I’m a perpetually optimistic fellow, but it can be disheartening to reflect upon how disinterested in anything deemed “old” so many of my generation are. Mention the writings of our Founding Fathers in an important text like The Federalist Papers and most people under 30 roll their eyes. Reference a film made before Star Wars or E.T. and good luck conveying your original point without several minutes of explanation, clarification and Google searches on the nearest iPhone.
It’s not simply that young people harbor adolescent antipathy toward their parents or authority figures – it’s bigger than that. What I’m referring to is more of a cultural contempt for the things (and people) that came before one’s own time. The Baby Boomers’ mantra in the 1960’s – “Don’t trust anyone over 30!” – was that generation’s attempt to legitimize and institutionalize their ill-conceived idea that father did not in fact know best. Ever!
Son knew best. Daughter knew best. Student, not teacher knew best.
While I’m no saint, something that I’ve managed to get right in my life is to identify just how bad I need the “wisdom of the ages.” As I described in my “Mere Conservatism: History” essay earlier this year:
History is relevant because it is the collection of all that the things that have both worked and failed as long as mankind has walked the earth. History is an imperfect source, but matters a great deal because there is a great deal more of it than anything else. How does one study the present? The future?
We go to our grandpa or grandma for wisdom not because they know how to Tweet, but, in large part, because they’ve been around since long before the inventor of Twitter was born.
At the heart of a healthy appreciation for the things and people that came before us is one word: authority. I believe that this one word is the fundamental reason that so many, so readily dismiss any information or insight that emanates from a time before their own life began.
If one can discredit the past’s value, one can institute their own sources of authority.
But there are certain voices of experience and insight that cannot be silenced and demand for our attention. There are certain people you encounter in life who separate themselves from the flock in terms of who you ought to listen to.
In recent days I have had the distinct privilege to spend time with, and sit at the feet of, three of the wisest, most articulate, more accomplished men that I know. The common threads between these men are their firm beliefs in God, their passions for the pursuit of truth and wisdom, and their skill at communicating the truth and wisdom they discover to others.
I have been fortunate in recent years with incredible opportunities to be able to meet and get to know people like Dr. Arthur Brooks, Father Robert Sirico, and Dennis Prager.
Things kicked off for me three weeks ago on October 28th on the campus of Wheaton College where a debate took place between President Obama’s “social justice adviser” Pastor Jim Wallis and AEI’s president, Dr. Arthur Brooks. I’ve already posted a review of that evening, so for the sake of brevity, for more on that event click here.
The moral of Dr. Brooks’ message was this: economic freedom can’t be separated from religious and political freedom without devastating consequences. The only way to move from poverty to non-poverty is for wealth to be created. The only sector of society that creates wealth is the private sector. You do the math.
The following week brought another big name and exciting event. This time it was Father Robert Sirico, president (and founder) of The Acton Institute, who graciously gave of his time to come early on a Friday morning and speak at my graduate school: Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS).
After securing the necessary donuts and bagels to feed about three dozen students, I picked Father Sirico up at his hotel and we headed off to bring a heaping helping of free market truth to the future religious leaders who attend my school.
A catholic priest, an evangelical grad student, and plenty of complex carbohydrates: what more does the conservative movement need?
Although I planned the event, I wasn’t exactly sure what it would look like. All I knew was that Father Sirico’s articulation of his vision of the “free and virtuous society” needed to be absorbed into the bloodstream of my seminary. There are so many brilliant, God-fearing people on Trinity’s campus, and yet there is a distinct undercurrent of collectivist thinking when it comes to the economy and our government. Having attended numerous Acton events and having heard Father Robert speak many times, I knew his words alone could be a significant catalyst in the brining about of an intellectual “awakening” at my beloved school.
(Just in case you missedthe hilarious reference.)
Fr. Sirico shared his testimony, which included a decade-long pursuit of Marxist ideology and far-Left political involvement. He explained how, in large part, it was his discovery of fundamental truths regarding property rights, entrepreneurialism, and human dignity that led him back to the Catholic faith of his youth. He shared with the audience how in 1990 a friend had suggested that Father Sirico “clone” himself by finding a way to lead other people through the intellectual process he went through when he moved from secular progressivism and collectivism to religious conservatism and free market enterprise. It was there and then that The Acton Institute was born.
Father Robert Sirico, an extremely busy and important man, delayed his trip home to Michigan because he heard that 35 young people studying to be pastors, missionaries, counselors, and professors at a Protestant graduate school wanted to hear his thoughts on freedom, liberty, and stewardship. That should tell you plenty about the man’s character and his dedication to passing truth and wisdom on to the next generation.
The third and final stop on my “conservative express” tour was in Los Angeles with syndicated columnist and radio talk show host Dennis Prager. Prager has been published in everything from National Review to Investors Business Daily, and is the author of four books. He is a practicing Jew in his early 60’s and has for years taught classes on the first five books of the Old Testament (The Pentateuch).
So how did I end up in the KRLA studios on Glendale, CA with one of the 10 most-listened to Americans on the radio airwaves?
Beginning in 2008, I started to send what I considered to be some of my better columns to Dennis and his producer Allen Estrin on the off chance that they might actually read my stuff and give me some feedback. Not only did they eventually get back to me, but Dennis on multiple occasions wrote personal messages back encouraging me to continue my pursuit of a career in writing. The offer to visit his show for the day the next time I was in Southern California was made and I took Prager and his staff up on it for the first time in the summer of 2009.
Fast-forward to November 2010 and I found myself back in California and back in the office chair next to Dennis Prager as he analyzed the day’s topics of interest for three hours live on-air. I have been listening to Prager for about five years, precisely because he is the type of commentator who not only pays homage to the wisdom of the ages, but makes it a central aspect of his show. More than anyone other than my father, Dennis has had the biggest impact on my intellectual development.
Many people in the positions of Brooks, Sirico and Prager talk a good game about wanting to see a new generation of young conservatives raised up, but few are as willing to personally invest in the development of young conservatives as these learned men are.
These three guys aren’t special because they are relatively famous; they are relatively famous (and worthy of being listened to) because they are wise. They are wise because they’ve submitted their minds and their lives to authorities bigger (and older) than themselves. Their concern is for “What is true” more than “What feels good” or “What sounds nice.”
History – and by “History” I specifically mean “the wisdom of the ages” – is like a flashlight. Most people walk around in relative intellectual and moral darkness, attempting to “figure things out” on their own – young people especially do this. You can try and turn your eyes from the brightness of that flashlight, you can put on sunglasses to trick yourself into thinking you can co-exist with the light without having to deal directly with it (and its source), or you can throw your hands up and say, “Enough – I want to know where this light is coming from, and how it can help me find my way in life.”
If and when you get to this point of surrender in your life, when you acknowledge your limitations and give up trying to hide in the shadows, you almost instantly recognize that what you’ve previously had to squint your eyes to look at isn’t the menacing, condemning glare from an enemy’s flashlight, but the welcoming glow from a friend’s flashlight.
This friend has come looking for you.
A few of the “friends” who have helped me find my way since my conservative journey began in college include Dr. Arthur Brooks, Father Robert Sirico, and Dennis Prager.