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The Decline of Conservative Publishing?

Rod Dreher at The American Conservative offers several interesting reflections on the decline of conservative publishing.  

We might want to ask, whether in crisis, as the saying goes, there might also be opportunity seriously to rethink the business of conservative apologetics.

This jeremiad reminds me that C. S. Lewis warned long ago of the dangers of “genrefication” of Christian apologetics, which may bear thinking about in the context of conservative apologetics as well:


I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more by that than by any directly apologetic work. . . . What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects–with their Christianity latent. (emphasis in original) . . . It is not the books written in direct defence of Materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books. . . . The first step to the re-conversion of this country is a series, produced by Christians, which can beat the Penguin and the Thinkers Library on their own ground.”  (from C. S. Lewis, “Christian Apologetics” in God in the Dock)


Don Devine: Where is Robert Gates?

Don Devine’s latest at The American Conservative:  

It is clear that Putin has gone further than cool rationality would require. He could have left Crimea within Ukraine and saved billions of dollars in subsidies, and he could still have gained political control over a more autonomous Crimea. He still would have won an enormous psychological victory if he had. Paradoxically, the fact that Putin’s incorporation of Crimea weakens Russia makes him more dangerous. He still has nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them no matter how economically backward Russia becomes. This is a situation that demands humility and realism on the part of America and the West.

Where is Robert Gates when we need him?


Welcome to The Philadelphia Society’s New Website!


We’ve come a long way, Baby!

As we celebrate The Philadelphia Society’s 50th Anniversary, the time seemed right to update and modernize our website.

Since 1964, The Philadelphia Society has helped renew the conversation about liberty given shape in the social, economic, political and constitutional history of our communities, colonies, states, and nation.

The emergence of liberty seems to go hand-in-hand with the  ability of people to communicate and debate the meaning and purpose of liberty.  The story of liberty in many ways is also the story of technology and the story of whether technology becomes the master or the servant of our higher ends.

1780 James Watt copying press patent diagram

1780 James Watt copying press patent diagram

The American Founders were active letter writers, and by the time of the Constitutional Convention, Franklin, Jefferson, and Washington were already putting to use the newest communications technology of the day, the letter copying press.

By 1964, when The Philadelphia Society was founded, the “Ditto” machine was giving way to “xeroxing,”  but our Society archives still contain many of the thin, delicate “carbon copies” of letters from Don Lipsett to his many correspondents, as well as telegraph receipts.

Daniel Walker Howe’s remarkable contribution to the Oxford History of the United States, covering “The Transformation of America, 1815-1845,” is titled What Hath God Wrought–hearkening back to the demonstration message Samuel Morse successfully sent by telegraph from the U. S. Supreme Court Chamber in Washington, D.C. to Alfred Vail in Baltimore.

Howe frames the history of the early 19th century as a “communications revolution”:

The invention they [Morse and Vail] had demonstrated was destined to change the world.  For thousands of years messages had been limited by the speed with which messengers could travel and the distance at which eyes could see signals such as flags or smoke.  Neither Alexander the Great nor Benjamin Franklin (America’s first postmaster general) two thousand years later knew anything faster than a galloping horse.  Now, instant long-distance communication became a practical reality.  The commercial application of Morse’s invention followed quickly.  American farmers and planters–and most Americans then earned a living through agriculture–increasingly produced food and fiber for distant markets.  Their merchants and bankers welcomed the chance to get news of distant prices and credit (1).

Our generation, too, has lived through another communications revolution.

Berlin Wall, 1989

Berlin Wall, 1989

Philadelphia Society members cheered, and some participated first-hand, as the fax machine and samizdat helped to open the Iron Curtain.  The power of communications technology was further demonstrated in the 2013 political revolution in Egypt, fueled by protesters’ use of blogs and social media.

 Bill Campbell, Secretary of the Society from 1995-2014,  built the Society’s earliest website, making widely public for the first time meeting programs, audio clips, and papers of speakers.  Instead of a letter copying press, however, he was assisted by the PDF, the portable document format with which anyone reading this post should be well familiar!

Philadelphia Society member George Gilder wrote in 2000 of the coming “telecosm.”  “The computer age is falling,” wrote Gilder,

 before the one technological force that could surpass in impact the computer’s ability to process and create information.  That is communication, which is more essential to our humanity than computing is.  Communication is the  way we weave together a personality, a family, a business, a nation, and a world.  The telecosm–the world enabled and defined by new communications technology–will make human communication universal, instantaneous, unlimited in capacity, and at the margins free (2).

At the margins.  Ahh, there’s the rub.  The margins are always changing.  And even as the cost of communication moves to free, new problems appear.  With Eliot, amid the cacophony we may ask:

Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

The lot of man is ceaseless labor,
Or ceaseless idleness, which is still harder,
Or irregular labour, which is not pleasant.

And so, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Philadelphia Society, we look not merely to our past but to our future.   The nature of man is to quest and attain and quest anew.  New desires and new horizons always rise up before us.  And, as Sam Gregg recently reminds us, freedom is necessary but not sufficient.  

In the voices of Frank Meyer, Milton Friedman, Russell Kirk and numerous speakers at Society meetings over the past five decades, we find both timeless wisdom and a sense of urgency.  We are brought to reflect on what our freedom is for.  And to understand that the time to speak for  liberty is now, and that this responsibility is ours.

Technology is here, at our service, helping us enter the future with the conversations of wise men and women at our fingertips… and it’s almost free.  

Sam Gregg: Why Liberty is Not Enough

Writing at The Public Discourse, Sam Gregg  proposes that merely flying the freedom banner isn’t enough . . . we also have to bring reason to bear to understand and explain what we mean by liberty:

At some point, for instance, those in the business of promoting freedom need to engage more precisely what they mean by liberty. After all, modern liberals never stop talking about the subject. Moreover, if the default understanding of freedom in America is reduced to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s mystery clause (“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”), then liberty’s meaning will be very difficult to integrate with any substantive commitment to reason. That should worry freedom-lovers, because in the absence of reason we can have no principled objection—as opposed to mere emotional unease—to unjust suppressions of freedom by the sophistical, powerful, or ruthless.


– See more at:

Dan Oliver: Maybe, just maybe, the way to capture the public’s attention is to fly a freedom banner

Dan Oliver writing in The American Conservative offers some thoughtful queries and cautions in reflecting on Arthur Brooks’ call (Commentary, March 2014) for a conservative social justice agenda: 

Conservatives know the value of faith, community, and work. Heaven knows they know the value of family and of education—look at the efforts they have made to promote various non-governmental solutions to the problems in these areas. And their proposal for Social Security is not to abolish it but to privatize it. Brooks may think that conservatives have been insufficiently articulate, and given their presidential and policy track record, he has a point. But is his point augmented or diminished by Gallup’s finding that 72 percent of Americans describe themselves as either conservatives or moderates? Have conservatives done well, and would they have done better flying a social justice banner? Or worse? . . . 

Perhaps, as Oliver suggests, conservatives might try re-thinking how we speak in the idiom we know:  “Maybe, just maybe, the way to capture the public’s attention is to fly a freedom banner…”

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