The political philosophy of manners—and a chance to win a new book on how to start a Renaissance!

Infusing goodness, beauty, and truth into our public discourse

Issue No. 7

Gracious Reader, 

Merry Christmas! I hope you had a wonderful holiday with loved ones. Among the many things I am grateful for this Advent season is people like you—curious and committed to moral and intellectual renewal in America today. Such renewal is the end and purpose of this monthly missive. To that end, thank you for being a part of this newsletter! As always, I promise to do my utmost to make it worth your while, sharing with you the latest of my work, as well as other simulating stories and features from around the world and web.

In the news: 

Essay in TIME Magazine on what our manners reveal about our values
Sunday, October 27th was the one-hundred-forty-seventh anniversary of the birth of Emily Post, America’s most famous manners expert. And in my first essay for TIME, I explore what  manners  show about American cultural values—a faith in social equality and meritocracy. For a member of the social elite, Post was very egalitarian: As she wrote in her seminal 1922 book, “Best Society is not a fellowship of the wealthy, nor does it take to exclude those who are not of exulted birth; but it is an association of gentle folk, of which good form in speech, charm of manner, knowledge of the social amenities, and instinctive consideration for the feelings of others, are the credentials by which society the world over recognize it’s chosen members.” According to Post, kindness and good breeding are open to anyone who takes the time to study and practice their ways. Her lesson is timeless, and still very much relevant today. Read the essay here.

Essay in Spectator USA on the relationship between manners and morals
Across time and place, philosophers, moralists, and self-help gurus have teased out about the relationship between manners and morality. Among the people who recognize the deeper moral significance of norms include Petrarch, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Edmund Burke, Jane Austen, and Emily Post; all claimed that the foundation of true civility is ethics, a word derived from the Greek ethos, or character. Conduct formed character, the concluded, with Edmund Burke famously concluding that ‘Manners are of more importance than laws.’  Burke explained that ‘Upon them in a great measure, the Laws depend. The Law touches us but here and there, and now and then. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in.’ Continuing reading here

Essay in The American Conservative comparing the life and thought of J.S Mill and Emily Post
In order to make completely sure that I cornered the Emily Post market for October, I published an essay for The American Conservative comparing the thought of J.S. Mill—the ultimate non-conformist, with Emily Post—the ultimate conformist. Strange bedfellows, I know! But it made for an interesting essay to write and—I hope an intriguing one to read! Mill famously condemned the social expectations of the Victorian era in which he lived: “[Society’s] ideal of character is to be without any marked character; to maim by compression, like a Chinese lady’s foot, every part of human nature which stands out prominently, and tends to make the person markedly dissimilar in outline to commonplace humanity.” Whereas Post encouraged her readers to “Try to do and say those things only which will be agreeable to others” and to “follow the customs of the locality in which they live. In other words to do exactly as your neighbors do is the only sensible rule.” Can we learn from them both? Read more of the piece here and find out! 

Read this before claiming social media is bad for democracy
It was great to speak with a journalist from PBS’s Rewire to discuss how social media skews our perception of the level of incivility in our current moment. It’s easy to look at the good parts of the past through rose colored glasses—for example, the statesmanship and gentility of Ancient Rome or the American founding era— and compare them with the worst elements of our own, such as toxic discourse on social media, which neither Ancient Rome nor the Founding Fathers could have ever imagined. The good news, though, is that what we hear and read on social media isn’t reflective of our how divided our body politic really is. I’m very grateful for the chance to discuss this—as well as how to bring back civility to our current public discourse, which you can learn about here—with Rewire in November. 

Miscellany:
Lecture on Civil Discourse Across Political Divides
What a pleasure it was to travel to St. Lawrence University in beautiful (and snowy!) Canton, NY to spend a day with students and faculty talking about civility. I spent the morning with students in a senior seminar class who had spent the semester studying Jane Austen’s works. I spoke about civility in Austen, her works, and the Victorian era. Among the ideas I discussed was the difference between civility and politeness, civility as a tool of social division versus as a tool of unity, and civility as a means of using people as ends versus  respecting people as ends in themselves. In the evening, it was an honor to deliver the inaugural lecture in a series called Civil Discourse Across Political Divides. I spoke about the importance of civility to American democracy specifically, and human flourishing generally. Grateful that St. Lawrence is leading such an important and timely conversation, which you can learn more about here.


