Month: June 2013



Leisure, The Basis of Culture, by John Pieper (1948).

Choice quote: “[T]here can be unused space in the total world of work.”

Obsessed with efficiency? I am. At least I used to be. I’m a recovering efficiencoholic. It was bad, so bad that my time and energy spent on being efficient far exceeded the time and energy I saved through my efficiency, so bad that I didn’t even realize it, until I sat back and reflected on what had been become of my mental world. Pieper could’ve diagnosed it. He realized we live in a world of “total work.” There can be no time wasted, no time that isn’t dedicated to something. Even relaxation is intended primarily as a way to rejuvenate ourselves for more work. I know a few people who seem to have caught onto this existential problem. They enjoy themselves at every opportunity, and they don’t care if the enjoyment leaves themselves exhausted on Monday morning. These people are more blessed than the rest of us slaves to the world of total work, but even they wouldn’t make it on Pieper’s blessed list. Yes, they’re not prostituting leisure to work, but neither is their leisure true leisure. Leisure is leisure because it intends nothing, accomplishes nothing. It’s not on a bucket list crusade. It’s not on a drunken crusade. It’s not on a squeeze-every-moment-out-of-life crusade. Leisure is blessed because it does nothing. When we do nothing, we become receptive because we can listen. And the things we hear? Those are the things that make leisure blessed.… Read the rest



The Holy Fire, by Robert Payne (1957)

Choice quote: Gregory Nazianzen “feared no one. He had an unruly humor. He is the only man who is known to have dared to laugh at Basil. He was quick-tempered, sullen, unhappy in the company of most people, strangely remote from the world.”

A book this good, yet few have heard of it. It’s no doubt a testament to the West’s neglect of the Christian East . . . of Christ’s East. Which is, of course, now Muhammad’s East, which, of course, adds to the geographical separation that has always afflicted Rome: both the Church and the Empire. Even the Great JPII, whose people owe their faith to the Eastern missionaries Cyril and Methodius, couldn’t bridge the divide, and he tried mightily. The fault rests largely with the recalcitrance of the East and its unfortunate shoulder chip built up after generations of degradation at the hands of the Muslims and then the Communists. The East needs the West, but it won’t acknowledge it. Maybe the East needs a book about saints like Payne’s, but written about the West’s early lights. The East has Basil, the West Benedict. The East has John Chrysostom, the West Ambrose. If such a book were written with one-tenth of Payne’s verve, it’d do much to collapse those two great lungs into one heart. Unlikely? Sure. But not one-tenth as unlikely as the victories of the ten saints whose stories are told in this book.… Read the rest



The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft by George Gissing (1903)

Choice quote: “But oh, how good it is to desire little, and to have a little more than enough!”

Nerd heaven: An older writer who scrapes together a living receives a small annuity for life. It’s enough to let him live: not extravagantly, but simply, which is all Ryecroft wants. He just wants to live in a little cottage in the country with this “beloved books.” For diversion, he has pleasant strolls. But he can’t resist his pen, so he jots down notes about his slice of heaven. But no earthly heavens last, and Ryecroft’s is cut short by death. This is a beautiful little book, the kind that makes your whole existence feel poetic. Not poetic in a cheap Madison-Avenue way, but rather in a cheap noble way. Yes, cheap, because the feeling is fleeting, crushed immediately by the first non-noble thing that comes your way. I kinda hate books like Ryecroft. I mean, you read them and they’re packed with aphorisms and beauty and the good things in life, and then you put them down, go into the real world, and behave like an ape. Then again, no one has left me a little annuity, and even if they did, a little wouldn’t be enough. I think I could go without the better things in life, but I’m neither brave nor virtuous enough to make my dependents do the same, even though I know it’d be good for them in the long (eternal) run. If I want to live Ryecroft-like, I guess I should read his paper more often, but then cement … Read the rest



Introduction: If you find these reviews bizarre yet orthodox, I have accomplished my goal. If you find them entertaining yet profound, I am humbled. If they brings you a little closer to classic works of the twentieth century, I am gratified. If you forward the review to friends with a kind word, I’m flattered. If you catch a whiff (but only a whiff) of Sound-and-the-Fury stream of consciousness, you’re smart. If you have troubles squaring the choice quotes at the beginning with the subsequent rambler, you’re trying to square a circle. If some of the ramblings seem disjointed, they are. Are these reviews more artistic than substantive? Most certainly. Might you find them frustrating at times? Sure. If you don’t, I didn’t meet my goal.

Enemies of the Permanent Things by Russell Kirk (1969)

Choice quote: “[T]ruly central government and true democracy are impossible.”

