In Washington, D.C., access and influence go hand-in-hand; they are the stock and trade of the lobbyist, the lawyer, and the political advisor. They are, as well, the biggest “skill” current officeholders and staff members can take with them when they leave the government.

        —from Pat Choate, “Puppets for Nippon,” May 1993

People choose sides in civil, fashionable, moral, or metaphysical questions very much as children choose which local football team they will (notionally) support. “I’m the sort of person who supports Everton rather than Liverpool, pretends to adore the Queen Mother and dislike Princess Anne, thinks that Qaddafi is insane and Gorbachev is a nicer chap than Brezhnev, and votes for Mrs. Tiggywinkle while expressing cautious disapproval of her policies.” Or in other circles: “I’m the sort that was born under Aquarius, thinks the military-industrial complex controls the Western world, and that ‘the scientists’ are only not revealing their solution to death, UFO’s, and telepathy because they’re in league with the Freemasons.” Taking a position, like wearing a particular dress or choosing to drink lager, is expressing loyalty to a group, an image of oneself, a particular rhetoric.

        —from Stephen R.L. Clark, “Having Opinions,” April 1987

As semper fi is to Marines, “tax, spend, and elect” is to Congress. When political charlatans threw off the confining shackles of limited government once and for all during the New Deal, they soon deduced just how easy the task of buying votes became. Congressmen were more than happy to console dysfunctional families and anesthetize them from the devastations of parental inattention and folly, as well as the toll from government intervention in the economy, to get themselves reelected to a cushy job with no heavy lifting. One glance at C-SPAN provides more than ample evidence that flimflammery is still in session and flourishing. Note how they posture, what they debate, and how they are all so glad to be part of such a distinguished body. You might soon forget that they produce nothing in society except managed chaos, empty pocketbooks, and hot air. But they, like everyone else who pretends to an earthly throne, know what is best for us—while we are more than happy to let them govern our lives. What is the price of slavery compared to the joy we find in self-justification for wrongdoing?

        —from Robert K. Dornan, “The Suppression of Public Virtue,” August 1995

What the neoconservative logic comes down to is this. The United States has a moral responsibility to run the world. But the citizens are too stupid to understand this. That is why we cannot use democratic institutions like Congress in this ambition. We must use the executive power of the presidency, it must have total control over foreign affairs, and never bow to congressional carping.

Once this point is conceded, the game is over. The demands of a centralized and all-powerful presidency and its interventionist foreign policy are ideologically reinforcing. One needs the other. If the presidency is supreme in global affairs, it will be supreme in domestic affairs. If it is supreme at home, there will be no states’ rights, no absolute property rights, no true liberty from government oppression. The continued centralization of government in the presidency represents the end of America and its civilization.

        —from Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., “Down With the Presidency,” October 1997


According to the best evidence I am able to collect, there are Streetniks only in the central cities of the four largest metropolitan areas [of Tennessee]. Why, for example, aren’t there street people in Murfreesboro? Murfreesboro is one tenth the size of Nashville. It should have one tenth the number of homeless—if Nashville has 2,000, that would be 200. If Nashville has 900, that would be 90. Yet Murfreesboro has none. Neither do any of the other medium-size and small towns in Tennessee. The answer is simple: There are no services for the homeless in Murfreesboro. As soon as services are established, there will be street people. It’s called “symbiotic relationship” by community ecologists.

It is the “critical mass” concept. Already there are people barely hanging on . . . but they are hanging on. With the establishment of street services, social fusion would occur, pulling the weakest loose from the fabric of the community onto the pavement. The stage is set for growth of the street persons to the limit imposed by the community. The greater the services, the larger the number.

        —Dan McMurray, “Hard Living on Easy Street,” August 1988


Both liberals—who dream of the “universal nation,” that tower of Babel united only through a common hatred of the West and disdain for standards—and “conservatives”—who idealize the politics of “development” and “growth” and see Americans as united only by a love of material gratification—are . . . helping to hasten the extinction of men like my father, and with them, the America both of Washington and Jefferson and of Boone, Crockett, and Houston. They swear that the wet-backed invaders share our “American values” and that the ponytailed trash, men who have not taken the time to master their trade, are doing all of us a service. That is the way these folks, the liberals and conservatives who grow increasingly indistinguishable from one another, think: They think that foreigners who tell polltakers that they “believe in” abstractions like “democracy” or “capitalism” have as much claim on this country as American citizens, that building “housing units” is the same as building a home, and that being an American is like being a member of a club that anybody can join. To these “mainstream” liberals and conservatives, “culture” means ideological adherence to abstractions; national character is defined by shopping habits and not by all the things that are lost when men like my father are run out of business and become extinct, when a way of life that includes the look of a people, the way they carry themselves, the clothes they wear, the foods they eat, and the way they speak is forgotten.

        —from Wayne Allensworth, “The Vanishing Craftsman: A Cultural Barometer,” February 1994

One of the characteristic losses of our age has been in the reduction of hope, along with faith and love, to mere feeling, an event of “body chemistry.” We seem to have mostly forgotten that these were once thought of as paramount virtues, requiring practice. It is nevertheless true that hope, if it is to be authentic and if it is to last, must find its work, and this must be doable work, work that one can reasonably expect to accomplish.