A curious invitation pertaining to Russia and free markets

I received an unexpected request earlier this December: would I like to appear on RT (formerly Russia Today) and talk about the importance of capitalism? I’ve had few more peculiar Thursdays! It ended up being a great opportunity to talk about a few of my favorite things to an audience in over one hundred countries around the world: the social and cultural dispositions of trust and civic virtue necessary to sustain democratic and free market institutions, Adam Smith and personal morality, and the conditions of human flourishing. See part of the clip here.

I had the great honor of meeting Steve Forbes this past September at the awards ceremony for the Novak Fellowship. It was wonderful to lunch with him a few months later, this past November, and to learn the story of how his grandfather started a nascent publication from scratch in the early 1900s, and saw it through worldwide crisis and economic depression with hard work and self-sacrifice. During the Great Depression, for example, he asked his workers to take a salary cut—but he didn’t take a salary at all for a number of years!  Thankful for gentlemen such as Mr. Forbes who care about the importance of good theory and ideas informing our political discourse today.

Things I’m reading:

We are not as divided as we think

The New York Times ran an interesting article on partisanship in America that argued that partisanship—at least at the individual level—is not as bad as many might think.  The reality is that most people are not as ideologically rigid or extreme as either our political leaders or social media and television personalities. In fact, for most people, politics is not the be all end all. This is hopeful reminder for the future of our nation. Find the full article here.

The surprising roots of modern social justice concepts
This fascinating essay published by Heterodox Academy explains how many of the progressive social justice concepts we associate with college campuses today—including “trigger warnings,” “safe spaces,” and more—have their roots in a good and important cultural shift during the post-Vietnam War era, when experts began to take seriously post-traumatic stress disorders. These concepts were studied and introduced as a means of taking the psychological trauma of war seriously. Well worth the read!

The Forgotten Virtue
In this article, Dr. James Hankins, a professor of Renaissance and intellectual history at Harvard University,  revives insights from the Renaissance value of humanitas—love of humanity—that a liberal arts education was intended to cultivate. Renaissance humanists understood humanitas roughly in the way we think of  civility; it  was intended to counteract our natural predisposition to immanitas, our innate human impulse to dominate and be cruel to our fellow man. Dr. Hankins’ insights have caused me to think more about the nature of true civility—as something more that merely an aesthetic penchant or conversational virtue, but as something truly moral and foundational to human community. Read the essay and let me know what you think!

Virtue Politics: Soulcraft and Statecraft in Renaissance Italy
This just-released book by Dr. James Hankins, whose work I first discovered last year via the article discussed above, offers many insights into how to bring about intellectual and moral reform in our own moment. Stay tuned for my interview with him on his new book for Quillette’s podcast this coming month. For a chance to win this important new book, forward this newsletter to a friend and let me know, or share it on social media—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.—and tag me (so I see it!). I’ll enter all names, and draw one Jan 1st. Good luck! The link to share this newsletter can be found hereI will draw a winner January 1st, 2020!

Make “Porching” Great Again

Novak 2019 Fellowship
It is my profound honor to have been awarded 2019 Novak Fellowship for my original journalism on American civic renewal.  Run by The Fund for American Studies and named after eminent journalist Robert Novak, the awards ceremony occurred at the Metropolitan Club in New York Sept 12th. Throughout the year that I am a Novak Fellow, the program offers financial support and writing mentorship. Find the link to the official announcement here.

The project for which I won the Novak Fellowship is my current book project, tentatively entitled Make “Porching” Great Again: How Front Porch Citizenship Can Save Democracy and the Soul of a Nation. This book relays my research over the last year and a half, investigating ways that Americans across the country are healing their social fabric, creating new institutions, and fixing problems that effect our nation everywhere, right where they are. My research shows that, as Tocqueville praised in 1835, America is still a nation of fixers. Inspired by the seminal essay “From Front Porch to Patio” in The Palimpsest by Richard H. Thomas, my book unpacks the concept of “porching” as a cultural metaphor for the ways that people engage in local solutions to fix local problems—and how people are “Front Porch Citizens” no matter where they live. Stay tuned for more updates about my forthcoming book!

