews (even when they can read on the Internet that I always ask the question). People seem to think that they must come up with something truly brilliant, something incredibly smart and esoteric that they would have needed to spend ten years in a postdoctoral program discovering. But if we are really honest about it, most of us have some answers to this question. The reason it is hard to answer in the interview context is that the correct answer is one that the person asking the question is unlikely to agree with. Answers like “God does not exist” or even “The education system is screwed up” (the first one is untrue, the second one is true) are bad answers because they are conventional answers. Good answers are ones that are uncomfortable. There is a strange phenomenon in Silicon Valley whereby many successful companies were started by people who seem to have Asperger’s syndrome or some other condition that makes social interaction difficult. I think we need to flip this around and see it as an indictment of our society. If you’re relatively well adapted socially, you will be talked out of any heterodox ideas you might have before they’re even fully formed. You will sense that the ideas are too weird, that they don’t fit in, that people will not like you if you espouse them, and so you should not pursue them. Look at business schools. The business school demographic is made up of people who are very well adapted socially, generally speaking. Many are incredibly intelligent and hardworking. But what happens after you put these people in the hothouse environment of business school for two years and award them their MBA? They go into the wrong fields. They try to catch the last wave. So at Harvard Business School in the late 1980s, everyone tried to work for “junk bond king” Michael Milken just a year or two before he went to jail. MBA types were never really
n October 23, 2014, technology
entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist, and bestselling author Peter Thiel delivered the keynote address at ISI’s ninth annual Dinner for Western Civilization. The IR is excited to share his insights and advice to students.
INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW · Spring 2015
WE LIVE IN A WORLD IN WHICH COURAGE IS IN FAR SHORTER SUPPLY THAN GENIUS interested in technology except for 1999 and 2000, when they all flocked to Silicon Valley—at the very end of the dot-com bubble. And on and on. The problem is not one of brainpower: we are talking about fiercely intelligent people with degrees from the nation’s most prestigious institutions. No, the real problem is conformity, a fear of stepping outside the bounds. This is the issue I had to confront in myself when, after years of competing, I achieved my goal of working at a major law firm—and realized it was the last thing I wanted. This problem of conformity runs deep. Already in the time of Shakespeare the word ape meant both a primate and to imitate. The Aristotelian concept of biology held that man differed from the other animals in his greater aptitude for imitation. This is how we learn language as children: we imitate. This is how culture gets transmitted. But imitation can also go badly wrong. It leads to crazed peer pressure; it leads to the various insane bubbles our society has experienced. If there’s going to be progress, if there’s going to be new thinking in any direction, it requires something very different. But as our society has lost its transcendent reference points, we have come to look more and more to one another. And in the process we have become more lemming-like.
It infects so many aspects of our society, including the fields of science, technology, and innovation. I worry that we are not actually living in as much of a scientific and technological age as is often advertised. If you look at the past few decades, you will see enormous progress in the world of bits—in computers, Internet, mobile technology, information technology, and so on. But in other areas—the world of atoms—things have stalled rather badly. The categories that people talked about in the 1950s and 1960s are off the agenda. Nuclear power, supersonic travel, space travel, turning deserts into farmland or forests, food innovation— all these things have petered out. Biotechnology and medical technology are still progressing but at a diminished rate. President Richard Nixon declared war on cancer in 1971 and said we could defeat it by
the bicentennial in 1976; forty-four years later, there’s a sense that we’re more than five years away. It would be inconceivable to declare war on Alzheimer’s or dementia even though one out of three people at age eightyfive suffers from it. There is much less of an impetus for such ambitious projects in the society we now live in. Why has this happened? Let me give both a libertarian and a conservative answer. The libertarian answer is that we have basically outlawed everything in the world of atoms but have left the world of bits mostly unregulated. It costs $100,000 to start a computer software company; it costs $1 billion to get a new drug approved through the Food and Drug Administration. Therefore it’s not surprising that we live in a world where people start video game companies rather than work on drugs that would save people’s lives. There is an extraordinary regulatory double standard. From a more conservative perspective, there is the sense that we have become a more riskaverse society. We have lost hope for the future. I think this has seeped in in many subtle ways. Among both libertarians and conservatives there exists a bias that the government can’t do things.
From the Manhattan Project to the Obamacare Website The issue of conformity is really the problem of political correctness, properly understood. It is an unwillingness to think for oneself. 10
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But this isn’t absolutely true. The government succeeded with the Manhattan Project in the 1940s. It succeeded with the Apollo program, putting man on the moon. Now we’re at a point where we can’t even get a website for Obamacare. Whatever you think of the morality of nuclear weapons, building an atomic bomb is a far harder undertaking than building a website. We should not let our ideological biases obscure the objective decline that has happened.
Courage over Conformity Universities have played a big role in this decline. They are badly infected by political correctness and conformity. Such problems are easiest to see in the humanities, where political correctness has stifled intellectual debate. In the 1990s David Sacks and I wrote a book, The Diversity Myth, chronicling how the relentless push for “multi culturalism” combined with intolerance of nonsanctioned viewpoints to create college campuses “full of people who look different but think alike.” Conformity affects the sciences as intercollegiatereview.com
well. Certain areas of research are taboo. If you’re questioning Darwinism or climate change, you will get in trouble. That matters because scientists depend on grants to support their research. Scientific progress—like any other progress—requires bold, idiosyncratic, eccentric thinkers, but the real scientists have been replaced by people who are nimble in the art of writing government grant applications. Science has become politicized. You will get a grant if everyone thinks your experiment will succeed. So we end up doing only experiments that everyone thinks will work. We never really push the envelope; we never really ask tough questions. So how do you resist the pressures of conformity? If you’re a student, there is a very important starting point: don’t think that everything you’re being taught is absolutely sacred. You may have brilliant professors, but they are subject to the same social pressures that the rest of us are and therefore may not be as objective about some important matters as they might be. The academic path is perhaps more tracked than any other.
You pile up degrees with the goal of landing a position at a university. If you achieve that goal, then you have to engage in the tenure-track competition, which means pursuing specialized research within the limits of your particular discipline. Academics usually chase large numbers of trivial publications instead of new frontiers. My advice for you—the advice I wish I could have given my younger self—is this: Before getting swept up in the competitions that define so much of life, ask yourself whether you even want the prize on offer. Look beyond the tracks laid down by academic specialties to the broader future that is yours to create. And remember, we live in a world in which courage is in far shorter supply than genius.
Peter Thiel cofounded PayPal, Palantir Technologies, and Founders Fund, and he made the first outside investment in Facebook. He is the author of Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, a #1 New York Times bestseller. INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW · Spring 2015
THE PRIVILEGE OF FREEDOM
By DANIEL HANNAN
by daniel hannan
was recently speaking with a friend of mine, a fellow member of the European Parliament. He and I are about the same age, came into politics at the same time, and have daughters of the same age. But we could have come from different planets. My friend grew up under a Communist dictatorship in Poland.
INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW 路 Spring 2015
Although his father defected to Canada, he chose to stay in Poland because he wanted to be part of the change he saw coming. One reason he had such confidence was that as a boy he had witnessed John Paul II’s first visit to Poland as pope. My friend told me something about the visit that I had never considered before. He said, “You know, the Holy Father never once directly criticized the Communist authorities. He didn’t have to. He just offered something better.” That, I think, should be the creed of conservatives: Just offer something better. We can very easily find ourselves focusing on the things we don’t like. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of things not to like. Our values are derided and traduced, our patriotism is scorned, our history is presented as a hateful chronicle of racism and exploitation, we are being laden with a debt unprecedented in peacetime. It’s easy to get angry. But when you’re only angry, you’re not persuasive. People respond to optimism, to positivity. Ronald Reagan understood this. So did Margaret Thatcher. They had the trick of breathing a bit of warmth, a hint of optimism, into what they were saying. At a time when our values are being attacked on all fronts, we need to offer something better. And is there a better story to be told than that of the free, English-speaking peoples? Is there a better patrimony than that which we share? It doesn’t matter where our ancestors came from, because Anglosphere values are passed on intellectually rather than genetically. The Anglosphere is why Bermuda is not Haiti. It’s why Singapore is not Indonesia. It’s why Hong Kong is not China (for now). If there’s one thing that distinguishes English-speaking civilization from all the rival models, it’s this: that the individual is lifted above the collective. The citizen is exalted over the state; the state is seen as his servant, not his master. If you wanted to encapsulate Anglosphere intercollegiatereview.com
exceptionalism in a single phrase, you could do a lot worse than what John Adams said about the Massachusetts state constitution: “A government of laws, and not of men.” Except that those words were not John Adams’s; he was quoting a seventeenth-century English Whig, James H arrington— neat proof of the shared inheritance that binds us together. It’s easy to take this inheritance for granted. Freedom under the law, regular elections, open markets, habeas corpus, jury trials: these things are not the natural condition of an advanced society. They are precepts overwhelmingly developed in the language in which you are reading these words.
