Einstein’s Folly

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.

Albert Einstein

Sounds so noble – and drives modern politics and charity. The only trouble is, its impracticable. Love your neighbor and nourish your community. If you have a little extra, give it to those who have needs.

If you have a lot extra, support works that focus on small, personal things. Avoid bureaucratic works at all costs. They don’t and can’t work.

You can’t save the world, and if you try you’ll get in the way of the one who can. Hubris is still the great enemy of the human spirit, even when it robes itself in sentimental wishful thinking.

Notes on teaching literature

When you are done the body must be alive. Literature provides models or types of the virtues in at least three ways: characters, writers, and texts.

The protagonist will almost always model a virtue. The writer might be virtuous in his lifestyle or writing disciplines. The text itself is virtuous if its form and content fulfill the law of propriety.

1. Select the best models
2. Encounter these models directly and whole. Don’t moralize.
3. Identify the core question in a text. For example, my son Andrew wanted to know why the Scarlet Pimpernel was rescuing French aristocrats if they were so bad. Great question and one worth a lot of discussion and reading.
4. Explore everything in light of the core question.

Beware of murdering a text in order to dissect it.

2010 Conference Reading List

Are you registered for the upcoming summer conference?

If so, you can prepare by reading the following books.

This list will be updated from time to time so add a bookmark and check back soon!


The Magna Carta

The Constitution of the United States

The Declaration of Independence

Two more added:

De Toqueville’s immortal Democracy in America

Edmund Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France

And the poetic knowledge panel poem for this year:

France, An Ode by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Other recommendations if you have time:

  • Michael Polanyi: The Logic of Liberty
  • The Federalist Papers (#10 is the most famous. Read any one or two and you’ve been schooled!)
  • Russell Kirk: The Roots of American Order
  • Friederich Hayek: The Road to Serfdom
  • M Stanton Evans: The Theme is Freedom: Religion, Politics, and the American Tradition

To see the replacement of freedom ordered by nature to God with a secular, abstract, and ultimately untenable forms of freedom, here’s some late night reading (keep the night light on, some of this is scary stuff): 

  • Machiavelli: The Prince
  • Thomas Hobbes: Leviathon
  • John Locke:
  • John Stuart Mill: On Liberty (a decisive vacating of the meaning of the word)
  • Jean Jacques Rousseau: The Social Contract (fatal errors, literally)
  • Adam Smith: Cities and the Wealth of Nations
  • Kant: Critique of Practical Reason, What is Enlightenment
  • Hegel: Yikes
  • Marx: Das Kapital, Communist Manifesto
  • John Dewey: On the Impact of Darwinism Upon Philosophy (this is only about ten pages and available on line so if you can only read one of these selections, this is the one).

Finally, for an amazing collection of books, many available in digital form for free, go to the Liberty Fund and find their Library of Freedom. Too Enlightenment, but helpful nonetheless.

The Limits of Rules

The purpose of rules is to prevent thinking. When a person is under a rule, it is not important how he thinks or feels about a matter; what matters is obedience.

That is why central planning and regulation have limited value or are positively destructive. Rules do the thinking for the actor. But if the action requires judgment, the actor is not allowed to exercise it. Therefore, rules are necessary to prevent people from doing evil, but they are economically and socially destructive when they rob people of the flexibility to make their own judgments.

In our rule based society, we are seeing the effects of excessive rules on family life, the economy, and, perhaps more than anywhere, education.

People who love power turn to rules to implement their will.

Gunton on Freedom

In The One, the Three, and the Many the late Colin E. Gunton works through the lectures of Sir Isaiah Berlin on the title Two Concepts of Liberty . Berlin arrives at a point that defines human beings not as individuals, but as social beings.  All humanity is related.  This concept reminds me of a statement made by Wendell Berry when he writes, “All things are connected; the context of everything is everything else.” in The Way of Ignorance.

Berlin arrives at this conclusion after outlining the two concepts of negative freedom and positive freedom.  Negative freedom seeks liberation from the many.

I am normally said to be free to the degree to which no human being interferes with my activity.

Positive freedom seeks liberation to one’s self free of external constraints.  This concept of freedom “derives from the wish on the part of the individual to be his own master.”  The one reaches for dominion over the many–leading finally to despotism.

Gunton notes that Berlin displays how positive freedom ultimately “transmorgifies” into negative freedom.  The movement toward one’s self is a movement from all others.

