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Great Books: One Last Thought

May 18, 2022

Introducing undergraduate students to the “Great Books” is a good idea. And when I was an undergraduate at a research university (Pitt), I felt neglected by the many excellent teachers whose courses I took.

They were not devoted to undergraduate education and heir undergraduate courses explained the specializations that they were interested in. I remember going to a Latin professor in my Junior year expressing my desire to learn Latin. He told me I was too old!

I tried to “get out” of Pitt by applying to Chicago that had an excellent program in the great writers and philosophers of the West, but my grades were not good enough. At age 18 I didn’t know what “college” was all about. All I knew was that I needed to earn a BA degree to advance in life. Had I known what I know now about a “Liberal Education,” I would not have sought admission to Pitt.

Nor would I pursue the “Great Books.”

The concept of the “Great Books” skates around and avoids a central truth of Western culture. “The West” is rooted in Christianity—the “faith of our Fathers”—and was shaped by monastic orders after the collapse of Rome. Even Alaric—a Visigoth– who invaded Rome in 410 AD was a Christian and his Gothic marauders avoided the rape and murder that citizens of invaded cities were subjected to by non-Christian–“pagan”–conquerors.

That explains my being ill at ease by the approach we identify with Harry Jaffa at Claremont.

Jaffa’s approach was shaped by Enlightenment concepts enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, and though “égalité” is revolutionary in intent and practice, “equality” is the mantra of Jaffa and his students.

I think of one student, my good friend at Notre Dame, Angelo Codevilla, who left Notre Dame ultimately ending up with Jaffa, I believe, because as a native of Italy, he was anti-Catholic Church. Of course, I too was a Lutheran and an anti-Catholic but I  “took” to Eric Voegelin and Gerhart Niemeyer like a duck to water. They were not Catholics either nor did they teach “Great Books.” They taught political philosophy.

Who “Lost” China? Part 2

May 17, 2022

The immoral and  disastrous American withdrawal from Afghanistan by the Biden Administration sent signals to enemies of the United States.

Vladimir Putin was the first to respond by attempting to regain Ukraine for a reconstituted Russian Empire. Xi Jinping, successor to supreme power in the People’s Republic of China, smelled weakness, too, and reflected on his long term strategy of gaining control of Taiwan.

Two problems weakened his resolve: the Russian invasion of Ukraine revealed that the Russian military was incompetent. Military require frequent engagements or their skills decline. Excluding repression of former Soviet satellite Georgia, and the “cake walk” into Crimea, this was the first time Russia engaged in battle since Russia gave assistance to North Vietnam’s revolution.

A second problem was Xi Jinping’s response to the Covid pandemic. With only 9% of China’s population vaccinated, Xi decided to contain the virus by locking people in their homes, testing for infections, and permitting people to leave only after testing.

The Biden Administration’s first response to PRC fly-overs of Taiwan was to direct U.S. Air Force fighter jets to fly alongside PLA jets. The military took note and had second thoughts about military action in a pandemic and has moved to restrain Xi’s powers.

Wag the dog is Biden’s strategy for re-election because he doesn’t want to be blamed for the loss of Taiwan.

Our remaining enemy in Tehran continues nuclear weapons development and uses drones to impede some shipments from the Strait of Hormoz. There too President Biden’s response is to mimic his action in Afghanistan.

Who “Lost” China? Part 1

May 16, 2022

After the Kuomintang  Government of Chiang-Kai-shek fled to Taiwan in 1949, Republicans seized the political initiative by blaming the Democrat Party for the “loss” of China to totalitarian Communists led by Mao tse-tung.

Excesses by Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) in the 1950’s and later Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society (1958), and even earlier, the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC), created in 1938, roiled American politics.

Twenty-two years after Mao took control of China, in August 1971, President Nixon took the unprecedented action by a U.S. President and visited the PRC.  In doing do, Nixon played “The China Card” in a game of Poker with the Soviet Union. By conceding to the reality of Communist control of the China mainland, Nixon also agreed in a “Shanghai Communique” that the U.S. recognized that Taiwan was “part of China and that it was committed to withdraw military forces stationed there once the Communist and Nationalist Chinese had settled their differences peacefully, an ambiguous construct that kept both sides guessing about US intentions.”

Seventy-two years later, Reuters reported on October 22, 2021 that President Biden said that “the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense and has a commitment to defend the island China claims as its own, U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday, though the White House said later there was no change in policy towards the island.”

“Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” Biden said at a CNN town hall when asked if the United States would come to the defense of Taiwan, which has complained of mounting military and political pressure from Beijing to accept Chinese sovereignty.

Apart from Biden’s “time warp,” this is not 1949 and the question now is when, not if, the PRC will invade Taiwan.

Free market “Think Tank” under Attack

May 14, 2022

St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA has been the focus of controversy by a presentation given at a conference hosted by the Center for Political and Economic Thought (CPED) by political scientist, David Azerrad, in which he argued “against treating Americans differently due to their race. ‘I denounced all forms of preferential treatment for Black Americans,’ Azerrad said later about his talk, ‘and defended the core American principles of meritocracy and the rule of law – that is, the idea that desirable positions in the private sector should be awarded on the basis of competence and not skin color, and that all Americans should be equal before the law.’”

All hell broke loose, of course, that led to restrictions placed on future events conducted by CPET by St. Vincent College President, Father Paul R. Taylor, which since becoming a Catholic, I can say “Fr. Taylor is not just “Catholic.” This priest is a “modern ‘Social Justice’ Catholic.”

Seen from the perspective of “First Europe,” Fr. Taylor’s “Catholicism” cast St. Augustine and St. Thomas into the Catholic equivalent of a “dustbin” by assuming that earth, not Heaven, is a Catholic’s home. That is the politest way I can describe the decline of the Church in our time into a “Woke” secular religion.

I came to know David Azerrad when he was at the Heritage Foundation and taught a course—one of only two or three taught in all of American higher education–on the history of the Conservative Movement.

I am from the nearby city of Pittsburgh, was aware of two universities in the area that have conservative faculty (Duquesne and St. Vincent) and was developing a college level course on the history of conservatism in the United States to be offered via the Internet.

Naturally I sought out Dr. Azerrad.

In our discussion I asked about the origins of his name which he told me was in the lineage of Sephardic Jews who were brutally discriminated against by Spain in 1492.

Now I understood why Dr. Azerrad was opposed to all forms of racial discrimination, including discrimination imposed by our current “Woke” culture.