ISI presented British
politician and journalist Daniel Hannan with the Henry and Anne Paolucci Book Award for his acclaimed work Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples
Freedom under the Law How did it come about, this extraordinary bridling of the government? How did the Anglosphere break the pattern of slavery and caste and oppression that was the normal condition of humanity for thousands of years? In researching my book Inventing Freedom, I tried to approach the question as an anthropologist. What struck foreign visitors as unusual about the English-speaking peoples as our civilization reached its full flower in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries? We had plenty of visitors, including some extremely distinguished ones: Montesquieu, Voltaire, Tocqueville. Alexis de Tocqueville is often trotted out as the supreme witness in favor of American exceptionalism, which leads me to conclude that he is much more quoted than read. On the very first page of Democracy in America, Tocqueville flags up his thesis: that the New World allowed the characteristics of Europe’s nations the freest possible expression. In his eyes, therefore, Spanish America exaggerated the ramshackle corruption of Philip IV’s Spain, and French America, the autocracy and seigneurialism of Louis XIV’s France. But English America, as he always called it, took further the localism, the belief in individual freedom, and the
n October 8, 2014,
Made the Modern World. The Paolucci Award recognizes the best book that advances conservative principles. This essay is adapted from the speech Hannan delivered on receiving the award. ISI’s of i ner olucc n i a W 4 P ar d 2 01 k Aw o Bo
INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW · Spring 2015
mercantilism that he saw as characteristic of Great Britain. He came up with a beautiful phrase: “The American is the Englishman left to himself.” Tocqueville and almost every other visitor to English-speaking lands focused on three unique characteristics of Anglosphere civilization. The first was religious pluralism. I don’t mean religious toleration; that existed in lots of places, including some places that were in no sense free. But the freedom for every denomination to proselytize freely, that was unique. The notion that there was an open market in faith, as in any other idea—that you would compete for souls as you would compete ideologically for any other argument—was something without precedent. The American Republic led the way, but religious freedom became widespread throughout English-speaking s ocieties before anywhere else really got the hang of it. The last, and relatively mild, restrictions on non-Christians in Great Britain—mainly those keeping them from standing for Parliament—were lifted by the 1830s. The second thing that struck almost every visitor was geographical exceptionalism. You cannot come to most Anglosphere societies other than over water. With the exception of North America, the Anglosphere is an extended archipelago: Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong. And although North America is not an island, the mentality of the American Founders was that of an island race. Look at Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address: “Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one-quarter of the globe.” Or listen to the words of George Washington’s Farewell Address: “Our
detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. . . . Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation?” The third Anglosphere characteristic that visitors noted was the miracle of the common law. In this beautiful,
that is still on the statute books in the United Kingdom and has been cited more than a hundred times by the U.S. Supreme Court. It declares that no one should be denied or delayed justice, and that all must be accorded due process, to be tried only by “the law of the land.” We use that phrase in English so often that we don’t stop to think about it. It’s unusual that we do; no other language has an equivalent phrase used in the same way. The law of the land: not the king’s law, not the law of some holy scripture interpreted by prelates, but a law that is the property of everybody. Nobody really knows how our fathers stumbled upon this system. That’s the real miracle, and again and again, it turns out to be the hero of the story of what has shaped us. And it is why anybody who buys into our political and legal systems, wherever his ancestors came from, can become a full member of our joint Anglosphere civilization.
THIS SHOULD BE THE CREED OF CONSERVATIVES:
JUST OFFER SOMETHING BETTER
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bizarre, anomalous system, the law is not written down from first principles and then applied to particular cases but rather grows up case by case, each judgment serving as the starting point for the next dispute. In other words, the law in English-speaking societies is not an instrument of state control but a mechanism open to the individual seeking redress. It contains an assumption of residual rights. A common law system, where the law belongs to the whole population rather than being the property of the state, assumes that if something is not expressly prohibited, it is allowed. Every week in the European Parliament I see how unusual this assumption really is. Again and again I will say to my colleagues in Brussels, “Why are you regulating X or Y?” The answer always comes back, “Because it’s not regulated!” In the Eurocrat’s mind, unregulated and illegal are synonymous concepts. The idea that lack of regulation should be your default option, that it is the natural state of affairs, is seen as a bizarre Anglo-Saxon peculiarity. Magna Carta, whose eight hundredth anniversary falls in June, includes an extraordinary phrase
Don’t Throw Away What Works I began by talking about offering something better, and I’d like to close with the same request. I find myself often having to say this to fellow conservatives. Maybe there’s something in our conservative temperament that prevents us from looking on the bright side. The great nineteenth-century historian Lord Macaulay wrote, “We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point—that we have seen our best days. But so said all who came before us, and with just as much apparent reason.” That was in 1830; think how many times we’ve been promised gloom and disaster since then. The supposed turning point varies from generation to generation. intercollegiatereview.com
When I was a little boy, it was global cooling, and now it’s global warming. It could be bird flu, or it could be swine flu, or it could be drug-resistant superbugs. It could be an asteroid strike or nuclear war or debt. The cause changes but the argument never does: “This time it’s going to be different!” Well, it hasn’t been yet. On all the underlying indicators, most people in most countries are living healthier and happier lives. On the really key metrics—longevity, literacy, infant mortality, calorie intake, height—we are living lives beyond the dreams of our great-grandparents, and more and more places in the world are being drawn in to that intercollegiatereview.com
happy, upward surge by the miracle of free trade and specialization. The Anglosphere model that has lifted us to such wealth and freedom and power in the world is incredibly well suited to what’s coming. We are an enormously inventive civilization, because we’ve released the genius of a free people in a market economy. But we can’t throw away what’s working. We must retain our faith in our own values, in the extraordinary civilizational inheritance that your Founding Fathers didn’t invent but rather maintained and reasserted— an inheritance that they traced back through England’s Glorious Revolution, through the English Civil War,
even back before Magna Carta to the inherited folkright of AngloSaxon common law. That unique inheritance has made our people the most prosperous and the most free anywhere on the face of the earth. That’s the patrimony that you were privileged to inherit from your parents. Keep it intact; pass it on securely to your children.
Daniel Hannan is a member of the European Parliament representing South East England for the Conservative Party. He blogs for The Telegraph (UK) and is the author of several books, including The New Road to Serfdom. INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW · Spring 2015
FROM CAMPUS BULLIES TO
b y M A RY E B E R S TA D T 16
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he question of secularization—or how it is that societies once markedly religious become less so, particularly the societies of what’s known as Western civilization—has been much studied in modern times. Urbanization, rationalism, higher education, industrialization, feminism: these are just some of the possible causal agents debated by sociologists when they try to figure out why some people stop going to church. Yet one highly significant social fact that rather obviously bears on the question of secularization has gone unnoticed. That is the relationship between the well-documented decline in Western churchgoing, especially among Millennials, and the simultaneous rise of a toxic public force on campuses across the Western world: the new intolerance. “The new intolerance” is shorthand for the chilled public atmosphere in which religious believers now operate. Many people of faith face unique burdens that would have been unthinkable even a couple of decades ago: burdens of ostracism, of losing the good opinion of their neighbors, of being trash-talked in the public square. Some even face the loss of livelihood or the constant threat and reality of litigation; for a primer, see the hounding last spring of Mozilla CEO Brandon Eich for his donation years earlier on behalf of traditional marriage. Although this new intolerance has begun to attract attention and debate, the connection between that phenomenon and the rise in unbelief among twenty-somethings remains to be explored. And the scrutiny is overdue. It is well known, and well documented by social science, that many students, not only in America but all over, lose their religion in college. The interesting question is why.
