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Archive for June, 2006

Conservative?

I always find it ironic that those in the U.S. who call themselves conservatives are actually often the most hostile to tradition.  An example that I just came across is this article by Daniel Henninger, deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal, published there last fall. Henninger writes (quoting a German immigrant to the U.S.): 

I could not do in Europe what I did here. A European at the age of 25, with little money but a lot of ambition and ideas, could not expect to move outside his own country–move to say the center of France, or the center of Italy, Belgium or any other country–and have much prospect of succeeding. He would remain an outsider.

This is the roots argument. In America, the Jamestown settlers hit the ground running in 1607, and their descendants have kept moving for nearly 400 years, high on change. Lucky us. In Europe, every village and town has roots that run 1,000 or more years deep. Past some point, maybe World War I, pulling up one’s roots became unthinkable. Tough luck for the young Ray Ozzies in the historic towns of Europe, yearning to be ‘quick’ and ‘decisive.’

Although I would not defend the often statist economic policies of Europe, still, there seems to be a sense in which place, family, tradition matter there, while here "conservatives" are often among the first to scorn and jettison such things if they get in the way of economic growth.

Thomas Storck

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No Complaint, No Problem

Don’t like sharing a dorm room with your roommate and her boyfriend? You may have a problem–as in "Do you have a problem with that?"

Maclin Horton

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This Fall will mark the tenth anniversary of the demise of Caelum et
Terra
.

Looking back, ten years on, from a somewhat altered perspective, having
experienced marriage, fatherhood, and a brush with death, there are things I
would do differently: a little more realism, perhaps, a bit less romanticism.
And I certainly wish I’d paid more attention to the neoconservatives’ global
political agenda instead of focusing solely on their nefarious attempt to
reorient Catholic social teaching, as crucial as that battle was and is.

All in all, though, our effort was a worthy one, and I believe that
Caelum et Terra has stood the test of time.

Every now and then someone asks me about reviving the magazine, and I
always firmly decline. It is a costly and time-consuming venture, to edit and
publish a journal. Granted, the results are much more rewarding than a weblog,
pale and shadowy substitute that it is: a journal is a real thing,
something you can hold in your hands and pass around. Too, it is far more
conducive to sustained thought: who can read a 3,000 word essay online? Not me;
I have to print it out on paper, have it in hand.

Not that the weblog doesn’t have its rewards. I generally enjoy the long
discussions that emerge and in general like the more interactive nature of this
medium.

But it is no journal. I remember the great sense of satisfaction I had when
finally I had a new issue in hand, fresh from the printer’s. This was a thing
unto itself, a piece of work, and a work of art. I viewed each issue like a
proud Papa.

The "blog" -ugly word- on the other hand is more like a stream of
consciousness, an abstraction lacking substance and texture.

It is, however, easy and inexpensive, requiring little real commitment,
sort of like shopping at Wal-Mart.

While I am in no place to resurrect Caelum et Terra, I do believe
the time has come to attempt to publish the best of the journal in the form of a
book, a Caelum et Terra Reader, if you will.

We have discussed doing this since I married and the journal no longer was
tenable, waiting only for the "fullness of time". In the intervening years a
book has been suggested- and sometimes urged- by many, most recently and
insistently by Bill Kauffman, to whom I recently sent several back issues.
Though he had heard of C&T,  he had never seen it, liked it very
much and said of a book: "It must be done".

I agree: the time is ripe.

It is a daunting task before us, though, and one I hope you all can assist
us in accomplishing.

First, I would appreciate suggestions. Which articles do you consider
indispensible for inclusion? Which art? Any ideas for format?

Secondly, I face the bewildering prospect of contacting everyone whose work
we would like to republish, some of whom I knew only as a manuscript arriving in
the mail, others with whom I have long lost touch.

As a first step to that end, if you are reading this and had an article
published, please contact me at dnichols721@yahoo.com  or po box 1494,
Wooster, OH, 44691 and let me know if you consent to our [potentially]
publishing it in book form.

