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Conservative professor calls for creating a counter-culture

‘We have forgotten how to make the wheel so we have to reinvent it’

Providence College’s Dr. Anthony Esolen believes the time has come for the creation of a new American culture.

His new book, “Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture,” dives headfirst into the most controversial culture wars plaguing college campuses and society as a whole to argue that what we have lost is immense, and what lies before us will be even more challenging.

Modernity and secularization has wiped out much of our common cultural heritage, according to Esolen, and the burden rests on subsequent faithful, educated generations to revitalize what is good of the old culture and adapt it to current challenges.

Esolen told The College Fix in a telephone interview that the first step is for students and the general public to remember what it truly means to have a culture.

“In so many areas of cultural life, it is like we have forgotten how to make the wheel so we have to reinvent it,” he said. “This is why I decided to write about the twelve important areas where we need to start rebuilding.”

Though he believes his book parallels the findings of sociologists such as Robert Putnam and Charles Murray, who write about the erosion of culture, Esolen said these scholars only offer a partial solution.

“They are onto something very important, but they don’t have the answer,” Esolen said. “You can’t be secular and find the answer to this problem. People have to be united by something that transcends all of them and this ultimately has to be a common worship of the divine.”

“I don’t think the secularist now really understands what true culture is,” he said. “They think of it in terms of the food you eat, clothes, and music. That’s not even the bare minimum — that’s just the bones to a skeleton. To have a fully living, breathing culture you have to orient to the transcendent and it has to be rooted in the past. Otherwise you’re talking about fads and mass entertainment.”

Esolen takes issue with much of our current culture, having experienced it first hand. “I am really in the belly of the beast in academia,” he quipped.

He writes that the cultural failings of academia include “debauchery, perversion, contempt for your supposedly benighted ancestors, lazy agnosticism, easy and costless pacifism, political maneuvering, and an enforcement of a new orthodoxy that in denying rational analysis seeks to render itself immune to criticism. You sink yourself in debt to discover that your sons and daughters have been severed from their faith, their morals and their reason.”

Esolen believes that increasing secularization is largely responsible for this erosion of culture.

“Modern man, as I have said, is weary of giving honor to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, so he falls back in lassitude upon the three biggest things that are nearest to him…they are himself, his sexual passions, and the all-encompassing state he has built in order to prop up his rickety being and to liberate him sexually from all of the family-protecting and culture-forming restraints that used to humanize his brute impulses and channel them into noble deeds,” he writes.

Esolen also noted in his telephone interview that this shift has drastic implications.

“The research shows us that fewer people under the age of thirty are getting married. They have no examples for how to prepare for marriage,” he said. “I see young people of both sexes not even knowing how to talk to each other.”

Proper higher education, however, offers a solution for those willing to seek it out and sustain its growth.

Proffering Christendom College as an example, Esolen praised its community and faith focused atmosphere.

“When I visited Christendom College, I expected to find out what a real Catholic college looked like,” he said. “I later realized that I was seeing what a real college should look like. Everybody knew their professors and even their professors’ families. Students and professors ate together and worshipped together. This school is not weighed down by excessive administrators and lawyers who drive up tuition costs. It’s existence is totally human, there is nothing factory-like about it.”

“There must be those people who will be called to build schools from the ground up to create an authentic, classical, Catholic education,” Esolen said. “There’s so much work that needs to be done. It’s a bombed out city, but many are the callings and many are the gifts of the Spirit.”

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About the Author
Kate Hardiman -- University of Notre Dame