THE NEW INTOLERANCE An atheist or other nonbeliever might say students lose religion because college is where they learn higher reasoning, and higher reasoning drives out
the superstition of faith. That kind of answer might seem to make perfect sense—except that it’s refuted by the facts. In fact, social science points to the opposite conclusion: bettereducated people are actually more likely than those with less education to be found in church. (See my book How the West Really Lost God for a roundup of the empirical evidence demonstrating this pattern across a range of societies, from Victorian England to the modern-day United States.) So the answer from sophistication just doesn’t hold up as an explanation for what happens to religious commitment during the college years. No, something else is going on in the numbers about faith and people in their teens and twenties. For starters, we might focus in on this fact: the campus these days is ground zero of the new intolerance. Exhibit A, to start with an example from across the pond, is what happened at Christ Church College, Oxford, in November 2014—or more precisely, what didn’t happen. A scheduled debate on the subject of whether “abortion culture” hurts Britain, between two journalists who write for the Telegraph, was canceled for reasons that seemed to be read aloud from a totalitarian playbook: because of last-minute “concerns” on the part of the college. Translation: a feminist group incited protest via social media aimed at disrupting the event, and did so in terms vehement enough to frighten the authorities. That this travesty of the principle of
free speech played out in the college once attended by none other than John Locke is beyond ironic. The Oxford shout-down is no isolated example, as everyone within reach of a computer already knows. So much could be written about the new intolerance on campus that it would fill not one essay but several
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books. In the United States, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) recently filed four free-speech lawsuits against four colleges in a single day. One suit defended the rights of a student whose university forbade him from wearing a T-shirt saying, “We get you off for free.” The shirt— promoting a student group that provides free assistance to students accused of campus disciplinary offenses—was judged to run afoul of ever-changing speech codes about women. To mention just a few other examples of the punitive new code, columnist George Will—one of the most distinguished public intellectuals in the entire Anglosphere—was treated to protests in the fall upon speaking at Miami University, Ohio, again
for the ostensible charge of violating what is allowed to be said of women. Last spring, a number of prominent speakers backed down from giving
Rather obviously, it is not only the humanities, and not only intellectual life itself, that are threatened by the rise of Robespierrian speech codes. No, so too are actual students—in the sense that the intimidation of the new intolerance cannot help but envelope them in college, from that first good-bye at the hugging tree to that last party celebrating commencement.
THE DECLINE IN CHURCHGOING IS LINKED TO THE RISE OF A TOXIC PUBLIC FORCE ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES: THE NEW INTOLERANCE commencement addresses—or worse, had their invitations rescinded—when threatened with protests. (Ironically, several of them were female.) It does not detract from the importance of free-speech cases in themselves to point out something new here: the same forces that are intimidating the intellectual expression of students can also be expected to intimidate their religious expression.
THE GALE WINDS OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS The intimidation varies from one campus to another, from one department to another, and from one protest to another. But while the decibels of ferocity may change, the negative posture toward religious believers t hemselves—or for that matter toward anyone who finds
Want to challenge the liberal culture on your campus? Start an independent student publication with the help of ISI’s Collegiate Network. The CN provides funding, mentoring, intensive journalism training, and fellowship and internship opportunities.
www.collegiatenetwork.org 800-526-7022 • email@example.com 18
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anything of value in the JudeoChristian tradition and bothers to defend it—remains the same. And once more, Occam’s razor would suggest a causal connection here. Students, like any other human beings, cannot help being sensitive to atmospherics. Let’s think again of the new force that drives a CEO out of his post for having donated to defend traditional marriage. If the new intolerance can penalize an “alpha” like him so dramatically, how much more menacing must it be to people just starting out, whose futures and livelihoods depend so heavily on the opinion of their peers? Sometimes, interestingly enough, the very incivility of the new intolerance backfires. A friend with a son at an overwhelmingly progressive college said recently that the experience of sitting through one particular class had turned that student toward conservatism. Why? Because as a white male known also to be heterosexual, he was
singled out repeatedly for second-class social treatment by the professor—no matter what his bona fides otherwise. He has become, in virtue of the new intolerance, what might be called a political counter-convert. Other anecdotal cases like his come to mind. In a book I edited a few years ago called Why I Turned Right: Leading Baby Boom Conservatives Chronicle Their Political Journeys, several authors traced their own conversions similarly, as reactions to the obnoxiousness of radicalism on campus. Another friend serves as inadvertent witness to the power of political correctness: he was so appalled by what he saw on his Ivy League campus that he abandoned his own secular background, converted to Catholicism, and eventually entered the priesthood. Even so, contrarian-minded students like these, it seems safe to guess, are outliers possessed of unusual courage or cussedness (or both). Many others faced with the gale winds of political correctness, one guesses, succumb
to the blast in one way or another, including by religious self-censorship. It’s time to air the idea that college students do not stay out of church or synagogue because their education leads them to enlightened conclusions about the big questions. No, the more likely dynamic is that thanks to the new intolerance, the social and other costs of being a known believer in the public square mount by the year—and students take note. Hence intimidation on the quad, multiplied over many years and campuses, is an unseen engine of secularization. Mary Eberstadt is a senior fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and author of several books, including, most recently, How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization.
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INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW · Spring 2015
J. R. R. Tolkien’s Vision of Liberty and Limited Government
by JONATHAN WITT and JAY W. RICHARDS
irector Peter Jackson’s blockbuster Hobbit trilogy, like his three Lord of the Rings films before it, has brought a resurgence of interest in the fantasy novels of J. R. R. Tolkien. Of course, Jackson’s movies did not create the Tolkien juggernaut; they merely capitalized on it. Tolkien’s novels are two of the three most popular of all time (behind only Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities), and Tolkien, a towering academic figure in his day, has only grown in importance as a literary figure since he died some forty years ago.
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Scholars have spent decades debating the literary and theological significance of his novels. There’s been less careful treatment of Tolkien’s political and economic thought, even though, as Tolkien commentator Joseph Pearce has put it, the longer novel’s “political significance” is “second only to the religious in its importance.” Partial readings of Tolkien might lead one to conclude that he was a pacifist, a Luddite, or an environmentalist. For instance, the hobbit hero Frodo goes in for nonviolence near the end of The Lord of the Rings. Plus, Tolkien loved trees and a verdant countryside, and detested the ugly elements of industrialism. Surely if the Oxford don were alive today, the thinking goes, he would be a Prius-driving, organicsmoothie-drinking, coexistbumper-sticker-sporting liberal. But wait. What of all the stuff in his work about honor, chivalry, family, battlefield courage, and moral absolutes? Focusing on this, some on the Left have concluded that, no, Tolkien must have been an old-fashioned dead white male conservative who glorified war. Both views can’t be right. Is the truth somewhere in the middle? Was Tolkien a soft-edged moderate? This doesn’t sound right either. Tolkien was a moderate beer drinker and pipe smoker. But there was nothing moderate about his political views. Rather than casting Tolkien in any of these molds, we think the better course is the inductive one: a careful study of what he wrote personally, and of what he presented in his fiction.
Hardly Any Government The first hint in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit comes from the beloved homeland of the hobbits, the Shire. The pastoral villages have no department of unmotorized vehicles, no internal revenue service, no government official telling people who may and may not have laying hens in their backyards, no
government schools lining up hobbit children in rows to teach regimented behavior and groupthink, no government-controlled currency, and no political institution even capable of collecting tariffs on foreign goods. “The Shire at this time had hardly any ‘government,’ ” Tolkien wrote in the prologue to The Lord of the Rings. “Families for the most part managed their own affairs.” Indeed, the only visible police are the “shirriffs,” who don’t wear uniforms and focus mainly on returning stray animals. In other words, their primary job is to protect private property. This is significant because Tolkien once described himself as a hobbit “in all but size,” and in the same letter commented that his “political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs).” As he explained, “The most improper job of any man, even saints, is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.” In the Shire, it seems, Tolkien created a society after his own heart.
wealth around” (to borrow a phrase from our current president), the only thing that seems to be spreading is the regulatory power of the gatherers. Here we see a critique of aesthetically impoverished urban development, to be sure. But conservatives and progressives alike also have seen in this section a pointed critique of the modern, hyperregulated nanny state. As Hal Colebatch put it in the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, the Shire’s joyless regime of bureaucratic rules and suffocating redistribution “owed much to the drabness, bleakness, and bureaucratic regulation of postwar
Resistance to Tyranny Near the end of The Lord of the Rings, Frodo, along with his friends Sam, Merry, and Pippin, returns home to discover that a group of bossy outsiders has infiltrated the Shire. The newcomers are “gatherers and sharers . . . going around counting and measuring and taking off to storage,” supposedly “for fair distribution,” but what becomes of most of the bounty is anyone’s guess. Ugly new buildings are being thrown up, beautiful hobbit homes are spoiled, and for all the effort to “spread the
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Britain under the Attlee Labour Government.” Tolkien showed his contempt for such statist machinations.
