Tag Archives: politics

In which, identity politics poisons yet another community once ruled by love (of their subject): the guild of medievalists.


A New York Times article can’t resist the obvious and amusing verb as it describes an ugly scuffle within the guild of those who study the Middle Ages: “Medieval Scholars Joust With White Nationalists. And One Another.”

The article chronicles an unedifying tale of buffoonish clashes between the grievance-identity guerillas and the tone-deaf Old Scholars Club. My first reaction was to dismiss the whole donnybrook as yet another illustration of Sayre’s Law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sayre%27s_law).

But then I realized that the humor here is only surface-deep: I have attended the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo for the past seven years as a fascinated scholarly outsider (my field is the history of Christianity in the nineteenth century). In that time, I have found medievalists to be, more than the scholars in any other field I know, “amateurs” in the best sense of that term. That is, even the best credentialed and most published among them tend to study what they study out of pure fascination – love (the root amare, from which “amateur” is derived) is not too strong a word. This political posturing is a distraction and a blight in the midst of a Guild of Extraordinary Geeks who study what they study out of no other agenda than coming to a deeper acquaintance with fellow humans long dead–whose lives, cultures, and ideas compel them to long, late nights of study, and all the accompanying sacrifices of the academic life.

This vitriolic battle among the lovers of medieval knowledge is also sad because while courtesy, circumspection, humility, wisdom, and so many other (intellectual) virtues all fall among the first casualties, at the same time careers are being made–and everyone knows it.

And this just shows how deep the infection of political posturing runs in academe as a whole, and how unlikely it is that it will heal itself anytime soon.

(Tangent-that’s-not-really-a-tangent: while I was at Duke University in the late ’90s, I heard a distinguished and celebrated Americanist call some figures from American history “fascists.” The parallel (though I don’t remember what group he was attacking) was simply ludicrous. This historian was clearly subsuming responsible scholarship and teaching to partisan attack. In that moment I lost all respect for him–and I started developing my “crap detector” for such unhelpful polemic. I hasten to add that, in the classes (at least) that took, that detector almost never went off around professors. Unfortunately, however, when it came time to start teaching undergraduates at that same university, I could barely hear myself think for the jangling of that detector’s alarm. The sport of elite undergraduate students appeared to be that most ugly and unpleasant game of heated, moralistic attack-dogging.)

A final word: this present climate constrains me to add: I find the poison on the left and the poison on the right here equally, well, poisonous. A pox – or (why not) a full-on medieval plague – on both their houses!

Let us learn from such “jousts” what we should certainly learn: to discern where our work may illegitimately and harmfully minimize past sins or silence present voices. But also, to discern where the agendas of a variety of “culture wars” have rendered us useless as scholars. Let us not allow an honest desire to redress scholarly wrongs to become yet another one of those currently ubiquitous self-righteous and self-aggrandizing crusades (yes, I used the word), waged from the saddle of that most ugly of animals: the Moral High Horse.

And then, having dismounted and recovered what may be the dim and fragmented light of truth from the smoking furnace of polemical heat, let us return to the field of the Passionate Intellect with a redoubled will. For honest scholarship that follows wherever the evidence leads is a balm in a time of turmoil.

Beyond labels: Alan Jacobs defends three “potentially conservative” ideas, not caring whether he is actually “a conservative”


Good brief article from Wheaton English professor and C S Lewis biographer Alan Jacobs over at the American Conservative website.

Here’s how he starts off:

Am I a conservative? Heck if I know. All I know for sure is that the good people here atThe American Conservative are interested enough in what I have to say to give me a platform on which to say it. For which I am genuinely grateful.

I am not and never have been a Republican. I feel roughly as alienated from that party as I do from the Democratic Party. I hold a number of political views that strong-minded Republicans typically find appalling: I think racism is one of the greatest problems in American society today; I am not convinced that austerity programs are helpful in addressing our economic condition; I am absolutely convinced that what many Republicans call free-market capitalism is in fact crony capitalism, calculated to favor the extremely wealthy and immensely powerful multinational corporations; I think that for all of the flaws of Obamacare, it was at least an attempt to solve a drastically unjust and often morally corrupt network of medical care in this country; I dislike military adventurism, and believe that our various attempts at nation-building over the past decade were miscalculated from the outset.

So is there any sense in which I might plausibly be called a conservative? I don’t really know; I’ll leave that to others to decide. It doesn’t really matter to me whether I fit into any pre-existing political or intellectual categories. I can only say this: that I do have three overarching political commitments (or beliefs, or convictions) that are more important to me than any others.

Jacobs goes on to articulate three stances that he holds that may be considered “conservative”: (1) a consistent pro-life position, (2) support for the principle of subsidiarity in political and social thought, and (3) need to interact with tradition/the past.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the positions Jacobs identifies here. I am especially delighted to see subsidiarity articulately described and defended. I am with Novak, Nisbet, Chesterton, Belloc, certain encyclicals, and others on the necessity of protecting folks from “the ravishments of the centralized political state” (Nisbet). I also find this a powerful statement of one of our most urgent current tasks: “A great deal of suffering in America today is caused by the evacuation of intermediary structures: the church, the family, voluntary organizations. These intermediary structures are in desperate need of renewal and that can only happen if there is a systematic shift of power, wealth, and influence from state and national governments to local units.”

Foundations of a free and virtuous society:


What follows are my sketchy notes on a session at Acton University yesterday, June 16, 2010. The presenter was Dr. Stephen J. Grabill. Dr. Grabill received his Ph.D. from Calvin Theological Seminary. He is a research scholar in theology and editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is the general editor of The Stewardship Resource Bible: ESV, which was released in November of 2009. He is the author of Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics and is currently editing Sourcebook of Late Scholastic Monetary Theory.

Foundations of a Free and Virtuous Society, Dr. Stephen J. Grabill

Christian social thought is distilled wisdom over the ages . . . Christian thought will be anti-revolutionary, as Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer and Kuyper used the term. The former offer titled a book Unbelief and Revolution. A Protestant Lord Acton. He thought false dichotomy between spiritual destiny and earthly _____. Thought Christians should see selves as the people God had called to shape history according to God’s ordinances. But saw conflicting religious visions at work. Autonomous vision of French Rev at odds w/ Christian vision. That vision couldn’t be carried on by preserving orthodox church in secularized world, but must be carried out in all departments of life. Continue reading

An “ordinary saint” in wartime: William Wilberforce


Seven years ago this month, war clouds were darkening, and soldiers were destined for Afghanistan and Iraq. Today those conflicts, and others, continue to linger. So the issues raised in this article that I posted back then at www.christianhistory.net still apply. And besides, we should take the time, at regular intervals, to remember such worthy Christian leaders of the past as William Wilberforce:

Some see the GOP’s strong showing in this week’s national election as evidence of public support for a wartime president. Which begs the question: Is this truly wartime?

In some externals it may not seem so. No ground war rages. No biological or nuclear weapons have been unleashed. But a sense of foreboding looms. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the stock market has been unsteady, as uncertainty has palled our long-term plans. Many have struggled personally, facing dark fears, finding it hard to focus on the task at hand.

Focus. Persistence. Perseverance. Even at the best of times, as Oswald Chambers once said, “it does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours of every day as a saint.” We need grace daily “to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people.” (My Utmost for His Highest, Oct. 21)

In a time that at least feels like wartime, such persistent holiness seems somehow more difficult. This, not only in daily life, but also in such ordinary charities as helping the poor, being salt in our schools and neighborhoods, and giving to ministries. The “causes” that are always with us seem now to require even more grace than before. Continue reading