Next, Berlin suggests that the concept of freedom is intrinsically tied to human nature.  Nothing more than what constitutes the nature of human being can be sacrificed without at the same moment letting go of freedom.  If the negative concept of freedom is a constant shedding of “interferences,” then the minimal, Berlin replies (paraphrasing Gunton), is

That which a man cannot give up without offending against the essence of his human nature.

Gunton continues by pointing out Berlin’s understanding that “freedom from interference . . . derives from the fact that there is a plurality of goods, not some single purpose in life that can be rationalistically discovered and imposed.”  (I need more context to determine what this means.  I know that the use of the word “fact” departs from what Gunton would argue, but perhaps not Berlin.)

At this point Gunton writes that Berlin has arrived at a place where “no finally satisfactory individualist account of freedom” exists.  Man is a social being.  This becomes Berlin’s weakness according to Gunton.

Is freedom no more than my not being prevented from doing what I want?  It is here that arises the irresistible desire for some ontological account of freedom, for an account tied to what I am and not simply what I want.”  -Gunton

For Gunton this unveiled the gap filled only by a right understanding of the Trinity.  Only a Trinitarian conception of being (of the person) gives adequate space to the individual (the one) without collapsing the one into the many.

Gunton notes that “freedom is both something exercised and something received.”  Freedom is reciprocal.  Gunton argued for a relational element intrinsic to the nature of freedom, not in a self’s progression toward isolation, but in the individual’s movement toward communion.

It remains in general true that the modern individualistic concept of freedom tends to separate the person from other people, rather than simply distinguishing them from each other in relation.  That is to say, it is essentially and irremediably non-relational.  -Gunton

Now the question that led me back to a review of Gunton came from reading a statement by Wendell Berry in Standing By Words. He stated that form “enforces freedom,” that form and freedom are not antithetical concepts, that the argument for form was not an argument against freedom.  So how does form, limits, law “enforce” freedom?

On a metaphysical level Gunton argued that freedom is relational.  Inherent in what it means to be human is to be free–free to be human.  Any pursuit that directs one to be more or even less than human rejects the limits of human beingness and makes one a slave.  Pride enslaves one to the self, and to be less than human is to be a slave to sin and death.  I get this, but what about on, what we can call, a practical level?

Regardless of what I believe and what I do (take the classroom as an example), I must evaluate my intent.  I must not endorse any act, behavior, or practice that “frees” me from others, that isolates me because it is what I want.  Rather, I must act in such a way that “frees” me toward others, that permits me to fully be what I am — a person-in-relation.

Out of relation springs new possibilities.  The freedom in relation is the freedom toward the possible, the unknown.  New realities take form in the free relations of living beings.

Submission to form does not draw the question, “What does this benefit me?”  Such questions are blinded toward true freedom.  Rather, I am gifted the space to partake in something greater, or simply other, than myself.  As such, my soul is enlarged.  It is not, “What do I get out of it?” but, “What I receive as being a part of it.”

Honoring form grants true freedom — the freedom to be.


Why is it that beautiful things are so regenerative?

And why do we always want to “change the world” is some silly abstract way, when simply tending it is all we need to do?

Gregory Wolfe On Art and Culture

One of the best interviews I’ve read on the place of conservatism and its approach to our culture: Jeremy Beer interviews Gregroy Wolfe of Image magazine. Please read this.

An excerpt:

I am not about to say that things haven’t gotten bad in Western civilization over the last 100 years, but on the other hand, one of the things a deep conservatism knows is that things are always going to hell in a handbasket. It knows how to balance tearing down with building up. I once wrote a piece called “Why I Am a Conscientious Objector in the Culture Wars.” The argument I made was that if both sides were so busy spraying toxic chemicals on each other’s crops, by the time they were through, nothing would be able to grow.

Why write?

Writing is only incidentally a way of telling others what you think. Its first use is for the making of what you think, for the discovery of understanding, an act that happens only in language.

Richard Mitchell, The Gift of Fire, P. 11

Non-Pareil again

This one is mild, but I haven’t provided a non-pareil for a while. Here’s the latest. Can you tell what’s wrong with this sentence from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sports page?

He used free agency to sign defensive tackle Santana Dotson, kick returner Desmond Howard, wideout Don Beebe, left tackle Bruce Wilkerson, linebacker Ron Cox and traded for safety Eugene Robinson.

Why Language Matters

Failures of understanding… always take the form of bad language. Just as there is nothing but language in which to make sense, there is nothing but language in which to make nonsense.

Richard Mitchell: The Gift of Fire, p. 11