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In Memoriam: John Blundell, 1952-2014

John Blundell, known well to so many of us from his work with the Institute for Humane Studies, Atlas, and IEA, passed away on July 22, 2014.

John served as a Trustee of The Philadelphia Society from 2007-2010.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Christine and their two sons.

Information on John’s memorial will soon be available from the Acton Institute

IEA’s Steve Davies has posted a lovely tribute here.

Atlas has posted more information here.

Here is John speaking at Grove City College on one of his favorite topics:  Lady Margaret Thatcher and another on Three Ladies for Liberty.


Against Shrillness

I want to commend the recent essay by John Goerke, “Fighting a Just (Culture) War,” published at The Imaginative Conservative.  It’s a lovely reflection and perhaps most reflects a hunger, especially among young conservatives, for an era of peace.  This is not to suggest that there will not always be battles to fight, but to remind us that if we never put down our outrage and our arms long enough to remember and renew the good things we fight to defend, we may soon reshape ourselves into nothing but angry and unprincipled fighters.

This calls to mind for me the discussion of C. S. Lewis of making men without chests: 

I think Gaius and Titius may have honestly 
misunderstood the pressing educational need of the moment. They see the world 
around them swayed by emotional propaganda — they have learned from tradition 
that youth is sentimental — and they conclude that the best thing they can do is to 
fortify the minds of young people against emotion. My own experience as a 
teacher tells an opposite tale. For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a 
weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be 
avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head. 


Carlos Ball, R.I.P.

Sadly, news arrived today that Philadelphia Society member Carlos Ball passed away on July 10 at his home in Florida.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to Anita, their family, and friends.

Carlos served as a trustee of The Philadelphia Society from 1999-2002.

Ian Vasquez posted a lovely tribute here.

Atlas Network posted this.


Sam Gregg: Correcting Catholic Blindness

In the August 2014 First Things, Sam Gregg discusses the (not very healthy) state of Catholic social teaching, but reminds me by email that “unhealthy” “can be generally said of almost all the economic commentary that comes from most Christian churches these days.”  


The Weekly Bell: 7-18-2014

It’s been a busy couple of weeks out there!

Daniel Hannan, who is scheduled to keynote our fall meeting in Grand Rapids, reflected recently on the demise of Britain’s Liberal Democrats.

Our irrepressible Dan Oliver sends birthday wishes and a happy send-off message to John Dingell via The Washington Times.


On the immigration crisis:

John Horvat:  What Does St Thomas Say?

John Zmirak: on the immigration crisis at FoxNews and at The National Catholic Register


Steve Hayward @ Forbes on “The Use and Abuse of Impeachment”

John Lunn has an article in Faith and Economics, “On Whether a Relationship Between Use Value and Exchange Value is Possible.”  Number 63, Spring 2014.  It will be online with a one-year lag. 

Richard Bishirjian points out this essay — Why Conservative Colleges Should Go Online — published on June 26 at The National Association of Scholars website.  And notes a number of essays that deal with the crises in American higher education that result from new technologies and the Obama  Administration’s attempt to usurp authority for education of the states have been posted at, including:

 George Leef @ Forbes: Law Schools Peer into the Abyss



Mehan on Reilly: Making Gay Okay

Tracy Mehan reviews Robert Reilly‘s Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything
(Ignatius, 2014) at Mercatornet.

Writes Mehan:

Making Gay Okay also provides an account of the slow devolution of American law from one guided by natural law and Blackstone to that of secular irrationalism. From abortion to sodomy to homosexual marriage, and even a recent case allowing polygamy in Utah, the courts have executed a decided shift from Aristotle and Nature to a post-modern deconstruction of anything like public morality. The “supreme irony” is that the abandonment of Nature, reason, and an objective sexual morality contradicts the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” those self-evident truths set out in the Declaration of Independence. All of this, argues Reilly, is leading to the “loss of objective reality — a loss that is transforming the right to life into death (abortion), liberty into license, and the pursuit of happiness into hedonism.”

– See more at:

Don Devine: No radicalism, please?

At Liberty Law Blog, Don Devine takes a look at two recent books:

Room to Grow (YG Network), [described by David Brooks as “[T]he most coherent and compelling policy agenda the American right has produced this century.”], and Mickelthwaite’s and Woolridge’s The Fourth Revolution, and finds them wanting.