To Heal Polarization, It’s Time To Revive Popular Art
It was a surprising privilege to be asked by POLITICO Magazine to contribute to their series “How to Fix Our Politics.” In the “How to Fix Polarization” sub category, my proposal of reviving thoughtful and inspiring patriotic art was alongside many other fascinating ideas, from Jonathan Haidt, Francis Fukuyama, Mitt Romney, and many other great leaders of our day. Would love your thoughts on my essay, and on what you think is the most innovative solution in the series! Find it here.

Things I’m reading: 

When the Culture War Comes for the Kids. This fascinating essay in The Atlantic recounts one father’s experience navigating the complex and convoluted system of New York’s private and public schools. He describes his disillusionment with the radical and doctrinal approach schools and administrators took toward very personal and controversial policy issues. Touching on important questions of our day such as education, meritocracy, and the definition of “equality,” I think you’ll find this essay thoughtful and worth your time.

The Reporter Fired In The “Busch Light Guy” Scandal Said He Feels “Abandoned” By The Des Moines Register.  When a reporter published unflattering tweets made by a local celebrity in Iowa—who had become famous for appearing on television holding a sign asking for beer money, and then ultimately raising a million dollars for charity—crowds retaliated against the reporter by people uncovering tweets that the reporter had made. This story gets to the heart of questions about “cancel culture” and the extent to which we should hold others accountable for words said, deeds done, and tweets sent years or decades in the past. In our post-Christian era, it seems we have kept notions of judgement, but forgone the concept of grace. Why? 

Trickle Down Norms. This National Affairs essay argues that, a la Charles Murray’s thesis in Coming Apart, the lifestyle habits of elites trickle down to effect the rest of the nation for better and for worse. Though the essay’s author is optimistic that elites have good habits today, he is rather pessimistic about issues of growing inequality and lessening economic opportunity for people outside of the middle class. I think the author is unduly pessimistic because he misses some key data points—such as the fact that parental involvement has increased over the last three decades across racial and socioeconomic lines. I’m also of the opinion that the author hasn’t sufficiently studied and observed some of the community building at the local level across the country—all across socio-economic lines—the gap in our national conversation I hope my book will fill. All in all, an interesting read! 

Miscellany:
The Goodwood Revival: My husband and I stepped back in time earlier this month when we attended the Goodwood Revival, a vintage car race in southern England. All the cars raced were from the 1940s through the 1960’s, and—in proper, peak-English manner—all of the attendees were dressed to the nines in era-appropriate attire.

Can Popular Art Revive American Identity?

Debut on Fox News
Has our existential crisis of meaning in America contributed to mass shootings? Why is American health care so expensive? It was great to discuss these important topics and more with Steve Hilton on Fox News’ Next Revolution in-studio last weekend in New York. You can watch here—I welcome your thoughts!

How Did the ‘Religion of Humanity’ Replace Christianity?
In The Catholic Herald, I reviewed Dan Mahoney’s latest book, about the idol of our age in our post-Christian culture. Read the review–and find a Dostoyevskian interpretation of our secular, materialist age–here.

Can Popular Art Revive American Identity?
It was a wonderfully full July as I hosted over six events for our rare books and art exhibit about American identity, including a day with over 150 high school students, a conversation on citizenship with an esteemed panel, and more. It was amazing to see students and audiences come alive with excitement about ideas and this important conversation about what we have in common as Americans. Find a two-minute documentary of the exhibit here.

A Little American Myth-Making Never Hurt Anyone
We live in a myth-starved world. Throughout time and place, people have understood themselves and the world around them through stories. From Gilgamesh, Odysseus, Aeneas, and Hercules, to Sinbad, King Arthur, and Thor, heroes have served an important role in embodying cultural ideals. And no figure better embodies American mythology and ideals than our nation’s first President. Here you can read about mythmaking in America, past and present—and how a revival of storytelling can heal our country.

The Truth About Civility

I had a lovely time talking about civility with my friend Ericka Andersen on her podcast. You can listen to our conversation here.

Discussing Forgiveness & Stand-Up Comedy on the Lisa Valentine Show
In our post-Christian culture, we’ve kept the Christian notion of judgment but forgotten the Christian virtue of forgiveness. This applies to the evolving landscape of stand-up comedy, and that’s a major problem; time and place, comics have been society’s truth-tellers. I talked about this and much more on the Lisa Valentine Show on BYU Radio. Listen here.

