Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas With A Point

We need not assume the mantle of an anti-materialist to appreciate that a certain degree of social equilibrium is dismissed or ignored during the holidays, allowing for a lack of societal and personal restraint.  Many otherwise normal considerations are subsumed into the pursuit of a "happy" holiday.  All too often this demands we forgo normal obligations and long-held practices in the pursuit of temporal exuberance.  Of course, the holy seasons of Advent and Christmas are typically approached with a spirit of reverence and excitement, but when inherited customs are displaced, we provide an opportunity for other influences to prevail.  A cherished, but potentially wearisome tradition that can become corrupted is the giving of gifts.  The best gifts should encourage the family member or friend to live life to the fullest extent possible, while also pursuing the higher potentialities of their existence and their faith. 

After decades of giving presents that were usually dispensed with, or discarded in a few days, or "regifted" to aid another's frenzied pursuits, I became determined to give gifts with a point, or at least gifts that would connect the recipient with the larger social and political tradition of which they are part.  The gifts that are most likely to endure and fulfill the stated goal are books and fountain pens.  Gissing’s Ryecroft preferred books to food, a great book as a gift can provide sustenance that no other gift can.  A fountain pen reminds us of the power of writing, allows the writer to engage in his or her craft with a closeness unmatched by a keyboard or ballpoint, and is a novel and exceedingly pleasurable gift for anyone.  Here are some gifts with a point you might want to consider:

1-AndrĂ© Gushurst-Moore’s The Common Mind (Angelico Press, 2013) provides an elegantly written and philosophically convincing survey of the worldview Burke inherited and that he helped transmit to posterity.  The common mind, or Christian humanism, is understood from both the perspective of a philosophical inheritance and as a perpetual challenge to contemporary life as well; as a social and political tradition dependent on the ennobling of the good, the true, and beautiful; and, the exhibition of personal restraint, and an affirmation of the transcendent nature of existence.  Gushurst-Moore begins his defense of this tradition by engaging in a process of retrogression, examining the central figures who affirmed the common mind, beginning with Thomas More and concluding with Russell Kirk.
2-The new edition of Russell Kirk’s Prospects for Conservatives, the first imprint of ImaginativeConservative Books, should be on every Christmas list!  The tome contains a new introduction by Dr. Brad Birzer, and a new subtitle.   As one who possessed the largest and last remaining collection of the earlier version of this book, A Program for Conservatives, and shared the books with his Duke Divinity School colleagues in the early 1980s (much to their dismay),  this republication is an event of great and enduring importance.  (For the record, I gave the remaining hundred copies of the book that I purchased from a centenarian in California to the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal.)

 3-Of interest to students of theology, regardless of one’s persuasion, is yet another monumental contribution by Thomas C. Oden.  John Wesley’s Teaching: Volume 3, Pastoral Theology (Zondervan, 2013) affirms Wesley as a central figure in the Reformation, but more importantly, as a defender of classical, consensual Christianity.


4-If you seek to recover the lost world of prudential political rhetoric, and a time when statesmen outnumbered politicians, you might want to take at Patrick Henry-Onslow Debate: Liberty and Republicanism in American Political Thought (Lexington Books, 2013).  The disputed election of 1824 was one of the most important presidential elections in American history. After an indecisive electoral college vote, the House of Representatives selected John Quincy Adams as president over the more popular war hero, Andrew Jackson. As a result, John C. Calhoun ended up serving as vice-president under Adams. Neither man was comfortable in this situation as they were political rivals who held philosophically divergent views of American constitutional governance. The emerging personal and philosophical dispute between President Adams and Vice-President Calhoun eventually prompted the two men to take up their pens, using the pseudonyms “Patrick Henry” and “Onslow,” in a public debate over the nature of power and liberty in a constitutional republic. The great debate thus arrayed Calhoun’s Jeffersonian republican vision of constitutionally restrained power and local autonomy against Adams’s neo-Federalist republican vision which called for the positive use of inherent power—a view that would become increasingly compelling to future generations of Americans. In the course of this exchange some of the most salient issues within American politics and liberty are debated, including the nature of political order, democracy, and the diffusion of political power. The level of erudition and insight is remarkable.

