Peter Brown: Humanties at its Best

The Princetonian has a write-up on historian Peter Brown. Brown is assuredly one of the greatest historians and scholars the twentieth-century produced. His scholarship is unrivaled in the field. The breadth and scope of Brown’s mastery is staggering and awe-inspiring (how is it even possible for one man to be so authoritative in both Western and Eastern Christianity, and their respective worlds?!). His command of languages is, I think, unheard of (in my experience, I can’t think of many historians fluent in more than perhaps a half-dozen languages at best, depending on his/her speciality).

More than this prodigious work, his life and his work represent, not merely the field of history at its best, but also the humanities more generally. As the humanities are increasingly under assault and the emphasis remains almost exclusively on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), Brown serves as a reminder of the joys and wisdom that is unique to humanities.

STEM, while certainly important (I, for one, would find the lack of central air-conditioning intolerable), it is the humanities that teach us what Truth is, what it means to be human, or what it means to empathize with “the other.” The humanities pull us toward the Good and the Beautiful in a way STEM just quite can’t because of its utilitarian nature.

Those of us who toil ignominiously in the unwanted humanities could do worse than live the sort of life embodied by Peter Brown.

Georgetown Professor Defends Islamic Slavery (Among Other Aspects)

I’m not usually at a loss for words, but this left me speechless and stupefied. Rod Dreher has the details at The American Conservative.

Oh how a once mighty and prestigious university (and also one of the oldest in the country) has fallen. And a nominally Catholic (or at least Jesuit) one at that!

The Neil Gorsuch Pick

It really befuddles me why the Republican-controlled Senate’s refusal to give Merrick Garland a hearing is so controversial. Even historians and legal scholars are foaming at the mouth over “constitutionalists” such as Ted Cruz acting in such an “unconstitutional” manner. All in the name of winning back the White House and nominating someone such as Neil Gorsuch.

The cause of my confusion is that there is really nothing to be confused about. The Constitution is quite clear on this matter. The United States government functions according to separation of powers and a series of checks and balances. The Senate confirmation process for the Supreme Court is part of the check on both presidential and judicial power, which necessarily entails misuse, overreach, and activism, among others. Article II, Section II, Clause II of the Constitution states:

The President…shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law….

There is nothing that requires the Senate to, A) give a nominee a hearing, or B) confirm said nominee. In fact, quite the opposite. Indicated Gouverneur Morris, “As the President was to nominate, there would be responsibility, and as the Senate was to concur, there would be security.” In other words, the “buck stops” with the President in selecting quality individuals for such important positions, in Harry Truman’s words, but the Senate would assure the soundness of any nominee.

Now, this arrangement was ultimately implemented with a radically different conception of the Senate than exists today, and that seemingly makes a difference. The Senate was originally designed to comprise the nation’s best, most educated, most cultured, most worldly (in the sense of “knowing the world,” not materialism) and be a bulwark against the populism of the House. However, with the direct election of Senators today one can plausibly make the argument this intention has ceased to be (if it ever did, except in theory). Perhaps this explains the nettlesome nature of this aspect of the Constitution, as well as others such as the Electoral College; meaning, we are dealing with a system of government intended to operate one way, according to philosophies and mechanisms modern Americans are aghast over, yet, their vestiges remain in altered form. Because their vestiges remain, but only in altered form, there is a dissonance between their original design and purpose, and how they operate, or are perceived to operate, today.


“I look East, West, North, South, and I do not see Sauron. But I see that Saruman has many descendants. We Hobbits have against them no magic weapons. Yet, my gentle Hobbits, I give you this toast: To the Hobbits. May they outlast the Sarumans and see spring again in the trees.”

– J. R. R. Tolkien

Mike Rowe: Federalist

“If you want me to say something political, how about this – read more. Spend a few hours every week studying American history, human nature,  and economic theory.”

I knew there was a reason I loved Mike Rowe, the Dirty Jobs guy: he’s a Federalist. Why the Republican Party has not forced him to be their candidate is beyond me. I don’t know the man, I don’t know where he stands on some very important so-called “cultural” issues, but every time he picks up his figurative pen he is unashamed, articulate, approachable, thankful, insightful, humble, and exactly what we need.

For the context of Rowe’s comments and the rest of his Federalist-like thoughts go here.