Interviewing EconTalk’s Russ Roberts
Can capitalism without morality survive? I asked Russ Roberts, of EconTalk and the Hoover Institution, this question and many more. Listen to our Adam Smith-filled conversation, for the American Institute for Economic Research’s new podcast, here.

Things I’m reading: 
Training your mind the way athletes train their bodies.
No son of mine is going to be a Benthamite Utilitarian. This is a John Stuart Mill family, dammit!
When memes dehumanize: the story of Florida Man.
How might we recover our lost love of humanity? A look to the Renaissance might help.

Miscellany:

I had a very fun evening on set in San Antonio with the cast of the new Karl Marx and Ludwig von Mises rap video produced by AIER—coming this September! Our AIER team were extras, pretending to be the “wealthy patrons,” and Marx’s nemeses!

The Re-Opening of the American Mind

The Beauty of Front Porch Citizenry
It’s been my pleasure to help curate an art and rare books exhibit that will help revive a conversation about a shared American identity. There is a hunger across the country for an intellectually rigorous conversation on this topic—and a dire need for it in our deeply divided moment. Our main event will bring together  Congressman Lee Hamilton, Indiana Supreme Court Justice Randy Shepard, and other Hoosier statesmen and women to talk about these issues. Find more information and reserve a place by clicking here.

Quillette interview with Francis Fukuyama
I recently had the honor of interviewing one of the greatest thinkers of our day, Dr. Francis Fukuyama. In an interview for Quillette’spodcast, I question Dr. Fukuyama about themes in his latest book, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment. I ask him if there are downsides to national unity, we discuss today’s #BlackLivesMatter movement and the post-Civil-War Freedmen’s Bureau, and he explains how trust in institutions—widely known to have been declining for decades and at record lows—can be regained. You can listen here—I welcome your thoughts!

Comments in Forbes on the ethics of tech companies benefiting from bombastic internet personalities
Forbes asked me to comment on YouTube’s recent move to “demonetize”  self-proclaimed right-of-center comedian Steven Crowder. YouTube’s was a controversial decision, and it has opened up an important discussion regarding the obligations these platforms have to censor content. I argued that social networking sites have sowed the seeds of their own destruction: They “benefit from the addictive nature of their platforms, and their algorithms favor sensational and bombastic users who play on people’s baser instincts. Yet once those users, fed by fame and influence, invariably begin to test the limits of our public discourse, social media platforms are criticized for being the arbiters of what is and is not acceptable.” Find the full story here.

Guest Speaker at Better Angels National Convention and comments in Real Clear Politics
I was privileged to be invited to give a few words on the topic of national identity at the Better Angels Conference in St. Louis this past weekend. I argued that we do have an American identity—one defined by our founding ideals of equal human dignity and our shared commitment to self-governance—and that we must learn from our imperfect application of theses ideals in our past and present, and strive ever more for them in our future. I love how another delegate put it: “I know there are some ideals that all Americans can agree on—but we don’t know what they are because we’ve stopped talking about them.” This is frighteningly true, which is why I ceaselessly talk of ideals! See coverage of the Convention here.

Tech start-up fostering civil discourse & Interview on Chicago’s Morning Answer
I wrote an essay for the American Institute for Economic Research on the latest in a series of new start-ups and initiatives fostering civil public discourse. It’s one of my favorite essays I’ve ever written,and you can find it here. In addition to Tyler Cowen sharing the piece on his esteemed blog Marginal Revolution, Chicago’s Morning Answer was kind enough to invite me on to discuss the way technology can improve  civility in our public discourse. Listen to the interview here.

Essay on David Brooks and Aspen Institute’s #WeaveThePeople for the Independent Institute.
As part of my work with the Independent Institute highlighting groups healing our civil discourse, I wrote about my time with David Brooks at the #WeaveThePeople conference, a gathering of people from across the country “reweaving” their community’s social fabric. The piece is entitled, The Revolution You’ve Never Heard Of: The Group of Subversive Citizens Reclaiming the Civic Sphere, and you can read it here.

