Living in a consumerist society, Americans very rarely have to choose between what is good and what is bad. Truly awful things rarely survive in a free market. However, we do have to choose between the good and the mediocre.
The following is an excerpt from my book on Bach—Glory and Honor: The Music Artistic Legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach.
The more art is controlled, limited, worked over, the more it is free.
Markus performed a forty day fast and then castrated himself, despite discouraging words from his teachers. This was to be the crowning laurel of his Stoic education, and yet only a week later, before he was physically recovered, word came his parents were dead—a sudden fever— and all his learning was as for nothing. Like a crown of hair grown out for a lifetime— as long as the body itself (licking the floor)— suddenly lopped off with a pair of shears. Like it was never there. Like it never happened.
What follows is the catechism my Modern European Humanities students are reciting at the start of class every day. I am grateful for the help of my colleague John Alley is putting it together, and I would like to acknowledge my friend Jonathan Councell, whose ideas and conversation inspired the first two (and perhaps the most important) questions below.
A thought experiment: What if, amongst your school’s 2018 graduating class, not one student cares about pop culture? None of them disdain it; none of them wage a culture war against it; they are, simply, uninterested in it. Would you consider their classical education a complete success, or would you count it a partial failure?
Editor's Note: Earlier this summer noted filmmaker Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, The Prestige) released Dunkirk, the highly acclaimed—and quite moving—story of the miraculous 1940 rescue of hundreds of thousands of Allied troops. Surrounded by German forces, these soldiers helplessly wait on the beaches of Dunkirk, in northern France, safety visible from across the English channel.
To the classical thinker, vice lies at the opposite ends of a corresponding virtue (Aristotle's golden mean). A vice can be the manifestation of a virtue in extreme exaggeration or deprivation. Courage is an example of virtue. Its corresponding vices are impetuousness (the exaggeration), and pusillanimity (the deprivation). In post-Christian Christianity, doubt has unfortunately been elevated into a virtue and any type of certainty has been made a vice, a problem which can be traced back to Descartes.
Further thoughts for cultivating a culture of memory, this time in the classroom:
Forty-five years ago, Madeleine L'Engle wrote about the problem and implications of declining linguistic standards:
When words are used in a way that is going to weaken language, it has nothing to do with the beautiful way that they can wriggle and wiggle and develop and enrich our speech, but instead it is impoverishing, diminishing. If our language is watered down, then mankind becomes less human and less free. (A Circle of Quiet, 1972)
Do you ever have those conversations that rankle in your memory? Several months ago a fellow homeschool mom inquired about my writing. I told her how much I enjoyed writing and that I was looking forward to some projects approaching. She replied, “Well, that sounds nice. Maybe you will soon have time to develop into a more practical writer that can actually help people. I just want somebody to tell me what to do.”