Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – “My special guest is Patrick Deneen, the author. His latest book is called Conserving America?: Essays on Present Discontents. You were mentioning Chesterton earlier, speaking of fish. It’s either in Orthodoxy or What’s Wrong with the World. There’s one paragraph in there when he writes about the dead float downstream with the current. Only the living can swim upstream.” Check out today’s transcript for the rest….
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: You were mentioning Chesterton earlier, speaking of fish. It’s either in Orthodoxy or What’s Wrong with the World. There’s one paragraph in there when he writes about the dead float downstream with the current. Only the living can swim upstream.
Patrick Deneen: I think that’s from Orthodoxy.
Mike: It’s mindboggling meditation there. Only the living can swim upstream. His point in that chapter is that you just go with the flow just to go along to get along because other people are doing it and it seems like the thing to do and it’s cool. You’re dead. That’s not living. He also makes the point in many of his works that Christianity hasn’t been found tried and wanting; it’s been found not tried and difficult.
Deneen: It’s been found difficult and therefore not tried.
Mike: He’s quipping here, but this is largely true. In reading Chesterton, what you get out of this – you said something about philosophical training. This is why I guess I was so – my life changed forever when I discovered philosophia perennis and took Brother Francis Maluf’s eight-part lecture series. I took a college-level course. I took it beginning with logic, cosmology, psychology, ethics, ancient philosophers, modern philosophers, polemics, epistemology, ontology. It will force you, especially if you have an open mind and goodwill, it’ll open your mind up to how you’re supposed to think and how that logic is supposed to be the basis of that thinking. You can automatically just see certain – I see headlines and go: That’s illogical. Who’s the idiot editor that let that headline go out? It helps you to form a more Christian and solid, I think, pursuant to the truth worldview.
Deneen: That’s exactly right. What’s striking to me listening to you is that what you’re describing is exactly the purpose and the end of a liberal arts education, which is not simply to make you refined. It’s not simply to allow you to have things to talk about at a cocktail party and drop the names of important authors. It’s to teach you, not only as you’re describing it, how to think but to think well and to think properly and correctly, which is the basis of liberty. It’s the basis of freedom. The basis of freedom is to have a depth of understanding that allows for one, among other things, to be a self-governing human being.
What’s striking to me – one of the things that I’m actually writing about right now, a book that I’m writing right now called Why Liberalism Failed, which picks up on some of our themes, is that we’re seeing the death and demise of liberal arts education in America in favor of an education that basically tells people that to be free is simply to do as one wants. It’s not to have this kind of training. It’s no longer to have requirements in courses of philosophy and theology and the basis for what constitutes the condition of actual liberty. Again, a liberal society reshapes its citizenry to think of liberty in a way that ultimately can’t be sustainable. You cannot have a society that can’t be self-governing at some level.
Mike: And it has to continue, as Brother Andre said last week when he was on the show during this house, it has to continue to have revolutions. One revolution is going to overthrow the next. We saw this with this vulgar, horrid display of this lust for the end of life via abortion on display at The Mall in Washington Saturday. This was a national disgrace, absolutely disgraceful that this is what passes as political protests, dissidence or discord or whatever you wish to call it. No, it was pure, untrammeled lust for the cult of death and vulgarity on display as political speech. If that’s the future of political speech, we may be in bigger trouble than any of us ever previously thought.
Deneen: It was a display basically in support of hedonism.
Deneen: Hedonism without consequences. Of course, what we’re saying is that the consequences are accumulating. They’re accumulating in the form of a people that’s ungovernable. You can’t be governed from the center. You can’t be governed from some distant power. Governance has to happen within the human soul. This is the oldest teaching of Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics, and Aquinas and Augustine. If you’re going to be governed, you ultimately have to be governed in your own soul. To the extent that we are seeing, I think, evidence of a society in which there’s a profound inability to be governable, that arises from the illnesses and diseases within the human soul.
I think the underlying story of much of what we’re seeing taking place today is the self-contradictory logic of an order that was founded with an incorrect conception of liberty. It seems particularly what Christians are called to do now is to model, of course speak about, teach, but also live in ways that demonstrate the alternative and better form of freedom as a form of self-governance and self-rule and self-discipline. What you began by talking about, morality, what we call morality, the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, and to deny that which is wrong, and to do that which is right.
Mike: Even Confucius, who was born before the time of Christ so he couldn’t have been a Christian, gets this right when he says – I’m paraphrasing. I’m actually probably paraphrasing Russell Kirk paraphrasing. The virtuous man chooses the correct good path and the lazy man or the non-virtuous man chooses the easy path. It’s the same thing in almost all of Christianity, and Chesterton points this out, too. Sinning I s easy, doesn’t take any effort whatsoever. It might even take a lack of effort. Not sinning, that’s the difficult part. I know you’ve got to go. We’re only supposed to have you for 30, so thank you for your indulgence.
Deneen: You’re very welcome.
Mike: I just wanted to let you know, you may find this interesting, but our channel here, the Crusade Channel – we have another channel called the True Features Channel. Our last production was the Nativity of Mary, which I narrated and we had some voice actors act out some of the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, and what she saw for the nativity. IT was fun to make. It was moving to read and do all that. Our next long-form audio production is going to be a dramatic series of The Man Who Was Thursday. I’m listening to an audiobook version right now that was narrated by, I can’t remember his name, but he did it for the BBC. He plays all the characters. I hadn’t read the book, but now I’m about halfway through the audiobook. Talk about messing with your mind. Chesterton in this book is just challenging all the fake orthodoxies of his time. He had me in the second chapter when he introduced the organization of anarchists. I went: All right, I see what you’re up to here, pal.