Trinity Western University alumni profile: Rediscovering the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.
It was beyond kind of my alma mater, Trinity Western University, to profile me for their monthly alumni magazine. I shared with them my struggle to merge my love of ideas with my government service, and I discussed my work attempting to foment a moral and intellectual revolution renewal for my generation. To that end, it’s been thrilling to curate a selection of rare books from the Remnant Trust collection for an exhibition at Trinity Western this fall. The exhibition will  foster Trinity Western’s claim to the rich intellectual tradition that is the Christian liberal arts.

An assortment of essays for the American Institute of Economic Research (AIER) on pop culture, books, philosophy, and current affairs:

  • A Case for Civility in Public Debate
    I weighed in on a public debate over whether civility is a barrier to achieving one’s political ends—I argued that yes, it certainly can be, but that means matter: justice at any cost is not justice at all. I recall a famous debate between Erasmus of Rotterdam and Martin Luther over the freedom of the will to illuminate what is at stake when we talk about civility.
  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and the Sisyphean Pursuit of Happiness
    In the midst of my travels the past few months, I took up  a show called “Crazy Ex Girlfriend.” In this essay, I  offer an interpretation of the protagonist’s pursuit of happiness through the lens of Albert Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus
  • The Answer to the Social Media Conundrum Will Not Come From Government
    In this essay, I argue that threatening to regulate social media companies overlooks the central challenge with any new technology. Instead of regulation, we should be focusing on how to encourage people to use internet freedom responsibly—which is a far more difficult, but also far more important, task.
  • Remember the Good Social Media Has Achieved
    I reviewed Human Liberty 2.0, an excellent new book that highlights many instances where social media promoted human rights and democracy—an important and often overlooked side of the story, as we live in a moment where politicians on both the left and the right are quick to condemn tech giants.


My first video essay for AIER
In this video, I explain how The Faux Etiquette of Political Correctness Today Is Reminiscent of Louis XIV’s Etiquette at Versailles. I invoke Doctor Johnson, who reminds us that there is nothing inherently virtuous about using politically correct language in order to appear “unbiased” and “inclusive.” Johnson’s definition of “mouth-honour,” a term originally used by Macbeth, aptly describes the problem: “civility outwardly expressed without sincerity.” The full video is here!

Russ Roberts’ remarks on Adam Smith at Liberty Fund

My husband Kian and I had an extraordinary time at Russ Roberts’ speech on Adam Smith and the harmony of everyday life. We adore listening to EconTalk together, and I also have the privilege of interviewing Russ next month for AIER’s newly launched podcast!

Zuckerberg, The Digital Gutenberg

Zuckerberg: The Digital Gutenberg
I had the privilege of spending time in Aspen last winter to partake in a Socrates Seminar—a program of the Aspen Institute—that discussed the changing role of the media. We examined how the 2016 election and social media have contributed to a decline in institutional trust, as well as how “dangerous” information spreads at a heretofore unknown speed. Since that meeting last February, I’ve been pondering a historical analogue to our current moment: the rise of Gutenberg’s printing press and Martin Luther’s use of the new technology to sow “dangerous” ideas—ideas that sowed seeds of mistrust in society’s big religious and political institutions. I published the fruit of a year of so of pondering on these ideas last week in Areo Magazine

Wabash College’s Democracy and Public Discourse Initiative
As part of my work with the Independent Institute to highlight groups across America working to heal our social fabric and public discourse, I wrote about Wabash College’s Democracy and Public Discourse initiative. The program trains students in deliberative processes and scholarship and then deploys the students to communities across Indiana to help solve “wicked problems”— seemingly intractable issues with many causes and no simple solutions. You can learn more about their fascinating work here.

Louis XIV Invented the Faux Etiquette of Political Correctness
I recently became a research fellow with the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), one of the oldest think tanks in the United States. My first piece for AIER looked at the ever-changing notions of what is and is not “political correct” parallel the rules of etiquette in seventeenth-century Versailles, where the Sun King used social norms as a means of political control. I invoke Doctor Johnson, who reminds us that there is nothing inherently virtuous about using politically correct language in order to appear “unbiased” and “inclusive.” Johnson’s definition of “mouth-honour,” a term originally used by Macbeth, aptly describes the problem: “civility outwardly expressed without sincerity.” Check out the full essay on here.