 5. The Noble Fountain Pen.  My most pointed recommendation concerns the gift of a fountain pen during this holy season.  I prefer vintage pens, especially the old American varieties, Sheaffer, Waterman, and Parker among many others.  There are many traditional pen stores throughout the country that deserve commendation, and one of the best kept secrets in the Southeast is Joe Rodgers Office Supply in Cleveland, Tennessee, in the Chattanooga suburbs.  The owner, Greg Serum, offers the best supply of fountain pens and supplies you will encounter.  On-line sites worth visiting include: has an encyclopedic list of pen-related links as well that are of great assistance to anyone interesting in fine writing instruments:


Friday, October 25, 2013

Celebrating Russell Kirk's Conservative Mind!

The Conservative Mind’s Continuing Relevance at Sixty

by H. Lee Cheek
The Conservative Mind by Dr. Russell Kirk, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, still exerts considerable influence over the intellectual elements of American Conservatism. Dr. H. Lee Cheek delivers a lecture on this book as a for The McConnell Center at the University of Louisville's "Milestones of the 20th Century: Democracy in America" lecture series.
This is part of a series The Imaginative Conservative is publishing in honor of the sixtieth anniversary of Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind. Essays in the series may be found here.
Books mentioned in this lecture may be found in The Imaginative Conservative BookstoreRead more of this post

Lee Cheek | October 23, 2013 at 4:01 pm | URL:

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Excellent New History of Political Thought

Nemo, Philippe, A History of Political Ideas from Antiquity to the Middle Ages (Duquesne University Press, 2013)

As the first part of a two volume survey of political thought, Nemo (ESCP Europe) approaches the field of study in a manner different from many American texts.  Appealing to readers with “little prior knowledge” (viii) of political thought, the author provides a lucid, engaging introductory volume that will enlighten both the novice and the specialist.  The use of “historical context” (ix), combined with exceedingly accurate interpretations of primary texts, and the absence of ideological frameworks, contributes to the high overall quality of the book.  The work is divided into three long sections: Part One, Ancient Greece; Part Two, Rome; and Part Three, the Christian West.  In the introduction to Part Three a survey to the “political ideas” of the Bible is provided, including an accessible overview of Hebrew political thought.  Important, yet often neglected figures in Christian political thought, including Tertullian, Origen, and many other thinkers, are analyzed succinctly, yet thoughtfully.  This valuable and readable book deserves a wide readership.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013

AHI Fellow Lee Cheek Edits Book on the Great “Onslow” Debate

On September 4, 2013, in News & Events, by AHI Staff
The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) congratulates AHI Senior Fellow, H. Lee Cheek, on the publication of Patrick Henry-Onslow Debate: Liberty and Republicanism in American Political Thought (Lexington Books, 2013). Dr. Cheek co-edited the volume, which gathers documents on one of the most momentous political debates about the meaning of republican government in the decades before the Civil War.

The debate followed the disputed Election of 1824. After an indecisive electoral college vote, the House of Representatives selected John Quincy Adams as president over the more popular war hero, Andrew Jackson. As a result, John C. Calhoun ended up serving as vice-president under Adams. Neither man was comfortable in this situation as they were political rivals who held philosophically divergent views of American constitutional governance. The emerging personal and philosophical dispute between President Adams and Vice-President Calhoun eventually prompted the two men (and Adams’s political supporters) to take up their pens, using the pseudonyms “Patrick Henry” and “Onslow,” in a public debate over the nature of power and liberty in a constitutional republic.
“The great debate,” notes Kevin Gutzman of Western Connecticut State University, a recent guest of the AHI, “arrayed Calhoun’s Jeffersonian republican vision of constitutionally restrained power and local autonomy against Adams’s neo-Federalist republican vision which called for the positive use of inherent power—a view that would become increasingly compelling to future generations of Americans.” The debate between Vice President John C. Calhoun (‘Onslow’) and President John Quincy Adams or his ally (‘Patrick Henry’) captures the clash between Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian views at a pivotal moment in American history.
While the debate has not received the scholarly attention it deserves, the publication of this new book will reawaken interest in the vital dialogue. The volume also features a blurb from AHI Charter Fellow Robert Paquette: “The debate between ‘Patrick Henry’ and ‘Onslow,’ said Paquette, “fought out in the pages of Washington newspapers in 1826, speaks to the idea of competing visions, present at the founding of the United States, of republican government. The editors of this timely volume return us to a lost world in which a seemingly small incident in the Senate could spark within the highest levels of government a deep and candid public analysis of the dialectic of liberty and power and its relation to the problem of limited government. Cheek and company deserve applause for this illuminating act of recovery.”