This way of thinking, which may be necessary to our survival as human beings, goes directly against the current of our public education and public ambition, which never contemplate the propriety or the desirability or the pleasure of work on a small scale. We do not want to find small answers to small problems, or partial answers to parts of problems; we want to find heroic answers, global answers to global problems. We tell our children, “You can be everything you want to be,” which is, in every case, a lie. We believe that we are entitled to large, spectacular, perfect solutions invented by scientists or politicians. We believe that we all ought to work in an office and receive a large salary. The result, altogether expectable, is work done poorly by people who think themselves too good to do it.

The result is disappointment, cynicism, bitterness, boredom, contempt for ordinary life and ordinary pleasures—a state of mind that has afflicted both life and art.

        —from Wendell Berry, “The Country Writer,” June 1995

To reject all tradition because it is handed down from the past is to cut oneself off from the past. This is an impossibility for any form of Christianity, even more so than for Judaism, for the Christian faith is based on the historical reality of very significant divine interventions: the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. Traditional observances, whether truly religious (such as the Communion liturgy) or more folkloric (such as the Christmas tree), help bond members of the rising generations to the past on which their faith depends. This is one reason that the banning of all traditional Christian symbols from public schools and facilities is socially destructive even in our “pluralistic” secular society; It promotes the severance of children from their cultural past and contributes to the breakdown of—dare we say it—traditional morality. Without tradition, we rapidly lose touch with our ancestors, with our fathers and mothers in faith, and soon with our own parents.

The opposition to tradition in religion once centered on Roman Catholic tradition, but today it extends to all Christianity. It stems from the conviction, often a simple presupposition, that the past is bad, the present better, and the future best of all. From this perspective, all that has been handed down from the past is undesirable and should be dismissed, the Mass in Latin as well as the Christmas tree in schools. Forgotten are those words of Jeremiah . . . “Stand ye in the old ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, wherein is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” The verse continues with what seems to be the war cry of much of the current society: “But they said, We will not walk therein” (Jeremiah 6:16).

        —from Harold O.J. Brown, “Tradition, Old and New,” December 2000

The poetry of tradition is rooted in human occupations as they are pursued from dawn to dark, from season to season, on land and sea, through harvest and winter, in war or peace. It is associated with festivals and rituals, both sacred and secular; and the distance between sacred and secular is not forbiddingly immense, as in our modern times. It is an art designed for oral performance, preserved in human memory and the oral tradition that also preserves ballad and folk song; and maybe it is lost for that very reason. And even when written by known poets, great poets indeed, it still reflects the standards and qualities of a poetry sung or spoken rather than a poetry read with the eve only. It has a place in life, a use in life; it is not a fancy thing, not a luxury, not a toy, not sheer entertainment—though it has the faculty, all the same, in Sidney’s phrase, of holding children from play and old men from the chimney corner. It is a recognized function of civilized life . . .

        —from Donald Davidson, “The Lyric of Tradition,” December 1989

The false mysticism of an arbitrarily constructed jargon as well as the exactness of a pseudo-philosophical scientistic terminology—both are making us forget that the road leading from true philosophy to genuine poetry has already been paved: It is only the water of plain language, by its undemanding simplicity permitting the light to penetrate it to the bottom, that is capable of being changed into the wine of poetry.

        —from Josef Pieper, “On Clarity,” April 1988

Speaking for myself, I find that both high culture and moral philosophy are too often in the hands of people who, while they have excellent judgment, have a limited sense of humor. The arts of ridicule and satire can be employed to demolish vulgarity, stupidity, crude and cruel behavior. Ridicule is a strong and effective weapon. It should, I think, be studied as a means of expressing an honest literature in the world today.

For myself, moreover, I cannot dismiss any manifestation of mass culture en bloc. We should always observe; we should find what is presentable and precious among the welter of cultural phenomena with which we are constantly bombarded. This needs self-discipline, it needs self-training on the part of those gifted with ingenuity of approach and with comprehension. Culture, after all, concerns the human spirit. A too narrow and severe discrimination can tend to annihilate ourselves, everything around us. And all to no effect.

        —from Muriel Spark, “Living With Culture,” April 1993

In life, of course, there are many forms which are meaningful in themselves and of great value. I think, for instance, of good manners. Some of my college students of the 1960’s, believing themselves to be naturally good and loving, rejected good manners along with certain other things, such as attractive dress and correct grammar, which they believed to be artificial. That was a sad mistake. Manners are no more coercive than a dance step is coercive, and indeed they are liberating: Seating ladies and opening doors for people, and writing thank-you notes to grandmother, are acts of compliance with a code, but they also facilitate social dealings and the growth and expression of true kindness. The forms of religion can also be benignly enabling. Eleanor Clark, when living in Italy, found herself drawn toward the Roman Church, and she asked an Italian Catholic friend how she could best find out whether Catholicism was for her. The friend said, “Go to Mass. Kneel when the others kneel. Do and say what the others do and say. Ultimately you will have a Catholic experience.”

        —from Richard Wilbur, “Good Manners, Good Literature,” September 1997