Don writes:

Certainly, the necessary changes are not possible today under President Obama. But neither are the Room to Grow or The Fourth Revolution proposals. What can be achieved is for reformers to create a truly radical plan if they ever get the electoral opportunity to act. Micklethwait and Wooldridge are closer to the fundamental changes required but they bury them in their penultimate chapter. As they correctly suggest, the real historical successes were cases in which decisions were sent to the market or to local government and people were allowed to figure things out for themselves. Direction is changed by the single stroke, not by bureaucratic policy nuance. Privatization and decentralization of governmental power are the only recipe for a genuine overhaul of the overly centralized welfare state.

If overload is the problem weighing down the welfare state, it follows that reducing the range of responsibilities and sending them elsewhere, not devising new policies for the existing bureaucracy to carry out, is the solution. For the wary, this is not institutional manipulation but restoration of the Constitution to its policy wisdom in Article I, Section

PhillySoc Occurrences: July 17, 2014

“We do not seek to lead anyone’s life for him — we seek only to secure his rights and to guarantee him opportunity to strive, with government performing only those needed and constitutionally sanctioned tasks which cannot otherwise be performed.”
Barry Goldwater

July 16 marked the 50th Anniversary of GOP Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater’s convention acceptance speech.

Jameson Campaigne sent me to the Althouse blog, which has a nice intro and links to the full text.

As we have been developing the program for our fall meeting on “The Failure–and Future?–of the Welfare State” (more details on that soon), it troubles me to consider how wrong a turn America took in the 1960s, and I wonder how Americans could choose Johnson’s “Great Society” over Goldwater’s defense of our “constitutional form of government . . . which assures the orderly but dynamic fulfillment of the whole man . . . .”

It is up to us to continue to defend the genuine liberalism of Goldwater’s focus on the individual over the abstraction of Society.  As Frank Chodorov observed:

“From describing Society as if it were a person, we slide into the habit of judging each member of the group by our impression of the whole, and of acting upon that judgment. . . .This negation of the individual, by use of words, is the premise of every socialistic rationale; socialism hasn’t a leg to stand on until the individual, like a lump of sugar, is verbally dissolved in the personification of a class.  Every political scheme to ‘improve’ Society rests on this trick of words.” (The Rise and Fall of Society, 30-31)

Commenting on the Johnson victory over Goldwater, Martin Luther King Jr. stated:  “the American people made a choice… to build a great society, rather than to wallow in the past.”

But what was Johnson’s Great Society?  Kevin Williamson, who has agreed to speak at our conference in Grand Rapids, recently pulled back the curtain a bit in his Encounter Broadside, The Dependency Agenda:

“Robert Caro’s magisterial Johnson biography contains another illuminating exchange between Johnson and a colleague, with the president telling his fellow Democrat, ‘These Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days, and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before: the political pull to back up their uppityness.  Now we’ve got to do something about this–we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference.'”

“It is necessary,” Williamson goes on, “to bear this in mind not in order to conclude that Lyndon Johnson was at best a hypocrite and at worst a moral monster – though he was – but to conclude that the Great Society was built for some other purpose than to help those whom Johnson et al. purported to help.” (39)

The Great Society or a Constitutional Republic?  I’ll leave you with Goldwater:

“We see, in private property and in economy based upon and fostering private property, the one way to make government a durable ally of the whole man, rather than his determined enemy. We see in the sanctity of private property the only durable foundation for constitutional government in a free society. And beyond that, we see, in cherished diversity of ways, diversity of thoughts, of motives and accomplishments. We do not seek to lead anyone’s life for him – we seek only to secure his rights and to guarantee him opportunity to strive, with government performing only those needed and constitutionally sanctioned tasks which cannot otherwise be performed.”

Be sure to visit Members on the Web, where I’m regularly posting writings and happenings of our members!

Until next time,


John Zmirak: The perils of centralization

Such a weak, decentralized government was possible because Americans of his era controlled themselves according to firmly held, inherited moral codes, and willingly submitted themselves to the influence and authority of non-state institutions, ranging from the family and the church to the force of public opinion and the verdict of “polite society” in their local communities. These institutions of “civil society,” a mighty force in Tocqueville’s day, have weakened for many reasons — including the growth of government, which competes with them for influence and uses its legal power to hobble their freedom of action. An ugly synergy results, as the state points to social pathologies that arise when individuals act without moral compass, and the government steps forward to take those citizens firmly by the hand and give them the guidance they once might have gotten from churches and families.

Read more:

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