As time goes on, we will no doubt post inquiries regarding particular
writers, hoping to locate  the lost through word of mouth before turning to more
sophisticated means of searching. And of course any volunteers for this or other
tasks would be appreciated.

Finally, please pray for this venture. Little of the content of the journal
was topical, most of what we published was timeless. A book is a good way to
introduce a whole new readership to Caelum et Terra.

The very first letter we published in our always entertaining and often
raucous Letters section was by the late Dr. John Senior, and contained the
following story:

An angel came to St. John of the Desert commanding him to spend his
life watering a dead stick. Day after day at Lauds he carried handfuls from the
trickle in the rocks he lived by when, on his hundredth birthday, it burst into
flowers and he died. A young man hearing the story emulated him. The angel
appeared commanding the same and on his hundredth birthday he simply died,
saying to a disappointed disciple, "We aren’t in it for the flowers".

We aren’t in for the flowers either, and there’s been no angel, but it may
well be time for Caelum et Terra  to reblossom.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Benedict and St. Francis, pray for us!

Daniel Nichols

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The title of this knockout piece in Godspy is so jarring that I hesitated before reproducing it. But it’s a beautiful meditation on lust, fertility, and love, both natural and supernatural. (Hat tip to Amy Welborn, who calls it her must-read of the day.)

Maclin Horton

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Blood and Sapphire

Maclin Horton

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Interesting post at the Crunchy Con blog. It’s actually based on an article by David Brooks (who I think is a neo if any kind of con at all) that’s not online.His concept of "populist nationalism" is at least in the neighborhood of the Reactionary Radical thing. The discussion in the comments section veers off pretty quickly into other things, unfortunately, although at the moment it seems to be veering back.

Maclin Horton

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Wayfaring Strangers

As you know, I recently read Bill Kauffman’s new book, Look Homeward,
America.
It is one of those rare books that affected me deeply, like
reading Wendall Berry’s The Unsettling of America in 1979, or Neil
Postman’s Technopoly in 1993. All these books expressed clearly things
I had only intuited, or clarified vague or hazy thoughts, like distilling strong
whisky from weak beer.

Not that Look Homeward offers any startling or new ideas for one
familiar with Caelum et Terra. Rather, the way a jam band can reveal
the possibilities of a familiar tune, Mr. Kauffman approaches old truths- the
love of smallnes of scale, sustainability, Kirk’s "permanent things"- in a
fresh, specifically American, way.

While CT occasionaly gave a nod to the American, Jeffersonian
tradition, our emphasis was more on the European roots of Distributism. Bill
Kauffman turns this around, focusing on the same instinct running through
diverse American threads, while acknowledging European distributists. In doing
so he reminded this disaffected American of the many healthy things in the
American tradition, things I had nearly forgotten in my disgust for the
direction the nation has been heading in for too long. Looking homeward, the
book revived the "love" part of my old love/hate relationship with America.

However.

Central to Mr. Kauffman’s thesis is the value of place, the love of one’s
own home- not to be confused with "the homeland", a term Kauffman despises as
foreign-sounding, with Nazi and Soviet overtones.

His own roots run deep in western New York’s Genesee County, and he holds
that despite the great American pioneer myth, "the real honor resides with those
who stay put." Indeed he says that "the careless have always been the first to
pick up and move".

Much as I may envy Kauffman’s sense of place, my own people- English, Irish
Protestants, Scots- were always on the move, rarely staying in one place for
more than a generation, sometimes  uprooting themselves more than once in a
single lifetime.

I lived in four places growing up; the last, fortunately, was from the age
of nine through adolescence, so I at least had a taste of stability in a small
town in southern Michigan’s Genesee County- yes, named by the "careless" for
the county in New York from whence they had come.