The Secret Behind the Success of Avengers Endgame
This month, I dabbled in foreign territory for a student of history: pop culture. My own research has me on a classical history kick, exploring how the mythology of the Greco-Roman world was essential to culture formation and identity building. I was wondering whether a lack of common mythology is a reason for our fragmented culture today, and as I described this idea to a friend, he said, “American Myth? That’s Avengers!”  This happened to be opening weekend for the latest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series, so we went to see it. I discovered my friend was right! The stories of the Avengers are riveting because they are familiar. This essay tracks the historical and mythological precedents to some of the characters, and explores why myth and storytelling are essential to any culture: they way they help us understand ourselves. You can find the essay at AIER.

What the Game of Thrones Finale Can Teach Us About Politics Today
My husband Kian and I joined millions around the world last weekend in watching the series finale of Game of Thrones. It was beloved by some fans, bemoaned by others, but here at AIER I argue that it ultimately offers us some important lessons on politics today: justice at any cost is not justice at all.

Treat Others the Way Chick-fil-A Treats You
“Here at Chick-fil-A, we treat our colleagues in the back kitchen as well as we treat our customers,” I recently overheard a Chick-fil-A supervisor sharing with a new employee. Chick-fil-A’s unfailingly good customer service has always fascinated me, but listening to this exchange prompted me to dig a  bit deeper into the secret behind their success and customer loyalty. Discover that secret here.

Weave: The Social Fabric Project
Last week I was invited to attend the first national meeting of “Weavers” as part of a new community-building initiative led by David Brooks and The Aspen Institute. Over three hundred local leaders from across the country met in Washington D.C. to discuss how they are working to heal our fragmented social fabric and to learn from and encourage one another along the way. It was a privilege to be there, particularly because the gathering ties into my current book project, which highlights the stories of people doing this important work across America (in a continuation of my article The Curious Reemergence of Little Platoons).

Speaking at a Paris Rotary Club
It was an honor to be invited to offer a few remarks to the Rotary Club of Paris last week. I spoke on the difference between politeness and civility—the former has roots firmly in Europe’s royal courts, while the latter emerges from a more democratic recognition of the basic dignity in our fellow man. I was able to offer a few words in French, and then to my surprise had a translator for the remainder of my talk—which meant I had to cut my speech in half at the last minute! My audience was generous, and it was in sum a lovely evening and trip.

Mitch Daniels Leadership Foundation

I’m thrilled to have been asked to be a part of the Mitch Daniels Leadership Foundation Fellow class for 2018–19. The fellowship brings together young leaders from around Indiana for different events and educational opportunities, with the objective of empowering them to effect positive change in the Hoosier State. It was wonderful to meet the fellow members of my class this past week, and end the day at a reception in the lovely home of Mitch and Cheri Daniels. 

In Search of the American Character

Better Angels Debates
I was recently commissioned by California’s Independent Institute  to profile initiatives across the country trying to heal our public discourse. In my first profile, I featured Better Angels Debates, a new initiative that Better Angels is undertaking on college and high schools across the country to foster rigorous discourse and the collective pursuit of truth. We live in a divided moment where issues of the first order are at stake. These issues  need to be discussed, but we also live in an era where there are high costs to have the “wrong” opinion. How can this tension be resolved? Read more and learn about one potential solution!

What Does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Mean Today?
Recently for Quillette, I explored the precepts of one of the most important documents in human history: The Universal Declaration of Human rights, which turned 70 in December. The United Nations may be flawed and—justifiably—unpopular today. But this document—which was created following a half-century that was not only among  the bloodiest in human history but was also filled with some of the most egregious atrocities imaginable—unabashedly declared the irreducible worth of persons, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, gender or rank. This message is timeless. We are becoming more and more removed from the darkness in our past, with members of that generation, such as George H.W. Bush, passing away. Do we risk losing sight of the ideals that emerged out of this darkness? I explore the history of human dignity and the UDHR in: What Does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Mean Today?

