Yukio Mishima and the Suicide of Artists

If there really is just one philosophical problem of consequence, suicide is an admission that one has failed to solve it. For an artist or philosopher, this failure has special significance. To commit suicide is to repudiate the whole world, of which one’s work is surely a part. It is quite a different matter from St. Thomas Aquinas’s “so much straw,” or the seaside pebbles of Isaac Newton. I am concerned not with a genius’s frustration at being unable fully to express the truths he understood, but with a flight from the world out of despair. Ambiguous cases of a prolonged life in misery, or slow self destruction, do not necessarily count. The suicide of an artist must be a willful action with death as its only foreseeable outcome (and, of course, an artist’s not committing suicide is no guarantee that his work has any special value).…

Back Porch Industry

I have spent plenty of moonlit nights on back porches with disciples of The Benedict Option and The Restoration of Christian Culture sketching an ideal faith community. Many of the discussions focus on domestic affairs: living close to one another, living close to a church, watching and teaching each other’s children the faith. One unanswered question in our conversations is how to approach work when our conscience (or a hostile culture) no longer allows us to work quietly in established institutions. We could start by growing a vegetable garden, raising chickens, and maybe starting a neighborhood tavern or coffee shop. This is not enough. Even the plainest home contains many things: clothes, utensils, books, tools, furniture, musical instruments, medicines, communications devices. Developing…

The New Anti-Christ

Depictions of anti-Christ abound in Christian fiction. The most famous in recent times is the “Left Behind” series, where a sinister dictator ushers in a world government through the United Nations. There is also Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World, a particular favorite of Pope Francis. But their progenitor is to be found in “A Short Story of Anti-Christ” by the Russian mystic Vladimir Soloviev: a short, simple work whose echoes resound through Christian writing of the twentieth century.

Vladimir Soloviev (1853–1900)

Soloviev gave us the figure of a superman, gifted and talented far beyond all other men, able to unite them by spellbinding oratory and a compelling new vision of the good. His only flaw, if indeed it is a flaw in so remarkable an individual, is a lack of humility, an unwillingness to bow before Jesus Christ.…

Where Your Treasure Is

When Lot moved with his family to live among the Canaanites at Sodom, he wanted not for reasons. The lands surrounding the city provided superior pasture. His own herds were too large to graze with those of his uncle Abram in any case. The city had strong walls, the occasional military defeat notwithstanding. What if the citizens had strange ways? Abram had been growing increasingly fanatical for some time, and a great city could not help but play host to exotic practices. In the final reckoning, he and his family had prospects, but only in the city. He wished Abram well in the wilderness.

Over the following years, Lot’s calculations were borne out. His herds burgeoned and increased, and before long he was numbered among the most prominent elders of the city.…

Post Modern, Post Moral?

“… In fact what is crucial is that in which the contending parties agree, namely that there are only two alternative modes of social life open to us, one in which the free and arbitrary choices of individuals are sovereign and one in which the bureaucracy is sovereign, precisely that it may limit the free and arbitrary choices of individuals. Given this deep cultural agreement, it is unsurprising that the politics of modern societies oscillate between a freedom which is nothing but a lack of regulation of individual behaviour and forms of collectivist control designed only to limit the anarchy of self-interest. The consequence of a victory by one side or the other are often of the highest immediate importance; but, as Solzhenitsyn has understood so well, both ways of life are intolerable in the long run.”

O Death, Where is Thy Sting?

All Hallows Eve is upon us, and recently I’ve found myself thinking about death. For Catholics, this is a time to reverently remember the faithful departed and the hope we share in our resurrection with Christ on the last day. For most Americans, this “holiday” is an excuse to dress up, often in grotesque and obscene costumes, gorge on candy, and party. In the popular imagination, it has become a time of fantasy and frivolity. It would be easy to point the finger and blame “the culture” – we Catholics are very good at that – but I don’t think we can confess complete innocence in this regard. Even though we may intentionally seek to be more reverent, I believe we share a similar mindset.…

The Modern Abuse of a Word

There is no word in the modern vocabulary so abused as the word “freedom” (with the notable exception of “literally,” the misuse of which figuratively kills me). It’s abused in pithy political sound bites: “freedom isn’t free.” It’s abused when we solicit advice: “you’re free to do as you like.” And it’s even abused within our faith: “Christ has set me free” (which is invariably followed by “so you mustn’t judge me for my sins!”) At root we have forgotten what it means to be free and so our politics, relationships, and faith have all been misconstrued under the false banner of modern freedom. So what then do we mean by freedom and what does it truly mean?

In the classical sense, human freedom is predicated on our ability to follow our teleological orientations.…

The Antithesis of Fatherhood

The mass shooting has become the signature horror of our time and place. Such events have become monstrously common, and yet we seem to understand them no better today than we did twenty years ago. An often-quoted essay in The Atlantic from 2015 examined the plague of mass shootings as a kind of “slow-motion riot”, where each subsequent horror makes its successor more likely. But this is merely to say that mass shootings become more common as mass shootings become more common: a description, not an explanation. When pondering these events, it quickly becomes clear that apart from the obviously mad (Tucson, 2011), politically motivated (Alexandria, 2017), or utterly mysterious (Las Vegas, 2017), the great majority of the perpetrators are disturbed young white men who do not know their fathers.…