Did I say The Conservative Mind blew me away? It did, but then I read this book and couldn’t decide which book I liked more. Now, truth told: I didn’t love any of Kirk’s other books, and it makes me sad. If a man writes one great book, he might have gotten lucky. If he writes two great books, he’s a great man. If then he writes a dozen more and a reader doesn’t greatly appreciate any of them, it points to a deficiency in the reader. But it’s not the first time I’ve noted a literary or scholarly deficiency in myself, so I shake it off. Enemies centers on the “norms” of literature and politics. Norms touch the permanent things and the permanent things are what the soul needs. … Read the rest



The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk (1953)

Choice quote: “Hawthorne’s chief accomplishment: impressing the idea of sin upon a nation which would like to forget it.”

My book still has that smell that all the books from that little bookstore in Niles, Michigan, had. I bought it for $10, back in 1989, when I was a law student. I had little money and even less time at that moment of life, but for some reason, I really wanted this book. It blew me away. I remember reading it in a cubicle at the Notre Dame Law School library and two friends asking me what I was reading. I showed them, then rambled excitedly about it for a minute or so. They looked at me like I was nuts, but they smiled, trying to be polite, then left me to my book. It was my first indication that I had become something of a freak, but I didn’t care. Kirk’s book became my favorite kind of book: a book about books. Kirk’s book is probably the reason I’m writing the mini-book reviews. I’m not even sure I consider myself a conservative anymore. I rather identify with the libertarians of the Nockian stripe: beautiful libertarians, not the nasty individualist Ventural (Jesse) types. Kirk’s was a beautiful mind, so it’s not surprising that he loved Nock’s masterpiece Memoirs of a Superfluous Man. Did Kirk square his conservatism with libertarian economic ideas? I doubt it, but I don’t really care. Like it was for Chesterton, the State was always the elephant whore in the room, and he never really seemed to know what to make of it. … Read the rest



Great charts: What countries drink the most vodka, gin, whisky and rum? Per capita, the results are: Vodka: Russia. Rum: Indian. Scotch Whiskey: France. Gin: Philippines. Tequila: U.S. (wait a second; something tells me the revocation of the work visas under union-swayed Clinton administration contributed to this). They didn’t have a chart for beer, but I assume Germany would’ve run away with that one. And wine? I’m guessing France. … Read the rest



Hallelujah: I attended my last baseball game of the season last night. It might even be my last baseball game ever, since my youngest son isn’t sure he wants to play next year. Whatever he decides is fine with me. I’d like him to have the experience of playing, but I hate–itchingly detest–sitting in the hot sun with bugs flying around me and dust floating off the field. * * * * * * * I wouldn’t have lasted too long in one of those Japanese POW camps. * * * * * * * President Obama says Catholic schools are divisive. Fr. Z properly blasts him, but hey, it needs to be admitted: Anything that isn’t the State is divisive. Everything should be governed and controlled from Washington, then everyone everywhere will get along. * * * * * * * I sympathize with Serena. She probably could’ve said it a little kinder, and with more harshness toward the bastard rapists, but Serena has a point. We do no one a service by denying that women should take a common sense role in their own self-defense, which is all (I think) Serena was trying to say. * * * * * * * Excellent, of course: The Vatican has secretly attributed a mystery miracle to the late John Paul II, clearing the way for him to be declared a saint. * * * * * * * I’m looking to get the nod someday. * * * * * * * But this &*#^&!( *(#&@# blog is holding me back. * * * * * * * I was instructed … Read the rest


Miscellaneous Rambling

“Alteration between centralized and decentralized power is one of the cyclical rhythms of history, as if men tired alternately of immoderate liberty and excessive order.” Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage.

So where would we place the United States on this pendulum?

Swinging hard toward excessive order, I’m afraid, after enjoying freedom for the first couple of hundred years (from colonial times until the Civil War, when the national government started its first serious forays into power).

But are we witnessing “excessive order”? I suspect Durant missed one key libertarian insight (brought home–recently, by intellectual history standards–by Hoppe’s Democracy, the God that Failed): centralization of power results in inequitable distribution of wealth (read: looting by the State, for the benefit of its allies (read: for the benefit of Wall Street and its favored institutions, like higher education and the medical establishment)) and other unfortunate phenomena, but it doesn’t result in “excessive order.” Far from it. As the breakdown of the USSR established: centralization of power leads to dissolution of society. Society is the adhesive that holds individuals together in a flexible order. As it breaks down, disorder spreads, which is hugely unfortunate since the order imposed by society is not an involuntary order, like the ersatz order imposed by the State and its police force. The order of society is largely voluntary: if you choose not to participate in that order, you might be ostracized and face economic consequences; you might even be viewed as a freak. But you’re not put behind bars. The ersatz order of the State can impose only the sanctions of violence: fines, jail, and death–and the threat … Read the rest