First, if the newsletter looks a bit different it’s because I have migrated over to a new email client called ButtonDown. The content will be the same on your end. It may just look a little different. But I think the more barebones look suits me anyway.
In virtually every project I’ve ever attempted, the work has announced itself to me before a business model. The result of all this is that I’ve done lots of what I hope is good work and made what I know is very little money. The funny thing with a newsletter is that the business model is pretty easy–charge a subscription fee–but the product has been the difficult thing for me.
My favorite newsletter I’m currently subscribed to is called the Radical Urbanist. It’s written by a Marxist urbanist named Paris Marx. But what is great about the newsletter is that you don’t need to agree with Marx’s politics to benefit from the work. At the same time, you can see how those politics inform the way the newsletter is put together.
I think that’s the way to move forward with newsletters, or at least it is the way I mean to move forward. But where Marx writes about cities and Marxism, I want to write about common life and liberalism.
So the lede today is simply defining those two terms:
What I mean by “common life” is the shared life of a group of people living in a place together. That can be a city, neighborhood, small town, or commune, but the point is that we all have other people who are involved in our daily life not through any repeated choosing of our own, but simply because of the fact that their daily routines overlap with our own in necessary and unavoidable ways.
“Common life” encompasses home, neighborhood, work, worship, and leisure amongst other things. That can be abstract, of course, but it can also be very concrete. For example, how do you physically move yourself from your home to your place of work and how does that shape your life with family, neighbors, and so on?
The Reformed theologian Johannes Althusius says that none of us are “adequately endowed” to provide for our own survival, let alone flourishing, on our own. So when I talk about “common life” I mean the ways in which we share life with neighbors in ways that can potentially make life delightful.
How can we make our life together symbiotic, to use another term Althusius is fond of, rather than simply incidental or even parasitic?
What I mean by liberalism is the set of distinctly modern and western assumptions about common life that see the primordial human state as being individual autonomy. This renders all human communities artificial, in some sense, or as an imposition upon human individuals that is tolerated as a lesser of two evils.
Solitary individuals will, naturally, enter into conflict with other solitary individuals. Communities, thus, arise in order to mitigate the damage that this causes.
Liberalism assumes a world of conflict and rivalry and creates structures to try and limit the damage that this natural conflict can do.
Here is the alternative being developed by the various post-liberal Christians beginning to work in this space.
The post-liberal movement, then, is simply a movement to ask how human communities would need to change if we believe that peace, not conflict, is the natural human state. I want this newsletter to be something that can both provide an accessible on-ramp to this conversation for people unfamiliar with it and that can perhaps anchor this discussion more in real-world situations so that it seems less remote and academic and more integrated with the stuff of daily life.
I’m going to track these things by both looking at short news items but also bringing in items of more long-term interest. This is just my application of the idea of stock and flow, which I found from reading Alan Jacobs but that Jacobs took from Robin Sloan and Austin Kleon.
This week the main items I’m flagging are related to climate changes. Why focus on climate change?
Well, one application of liberalism in its most recent iteration is that the world is not an organic life to which we have some responsibility and whose flourishing necessarily curtails our own freedom fo choice. Rather, the world is simply a machine that can be programmed to serve the ends of human progress. This assumption will naturally undermine the life of the world. And I’m not weird or remotely alone in making this observation: This entire paragraph is deeply at home in the thought of both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.
As we see often in Scripture (and in Tolkien’s work as well), nature has a way of biting back. Applied to the physical creation, climate change is how reality bites back against our attempts to overwrite it or ignore it. Or you might imagine climate change as being our world’s version of the Ents rising up to smash Isengard and overthrow Saruman. Either way, you arrive at the same conclusion. Climate change is an entirely to be expected consequence of ascendant liberalism.
One thing Joie and I love doing, as often as we’re able, is making meals for families from church that just had a baby. It’s a relatively easy way of supporting families in your community and telling them that you are excited and happy about the new baby.
Joie has several good go-to recipes for this. I have one: pulled pork. Because what better way to express one’s love of life than by cooking an hilariously large amount of meat and giving it to a family that just welcomed a baby?
Here’s what you do:
What’s really great about this meal is that you can pair it with some pretty easy items to find at a grocery store–hamburger buns, salad, chips, etc. and it should make several meals for the family. If you get a 12 lb pork butt, it should be about six or seven pounds when you’ve cooked it and that can provide at least two meals for a couple and a few little ones.
Oh, and if you have the time and inclination, throw in some home made bbq sauce with the meal. I have made all three of these and can vouch for their quality. The first two in particular are very easy to make:
And now for something completely different.
Church Life recently published two illuminative essays from Timothy Troutner and Pater Edmund Waldstein, O. Cist.
Troutner’s is one of the tidiest versions I’ve read of what you would call a Christian Liberal critique of the Post-Liberal Christians.
Pater Edmund’s response, meanwhile, is one of the most helpful presentations of the integralist vision of creation that I have read.
While you’re at it, Patrick Smith’s piece on Augustine’s place in this conversation is a good read as well.
If you’re curious, this is my take after having a couple days to process all three pieces. I think Troutner’s piece is weak. The dangers he sees are real and I think both Pater Edmund and Smith don’t do enough to acknowledge how real those dangers are, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the Catholic abuse scandal. But the way Troutner tries to address those dangers is wrong in all the ways Pater Edmund noted.
That being said, I wonder if the cliched way of responding to what Pater Edmund and Smith are arguing for is actually helpful here: Is there some sense in which theirs is an over-realized eschatology that doesn’t sufficiently account for the ways in which sin twists and perverts our attempts to realize the good in this life? I don’t think this line gets us off the hook fully in the sense that it exonerates us from the call to integrate in some way the temporal and spiritual realms. But it probably should make us a bit more cautious and cautious in ways that probably lead us to something like Troutner’s position, but sourced in a more explicitly Christian way. Anyway, that’s my initial thought. But it may change with time.
Let me know what you think of the new format. I’m still thinking through things a bit, so any reader feedback is much appreciated.
Why do we marry, why take friends and lovers? Why give ourselves to music, painting, chemistry or cooking? Out of simple delight in the resident goodness of creation, of course; but out of more than that, too. Half earth’s gorgeousness lies hidden in the glimpsed city it longs to become.
~ Robert Farar Cappon