It was a place surrounded by orchards and cowfields and cornfields, a place
which is no more, devoured by suburbia, the 19th century downtown long razed by
an urban renewal scam, the orchards all gone.

And I have lived in half a dozen states as an adult.

"Careless", however, is not a word I’d use to describe my folk. 
Hardworking, honest, Bible-reading if not always churchgoing, with a strong
ethic of honor, they were anything but careless, let alone shiftless, but they
were certainly restless. While they did stay in Michigan for around 150 years,
they moved from one end of the state to the other, and sometimes back again.
Moving from the northeast farmlands to a southern factory town, as my father
did, or from staid Ypsilanti to the spruce and birch forests of the northern tip
of the lower peninsula, as my mother’s maternal grandfather did, is to move from
one land to another, even if both places are in the same state.

Hey, Batavia and Brooklyn are both in New York.

So I don’t have a place, I have places. And I honestly have loved all the
places I have lived and savored their peculiarities.

I know that sentence sounds careless, if not shiftless, but it is
true.

I love the small declining steel town of Massillon, Ohio, in which I live,
and the very different small agricultural/college town of Wooster, in which I
work. And I love the surrounding countryside, with its rolling farmland and
large Amish and Mennonite communities. I pass five Mennonite churches in a
twelve mile stretch of my drive to work; how many regions of the country could
make that distinctive claim?

I love the little town where I spent childhood and adolescence, with its
almost homogenous population of English descendents, offspring of New England’s
westward settlement. Or what’s left of it: if you stroll the old Victorian
neighborhoods you can still get the feel of it.

I love the far North, the Nordic feel of the low undulating spruce and
birch-covered hills where my mother was a girl, where the air is clear and the
water is crystalline, fast moving in the streams, still and clear in the lakes,
so different from the slow brown creeks and grey-green lakes of Genesee County,
Michigan.

I love the woods and farms of the low sand hills of Ogemaw County, where my
dad was raised, and the fertile flatlands across the Saginaw Bay in Sanilac
County, from whence his great grandfather had come, in the "thumb" of Michigan’s
mitten.

And that place was settled by the restless Celt who had left Ulster in
1811, William John Nichol [the "s", which gives the surname an English look, was
added -we know not why- by his son Samuel who moved across the Bay].

And William John’s family had probably only been in Ireland a couple of
generations after leaving Scotland, the Isle of Skye in undocumented family lore
[there is a Nicolson clan on Skye, traditionally bards and divines,
which sounds about right].

I hope this old Calvinist was one of the elect, as I hope I am, for I’d
sure like to meet him in Eternity. He outlived two of his three wives, fathering
22 children, the last when he was 70, and who he lived to see full grown [he
died at 87].

And note that he didn’t end up in Michigan until after he had spent a
couple of decades in Ontario.

With such a heritage I can never have the sense of belonging that Bill
Kauffman has, that many of you have. Probably my uncles’, my brother’s and my
interest in geneology springs from this essential rootlessness: we may not have
a place, but we do have a People.

So I am acutely aware of being in, but not of, Massillon, as I have been
aware of being in but not of every place I have lived. My people were wanderers,
even on my mother’s puritan side, literal Pilgrims, some of them.

My paternal grandmother gave it away as she neared her end. She told me "They say there’s mansions in Heaven, but I don’t care about that. Just let me pitch my little tent just inside the gate". She wasn’t contemplating a permanent dwelling, even in Heaven.

I am part of the other American tradition, more Huck lighting out for the
Territories than Tom staying home in Hannibal. Much as I may envy the settled, I
cannot change my ancestry. My youthful wanderlust was no doubt inevitable.

But I must look on the bright side: this earth, after all, is not
ultimately our home. Perhaps my family’s lack of attachment is a good training
ground.

And what is more quintessentially American than the old folk hymn
Wayfaring Stranger? :

I am a poor wayfaring stranger

Travelling through this world of woe.

There is no sickness toil or danger

In that bright Land to which I go.

Daniel Nichols

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