Deneen: Chesterton was one of these authors like C.S. Lewis, like Tolkien, who really understood the deeper nature of the challenge of modern times. Like Tolkien and like Lewis, he understood that in addition to advancing both the philosophical and theological truth, that, unlike most of modernity, one could do this through humor, through myth, through story and song. The truth would always be accompanied by forms of beauty and mirth and joy in ways in which we certainly don’t see among those wearing all the various garb of the female body on themselves in this past weekend. The kind of joy of human life lived in accordance with the truth is something that I think we also need to keep in mind. In all the seriousness and the challenges that we face today, we should be joyful. Chesterton is just one of those figures in our tradition that we should really embrace and really understand how advancing an argument on behalf of the truth doesn’t have to be a slog through a forced march. It’s really one of joy and of passing along and passing what, of course, is called the Good News.
Mike: Patrick, before you go – a great closing statement, by the way, counselor. I think you’ve made your case. Just a parting thought on that. One of the other things that I admire about Chesterton – G.K. Chesterton, if you don’t know who we’re talking about. My special guest is Patrick Deneen, the author. His latest book is called Conserving America?: Essays on Present Discontents. It is available at Amazon.com.
Chesterton took it up and took it on with H. G. Wells. He took it up and took it on with George Bernard Shaw. These men were notorious either atheists or agnostics or whatever they were. He loved them. They were his friends. He never de-friended them, even after he converted to Catholicism, which is what I try to suggest to some of my Catholic brothers and sisters. You’ve got to stop with this: It’s our way or the highway. That’s not being charitable, it simply isn’t. There is room for us to coexist and to be friendly, to be brothers and sisters, and to love one another. You never stop praying for conversions. Public hissy fits that you didn’t get it is pride. That’s an act of pride. I see it so much. I see it on our little channel. I see it among some of our hosts. It’s just not productive. I think Chesterton of all people, he had the talent and the skill and the gift of the pen that overcame all these guys. He could have put them down and just shut them up and silenced them. Instead, he silenced them with wit. He silenced them with love and with charm. I think there’s a bigger lesson. Maybe you should write a book about that, professor.
Deneen: Chesterton once said himself: Don’t challenge me to write a book because I’ll write four.
Mike: What do you think about that? Am I onto something there?
Deneen: You’re absolutely onto something. This is something that I’ve been actually thinking about in the wake of the election as well. There’s a real danger right now, it seems to me, for Christians especially, which is the age of the social media. I’ve been on social media and I’ve been reading the various things from friends. I have friends across the political spectrum. Everyone is outraged. Everyone is outraged and angry and bitter. I think about when I get together, even with my friends with whom I disagree, we can get together and sit down over a beer and have a civil discussion. When you get online and now suddenly you’re just emoting onto this sort of ether, suddenly all civility and decency and friendliness falls away.
I think there’s a real danger, especially for Christians. I would say for every citizen. We spend too much of our leisurely lives scrolling through all the various expressions of outrage. I think if you don’t have a good way to spend that time, instead of clicking on your Facebook or Twitter feed, maybe pick up a rosary instead. It’s a form of sloth often to get online and simply: Let’s look at the latest outrage. We should be informed. I think we should be informed and we should be committed to the right causes, but we shouldn’t let those deform us into simply these versions of ongoing, continual, and uncontrolled outrage. Charity and generosity and friendship have to be cultivated. They can’t simply be assumed. I agree with you completely. Part of that is to engage in practices that avoid the sloth and laziness of easy outrage in our time.
Mike: I’ll take that up as a mantle.
Mike: I’ll take that up as a challenge. To that end, as we part company again with our dear friend Patrick Deneen, author and professor of political philosophy at Notre Dame University – again, we’re honored to have you in our presence, brother. Thank you for still returning my calls.
Deneen: It’s my pleasure. Anytime. Nice to talk with you, Mike.
Mike: Before you go, just think about this and maybe amongst your family and friends, your Christian and close friends, what was accomplished in November? It was the election of Donald Trump. Especially those who maybe follow Archbishop Chaput, you had mentioned there’s a book coming out, and Cardinal Burke and others, and the folks that put together the Novena for our Nation. I know, just in my little group, dozens of us actually prayed that day. I suspect hundreds of thousands of people actually prayed for that outcome. Here’s my takeaway: evil was prevented. That was my prayer. Do not let that evil get within, number one, launching the nuclear button and starting a third war. Of course, some people think Trump is that. Do not let Mrs. Clinton get the pen of the White House to murder tens of millions more new soon-to-be-born children. Evil was prevented. Now, we may have gotten the lesser evil. Only time will tell that. We most certainly inched away, as my friend Chris Ferrara likes to say, inched away from the abyss. We prevented an evil. That came through prayer. I still firmly believe that was the result of Christians sitting there saying: We can pray our way out of this. We should take that as a lesson and remember that.
Deneen: The power of prayer is always underestimated. I would just pray now that our current leader, our current president, and all those in positions of power and responsibility, act on behalf of the common good, and that they guide us to become a better nation.
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Deneen: But not to be forgotten, of course, is that has to be done ultimately in the little places. That’s been my theme throughout the morning. Just make sure we are attending to the things close to home and cultivating a culture that we hope can sustain a better politics as well.
Mike: It’s a great way to end a great interview. Patrick, as always, my brother, thank you so much for the generosity of your time. We sincerely appreciate it.
Deneen: Thanks, Mike. God bless.
Mike: God bless you, too.
End Mike Church Show Transcript