Reading about Dying Institutions versus Dying Individuals

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Reading about Dying Institutions versus Dying Individuals

I’m still catching up on reading things from over the holidays. Here are two posts that caught my eye.


First, Rachel Lu of the University of St. Thomas has a “Tea Party Elegy,” November 8, 2016 in The Public Discourse.


Second, Aaron Rothstein MD writes about “The Distortion of ‘Death with Dignity‘,” December 13, 2016 at The New Atlantis.

Benedict Options and New Republics

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There’s not much to add all the commentary about The New Republic being put out to pasture. Ezra Klein has about the best summary of it all that I’ve come across, and have noting that, “Now [Chris] Hughes is putting the magazine back up for sale.” Klein goes on to quote Hughes’ letter to his soon to be ex-employees:

I will be the first to admit that when I took on this challenge nearly four years ago, I underestimated the difficulty of transitioning an old and traditional institution into a digital media company in today’s quickly evolving climate,” Hughes wrote in an article that, oddly, was published on Medium rather than the New Republic’s web site.

Klein then observes:

TNR’s problems have been largely being laid at Hughes’s doorstep. And, to some degree, that’s fair. Transitioning an old and traditional institution into a digital media company is hard, but it’s not as hard as Hughes made it look….

Hughes believed his charge was to make TNR a viable web publication, in a world where viability — and, arguably, influence — requires web traffic. That meant publishing more, publishing faster, and publishing the kinds of quick hits and aggregations that help build audience on the cheap.

In a strange sentence on his Medium post, Hughes writes, “Even though our search for a workable business model has come up short, we have shown that digital journalism isn’t at odds with quality and depth.” But if digital journalism of quality and depth is at odds with a workable business model, then digital journalism of quality and depth won’t survive.

I can’t help but wonder what kind of lessons might be learned from this by those who choose the Benedict Option.  Where Klein writes–“Transitioning an old and traditional institution into a digital media company is hard“–one can imagine Rod Dreher & Co. similarly observing:

….transitioning an old and traditional American church into a twenty-first century life-changing, life-preserving institution will be hard……


Hydras and Incorruptible Institutions: Two Modern Myths

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Language is the basic social institution.

–John Searle, Freedom and Neurobiology (2007), p. 83.

Over at The Public Discourse,  Rachel Lu has written an interesting essay that both describes some current problems for conservatives in the U. S. and proposes a solution. So, on the merits of its utilitarianism, her writing wins the reader.

But where Lu describes the opponents of conservatism as a “militant secular culture,” I would define these opponents as a fringe minority but nonetheless part of a majority nihilist apathetic culture.

To use Lu’s metaphor, I see the proliferation of nihilistic apathy as the body of the beast, and “militant secular culture” as merely one more hydra head. For militancy eventually runs out of gas, but apathy is equivocal to entropy.

But that’s being nitpicky.

The significant portions of Lu’s piece are found in her conclusion:

We should, however, try to ground our political institutions in a substantial and realistic view of human good. Our aim should be to construct a society that bolsters the natural benefits of virtue instead of tearing them down. We should cherish our liberty, but always with a sober understanding of what liberty is for, and of the many ways in which vice and corruption can undermine the conditions that make true freedom possible. [¶] This is the true answer to America’s political and moral dilemma.

Can (and should) one aim to ground political institutions in a “substantial and realistic view of the human good” when it seems many citizens (liberal and conservative) live day-to-day life based on a social ontology that equivocates all institutions with the “human bad?” Does Acton’s dictum not apply? There may be such things as powerless, and therefore incorruptible, institutions, but do Americans daily encounter them?

No, rather, all institutions originate in the assertion of power, and therefore, all institutions are somewhat corrupt, never virgin pure. Lu’s solution is a “good” I cannot choose, as C. S. Lewis reminds us:

For good means what you ought to prefer quite regardless of what you happen to like at any given moment. If “being good” meant simply joining the side you happened to fancy, for no real reason, then good would not deserve to be called good. (Mere Christianity, sec. 2)