Distributism? Some observers suggest that in economics, Tolkien advocated “distributism.” Championed by the English Catholic writers Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton, distributism is often described as a “third way between capitalism and socialism.” It has been marked by a deep nostalgia for pastoral life, seeking to move society toward more local, agrarian, small-scale, and familycentered practices, where each family owns sufficient “productive property” so that, if push came to shove, they could grow their own food. The connection to the Shire is easy enough to discern. The hobbits live an idyllic life uncluttered by the excesses of modern big-city capitalism, a life with the qualities that distributists hoped to cultivate in contemporary life. But there’s good reason to doubt that Tolkien would have embraced the details of the distributist vision. We should remember that the agrarian Shire is not the only society in Middle-earth. Any full account of Tolkien’s vision must include not just the home of hobbits but also the dwellings of dwarves, elves, and men. It must consider the miserly greed of Smaug the dragon, the cronyism of the
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Master of Lake-town, the initiative of Bard and the rebuilt Dale, the urban grandeur of Minas Tirith, and the biomimetic technology of the elves. Also, Tolkien emphasized that the preindustrial life of the hobbits was not meant to function as “a Utopian vision” or to encourage us to return to preindustrialism and freeze in time a particular historical moment. This, he explained in a letter, was the “weakness” of the elves, who “regret the past” and “become unwilling to face change: as if a man were to hate a very long book still going on, and wished to settle down in a favourite chapter. . . . They desired . . . to arrest change, and keep things always fresh and fair.” This is a warning relevant to distributism, which is marked by an intense nostalgia for the agrarian past. Such nostalgia is prominent in the thought of Belloc, a contemporary of Tolkien. Belloc and Tolkien departed in other ways as well. One obvious difference: Belloc was for several years a member of Parliament for the Liberal Party, whereas, so far as we know, Tolkien was a Tory who wasn’t willing even to endorse the word democracy. The main divergence between Belloc and Tolkien involves Belloc’s call for the machinery of the state to actively redistribute “productive property” and then keep it well distributed through a variety of taxes and regulations. In his Essay on the
Restoration of Property, Belloc wrote: “We must seek political and economic reforms which shall tend to distribute property more and more widely until the owners of sufficient Means of Production (land or capital or both) are numerous enough to determine the character of society.” The implication is plain: if land and capital are “unequally” owned, the state needs to equalize the situation by using its powers to confiscate private property and redistribute it along presumably more egalitarian lines. Lest anyone miss the point, Belloc went on to insist that “the effort at restoring property will certainly fail if it is hampered by a superstition against the use of force as the handmaid of Justice.” Note the paradox: Belloc wanted to distribute the power and wealth of certain private actors— large landowners and capitalists—to avoid concentrations of power in the hands of the few. But this meant giving more power to the entity that already possesses a near monopoly on coercion: the state. In other words, to disperse concentrations of power in the private sector—the realm of voluntary exchange—Belloc proposed that we concentrate more power in the political sector: the realm of coercion. To be sure, Belloc proposed the gradual use of state power, not the radical collectivization that Lenin and Stalin attempted. And later distributists have sought to resolve this problem. In any case, Tolkien never advocated anything like using the state’s power to redistribute wealth. The creator of Middle-earth surely knew more than a little about the views of Belloc and Chesterton, but he appears never to have endorsed their policy ideas or even uttered the word distributist. Although he advocated the use of force for selfdefense from violent aggression—as when Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin retake the Shire after Saruman and his toadies overran it—he never recommended that the state make it its regular business to redistribute
legally owned property in the pursuit of equality. Just the opposite: he was opposed to governments’ extracting wealth disproportionately from citizens. In a letter to his son Michael after The Lord of the Rings had begun to earn him a comfortable income, he exclaimed, “Don’t speak to me about ‘Income Tax’ or I shall boil over. They had all my literary earnings until I retired.” Elsewhere he referred to “the claws” of England’s “Taxgatherers.” He found the whole mind-set of pursuing aggressive reform through the coercive arm of the state fraught with danger. In another letter he warned of “ ‘reformers’ who want to hurry up with ‘reconstruction’ and ‘reorganization’ ”; their goals might be innocent enough, but “pride and the lust to exert their will eat them up.” At the end of The Hobbit, Tolkien lampoons the impulse to divvy up the wealth of the well-to-do. Bilbo arrives home to find his property being auctioned off, and of course he wants his stuff back. Although there’s a good bit of grumbling, the common opinion is that Mr. Baggins’s stuff is Mr. Baggins’s stuff, even if he
did return from his adventures with more treasure than he knows what to do with. It never crosses the hobbits’ collective mind that some government official should have the power to appropriate a sizable portion of Bilbo’s property and distribute it more equitably throughout the community.
A Consistent Enemy of Big Government Tolkien’s political vision doesn’t fit neatly into the simple American two-party system, or into schools of thought developed by others. We wrote a book, The Hobbit Party, to do it justice. In Tolkien’s fiction, that vision involves diverse communities, what we might call “civil society,” and even trade between different species of sentient creatures. If allowed to speak on his own, Tolkien might help bridge the divide between conservative freemarket thinkers and distributists. But there’s a line running through all that nuance that isn’t the least complex, one we tried to capture in the title of the first chapter of our book: “In a Hole in the Ground There Lived an Enemy of Big Government.”
Unlike the many self-appointed “radicals” in lockstep with the spirit of his age, Tolkien was the true radical—the square peg in the round hole of modernity. In an age of secularism and the growing leviathan state, he was a conservative Catholic calling for the old virtues, a more vibrant civil society, and smaller, less meddlesome government.
Jonathan Witt and Jay W. Richards are the authors of the new book The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot.
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It’s not easy to be a conservative surrounded by liberals. But ISI students across the country are fighting back against liberal orthodoxy on campus and getting a leg up professionally. Here are four examples.
THE IMPORTANCE OF REAL DIVERSITY Yale’s William F. Buckley Jr. Program
he mission of Yale’s Buckley Program is to promote intellectual diversity on campus. That doesn’t sit well with the forces of political correctness, but we have persevered. This past September our group invited Ayaan Hirsi Ali to speak at Yale. Despite her staunch advocacy for women’s rights, Hirsi Ali came under fire from campus groups such as the Muslim Students Association (MSA), the Women’s Center, and the Yale Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics. Hirsi Ali’s offense? She has been a vocal critic of radical Islam. Never mind that she suffered from genital mutilation as a child, that Muslim fundamentalists murdered her colleague Theo van Gogh, or that she lives under a fatwa. The MSA first privately asked
us to disinvite the speaker. When we refused, the MSA sent an open letter to every Yale e-mail address, denouncing our organization for inviting such a hateful speaker and requesting either that we invite a second speaker to counter—or correct—Hirsi Ali’s views or that we keep our guest from speaking on Islam entirely. Again we refused. Our opponents’ intimidation tactics did not prevail. Hirsi Ali’s lecture drew a full house of more than three hundred attendees; in fact, we had to turn away more than a hundred people. There were no protests, and Hirsi Ali received three standing ovations. We stuck to our guns, and in doing so, we furthered the cause of intellectual diversity. —Rich Lizardo ’15
CONFRONTING LIBERAL BIAS The University of Minnesota’s Minnesota Republic
was a sophomore when I joined the Minnesota Republic, a monthly conservative magazine that is part of ISI’s Collegiate
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Network. It was hard to find new writers, and many students had no idea the magazine existed. I knew something had to change. Instead of writing our typical content about federal and state politics, we started reporting about liberal bias here on campus, including double standards on free speech and abuses by the university administration and student government. Soon I had to turn writers away, and other groups were requesting copies for their members. Being the editor of a conservative magazine on a liberal campus can be frustrating. It is not uncommon to find copies of the latest issue in the garbage and the newsstands vandalized. But the positive impact each issue can have is always worth it. —Allison Maass ’15 intercollegiatereview.com
HOPE FOR YOUNG CONSERVATIVES The King’s College’s Empire State Tribune
attend a small Christian liberal arts college in Manhattan, and before my freshman year I had a professional network of zero. But in college I have spent two semesters interning at The Blaze, Glenn Beck’s online media outlet, and this past summer I interned at Fox 29 in Philadelphia. How did it happen, and more important, how can it happen for you? I owe much of my success to the friends and mentors I have met through ISI. The ISI Collegiate Network Editors Conference helped me grow as a writer and a leader, and my professional network expands with every ISI event I attend. By simply saying “yes” to the many opportunities ISI has presented, I have experienced success as a young conservative in a field notorious for its liberal bias.
I am overwhelmed by the opportunities ISI makes available to undergrads—from essay contests to fully funded internships. There has never been a better time to be a young conservative. —Carly Hoilman ’16
to become an official ISI Society. We now receive funding for speakers and events, along with mentoring, logistical support, and free books. To start an ISI Society, you need grit. You will need to recruit members, raise money, develop a business plan as you apply for an ISI grant, and sometimes be unfriended by
BUILDING FROM THE GROUND UP The ISI Society in Houston
ave you ever wanted to start a reading group at school? Here’s how you can build one from the ground up. Last year, having attended ISI conferences, a classmate and I decided to start a reading group at our school, the University of St. Thomas in Houston. We figured it would not be too hard to attract students at a school with a good liberal arts core. Wrong! Although we came up with good discussion topics, secured a faculty sponsor, distributed flyers, and created a Facebook page, half of our meetings were empty. Enter ISI. While attending an ISI leadership conference last summer, I met a student from the University of Houston. We decided to join forces, and soon we added members from Rice University and Houston Baptist University. So our group now provides an outlet for thoughtful university students from across the fourth-largest city in America. Even better, ISI accepted our application
classmates (oh no!) because you are now the person who sends out tons of Facebook events for your meetings. But you cannot let any of this stop you. Your campus needs you. —Alyssa Barnes ’16
C H A N G E C A M P U S C U L T U R E Learn how to start an ISI Society or a student publication of your own and receive grants of up to $10,000 from ISI. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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A P P S TO H E L P YOU GET MORE OUT OF COLLEGE
3. Lift: Here is an excellent example of smartphone notifications being used for good. Lift is a coaching network that allows you to select daily tasks, from exercise and dieting to praying and hobbies. The app will prompt you to focus on the tasks you want to accomplish and connect you with other users with the same goals to share encouragement and productivity tips.
SMARTPHONE DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A DISTRACTION; IT CAN HELP BOTH IN AND OUT OF THE CLASSROOM
by CHRIS McCAFFERY
smartphone can be an ever-present distraction for a college student trying to keep up with reading and paper writing. It’s hard to put down the phone, ignore the new text or e-mail, and above all stay off Facebook. But today’s technology can also be a huge help both in and out of the classroom. Here are five apps that can help you get your life in order and just maybe leave you more time for learning. 1. Mint: This personal finance app gives you an easy and secure way to monitor all your financial activity, from credit cards and checking accounts to investments and student loans. The Mint app allows you to track all your balances at a glance and can notify you of upcoming bills. Meanwhile, the website offers free credit monitoring as well as robust budget management tools. Mint will even monitor your spending to let you know when you’re over budget or when you could save money with a different financial institution. 26 INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW · Spring 2015
Perfect for managing the delicate college balance of student loans, spending money, gas, and bar tabs. 2. Evernote: This notetaking and archiving app creates one digital workspace where you can store a wide variety of information and access it from anywhere. Store class notes, scan documents with your phone, upload pictures, annotate PDFs, record lectures, and tag everything for quick retrieval. You’ll have everything in one place, synced across all your devices.
4. StudyBlue: StudyBlue is a free app that gives you instant access to custom flash cards and a huge library of premade decks on a variety of subjects. Perfect for college students, StudyBlue syncs with Evernote (see #2) and allows you to collaborate with classmates on decks of flash cards. This is a great way to sneak in bits of studying throughout the day and keep on top of the material. 5. Google Play Books: Google’s online e-book store not only gives you access to contemporary and classic works of literature but also allows you to upload your own e-books and PDFs, making them accessible across all platforms. The ability to synchronize your reading progress across phone, tablet, and computer makes reading on the go easy and doesn’t require any extra equipment—or the bulky book itself. Chris McCaffery is a junior at Hillsdale College. intercollegiatereview.com
MARK TWAIN VS. THE
MORAL STATISTICIAN by JAMES BOLLEN
hese are dark days for everyone who enjoys the varied and nuanced pleasures of tobacco.
Over the past decade, smoking bans have spread across university campuses, public buildings, beaches, restaurants, and bars. Smokers have been pushed to the fringes of society, along with lepers and Ebola patients. I wish that were a joke. According to a 2006 study, “Non-smokers use terms such as ‘outcast,’ ‘persecuted,’ ‘lepers,’ ‘under-class’ and ‘blacklisted’ to describe smokers’ status in society.” You can see these poor pariahs huddled outside the library in the freezing rain as they try to sneak a puff or two. Look, we all understand the health risks associated with smoking. But let’s spare the moralism and the stigmatizing of those who recognize that tobacco can (gasp!) afford some pleasure in life. Mark Twain had it right when he condemned the “moral intercollegiatereview.com
statistician,” who is “always ciphering out how much a man’s health is injured, and how much his intellect is impaired, and how many pitiful dollars and cents he wastes in the course of ninety-two years’ indulgence in the fatal practice of smoking.” The moral statisticians have begun airbrushing history as well. Like Stalin wiping Trotsky and other opponents out of photos, they have removed any evidence of smoking from the FDR Memorial (so much for President Roosevelt’s omnipresent cigarette holder), postage stamps (chain smokers like painter Jackson Pollock and newsman Edward R. Murrow get a smoke-free makeover), and cartoons (never mind
that the Flintstones advertised Winston cigarettes in the 1960s). What about all those great men and women who found enjoyment and comfort in smoking? How would Winston Churchill have held England together through the Stuka screams and falling bombs without his cherished Cuban cigars? Would J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis ever have shown us Middle-earth and Narnia without the incantational assistance of their pipes? Where will it stop? Will we ban campfires? (Because we all know what habitual smokers they are.) Hookah? How was that passed over? No one seems to protest a place where large groups of college students can gather around a water pipe to smoke flavored tobacco. Marijuana? C’mon. No one pretends it’s healthier than cigars, but a few states have already legalized public consumption. It’s time we stopped treating smokers as our mortal enemy. They are our friends and family members. They are our leaders: both the president and the speaker of the House have made known their fondness for tobacco, and surely they
SMOKERS HAVE BEEN PUSHED TO THE FRINGES OF SOCIETY, ALONG WITH LEPERS AND EBOLA PATIENTS need some kind of outlet between their bruising political battles. Twain put it well when he told the moral statistician, “You never try to find out how much solid comfort, relaxation, and enjoyment a man derives from smoking.” As Twain added, we shouldn’t “approve of dissipation,” but at the same time we can’t have “a particle of confidence in a man who has no redeeming petty vices.” James Bollen is a senior at Colorado Christian University. INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW · Spring 2015
Wilfred M. McClay Teacher, Scholar, Mentor
At a conservative college like mine, a conservative’s biggest enemy is apathy. What is the best way to motivate college conservatives?
ideas and by public policies that pile up public debt, prevent healthy economic growth, inhibit the formation of young families, suppress intellectual and religious freedoms, and promote an ever more intrusive state. And then they need to learn how to formulate the most effective arguments to defeat such ideas and policies.
—Aaron Mitchell, Texas A&M University
There is a lot of truth in what you say. A uniformly conservative college environment can be too comfortable. Some of the leading conservative intellectuals are people whose thinking was refined and deepened through their struggles against liberal orthodoxy. But if by apathy you mean political apathy—not being engaged in political organizing, working for political candidates, etc.—I’m not so concerned about that. Political activism is often not the best use of your time in college. If, however, by apathy you mean mindless indifference to ideas and policies, then that is a different matter. Education is about awakening to the world. People need to be awakened to the ways that their prospects in life are being undermined by the influence of bad or pernicious 28
Who do you believe are the preeminent conservative public intellectuals today? —Michael Beato, University of Florida
Wilfred M. McClay is a distinguished ISI professor. He holds the University of Oklahoma’s Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty and is the award-winning author of several books, including A Student’s Guide to U.S. History (ISI Books) and The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America. A popular speaker at ISI conferences, Dr. McClay serves as the faculty adviser for OU’s ISI Society. He agreed to answer students’ questions about a range of issues.
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There are a great many people I could name, and I fear that in keeping the list short, I will leave out some I ought to include. But some of the presentday conservatives I invariably find rewarding to read are Roger Scruton, Yuval Levin, Leon Kass, Robert George, and Thomas Sowell. One of the finest conservative magazines on the scene is Roger Kimball’s New Criterion, which, along with Modern Age, is required reading for those who want to engage conservative thought at a intercollegiatereview.com
high level. American conservatives should read the British politician and journalist Daniel Hannan (see page 12), who is perhaps the world’s most effective spokesman for the distinctive qualities and virtues of Anglosphere liberty.
