If the name “The Fleming Foundation” summons up a picture of a stately stone villa surrounded by a park-sized lawn as lush and green as the foundation’s endowment, then you had better blink your eyes and look again. This foundation is located in the third-floor attic of my crumbling house in Rockford. The lawn is dotted with dandelions and pockmarked with holes that are nowhere as deep as the deficits we are likely to be running up. At this point The Fleming Foundation is just me, my wife, my former colleague Jim Easton, and a few friends who have agreed with me that, although I am retired from The Rockford Institute, there is still a great deal of unfinished business that I have been putting off for too many years.
The greatest mistake I have made over the years is not to follow the advice I have so freely lavished on others. As editor and think-tank president, I spent far too much time writing about politics. I did not waste much attention on which set of scoundrels should be issued a license to loot—I knew better than that—but I did write a lot about problems of immigration and crime, social legislation, and even on issues of trade and globalization.
It is not that these matters are not important or even that I should not have been talking about them, but my focus should have been exclusively on aspects about which I can speak with some knowledge and authority. The only people qualified to talk seriously about political strategy are professional political operators, and they would not tell the truth even if they were paid good money. Besides, even if I had accurate inside information and passed it on to my readers. What could they do with it? An expert can write many volumes on the impact of immigration or which politician has been paid what to change his vote. This kind of knowledge is not power, because there is nothing that can be done with it. No one person can do much to stop the unchecked flow of immigrants, and what is true of one person, in this case, is equally true of one million and even ten million. I am reminded of the old Serenity Prayer: “Give me the strength to accept what I cannot change.”
In accepting the existence of evil, we are not giving up the struggle. We are only giving up the pretense that editorializing and politicking is going to have any effect. Years ago I sponsored a debate. The question, as I recall, was this. Resolved: Washington Conservatives have not done a damn thing!. The Nay side consisted of people who had been drawing good salaries and accomplishing nothing. What was their defense? That things would have been much worse, had it not been for the ceaseless efforts of conservative writers, policy experts, and think-tank executives. What a comforting thought. Since then, the decline has been still more rapid and precipitous, and they are still scribbling away their bad prose, still contributing their voices to the conservative echo chamber.
Once we accept the ugly reality of 21st century America, we can begin to do something about it, at least in our own lives. When the Goths took over Italy, there was not much point to editorializing against the evil Gothic party and getting out the vote for the stupid Gothic party. Better to plant a garden, say your prayers, and teach your children. But we cannot concentrate on improving our own lives, if we are too absorbed in blaming all the usual suspects, while singing the praises of conservative politicians, less radical universities, and pop culture celebrities who give at least one tepid cheer for decency. Once we see things for what we are, we can begin to detach ourselves from the evil in which we are all enmeshed.
There are no short term or partial solutions to the mess we are in, and it is a waste of time to point the finger at the various privileged minorities that are used as shock troops in the war against civility. In stead, we have to fix the blame where it belongs: on the political class and cultural elite that have revolutionized our society and destroyed our civilization.
The first task of our foundation will be to find ways of communicating this truth to people who have ears to hear and eyes to see. This means a website with commentary on the passing scene but with an emphasis on the reality under which we live and what can be done in our own lives and communities to protect our families and friends from the moral and cultural plague that is attacking even the noblest institutions and traditions. The second task is to provide insights into the alternative moral and cultural traditions that created the civilization we are losing. For this reason, I shall soon be realizing a project I have had in the works for several years: a series of books, which already exist in drafts of varying degrees of roughness. We shall be arranging a subscription website on which subscribers can read serially a completed draft, make comments, and finally receive the finished book.
Since satisfying lives cannot be lived in the abstract or devoted exclusively to contemplation, we also plan to throw in some beer and skittles in the form of dinners and receptions for people who take an interest in our work. Next year, we hope to begin holding book discussions, lecture programs, and cultural odysseys, though in the beginning we shall content ourselves with informal get-togethers.
We are describing the main efforts of our foundation as the Boethius Project. As you will recall, Boethius was the last truly educated Roman Christian. In a magnificent career in the early 6th century A.D., he achieved the highest civilian offices under Theoderic’s Gothic Kingdom of Italy. At the same time, he engaged in a truly heroic effort to translate and transmit the philosophy of Aristotle to future generations. He saw the darkness coming…..As his reward, he was accused of treason and condemned to death. While awaiting a cruel and barbaric execution, he wrote the book that would be the most popular serious work of the next 1000 years: The Consolation of Philosophy.
Our main goal is to do in a small way for our generation what Boethius did so splendidly in his: to hand on as much of the classical Christian tradition as we can. This is the tradition that is the basis of what was best in what used to be our own civilization. And, to continuing comparing small things with great, I shall be finishing and publishing books on the moral and political traditions of the ancient and Medieval world, traditions that survived in Christian institutions and also flourished in the early days of our American republic. I am talking about such fundamental institutions as private property, marriage, parenthood, kinship, matters of life and death.
Right now our plans are as crude as this website, and with neither staff nor facilities, it will be some time before we shall be making any kind of public splash. Nonetheless, I will fairly soon be posting regular editorials, and we hope to have the book subscription website activated in a month or less, though with my level of expertise in computers, it may take till the end of the Summer.
If you are interested in learning more about our activities, you can send a note to sign up for the informational emails we shall be sending out from time to time.
Thomas Fleming is president of The Fleming Foundation. He edited Chronicles: a magazine of American Culture for over thirty years, for 17 of which he served as President of The Rockford Institute. He has written books on ethics, politics, and history, and his articles, columns, and reviews have appeared in many magazines, newspapers, and academic journals in the United States and Europe. He holds an A.B. degree in Greek from the College of Charleston and a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill