Presidential Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin Comes to Trinity

This year’s Flora Cameron lecture at Trinity University became commemorative with the unfortunate passing of Flora Cameron Crichton on March 2 of this year. Before her passing, Crichton was able to select Doris Kearns Goodwin as the speaker for the lecture. Goodwin is a presidential historian, political commentator and award-winning author/biographer. She spoke on her book Leadership in Turbulent Times, a New York Times bestseller on March 27 in Laurie Auditorium.

“Little could I have imagined how relevant that title would be today,” joked Goodwin at the beginning of the lecture. However, she switched to a more serious demeanor and contemplated a question that she is often asked: ‘are these the worst of times?’ “The answer history provides is no,” said Goodwin in answer to the question. She pointed to and referenced many American Presidents, but focused on Lyndon B. Johnson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt. She highlighted the “turbulent times“ that all these men faced, such as the civil war and industrial revolution, and stated that “each one of these situations cried out for leadership, and each of the four men was peculiarly fitted for the time.”

Goodwin shifted her focus to the qualities that make up leaders. She pulled a Teddy Roosevelt quote in which he said, “most success comes when people develop ordinary talents to an extraordinary degree from hard sustained work.” This she acknowledged as being a key to success but not a universal key to leadership. She made a list of qualities that are almost universally applicable, “humility, empathy, resilience, courage, the ability to listen to diverse opinions, controlling of impulses, connect with all manner of people, communicate through stories and keep[ing] one’s word.” Goodwin went into great detail on how her studied presidents portrayed these qualities and acknowledged that there is not just one key to being a successful leader.

Nearing the end of her lecture she recalled a quote from Leo Tolstoy about Lincoln.  “He wasn’t as great a general as Napoleon, he wasn’t as great a statesman as Frederick the great. But his greatness consisted in the integrity of his character and the moral fiber of his being, the ultimate standard for judging our leaders.” She concluded that it wasn’t necessarily the triumphs of a leader that determined their success, but the effect they have as people, on people.

Goodwin closed with a touching and powerful personal anecdote on why history came to interest her and why it is so important. She thanked history for “allowing me to spend a lifetime looking back in the past, allowing me to believe in the pride and people we have lost and love in our families, and the public figures we have respected in history really can live on, so long as we pledge to tell and retell the stories of their lives.”

Photo by “Rhododendrites” on Wikimedia Commons. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Indian Man Accused of White Supremacy

Local Trinity student and military history enthusiast Niraj Sengupta came under fire recently for alleged white supremacist sympathies.

Sengupta’s interest in World War II military history has led many liberals to believe that he secretly harbors a hatred of all nonwhite races. “He kept talking to me about something called the pickelhelm,” one student told the Tower. “I know he’s not white, but something’s fishy here.”

Other reports indicate that Sengupta frequently enjoys wartime novels such as All Quiet on the Western Front and Catch-22.

Sengupta, whose family hails from India, did not deny the accusations outright. “I’m brown,” Sengupta said. “That doesn’t even make sense.”

Alamo Heights race studies expert Clarice Woakes helped dispel some of the confusion. “Some people still stick to very outdated, restrictive definitions of racism. Today, we now understand that being a white supremacist has nothing to do with being white,” Woakes said. “Also, I think Indians are technically Caucasian. Or Aryan? Who knows? I bet there’s something there.”

Evidence for Sengupta’s alleged racism continues to unfold. “Stunningly, it turns out that Indians earn more than white people,” one researcher pointed out. “Sounds like privilege to me.”

YCT Hosts Lecture on American Exceptionalism

Monday, February 18, the Trinity University Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) hosted a speaker named Jonathan Dunne. Dunne is an Irishman who writes for theBlaze, an American conservative media company that provides television networks, podcasts, and news articles. Dunne came to Trinity University to speak about American exceptionalism from a European point of view. With a heavy Irish accent and great enthusiasm, he had many good things to say about the United States. Dunne shared that his lifelong dream is to become an American citizen, claiming to have been in line for citizenship for about 12 years.

American exceptionalism is one of the issues that Dunne is very passionate about. His sweatshirt read, “America is great because Americans are good.” He stated that one of the things that makes America different from every other country in the world is the idea that rights come from their creator, not from men or from the government. Rights are inherently given to humans just because they are human.

Dunne further discussed the founding American documents, namely the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. According to Dunne, the main rights that make up America today come from the Declaration of Independence. He said that America is different because we have a “God-given right to pursue happiness.” He quoted the Declaration of Independence’s famous phrases that “all men are created equal” and that humans have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Dunne argues these documents prove that the United States is built upon exceptional, God-given values that cannot be given or taken away by men or governments.

“I admire how Americans are always so hopeful and always looking to the future,” Dunne said. During the talk, he expressed his admiration for how motivated and persistent Americans are when facing everyday life. He noted that the attitudes in America are much different from European attitudes. George Washington’s values were one of his favorite things about the foundation of the United States.

Students in the audience, mainly YCT members, seemed to enjoy Jonathan Dunne’s talk because most of the members agreed with Dunne that America is indeed exceptional and special. “I loved his passionate knowledge of America’s founding documents. His main argument was that America was the first nation to achieve a system of laws based on principles that mankind cannot alter,” said Isaiah Mitchell, junior english major and chairman of YCT.

More students expressed agreement with Dunne and admired his passion for America as a whole. “I liked how positive he is about America: past, present, and future, noted Victoria Ydens, a freshman classics major and member of YCT. She added that it was “a refreshing change from the usual negativity.”
Young Conservatives of Texas will continue to host speakers in the future. The next speaker on their schedule is Bob Fu, founder and president of ChinaAid.

Disclaimer: Emma McMahan is the social chair of YCT at Trinity.

Photo by Samantha Farnsworth.

The Conservatism of Russell Kirk: Social Continuity

President Abraham Lincoln, an excellent conservative, described the probable destruction of the United States in his Lyceum address: “From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe and Asia…could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. No, if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we will live forever or die by suicide.” Our destruction is realized when we abandon our ways as Americans and neglect our social continuity.

Singing the national anthem before football games is a small example of social continuity. It reaffirms the state’s legitimacy and our bonds as brothers and sisters in nationhood. The movement to take a knee during the national anthem in football games is in practice a direct assault on the social continuity of the United States. With or without intent to attack the sense of American community, the movement to protest the national anthem is in practice a net loss to the country as a whole. Through intending to cast doubt or to end a socially contiguous ritual, citizens of the same state begin lose their similarities and distrust their fellow citizens. One can change policy without violating the social continuity, and must act accordingly or risk dismantling the state itself and constituting a state of destructive civil conflict.

The canon of social continuity rests on the idea that justice is not natural, but artificial. In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes defines justice practically as a result of law. Law is the result of the common powers over man, and the common powers over man arise as a means to end a state of conflict. Therefore, justice is an invention of man necessary in practice to maintain order over conflict and to facilitate prosperity. For thousands of years, people have gone through war and peace, trial and error, and have arrived at the rules and prosperity of today by learning from those sacrifices and hardships of the past. Social continuity is the call for continuing the true justice, forged in the trials by fire of our past, in order to continue in the security and prosperity of the state.

This canon of conservative thought is in danger of redefinition or outright abandonment. Today’s common ideal of justice based on personal morality and subjective truth is to blame for this push towards abandoning social continuity. If one believes in standards for correctness, one would likely believe in the merit of social continuity. The idealistic view of justice, where what any individual dreams as justice is so, naturally finds conflict with social continuity as personal morality can overturn it by virtue of one’s own personal taste. Social continuity is either redefined to fit personal morality, or is abandoned in some form of revolution to dismantle the structure entirely and erect an ideal state.

These challenges to social continuity ignore certain problems. First, sticking to the tradition of American ideals has allowed the individuals their present advantages, and even their ability to question the structure itself. It is difficult to justify the moral advantage of an alternate state when the present state of the United States is both flexible and fair enough, thanks to the preservation of American ideals. Second, transient causes should not define the United States, as transient causes are usually idealistic rather than practical and do not solve problems so much as create new ones. This haphazard factor is why transient causes are more detrimental than beneficial, and should not to be implemented for their own sake at the expense of destroying a necessary support to the state as a whole.

The rule of social continuity is mocked and trivialized in contemporary universities, especially in those fields which promote cultural relativism. In order to affirm that there are good ideas and bad ideas, right practices and wrong practices, one must have a standard to identify and judge ideas and practices. This standard develops in the social body of a nation. Cultural relativism destroys this standard, tears our social fabric, and goes against the practical Hobbesian definition of justice. The thousands of years of trial and error which have built our success become irrelevant under relativism. Defined, cultural relativism affirms that there are no such things as good ideas or bad ideas, right or wrong practices, in a vain effort to make every culture accepted. This is an idealistic rather than practical view of justice. Some ideas and practices are better than others, and the American social continuity is not only the best one, but is the standard which the world follows. The American development of ideals inspires the rest of the world, sustains its citizens, and has brought forth prosperity for generations; yet, it is mocked by relativists who would believe that all ideas are created equal.

The preservation of the state is an immeasurable gift to us, our children, and our world. Even if the individual does not find a clear conscience with the present society, it is far more beneficial to everyone if the union of a society is preserved. Without the power of social commonality, distrust and ambition would naturally cause conflict and there would be ceaseless war, and if there is no common power over people there will be no such thing as injustice as justice can no longer be affirmed. Only in this ceaseless war would people recognize its detriment and agree upon oaths with one another, call them laws, and enforce them in the form of a common power over people. In short, the state controls justice and justice is only possible if there is a state. The most disadvantageous peace is better than the most just war. The common bonds of society preserve the state. Social continuity is one of the state’s most integral supports not just because of its natural affirmation of the state’s legitimacy but because of its universal connection to all citizens in practice.

Social continuity, even if one disagrees with present policy, must not be violated because preserving the nation is an unquestionable good. For, through preserving the state, justice will continue to exist in contrast to a state of war. Social continuity creates a common bond between citizens and it is through this bond that shared values and trust is facilitated. Good ideas and practices tried and tested for thousands of years of recorded history have been taken into account, and as a result, prosperity and abundance have come to our advantage. Now that one of our greatest advantages has become subject to doubt and ridicule now is the time for conservatives to once more affirm the virtue of the social continuity. Preserving the social fabric of America would ultimately be an unquestionable good for the hundreds of millions of Americans and for the peace of the entire world.

Martyr Valentinus the Presbyter of Rome

Today is Valentine’s Day, a day when couples are given special permission to be extra affectionate, guys who never buy flowers buy their wives and girlfriends two dozen roses and when many single people wonder whether next year will finally be the year they have someone for whom to buy chocolate.

Everyone knows that Feb. 14 is a holiday connected in some way to romantic love. Many will know that it has something to do with a Saint named Valentine. A small minority will have some vague idea that he was a priest who married people (or something like that). I personally credit Jason Bach Cartoons with 95% of contemporary Catholic awareness surrounding the life of the actual saint. For those of you who are (defensibly) unaware of the life of this priest, and his festal history in the past decades, allow me to provide a brief primer.

In 1969, following the Second Vatican Council, St. Valentine was removed from regular public commemoration because so little is known about his life. He most certainly existed (that’s his skull at the top there, if you were wondering), and we have records of his public veneration as early as 496, just about two centuries after he was martyred around 270.

Additionally, there were actually two saints named Valentine, both martyred around the same time, and by the same emperor. The first St. Valentine was the Bishop of Terni, Narnia, and Amelia in Italy, and is closely associated with miraculous healings. Bishop Valentine was known as a friend of young people and the sick, and was ultimately martyred for attempting to convert the Roman Emperor Claudius II.

The second St. Valentine, the priest, is where the association with romantic love comes from. The story often goes that he married Christian couples in secret, in defiance of Emperor Claudius’s orders. Once he was found out, he was also executed. Regardless of whether St. Valentine was one priest, one bishop, or two men who were priest and bishop, the association with Christian marriage is one that we should not lose sight of in our modern day celebrations.

Today, a record number of American adults—around 20%—have never been married.

Rising Share of Never-Married Adults, 1960-2012

Also today, less than half of people think society is better off if marriage and children are a priority.

Public Is Divided over Value of Marriage for Society

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic (though I don’t think I am), the family is the foundation of society, and if the family unit crumbles, the society will too. At the core of family is marriage. Thus, if marriage crumbles, so too will family, and the society as a whole will not be far behind. St. Valentine promoted marriage in the Roman empire, and he was literally killed for it. The modern United States isn’t at that point, but that doesn’t mean we should be any less forceful in our defense of sacramental marriage as an institution worth preserving and expanding.

Consider what most people in their 20s and 30s today treat marriage as, in practice. I don’t mean what they put in their vows, or what they speak of, I mean the way they act. Essentially, marriage today is what Dr. Budziszewski would call “cohabitation with formalities.” People who live together before marriage will get married, and very little will change except some rings, a big party and then a vacation. Even popular media is becoming aware of this, as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes remarks in BBC’s Sherlock before Watson’s wedding: “Two people who currently live together are about to attend church, have a party, go on a short holiday and then carry on living together. What’s big about that?”

Marriage as a divinely instituted covenant is something that St. Valentine thought was worth dying for. Marriage is not merely a legal agreement to have a joint bank account, live together and then to possibly divide your possessions in half down the road if you decide it was a mistake. Marriage ought to be a promise before each other and before God. It is something supremely important—something capable of leading yourself, your spouse and your children to heaven. St. Valentine thought that real, sacramental marriage was worth dying for, and we should too.

In college, we are constantly bombarded with questions about our future. “What are you doing when you graduate?” “What are you majoring in?” “Where are you interning this summer?” These are all important questions, and I don’t mind answering them when my friends and family ask, but they all fail to get to the real heart of why I’m studying in college.

Every person of faith, and I daresay even the irreligious, should look to their education as primarily an instrumental good—certainly knowledge has some intrinsic value, but the primary purpose of seeking an education should be to provide a good life for our spouse and our children. You’ll notice I didn’t say “ourselves, our spouse and our children.” That was an intentional omission: the nature of love is to be self-sacrificing, and none in quite spectacular a fashion as the love that comes with marriage and raising children. I don’t have to be married or have children to see how difficult, and fulfilling, it is in the lives of those around me.

If you’re reading this and single, it may seem odd to think of something as foundational to the contemporary American experience as college as being directed towards a spouse you haven’t met and children who don’t exist yet. I don’t have any immediate plans for marriage, but I am dating, so it’s less abstract. We are all called to something in life that will help lead us and those around us to heaven. For most, that vocation is marriage. For others it’s the priesthood, monastic life or living single and in the world. If you are confident that you are called to marriage as the means to sanctify yourself, your spouse and whatever children God blesses you with, but don’t yet have the faintest idea of who that person might be, that’s OK. Pray for them, whoever they are.

Author’s Note: You might notice this is tagged “Luke’s Catholic Corner.” If you liked this (this being a distinctively Catholic take on something), leave some feedback either as a comment or using our contact form, and if it got a positive response I’ll begin writing things like this once or twice a month.

Photo by AlvfanBeem. CCO 1.0. Wikimedia Commons.

Review: They Shall Not Grow Old

Approximately a century after the WWI armistice was signed on 11 Nov 1918, Peter Jackson directs a documentary masterpiece that commemorates the lives of the often forgotten soldiers who fought on those front lines. They Shall Not Grow Old is composed entirely of film clips provided by the Imperial War Museums depicting British servicemen fighting in the trenches during the Great War. With innovative modern technology, Jackson was able to improve the degree of detail on the film, which had suffered damage over the years. Most strikingly, vivid and accurate color was added to the previously grayscale footage, bringing the images of the war to life.

The film is narrated with the voices of real WWI veterans’ past interviews, which brought authentic first-person perspectives alongside the visuals. At times, the silent footage is dubbed over, giving real voices to the people on screen. This was made possible by lip reading experts who closely studied the footage to accurately recreate the words spoken by the young men on the screen. Overall, the film was relatively devoid of frills and unnecessary editing, placing the focus solely on the visuals and the soldiers’ harrowing experiences.

They Shall Not Grow Old is edited together as a documentary which tells of the experiences of British fighters, from enlistment to post-armistice. It opens with raw, unedited footage explaining war propaganda and the efforts on the home front. The audience watches the men undergo training, and the edited footage and color kick in once coverage of the fighting begins. The film goes over topics pertaining to life in the trenches on the western front. It covers everything from how the soldiers went about eating to avoiding mustard gas to getting rid of corpses to operating tanks. As the film began to cover the armistice, it switched back to raw black and white footage, ending with a description of how veterans were treated with negative regard upon returning home.

Jackson made the intentional directorial decision to avoid identifying the men on the screen or putting names to the voices. He also avoided any mention of specific locations or dates. The purpose behind this choice was to draw audience’s focus away, rather stating, “I wanted it to be what it ended up being: 120 men telling a single story. Which is: what was it like to be a British soldier on the western front?”

Jackson wanted the modern audience to see and experience the war and the living conditions like those men saw it, with full color and sound.

The film seemed to carry an underlying message about the futility of war and the tragic loss of life it brings. Thousands upon thousands of men around the world enthusiastically accepted the call to fight simply because that was what one did at that time, only for them to be used as fodder. WWI was meant to be “the war to end all wars”, but clearly it wasn’t. We tend to remember the war but not the raw fighting done there. We remember the large scale history, but not the ordinary individuals that drove that history forward. These men were brave beyond words and acknowledged a cause larger than themselves for which they were willing to lay down their lives, and that deserves recognition.

The events of WWI occurred just over a hundred years ago. The last living World War I veteran passed away at age 110 on 4 February, 2012. Her name was Florence Green, and she served in the Women’s Royal Air Force. The soldiers of WWI are long gone from this earth. This movie brings these veterans back to life in their prime and acts as a reminder that wars are not fought by countries, they are fought by people. The movie is a call for remembrance for those who created history for us living today; it is important to honor that call and commemorate those who fought for what was right not so very long ago.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall: 29 Years Later

On November 9, 1989, the Cold War was nearing its end and east and west Berlin were united after 29 years of separation with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The wall was a Soviet product of World War II. While the wall stood, 171 people were killed by the German Democratic Republic for trying to cross over. The wall is an example of the harms that can come to people through the selfishness and carelessness of a totalitarian power.  

This year was the 29th anniversary of when the wall began to come down. The Young Conservatives of Texas at Trinity University (YCT) commemorated this with an event on the Coates Esplanade. Members of YCT erected a provided spray paint for students to write or draw anything they wanted to. Once it was painted, students had a chance to destroy it and, in the famous words of Reagan, “tear down this wall.”

Tearing down the Berlin Wall. Photo by Maddie D’iorio

The event had generally positive feedback from people just passing by. Many students were curious, stopped to talk about the event, and took part in it. It was an effective way to honor the humanitarian victory that took place 29 years ago as well as the victims of the Soviet occupation of Germany. Additionally, the event promoted freedom of speech and the importance of being familiar with history.

A few individuals took to Twitter after the event and bashed the motives for the event. A common complaint was the “apparent” hypocrisy of tearing down a wall while wanting a wall built on the US-Mexico border. Trinity YCT does not have an official stance on a border wall.