For a college student, where does the balance lie between promoting freedom of thought in the classroom and protecting his or her grade against retaliation by the professor? —Ryan Bullard, University of Texas at Austin
I generally advise students against making quixotic crusades against idiotic or dictatorial or deranged professors. Surprisingly few professors actually believe in freedom of thought in their classrooms, I’m sorry to say. But I would never, ever advise a student to tell a professor “what he wants to hear” just to get a good grade. (On most campuses, you have plenty of time to drop a course when you find that your instructor is to the left of Lenin.) You want to find a middle ground, in which you sustain your own integrity without taking up pointless battles that you almost certainly cannot “win.” And when you resist, try to do so with civility and respect, and to build your own skills of persuasion in the process, so that you will be an effective debater intercollegiatereview.com
later, when the outcome really matters. Even idiotic professors can be charmed, and even idiotic professors are likely to have something to teach you. So make the most of it. Don’t make yourself into a martyr; save your sacrificial valor for a cause more worthwhile.
history at its best, students should sample great writers like Winston Churchill or, more recently, David McCullough, Bernard Lewis, Paul Johnson, and Samuel Huntington, who combine literary merit with a profound sense of history’s sweep and grandeur.
“Surprisingly few professors actually believe in freedom of thought in their classrooms” How do you respond to students who say they find history tedious or irrelevant? —Jill Jones, University of Michigan
Well, they have to know something about history before it can become interesting to them, just as they have to know something about baseball or any other sport before watching it can become interesting. But I also think that such students suffer, through no fault of their own, from being taught history in a way that is boring, tendentious, and unedifying. Most academic history is written for other academic historians, and it shows—in soggy, jargon-laden prose, about subjects that are mind-numbingly obscure, in accounts lacking in anything like narrative verve. To get a better example of
What do you think young conservatives can do to show their peers that conservatism is a viable way of life? —Felix Miller, College of St. Mary Magdalen
The best proof of conservatism’s truth is in the balance, order, decency, productivity, and love that one finds in a well-lived life. So embody that fact in your own life. You may not always know it, but your peers are watching you; they are constantly looking around at o thers for cues as to how to behave, what to esteem, and where to place their deepest hopes. The Sermon on the Mount exhorts us to “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works.” The most thoughtful young people today are looking not just
for appealing ideas but also for a way to live, and for precepts to live by and for, in a fractured society where so much has become unstable or uncertain. You may be able to point them in the right direction by the attractiveness of your own example.
Is philosophy essential to solving today’s problems or just preliminary groundwork to the “actual” work of economic and political movements? —Peter Atkinson, Ava Maria University
Karl Marx said, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” But Marx had it backwards. In modern times, we have accumulated immense power to effect change and yet neartotal uncertainty about the proper ends toward which change should be directed. So the “groundwork” of philosophy—of restoring the meaning of right reason, understanding the true sources of human dignity, and recovering a robust understanding of life’s proper ends—is extremely important. Nothing worthwhile will be accomplished in the years ahead until we have done that groundwork. We have to recover the real foundations upon which everything we value is supported.
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EDMU ND BURK E T HE F IR S T C ONSERVAT I V E
n just the past two years, at least four books have been written about the man called the father of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke (1729–1797). What did this eighteenth-century British statesman contribute to political philosophy that twenty-first-century conservatives still find compelling and persuasive? Born in Ireland to a Catholic mother and an Anglican father, Burke made a name for himself in London, first with a 1757 philosophical treatise on “the sublime and the beautiful” that brought him to the attention of some of the era’s greatest thinkers. In 1765 Burke was appointed private secretary to the British prime minister, the Marquess of Rockingham, and he entered the House of Commons the same year. Burke’s career in Parliament was marked by his oratorical vigor, his
support for the American colonies’ grievances against the Crown and for Catholic rights in Ireland, and his
30 INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW · Spring 2015
crusade against government corruption, especially in Britain’s administration of its colonies in the East.
But Burke’s support of genuine reform and his rejection of arbitrary power did not a radical make. The signal work of his career, which marked him out as the quintessential conservative voice, was his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Writing in the early months of the French Revolution, Burke foresaw the disaster that would unfold because the French had uprooted their long-standing traditions and institutions on the basis of abstract notions of the “rights of man” and the “sovereign individual.” He laid out an exhaustive defense of tradition, civil society, prudence, and constitutionalism, as well as respect for prescription and what he called prejudice, which “renders a man’s virtue his habit.” As a principled defender of ordered liberty, Edmund Burke speaks to our age as much as he did to his own. intercollegiatereview.com
hen bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle. —Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770)
TRANSMITTING OUR INHERITANCE
eople will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.
—Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)
en are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites. —Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791)
THE GOVERNMENT WE DESERVE
overnment is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom. —Reflections on the Revolution in France
bstract liberty, like other mere abstractions, is not to be found. —Speech to Parliament on Reconciliation with the American Colonies (1775)
reedom and not servitude is the cure of anarchy; as religion, and not atheism, is the true remedy for superstition. —Speech to Parliament on Reconciliation with the American Colonies
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GOD ON THE QUAD
VITAL LESSONS IN
by MICHAEL MEDVED
nti-Israel propaganda seethes and surges on college campuses. “Israel Apartheid Week” demonstrations and BDS (“Boycott, Divest, and Sanction”) activism s ingle out the Jewish state as the worst human rights abuser on the planet. Every Jewish student has confronted the lies: that Israel has perpetrated genocide against Palestinians, or that Israel relentlessly abuses its non-Jewish residents. Such charges constitute abusive distortions about the world’s only Jewish-majority nation. But the very outrageousness of these campus slanders can help contemporary Jews develop new strength in their own identity and find common ground with Christians as well. They should recall the perspective of a significant nineteenth-century Jewish philosopher who managed to find blessings in the ancient blood libel that brought devastation to his people. 32 INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW · Spring 2015
The Blood Libel The traditional blood libel originated in twelfth-century England, accusing religious Jews of slaughtering Christian children to bake their blood into Passover’s unleavened bread. Within two hundred years this preposterous charge spread throughout Europe, bringing bloody pogroms, mass expulsions, rapes, pillage, and, not infrequently, genocide. As recently as 1913, Mendel Beilis faced a czarist jury on utterly baseless accusations
that he had murdered a Russian lad for ritual use of his blood. In our own time, Islamist extremists have revived the ancient accusations and even created a popular miniseries for Arabic TV dramatizing the notion that Jewish observance requires butchery of gentile innocents. From the beginning, this vile superstition ignored incontrovertible facts about Jewish law. Not only does the Torah forbid murder unequivocally, but also Jewish dietary rules intercollegiatereview.com
from the minority of young people strictly prohibit consumption of even supported anti-Israel extremists sugwho have actually traveled to Israel, a animal blood. Kosher laws insist gest an answer of “Yes, it is possible.” probable majority can identify family that after humane slaughter of any And in fastening on that reply, Jews members or friends who are Israeli. beast, blood must be drained entirely who encounter their own authentic They therefore recognize the cruel before the meat is cooked. The notion traditions for the first time can also distortions in the common caricaof Jews’ using blood to bake ritual find encouragement in common cause ture of youthful Israel Defense Force bread—let alone human blood— with Christian believers who love soldiers as sadistic brutes bent on counts as repugnant and absurd. Israel and risk derision while pursuwanton cruelty and pointless killHow could communal leaders ing their own journeys of rediscovery. ing. Israeli society may be stressful, ever see such slander as a source of Beleaguered troops consigned to the hypercaffeinated, edgy, earthy, and strength and uplift for Jewish idensame foxhole, facing wave after wave tity? During a worldof attack, will forge their wide flurry of blood libel durable bonds, whatIS IT POSSIBLE THAT EVERYBODY CAN own charges in 1892, the Zionever their cultural or even ist thinker Ahad Ha’am theological differences. BE WRONG, AND (1856–1927) penned In this sense, the an unforgettable essay agitators who smear the RIGHT? entitled “Some ConsolaJewish state and apolotion.” In it, he discovered gize for Arab terror may rude, but it is also tender, generous, an invaluable lesson in the persistent unintentionally contribute to Jewdefamation. “This accusation is the and obsessed with moral questions. ish reconnection and the developsolitary case in which the general While leaving most Jewish students ment of broader faith communities acceptance of an idea about ourselves unpersuaded, campus hostility to in hostile campus environments. As does not make us doubt whether all Israel may even encourage some to Ahad Ha’am sagely observed, “It is the world can be wrong, and we right, deeper explorations of their heritage. fitting that we should always look because it is based on an absolute lie,” Inevitably, this means more contact for the useful lesson hidden in the he wrote. “Every Jew who has been with religious tradition, especially in evil that comes upon us, and find brought up among Jews knows as an light of the surging spiritual revival thus at least some consolation.” indisputable fact that throughout the animating Israel itself. The epic story length and breadth of Jewry there is of Jewish exile, endurance, and, not a single individual who drinks ultimately, return may strike skeptics human blood for religious purposes. as nothing more than coincidence, We ought, therefore, always to remembut others will note the close corber that in this instance the general respondence to both warnings and belief, which is brought to our notice promises in biblical texts. Though ever and anon by the revival of the most young Jews at major universities blood-accusation, is absolutely wrong; have been raised in secular homes, because this will make it easier for us and despite the fact that the modern to get rid of the tendency to bow to state of Israel was led in its early years the authority of ‘everybody’ in other by secular socialists, a deep engagematters. . . . ‘But’—you ask—‘is it possiment with the Zionist project involves ble that everybody can be wrong, and an unavoidable spiritual component. Could the unparalleled patterns in the Jews right?’ Yes, it is possible: the Jewish history truly count as random? blood-accusation proves it possible.” Which brings us back to Ahad Ha’am’s uncomfortable question: The Lesson Hidden in Evil “Is it possible that everybody can Today’s Jewish students should be wrong, and the Jews right?” For remember this observation when modern students on campuses where confronting vicious anti-Israel prosecular liberalism represents the paganda on campus. Of course, some reigning orthodoxy, that question Jews will simply ignore the attacks, Michael Medved hosts a daily syndicould be paraphrased: “Is it poswhile others may join the accusacated radio talk show that reaches one sible that everybody can be wrong, tory chorus in hopes of burnishing of the largest audiences in America. He and religious believers right?” their enlightened leftist credentials. is the author of twelve books, includThe fatuity and malice of the widely Most, however, know better: aside ing The Ten Big Lies about America.
