The Fleming Foundation Cultural Commentary

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Wednesday’s Child: The Three Consuls

  In English we signal everyman randomness by speaking of Tom, Dick, and Harry, with the French it’s “Pierre, Paul or Jacques,” while the equally boring Russians employ the common surnames “Ivanov, Petrov, Sidorov.”  But when the Italians, God bless their intractable little souls, want to do the same, they speak of “Tizio, Caio e Sempronio,” that is to say, Titus, Gaius, and Sempronius.  Just imagine how that would trip off the tongue:  “If he thinks I’m gonna let every Titus, Gaius, and Sempronius use the new lawnmower, he’s got another thing coming.” When I first came to Palermo some...

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Properties of Blood I F: The Heresy of Globalism

The Rights of Nations Viewing Christianity as the enemy, intellectuals have always felt justified in misrepresenting its teachings, either to make them contemptible (as Nietzsche and the neopagans have done) or to pervert them to what they saw as good use.  So-called Christian Socialists and social gospellers made it appear that “true” Christianity (as opposed to the bogus faith of the previous two millennia) would dispense with all distinctions, including national boundaries. To delegitimate the right of nations to defend their territory, leftists like to quote Paul’s statement that in baptism “There is neither Jew nor Greek,” as if Paul’s...

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The Missing Middle Classes, Part I

It is not so long since any time historians wanted to explain something—the wealth of medieval Europe, the disappearance of bubonic plague, the Reformation—they would trot out the middle classes as the uncaused cause of all effects.  Others—the more prophetically-minded—took a gloomier view of the middle classes, and attributed all the things they disliked to them.   Bad taste in art, for instance.  How does one explain that?  Or the general stodginess and frumpiness of all those people commuting into work on the train in the morning?  Their refusal to be impressed by free-verse poetry, twelve-tone music, and abstract expressionism? ...

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On Secund Thawt: The Grammar of Dating

Good grammar is said to be all the rage on dating sites.  This story would be good news, had it been reported anywhere but in the Wall Street Journal, whose columnists and editors do not appear to know the difference between grammar and spelling.  They lead the story with a young man who was put off by a potential date who  wrote him a confirmation of their first meeting: “I’ll see you their.”  Poor Mr. Cohen—a chump more interested in spelling than romance.  The young lady has made a fortunate escape.  One is almost tempted to agree with the Columbia University...

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Wednesday’s Child: The Electric Stradivari

If I were asked to devise a novel “ontological proof” of God’s existence, in the tradition of St. Anselm and the rest of that crowd, I would probably begin by pointing out the difference between the price of a yard of cashmere tweed and a yard of blue denim.  Hierarchies exist and, despite society’s attempts to erode or invert them, are demonstrable and immutable, which suggests that some kind of apogee of the natural order of things must exist in its turn. Though our society seeks to level the field, so that a fur must now be qualified as “real”...

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The Autodidact’s Reading List, I: The Ancient Greeks

  The Autodidact’s Reading List Introduction This second draft of a reading list is offered in the hope that it will help families, schools, and people of all ages to read some of the really valuable books in the American, British, European, and classical traditions.  In general, works have been chosen for both their merit and for the wholesome influence on the development of our civilization.  Not every important book has been included:  Some works of undoubted merit have been omitted  because they grate upon the sensibilities of most Christians; others because they were too difficult or demanding; others simply...

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Sophocles’ Oedipus III

Jocaste once again reassures Oedipus  that religion is bunk.  Even if the servant changes his story about the number of Laius’s killers, “he will never prove that the killing of Laius was as predicted, namely that he would be killed by my son as Apollo prophesied.”   Thus the second witness is not crucial to the story.  Oedipus here also makes an important slip: It is not just oracle-mongers who are not to be trusted, but the god himself. The choral ode that follows is a key moment in the play.  The chorus, coming to their senses, hope for purity...

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Properties of Blood, I F

Then, if our first impression of the Sermon was that this Messiah had come to destroy all law and custom, we were mistaken.  “I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” What He means by this is made clear from a series of examples.  The law and morality of the Jews (like the legal and moral conventions of the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, et al.) forbade murder.  The Greek phoneuin, used in the Sermon, is not a generic word for kill that would typically be used of a hunter killing a beast; it is a strong world that may either...

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Wednesday’s Child: Hunting for Certainty

  We later divorced – among other reasons, because I did not deserve her – but the American woman to whom I was married at the time had certain peculiarities of character, and it was not until many years later that the visitor whom she had entertained at dinner recounted the episode to me in vivid detail. We were living in Florence then, a town I loathed and still do, renting the piano nobile of the Palazzo Corsini at the Prato – a cavernous, draughty, forbidding place, illuminated but dimly by Guido Reni’s portrait of a Corsini cardinal who would...

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Sophocles’ Oedipus, II

Oedipus issues an edict against the killer and the blind seer Teiresias is brought in to assist the case and, as members of the audience might suppose, to reprise his role in the Antigone.  It is Teireisias’ fortune, though (unlike Cassandra) not his destiny, to speak plain truth to unbelieving ears.  Understanding human nature, he is loath to say what he knows: From his first words, the old man reveals he knows the truth but does not wish to speak.  Oedipus not only insists that Teiresias speak out, but he reviles the prophet, first for recalcitrance, and then, when the...