The Fleming Foundation Cultural Commentary

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Wednesday’s Child: Convertible Malarkey

In the commotion, here and elsewhere, caused by my “Putin’s Hitler” last month, some words of doubt got misplaced – chiefly I mean readers questioning my contention, with which I had prefaced this post a week earlier, that Russia’s got money enough to burn, to say nothing of buying Crimea, if not Kiev.  I admit to certain capriciousness in my choice of Exhibit A, namely, a bill for 107,524 Euros paid by a party of young Russians lunching at a seaside restaurant in France; in the past few weeks, however, somewhat less fanciful proof has been adduced, and this I...

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Properties of Blood, I: J

Light Unto the Nations Christians and Jews have always believed that the Jews of the Old Testament were an instrument by which salvation came to the human race.  This does not mean that gentiles and all their works were uniformly despised even in the Old Testament.  Throughout the Old Testament we meet with many decent or righteous gentiles: the pharaoh who befriended Joseph, the benevolent Persian king (Cyrus) whom some rabbis regarded as the Messiah, because he returned the Jews to the Holy Land, and Job, the man of Uz.  The gentile Job is the most righteous man of the...

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Preface to Cicero

Part I Some years ago, at a weekend meeting of The Rockford Institute’s executives, Richard Neuhaus chattered endlessly about what he called “Public Philosophy” and recommended that the Institute draw up a public philosophy of its own.  He had borrowed the phrase from  Walter Lippmann, a columnist who had spent a long career trivializing important questions.  After the meeting, John Howard asked me if I would have a crack at drawing up the TRI Public Philosophy.  This is exactly the sort of thing I hate, but I accepted the task, albeit grudgingly, and explained to John that the most successful...

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Dog Latin

Habemus Oratorum Domum? Can Paul Ryan win the support of the House Freedom Caucus, the Republican Study Committee, and the Tuesday Group? If he can, forget the speakership, let’s talk sainthood, because unifying House Republicans counts as his first miracle. E.  Christian Kopff sent me this gem, written by one Jim Geraghty from the NR website.  I don’t read National Review in any form, print, internet, or the original crayon, so I don’t know who Mr. Geraghty is or if he has a whimsical turn of mind or if he is possibly fond of ridiculing the ignorance of learned languages...

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Wednesday’s Child: Fatal Eggs

Every once in a while a Jehovah’s Witness comes calling at the door, which is more than a little odd.  Not only because this is a squarely Catholic country, but also because here in Sicily we don’t very much like witnesses.  In fact, we usually kill them as they turn a corner, with a single blast in the face from a sawed-off shotgun. My father, who lives in New York, used a different technique. Whenever a Jehovah’s Witness, or indeed a representative of any other millenarian cult with an apocalyptic agenda, appeared at the door, he would swing it open...

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Properties of Blood I H: Augustine at the End of an Era

When Alaric the Visigoth sacked Rome in 410, therefore, it came a as terrible shock to the world, almost inconceivable to us.  The most recent parallel is the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, but that catastrophe had been universally anticipated for decades and preceded by the Crusaders’ sack of the city in the Fourth Crusade.  The fall of Rome was inconceivable. Pagans like the poet Claudian echoed the conservative arguments of Symmachus, a Roman senator of ancient stock: In abandoning the old gods Romans had invited disaster.  Claudian gleefully mocked a Christian general, telling him to trust...

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The Missing Middle Classes, Part III: The Great Secession

  The one absolutely essential feature of middle-class psychology is confidence.  If father ran a successful hardware store, then as long as they live his sons must treasure an understanding of the finer points of the hardware business.  If the old boy designed and built houses, they must be sure to have some grasp of the arts of brick-laying, carpentry, and plastering.  If he was a respected local attorney or solicitor, they must rejoice in the knowledge that he was the impenetrable vault of the town’s secrets. They must never allow themselves to start saying things like, “Well, the old...

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Wednesday’s Child: A Worldly Delusion

Two ladies, long past the first bloom of youth and recently arrived in what Russian wits call the Age of Balzac, are scrutinizing the map of Palermo in the bar on the ground floor of my apartment building. They turn the map this way and that, like two army recruits conspiring to desert in the middle of a dense and inhospitable forest supposedly traversed by a national frontier, and from the air of anxious isolation about them I gather they are American tourists. The bar’s proprietor, Carmelo, is enthroned at the cash register not two feet away.  Nothing would be...

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The Missing Middle Classes, Part II: War, Taxes, And Socialism

What happened to the middles classes?  Three things happened to them: war, socialism, and what we can call, borrowing a term, the great secession. We can start with war.  All governments routinely soak their citizens or subjects to pay for their wars, and that is why the first income tax was introduced into England in 1798 to pay for the war with revolutionary France.  It was rescinded on the signing of the Peace of Amiens, but reinstated with the renewal of hostilities a year later.  A year after the Battle of Waterloo it was repealed again, in 1816.  Then the...

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Properties of Blood, Chapter I, Part G: Rome, Urbs Aeterna

In addressing himself to the Jews (and the stray Gentiles who may have been in the crowd), Jesus was able to take for granted certain customs and traditions of moral law, whose inner and original meaning He now revealed.  Although modern Christians make much of the Ten Commandments, the moral injunctions it contains, against blasphemy, theft, perjury, adultery, murder, and filial impiety were hardly unique in the Mediterranean world.  Such prohibitions were the common stock of ancient moral and legal traditions.  Greeks and Romans (going beyond the Egyptians and Sumerians, whose moral codes were similar to that of the Jews)...