Daily Signal Podcast: Recovering the Lost Art of Civility
The Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal generously invited me on their podcast to discuss the state of civility in America today. I was asked what the solution is to our uncivil moment. I said it starts with every American: in electing politicians that will not compromise on core values, such as respecting the personhood of all, and in choosing to respect the dignity of our fellow citizens in our everyday. You can listen to it here: Daily Signal Podcast: Recovering the Lost Art of Civility

Discussing Civility at Indiana Rotary Clubs

I was a privileged to speak on civility and American democracy to the Rotary Clubs of Carmel and Sheridan in Indiana over the last few weeks! Someone asked me: is our era really the most uncivil? It’s a great question. A quick look at our past shows why. Today we’re not fighting a revolutionary or civil war, nor are our public leaders beating one another to death on the Senate floor (as they have in the past!) This history is both a comfort and a caution: It shows us that America has survived through worse, but it also warns us that verbal violence is often not far removed from actual violence. It reminds us why  changing the trajectory of our public discourse is so crucial.

Miscellany

I recently attended a conference on the American National Character in beautiful Boulder, Colorado. As a nation of immigrants, do we have a “national character”? If so, what is it? America is unique from other countries in the world in that our nationality is not attached to “Blut und Boden”—German for “blood and soil.” This is a beautiful thing, as anyone who agrees to our central tenets—rule of law, equal dignity and liberty of all persons, and others—can become an America. But this also presents a challenge, and a need for an artificial national ethos. Have you read anything on this topic that you thought was insightful? If so, please send it to me!

It’s an honor to have been invited to headline the Better Angels national convention, coming up in St. Louis on Friday, June 20th. I’ll be sharing the stage with Hawk Newsome, who leads #BlackLivesMatter in New York. More information about the convention is here

My birthday was April 15th and it was a privilege to dine with Francis Fukuyama that day— one of the great public intellectuals of our era. What else could a girl ask for on her 27th day of birth?

An Introduction to the New American Renaissance

Your time is your most valuable of possessions, and with these posts I hope to make these musings worth your while. I promise you ample insight from the wisdom of the past, the semi-occasional epigram or witticism from Oscar Wilde and other bon-vivants, and some of my reflections on life and culture—all to the end of ennobling the mind and enlivening your day.

I’m Taking the Surly Train
In my latest for the Wall Street Journal, I plumb the significance of a vignette I observed on the New York Subway recently—a youth stealing a seat from an older gentleman—and argue that how we interact each day is a microcosm of our society as a whole. Our everyday interactions encapsulate our vision of the good, justice, and ethical obligations to one another, and that in America, our voluntary charity to one another is necessary to sustain our limited government.

The Value of Exercising Civility—in Both Oikos and Polis
For Quillette, I tackle the limits of our public discourse, suggesting that the oikos (the family sphere) and the polis (the public sphere) require different treatment: we have different obligations to our friends and family than to public figures and politicians.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
For Commentary, I recently reviewed Tim Carney’s just-released Alienated America (available on Amazon here). Carney follows in the footsteps of Tocqueville, traversing communities across America to discover if the American dream is still alive and well. While our civil institutions appear to be crumbling—as Carney finds, especially the church—the health of our person-to-person relationships, the fundamental building blocks of civil society, depend on how we choose to make the most of our everyday interactions with our fellow citizens.

George Washington’s Commitment to Human Dignity
In The American Conservative, I argue that recognizing merit invariably leads to hierarchy, which seems at odd with American equality. But it’s not, because difference doesn’t negate our fundamental equality and value.

How Conduct Formed Washington’s Character
For the InterCollegiate Review, I string together some fun anecdotes about America’s first president that demonstrate how his inner virtue informed his outer conduct.

Manners Maketh Man
For the Claremont Review of Books, I reviewed a stunning history of manners in the early modern period in England by Oxford historian Keith Thomas.

If politics flows downstream from culture, there is reason to hope

It can often feel as if our public discourse is in disarray. But in the last few months, I’ve spoken with local community leaders across the country who are committed to being part of the solution. It’s often said that politics flows downstream from culture. If this is true, then these local initiatives that bring together community leaders from all sectors, backgrounds, and political persuasions are an encouraging development. I’m honored to be partnering with some of them in the coming months to help create locally driven remedies to problems of which we’re feeling the consequences at all levels and places.

Do you know of any communities or organizations working to heal our social fabric? Let me know! I’d love to learn about their efforts.

On that note, it was a privilege to speak to the Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis recently.  You can find the full address here. Please take a moment to view it, and send me your thoughts!