Dr. Cheek is Chairman and Professor of the Department of Political Science, East Georgia State College, in Swainsboro, Georgia. His many publications include Calhoun and Popular Rule (2001).

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Kant's Folly

Kant on History and Culture as a Means to Ethical Evolution

by H. Lee Cheek, Jr.
Immanuel Kant
The “Conjectural Beginning of Human History”[1] is Kant’s attempt to recast the creation story of Genesis. The procreative act of Yahweh is cooperative in the sense heaven and earth are combined, as well as the essence of the Divine and humankind. According to Genesis 2:4, creation is the work of generations (toldoth); however, Kant’s creation is presented as a single, direct act; this account varies substantially from the complex series of events presented in the Book of Genesis which also contain a multiplicity of creative acts–and they are all the result of divine intervention. Kant prefers to change the circumstances of the origin of creation, making his essay a revolutionary enterprise. He inserts a “plan” whereby we can only improve out proverbial lot in life through individual efforts. On the other hand, the Biblical narrative allows us to possess most human facilities from the moment we enter the garden. As the result of the Fall, Kant decides to present humankind as moving from a beastlike state to a more civilized condition.
The simple eidos of the account in Genesis takes the form of an ontological understanding of the universe; human existence becomes connected with the symbolization of creation. Kant’s creation narrative is a rejection of this aspect of the Biblical tradition, although as Stanley Rosen suggests, it provides Kant with a propitious opportunity to give his own version of the event.[2] The division Kant has chosen (Genesis 2-6) cannot be separated from a more substantial tradition. Kant has learned a tactic from the greatest manipulator of Genesis, Sir Robert Filmer, who used the initial chapter of Genesis to defend divine right monarchy. In due course, Locke, Sidney and others would refute this exploitation of the text, and deliver their own distortions of various sorts. Filmer and Kant commit the same error. The books Genesis to Joshua (Hexateuch), in their present form, constitute an immense, connected narrative. In either case, wherever one begins, the reader must keep in mind the narrative as a whole, and the contexts into which all the individual parts fit, and from which they are to be understood.
Kant’s enterprise is based upon a denigration of the theophanic event, as it is traditionally understood. To dismiss the most important historical factors that are introduced as “intermediate causes,” Kant argues, is to “originate an historical account from conjectures alone.”[3] The result of such an approach is to present “a mere piece of fiction.”[4] God expresses Himself through His actions and these events are evidenced by the instances where we are told “God knew” of the situation in the garden, although in Kant’s account the garden is the result of a bountiful nature instead of a procreative action of the Divine. The Biblical account of Genesis presents God as always participating in human history and maintaining a desire to improve the lot of humanity, albeit God does not always take an active role in these activities.
The revelatory acts Kant disparages in his “history” are the most prominent examples of the continuation of the Berith that can be found in Genesis and the Hebrew Bible. The precursor to a covenant is renewed and ratified at various intervals throughout the book; the mutual presence of God and humankind in the dialogue Kant has chosen to exegete is expanded into the mutual presence of God and his people.
Kant and many contemporary biblical scholars argue that the structure and presentation of the creation idea are part of a cosmological world responding to the problems it was forced to encounter. Cosmological humans, from this perspective, did not possess the modern tools of explanation and were forced to depend on this vocabulary. The “story” presented in the first two chapters of Genesis is part of a larger canon of explanations of the universe. The Genesis story should be considered along with the Babylonian epic and other Memphite works as accounts that attempt to illuminate the creative act. Unfortunately, Kant and his epigones have failed to appreciate the reality of the event, and he is unsuccessful at reintroducing his version of a symbolic explication.
Kant insinuates his solution to the “inevitable conflict between culture and the human species” when he satires Herder’s most ancient “document” of the human race by referring to it as the ancient “part” of human existence: contentment with Providence.”[5] What then follows comes into being through a process of nature, and the movement can generally be said to be from the natural to the moral. This more highly differentiated “justification of nature”[6] called providence diverges significantly from the Christian idea of providence as the foreknowledge of the Divine used in a way to protect His people on earth. The use of nature also takes on a more regimented meaning, implying it may be teleological in form. Providence must then be understood as the role of Kantian nature in history.[7]
Although Kant is influenced by Rousseau, he rejects Rousseau’s philosophy of history. For Kant, human history is a transition directly related to an “analogy of nature.”[8] He argues that the original state of humankind cannot be denied, but he suggests it is not a state of crudeness because nature “has already taken mighty steps in the skillful use of its powers.”[9] Kant then proceeds to acknowledge the movement from natural instinct alone to a new state of power.
Kant observed that the development of humankind as a moral lot could ameliorate the conflict between culture and species. Humankind for Kant can be considered to be developing towards a healthy end: humans alone are able to move beyond a brutish state of existence to a more humane life. But humanity is faced with at least three different types of dissatisfactions related to this new freedom. Natural maturity precedes civil maturity. While a young person may possess the physical ability to procreate and raise a family, he or she does not usually have the “civil” qualifications for another ten years, according to Kant. This is alleviated as humans develop into ethical beings, but there will be an intermittent period of misery. Kant introduces the limitation of age as prohibiting humankind from achieving our moral potential. This is followed by the problem of human inequality and the imposition of a “civil right” as the solution to the problem.[10] Albeit flawed, Kant can now provide the distinctions that are necessary to make his approach coherent.
The situation becomes even more complicated when the foundation of moral education, culture, is unable to fulfill its role in society. Culture, in a Kantian context, should be understood not as an aesthetic pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful, but as overarching basis for the moral improvement of all humans. Culture can provide for human freedom if it can transcend nature. Culture is incapable of changing the original needs of humankind, as its success is limited to the manufactured desires resulting from humankind’s use of reason. At the end of the day, we have some form of civil society, premised upon autonomous decision-making (avoiding the “heteronomy of the will”) that resembles our inordinate faith in reason as the guide to the moral life.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Are conservatives still conservative?"
  • Consider this and more in the McConnell Center's first lecture of Fall 2013. East Georgia State College's Lee Cheek will consider "The Conservative Mind at 60: Russell Kirk's Continuing Relevance in American Politics" on Sept. 10, 6-7 p.m., in Chao Auditorium (Ekstrom Library, University of Louisville).

