Anthony Esolen

Notable Christians: Anthony Esolen

11 July 2022

6.1 MINS

You need to be aware of this key Christian thinker. He has identified the source of the malaise in modern society and promotes the rebuilding of Western civilisation through the restoration of the family and a renewed appreciation of Almighty God, the Love Who purifies and refines us.

The important and incisive Catholic writer and social commentator Anthony Esolen is well worth being aware of. This piece will be a brief introduction to him, or at least to some of his work. Since I only own three of his books, I will quote from them, along with one other piece.

The 63-year-old American academic and thinker is a graduate of Princeton University and has taught humanities at various colleges, most recently Magdalen College in New Hampshire. He has penned a number of crucial books, and we owe it to ourselves to be aware of his vital contribution to so many key areas of concern. Here then are some notable quotes:

Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Regnery, 2017)

In the first chapter of this book, “The Restoration of Truth-Telling” he has a section on the need to clear the mind of cant. He writes:

I believe now that the “higher cant” is too dangerous even for small talk, because we will inevitably end up thinking in its terms. Words like democracy, diversity, equality, inclusivity, marginalization, misogyny, racism, sexism, homophobia, imperialism, colonialism, progressivism, autonomy, and many others my readers might name are simply terms of political force and have no real meaning anymore. Some of them never had any meaning to begin with. Do not wash your food in chlorine. Do not sprinkle your thoughts with poison. This cant is everywhere…

This is not the common talk of ordinary people in ordinary times. When the fishermen on an old schooner set down for the night, they did not talk about democracy, diversity, equality, inclusivity, and the rest of the nonsense. They talked about their work: the sea, good spots for cod or halibut, the ropes, the bad food, sails that needed repair…

You have to be educated into cant; it is a kind of stupidity that surpasses the capacity of unaided nature to confer. Mass phenomena do the job, so that when you see someone whose brains have been addled by cant for a long time, say a politician, it is as if you were watching a puppet flapping its mouth while a ventriloquist made it say democracy, diversity, equality, inclusivity; you might provide the words yourself if you were in a mischievous mood...

Out of the Ashes - Esolen bookTwo brief comments before continuing. I earlier had made mention of this book when it first appeared (along with three other similar titles).

It should be noted that in two months’ time, a paperback edition of this superb volume will be available.

In the preface to this terrific volume, Esolen begins as follows:

Christianity. Judaism. Dead white males. Old-fashioned morality. The traditional family. Tradition itself. These are the bêtes noires of the elites. They are the pillars of political incorrectness.

Together, they constitute that thing called Western civilization.

Political correctness, at its heart, is the effort to dissolve the foundation on which American and European culture has been built. It has been a demolition project: undermine Western civilization in whatever way possible, and build a brave new world from the rubble.

Multiculturalism has nothing to do with genuine love for natives of the Australian outback or the monks of Tibet. It is an effort to crowd out our own cultural traditions. Radical secularization — in the name of “separation of church and state” — aims to burn our religious roots.

Public education, purveying convenient untruths about our past — the Middle Ages were miserable, the ancients were simpletons, the church is oppressive — has sought to rob us of our heritage. Misrepresentations of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the last two hundred years serve to create an illusion of unvarying progress made possible by abandoning the old ways. And that is the central myth that justifies the continued discarding of our religious, intellectual, and moral traditions.

Defending Marriage (Saint Benedict Press, 2014)

In this solid work in defence of marriage and a refutation of homosexual “marriage”, Esolen says this near the end of his book:

It is not the State that defines what marriage is; nature has done that. It is not the State that determines the good of the family; nature has done that, too. It is not even the State that creates the village or the parish. Households have done that. Before there was ever a gross national product, there was economy, the law of the good of the oikos, the household. The ancient Greeks, who bequeathed to us both the term and the reality of democracy, understood that the individual as such was something of an abstraction. You belonged to a family, a household, a clan…

Totalitarian regimes since Plato penned his Republic… have always been aimed against the family, and for good reason. The family is the single greatest bastion against the power of the State. That’s not because of “individual” rights. It’s because the family claims precedence in being and in nature. It is itself a society anterior to the greater society…

I know there are libertarians who believe that the State should “get out of the marriage business entirely,” but they are living in the dreamland made possible by the very same all-intrusive, bureaucratic, technocratic State they deplore. The growth of the State does not depend upon the obliteration of the individual, so much as it does upon the obliteration of nature and those natural communities that make for genuine citizenship in the first place.

The metastatic State can make common cause with the individualism of licentiousness — with the sexual revolution — because they share the same enemies: the family, the neighborhood, the parish. The State profits from the chaos wrought by the destruction of the family, just as the totalitarian first destroys the economy and then declares that he’s the only one who can restore order…

The lesson is simple. If you want true liberty and not just a paper pass… then you want to bolster the family against the State. But you cannot do that if you grant to the State the godlike power to determine what a family or marriage is in the first place.

God’s Love

Finally, this short piece which I recently became aware of was first shared by Esolen on his Facebook page back in July of 2018. It helps us to learn more about the man and his Christian concerns:

I used to tell my students that they would go a long way toward understanding the Scriptures if they could simultaneously hold in their minds two truths: God is love; It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

My reasoning wasn’t just that both were true, but that the one verse helps to explain the other. When human beings think of love, they think, naturally enough, of the affections, including that most dynamic and dangerous of the affections, erotic desire. They also think of kindness and clemency, the love between members of a family, friendship and camaraderie, and, by extension, love of your native land. But we should always remember that the so-called analogia entis works asymmetrically. It is not that God’s love is like our love, but that our love is (distantly) like God’s love; as we say that a painting of Napoleon is like Napoleon the man, and not that the man is like the painting. So something of the divine Love is captured, analogically and dimly, in our forms of love.

Now, how then can it be “a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God” if God is love? We might reverse the question and ask, How can it not be a fearful thing, if God is love? Love can bring comfort, but it is not comfortable; it is not safe. It is an adventurous thing — even human love is a risky enterprise, as befits the power that alone can bring the soul near to the beauty it has beheld and with which it longs to be one, as Plato says in the Phaedrus. The most potent form of love that we know on a purely human level is a soul-transforming thing; it is Spenser’s “kindly flame” that will never give the lover a moment’s rest until he has won the beloved. And that is not the end, but the end of the beginning, and the beginning of a new life.

If the ardor of a human lover is a shadow of the love of God, then why should we be surprised that that divine love is like a refining fire, breaking, heating, purifying, re-creating? God loves us even such as we are, and because He does, He will not have us remain such as we are. So we pray for the divine chastisement, because, to use Shakespeare’s words, “whom I love, I cross.” “Batter my heart, three-personed God,” says Donne.

So the great question is not whether God loves us, but whether we love God. One measure of that love is whether we will submit to be re-made, and that does not happen to human sinners without suffering.

It is hoped that these short snippets from these very important works of Esolen will spur you on to read him again, or to read him for the very first time.


Originally published at CultureWatch. Image: The Catholic World Report


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