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ARTS & MANNERS
Funniest Books Ever Written
by ANTHONY SACR AMONE
nd by “funny” I don’t mean just amusing or acutely insightful about the human condition. I mean funny as in eliciting that audible and rhythmic contraction of the diaphragm unique to primates conscious of the distance between what they are and what they pretend to be.
1. DON QUIXOTE
(MIGUEL DE CERVANTES)
he first, and arguably greatest, modern novel follows the exploits of Don Quixote de la Mancha, the Knight of the Mournful Countenance, and his companion Sancho Panza. As the knight drapes his drab reality in a romantic veil, so that windmills become dragons and bedpans helmets, Sancho plays the voice of reason. But when things, finally, reveal themselves to be just what they are, what is there left for a medieval knight to do but leave the stage?
3. 1066 AND ALL THAT
(W. C. SELLAR AND R. J. YEATMAN)
2. DEAD SOULS
illed as the “only Memorable History of England, because all the History that you can remember is in this book,” and dedicated to the “Great British People without whose self-sacrificing determination to become top Nation there would have been no (memorable) history,” 1066 makes history as much fun as the “Disillusion of the Monasteries.”
4. THE TRIAL
stranger named Chichikov arrives in a small Russian town with a proposal: to buy all the dead souls—serfs who have died but who have stayed on the government’s books as taxable assets. Landowners are more than happy to rid themselves of these burdens. The boobish townsfolk and the corrupt and easily beguiled gentry are first delighted, then
suspicious. Could Chichikov be Napoleon in disguise? Gogol’s sketch of nineteenth-century Russian life makes British class warfare seem like cribbage.
INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW · Spring 2015
The Trial By Franz Kafka (1925) Translated by David Wyllie
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osef K. has been accused of a crime, the exact nature of which remains a mystery. As he winds his
way through a bizarre and byzantine legal system, hope dims that he will be found anything but guilty, even though he never learns of what. The definitive “Kafkaesque” tale, The Trial is often treated with nightmarish seriousness, but the author intended it to provoke giggles.
5. THE EXPEDITION OF HUMPHRY CLINKER
he gout-challenged Matthew Bramble, his family, and his servants tour England and Scotland, all the while writing letters back home expressing their unique and often absurd obsessions. The title character—a simpleminded stableman—comes to life through the descriptions offered by each member of the expedition. And when Clinker winds up in the clink, the Brambles must decide whether the hapless ostler is a true member of their clan.
6. THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (DOUGLAS ADAMS)
hings could be worse for Arthur Dent and his pal Ford Prefect: they could have been left behind when the Vogons destroyed planet Earth.
Instead they are treated to a series of otherworldly adventures involving increasingly menacing and ludicrous life-forms. Oh, spoiler alert: the ultimate answer to everything is “42.” The TV and film adaptations failed to do justice to Adams’s uproarious and speed-of-light wordplay.
7. DECLINE AND FALL
ollow divinity student Paul Pennyfeather as he is “sent down” from Oxford for indecent behavior only to wind up being arrested on the day of his wedding to the Honourable Mrs Margot BesteChetwynde for trafficking in prostitution. Waugh’s merciless skewering of the upper classes and the privilege enjoyed by the daft and corrupt set the standard for high-minded satire for a generation at least.
8. THE DECLINE AND FALL OF PRACTICALLY EVERYBODY (WILL CUPPY)
lizabeth died on March 24, 1603, in the seventieth year of her age and in the fortyfourth year of her reign. She was succeeded by James I. Everything was then ready intercollegiatereview.com
for the Gunpowder Plot, Guy Fawkes Day, the Thirty Years’ War, the Authorized Version, the settlement of Virginia, cigarettes, radio, the blindfold test, and silent butlers.” And so on.
to an extensive book tour. Enter Peter Piper, a would-be litterateur w illing to do almost anything to get his master piece, Search for a Lost Childhood, into print, including masquerade as the author of the distasteful Pause.
11. A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES
he Greatest Generation gets a pummeling in this antiwar classic. Captain Yossarian seeks to get out of his World War II tour of duty by flying the requisite number of bombing raids, only to have the number increase with each successful run. Heller’s irreverent and, yes, Kafkaesque take on military intelligence (“The case against Clevinger was open and shut. The only thing missing was something to charge him with”) made out-of-sequence narratives hip long before Pulp Fiction.
(JOHN KENNEDY TOOLE)
gnatius J. Reilly is an obese Louisiana prodigy, dead set against steady work and all things modern, awash in Scholasticism and Boethius, and ever mindful of his pyloric valve. Falstaff, Don Quixote, Rabelais’s Gargantua—Reilly has been compared to them all, yet Confederacy remains a unique comic vision, a picaresque novel of a dying one-man breed.