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Excellent, Nuanced Critique of Tocqueville

A Review of Lucien Jaume's Tocqueville: The Aristocratic Sources of Liberty (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013).

While this profound, and elegantly written and translated work, will not appeal to all scholars of political thought, Jaume (Centre Recherche Politiques de Sciences Po) nevertheless provides many insights into the life and work of the great French student of American social and political life.  Emphasizing the contribution of Democracy in America, the author suggests that the best interpretative model for understanding Tocqueville incorporates an appreciation for his historical context, arguing that Tocqueville should not be considered as our “contemporary” (p. 8); an acknowledgement of his attachment to French ideas; and a realization of the opaque nature of his critique (a “palette of meanings,” p. 9).  Jaume proceeds to analyze Tocqueville as a political scientist, sociologist, moralist, and literary figure.  As a political scientist, Tocqueville is an advocate of popular rule with an organic view of politics, and a defender of the diffusion of political authority and localism.  Society begets political arrangements, and for Tocqueville, “society creates paths to its own ends” (p. 95).  As a moralist, Tocqueville attempts to unite the “telos of democracy and the dignity of man” (p. 186).  Finally, as a writer, Tocqueville is an “aristocratic moralist” (p. 326).

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Cheek on the Next Pope

Electing a pope is a complicated, mysterious process

During his 2008 visit to the United States, Pope Bendict XVI visited and spoke at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Catholic University of America.)
Dr. Lee Cheek
Dr. Lee Cheek
Pope Benedict XVI resigned Feb. 28 after nearly eight years as leader of the Roman Catholic Church. Lee Cheek Jr., professor of political science and religion at the University of North Georgia, discusses the complicated and mysterious process for electing a new pope. Cheek earned his divinity degree at Duke University and his doctorate at the Catholic University of America. He has written several books and scholarly articles on politics and religion and currently serves as a senior fellow of the Alexander Hamilton Institute and the Academy of Philosophy and Letters.

How unusual is the current status of the papacy?
The last time a pope resigned was Pope Gregory XII in 1415 during the "Great Schism," but canon law does allow for the potential for a pope to resign. Pope Benedict's resignation has become a media event because it is so rare, but his resignation is not a statement about Pope Benedict XVI's papacy or the status of the Roman Catholic Church itself. I believe it is a very thoughtful approach to the end of his pontificate from a man who is one of the most gifted theologians of the 21st century, and I expect he will continue his scholarly writings as Pope Emeritus.

How has the process for electing a pope changed throughout the centuries?
There are many things that we don't know because we do not have a lot of observation or knowledge of the world inside the Vatican, and electing a pope is a very secretive process. For the most part, the process is largely unchanged since the 13th century. In 1996, then-Pope John Paul II issued a new apostolic constitution that governs the election of the pope to allow for a 15-day waiting period before the process begins. On Feb. 25, Benedict XVI rescinded that waiting period for the election of his successor to allow for a quick succession of power. With the conclave beginning this week, we will probably have a new pope before the Christian holy week.

What is the process for electing the pope?
When the reign of a pope ends, the College of Cardinals, also called the conclave, is summoned to the Vatican; the next pope typically is among them. There currently are 183 cardinals living in 52 countries; only the 117 cardinals younger than 80 are eligible to vote for the pope.
The cardinals stay together at Saint Martha's House throughout the process and have no interaction with the outside world, though they will have discussions among themselves and will potentially advocate certain candidates. When the conclave is ready to begin, the voting cardinals are locked into the Sistine Chapel and the doors are sealed with ribbons and wax.
Electing a new pope is a very holy and spiritual process and the conclave begins each day with prayer. During voting, the cardinals sit across from each other in two rows, ballots are distributed, and each cardinal marks his ballot with a name and carries it to a gold plate at the front of the chapel. Ballots are transferred to a sacred chalice and the votes are tallied. The dean of the conclave announces who has received the most votes and the process is repeated until one candidate receives a two-thirds majority. The ballots are burned after each vote; black smoke means no pope has been elected, white smoke means a pope has been elected.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who took the name Benedict XVI, was elected pope in 24 hours after just two votes, but it has taken as long as a year in other cases. Typically, the process takes a couple of weeks.
Things move quickly after a pope is elected; the dean of the conclave immediately asks the candidate if he accepts. If so, the cardinals pledge their allegiance to the new pope and he is immediately presented the white vestments worn only by the pope.
The world is introduced to the new pope when the dean of the College of Cardinals steps out onto the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica to proclaim "Habemus Papam," Latin for "We have a pope."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

An Exemplary Study of Nietzsche as Political Philosopher

A Review of William H. F. Altman's Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche: The Philosopher of the Second Reich (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2013).

In this imaginative and refined commentary on Nietzsche’s political thought, Altman provides an incisive critique of the achievement of Nietzsche, as well as his limitations.  The work is the third volume of a trilogy on German political thought, following earlier studies by the author of Heidegger and Leo Strauss.  Utilizing Nietzsche’s own aphoristic style as evinced in his Daybreak, the main arguments of the text are presented in the course of five chapters (“books”) composed of 155 essays, and 63 pages of notes, and other ancillary writings.  The first chapter critiques Nietzsche as the classicist who looked to the past, but equally to the future, to evaluate the crisis of liberal institutions in his own time and place.  Chapter Two even more explicitly demonstrates Nietzsche’s connection to the political world of the Second Reich.  Nietzsche’s criticism of Plato, and his rather limited appreciation of Aristotle, are presented in Chapter 3.  Nietzsche’s defense of aristocratic elitism, and his assimilation and use of Platonic themes, especially dualism, are assessed convincingly by the author as well.  The two final chapters place Nietzsche within the historical context of the Second Reich, providing insightful reflections on Nietzsche’s influence during World War I.