ARTS & MANNERS
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer’s Comrade)
10. THE GREAT PURSUIT
hen the anonymously penned Pause O Men for the Virgin lands at the ailing Frensic and Futtle literary agency, the agents’ only hope to save their agency is to cut a $2 million deal for the execrable work with a commercially minded American publisher. The catch is that the author must commit
G L A S S B O O K
C L A S S I C
12. YOUR PICK
he Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? The Devil’s Dictionary? Gulliver’s Travels? Tom Jones? Candide? Tristram Shandy? The Diary of a Nobody? A volume of P. G. Wodehouse? And we haven’t even touched on plays: The Clouds, Tartuffe, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Inspector General, The Man Who Came to Dinner, The Sunshine Boys, A Thousand Clowns, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Wrong Turn at Lungfish . . . Wait—why are you laughing? INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW · Spring 2015
ARTS & MANNERS
WATCHING INTERSTELLAR WITH WENDELL BERRY by PETER AUGUSTINE LAWLER
or those who long to explore where no man has gone before, these aren’t good times to be alive. Spectacular technological advances still occur, but they involve information and the Internet, not space travel. “Measured purely by altitude, the human race peaked fifty years ago,” says the screenwriter Jonathan Nolan. Nolan and his brother Christopher wrote the blockbuster Interstellar to explore this issue—to assess what Jonathan calls “the current state
INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW · Spring 2015
of human ambition.” Their science fiction film restores the case for NASA and searching the cosmos—not to discover extraterrestrial intelligence but to secure an indefinite future for humans, the one species not bound by nature to our planet. Interstellar challenges the traditionalist orientation of agrarian conservatives such as Wendell Berry. According to Berry, we should take our lead from the “stickers,” who devote themselves to the community that develops in a particular place and who are tied to the land of their small part of the planet. Opposed to the stickers are the “boomers,” who are
never satisfied with what they have and exploit particular communities and parts of nature for money and power. For Berry, the most destructive boomers are the engineers, who transform human places rather than cultivate them. Interstellar, rather like Berry, presents people as divided into two types: engineers and farmers. The family at the center of the film is made up of two engineers by nature—Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his daughter—and two natural farmers, Cooper’s son and his father-in-law. That’s two brilliant, bookish, intercollegiatereview.com
ARTS & MANNERS
The Dying of Whose Light? At the opening of I nterstellar, the agrarian orientation dominates the world—but not by human choice. A crop blight has produced ruinous food shortages, dust storms, and raging fires. The fact is that the human species faces imminent extinction on earth. But NASA scientists are the only ones who know this truth—and they deliberately hide it from the farmers and everyone else. They go so far as to feed people the blatant lie that NASA was always useless, even that the moon landing was faked. Meanwhile, they work in secret to save our species from what seems to be its natural fate. The head NASA scientist, Professor Brand (Michael Caine), recruits Cooper, the world’s last experienced (and singularly excellent) pilot, to lead a mission to save humankind. Because this world has never been enough for him, Cooper readily accepts the idea that, although we were born on this planet, it’s not our destiny to die here. The world’s last top engineer, taking his lead from the world’s last top theoretical physicist, will graciously provide the farmers with what they cannot provide for themselves. Professor Brand says that it’s nearly impossible to be completely open with anyone; emotional beings such as ourselves can handle only so much of the intercollegiatereview.com
deeply personal; it’s the dying of my light truth. He employs this approach that’s the issue. But the poem is also relaeven in recruiting Cooper. He tional: the poet addresses it to his father. presents the pilot with two The poem addresses our irreducibly possibilities on the “we” to be personal and relational concerns. That’s saved. The ship will carry five why, to save the species, the scientist has thousand human eggs, which to lie about the absence of personal hope. will be enough to start up our species anew on a different Deus ex Machina? planet. But Professor Brand says One key insight of Interstellar is that that he can make the theoretias much as the farmer or even the engical breakthough that will allow neer can care only for particular perus to break the hold gravity sons, the scientist as scientist is moved has on us on earth, so they can to perpetuate our singular species as a instead transfer all the people way to guard science itself—our wonalive right now to their new drous knowledge of the way things are. home. Brand assures Cooper that he will have solved that puzzle A ALLOWS well before the astronaut returns VIEWERS TO AVOID from his mission. But Professor Brand already THE FILM’S knows that he can’t get the data required to But the film concludes with something complete his theoretical work. of a deus ex machina, a romantic fantasy In other words, the people alive that allows viewers to leave the theater on our planet now can’t be without having absorbed this insight. saved. Brand lies because even Cooper emerges in a fifth-dimension Cooper, by nature an engineer, “tesseract” to discover that people who is held by love to particular have transcended the confines of time and persons—his c hildren—and he space have, in fact, saved particular perwon’t abandon them unless he sons on earth, including Cooper’s children. believes his mission will save The fantasy allows the filmmakers them from their earthly fate. to suggest that they don’t embrace the That’s the “glitch” in human imperative to preserve the species at all evolution: although we’re supcosts. The knowledge that frees us from posedly hardwired to serve gravity’s planetary hold is part of a new the species, we’re not (or most birth of scientific progress that allows of us aren’t) capable of caring particular persons to flourish on space about more than ourselves stations that replicate perfectly small and those we know and love. towns on earth. This new wisdom, we can say, combines what engineers and Professor Brand attempts to farmers know about who we are. The film inspire his team with the words doesn’t end with rage against “the dying of the great poet Dylan Thomas: of the light” by particular persons. Time, “Do not go gentle into that death, and personal (especially familial) good night. Rage, rage against belonging remain essential features of the dying of the light.” Brand what makes a loving life worth living. directs his own rage, apparently, against the dying of the species, but he knows others Peter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor won’t share his perspective. The of Government at Berry College and blogs at human survival mechanism is National Review’s Postmodern Conservative.
ROMANTIC FANTASY INTERSTELLAR KEY INSIGHT
and restlessly inquisitive explorers and two stay-athome family men with good hearts who readily accept their world’s and their own limited horizons. But the explorers aren’t Berry’s displaced parasites; they, too, are moved by personal, familial love.
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ARTS & MANNERS
Every Conservative Should Know by JOSEPH CUNNINGHAM
“There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”
ou remember this scene from The Two Towers, right? Samwise Gamgee reminds Frodo about the purpose of their mission. And isn’t this at the heart of conservatism? Fighting for the good things in this world? How about fighting for good music? I’ll submit five bands you should know, which will remind you that all is not lost, and that there are, indeed, good things in this strange, chaotic world we live in. Not only are these bands good musically within their genres; they are also masters at exploring rich ideas in songs. We all know the importance and weight of ideas. They drive human actions and events when they are conveyed by people who know how to share them simply and effectively. It’s important for us as conservatives to take note of some of the bands, both older and contemporary, who do this well. Now, I could recommend bands based on the quality of their relationships with spouses or on the regularity of their church attendance, but I’m not going to. Doing is one thing; making is another—and moral character, as important as it is, has little impact on whether an artist is actually good or not. So with that little disclaimer out of the way, let’s dive in:
INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW · Spring 2015
1. Vampire Weekend
Indie rock. Well-read rockers with a craving for Afro beats and baroque pop scales. If you haven’t listened to these guys yet, listen to their first, eponymously named album now (or tonight, at the very latest). Once you’ve digested the Oxford comma and Cape Cod references, then you might jump to their latest album, Modern Vampires of the City, for a fascinating
appraisal of post-Judeo-Christian American culture. Vampire Weekend writes melodically strong yet structurally simple tunes, and lyricist Ezra Koenig embeds cultural and literary references throughout. The result is unique, poppy, and smart. They’re a hard band not to like. intercollegiatereview.com
resulting in a smooth, sometimes haunting effect. Although the ’60s rock wave doused their popularity, Brian Wilson cited the Four Freshmen as being a huge influence on his band, the Beach Boys.
4. Sigur Rós Post-rock. Atmospheric, Icelandic, melodic. Wonder-inspiring. mewithoutYou
From hardcore to post-hardcore to twangy folk, this band never lost its musical sensibility or its ability to translate deep poetry into melodic form. Aaron Weiss draws from the Bible, the Torah, and even the Qur’an to craft spiritual, poetic lyrics that open up the mystery of everything familiar. In drawing insightful, reflective images out of everyday themes, Aaron reminds us of the importance of listening to and observing the world around us. Start with mewithoutYou’s album Catch for Us the Foxes. If spoken word over posthardcore guitar riffs isn’t your preference, I encourage you at least to read their lyrics.
3. The Four Freshmen The jazz/barbershop quartet that sang four-part harmonies, played their own instruments, wrote music, and inspired the Beach Boys. Quite the CV. You never know whom you will inspire. The Four Freshmen were a mold-busting group, known for being a jazz quartet that sounded like a forty-three-piece ensemble. Their genius lay in their ability to deliver harmonies over jazz arrangements, intercollegiatereview.com
If you appreciate the Western tradition, you should appreciate Sigur Rós, an Icelandic band known for its Tolkienesque language creation. Their singer and writer, known as Jónsi, often sings in a language he calls “Hopelandic,” which is composed of nonsensical syllables so that all listeners, regardless of where they come from, may enter into the music without a language barrier. Some people have likened Sigur Rós’s music to a religious experience, and it’s easy to understand why. Their music is majestic, awe-inspiring, and filled with longing for the infinite. You’ll come away with a deep sense of wonder at life and nature, both of which are crucial if we are to be reverent toward the unknown as well as toward the known.
Indie pop. Family band (four siblings and a cousin) remotely like the von Trapps, without the Austrian accents. Their first album, Room Noises, has a whimsical (and sometimes agrarian) flavor. Lyrically,
this family band awakens the imagination with Alice in Wonderland references, as well as unique poetics that inspire the child explorer in us all. Their songs wonder at the brilliant and understated tones of life, love, and suffering. Yet even as the band has aged and developed edges, Eisley still retains a vision of the marvelous. Listening to them is sometimes akin to listening to a Brothers Grimm fairytale, and God knows we can all do with one of those now and then.
ARTS & MANNERS
EISLEY Let me close with one more disclaimer: I’m not even going to pretend this is a comprehensive list. You’re welcome to make additions. So get out there, my fellow musicphiles. Turn on that lamp over your favorite chair, drink something strong, and enjoy the good things in this world. Joseph Cunningham is digital media editor at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and associate editor of the Intercollegiate Review.
INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW · Spring 2015
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40 INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW 路 Spring 2015
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