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  • Kenton E. Biffert

A Call to the Remnant

Book Review

Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture

By: Anthony Esolen

Regnery Publishing, 203 Pages, $30

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2017. ISBN 9781621575146

My boys found a dead animal once and decided they wanted to keep the skeleton. Not wanting to contaminate themselves, they through the carcass in the fire with the hopes of burning off the flesh and retrieving the bones. The next morning they rushed out to find the bones. The sifted through the ashes and to their disappointment there was only a skull. The fire had consumed the rest.

Our western culture has been in flames. Beauty has been replaced with the drab. Our boys don’t read. Our girls, barely. Grown men walk down the streets wearing pink vests stating that they are girls. The City of Ottawa has approved a yearly ‘Slut Walk’ where women dressed like sluts and parade down the street. Professors are fired for stating an opinion that is politically incorrect. School classrooms have trigger corners so that the children can have a ‘safe place’ to have a temper tantrum and get out of doing work. Families are fatherless. The terms ‘mother’ and ‘father’ have been erased from government legislation and replaced with the term ‘parent’ in order to be inclusive of any couple arrangement that wishes to have a contractual relationship with a child. Then we call this a family. Our high schools are R-rated and the students are being taught by teachers how to masturbate.

A generation ago, as Esolen points out, if a teacher attempted to teach what is being taught today, the parents would not only disapprove, they would “believe that you were suffering a terrifying moral and psychological illness, nigh unto demonic possession.”

This is the state we are raising our children. We live in the ashes of what used to be greatness. Anthony Esolen paints the picture well using the analogy of an old manor which has fallen into disuse, whose paintings hang crooked with water stains, whose grand piano’s strings are popped and whose books are being eaten by mold.

Yet, he doesn’t linger in the ashes. There is hope. And that is what this book is about. Anthony Esolen, a current professor at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire, is providing a formula for rebuilding what used to be great.

The journey to rebuilding, for Esolen, begins with our words. It begins with speaking the truth and reclaiming language. Referencing the modern classic, 1984, he sees common themes between the Newspeak and our own culture. Not only has our language in western culture been dumbed down, but we’ve also replaced the truth with lies. We call that which is ugly – beautiful. We call boys – girls and girls –boys. We wash over our ability to think by using politically correct words in such as “democracy, diversity, equality and inclusivity,” and tote their weight to justify stupid decisions. The solution is simple: speak the truth.

Esolen admonishes us to use words that correctly describe reality, to have the courage to speak the truth, and to begin by “filling [our] heart and mind” with gold. That is with the treasures of our past: the great works of literature such as Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha. It begins by standing against systems like the Ontario school boards that want to take Shakespeare out of the high-school curriculum. It is possible to rise from the ashes, because the skeleton hasn’t been completely burned. The great works are still there.

The journey out of the ashes moves logically from truth to beauty. That is, the journey to reclaiming what was beautiful in our worship, our Churches, our liturgies, our architecture and our music. When society takes the time and expense to make something beautiful, the rest of society stops and wonders. It is this pause that is important. There is a reason that some cathedrals silence the clamor and woos you to sit and look. There is something important here. And yet, as Esolen points out, “Why would we care to make our churches beautiful when what goes on in them is slipshod and is not felt to be of even temporal consequence, let alone eternal?” Not only does the Church need to awe, but the music, the preaching, the liturgy needs to be beautiful as well. If we want to show the next generation what is truly important, we must begin with rebuilding and making things beautiful.

Prof. Esolen than attacks the schools where “the system is laced with people whose imaginations have been corrupted.” There are only two things wrong with our schools, he states, “everything that our children don’t learn there and everything that they do.” Our schools have become meat grinders, homes of cannibals where we willingly send our children to be infected “like fecal bacteria in [our] water supply.” Why the strong language? Perversity. Our schools are filled with teachers infected with the perversity and lies of the modern world and actually believe themselves to be akin to the parents of the children. Esolen uses the example of the curriculum in Ontario where the children are taught all manner of sexual deviances that 50 years ago would seem demonic. The solution? Restructuring. That is, restructuring how the building is built, the curriculum and connecting the school per se with the parents in that community. Bringing educational authority back down to the level of the parents and the local community.

Then there are the post-secondary institutions. Institutions, which are to develop the young adult, challenge their thinking, open their minds, bring them higher in the sacred pursuit of truth, are now firing professors for using the wrong pronoun and housing students that need ‘trigger warnings’ so their feelings aren’t hurt by the topic being discussed. However, despite his angst against the current educational malaise, there is light. Elson lists numerous pockets, small institutions where true higher learning was happening, where real dialogue was taking place and where students were being formed. These institutions, these small Liberal Arts institutes are the lighthouse of hope for this next generation.

The next step to rebuilding our western culture is through reclaiming true masculinity and femininity. Much could be and has been said regarding the gender confusion that has been pushed and shoved down the throats of the people. The key to this entire demise is to restore what has been lost by first allowing, encouraging and insisting that boys have clubs that only allow boys; that boys are educated together and by men; that boys are raised to be fathers and patriarchs. Masculinity is fulfilled in fatherhood. Fathers, not just biologically but fathers who raise and educate their children and become “city fathers”. This sense of fatherhood and patriarchy is not what the feminists decry as male domination, but rather fathers that respect and uphold women as the heart of the home, that hold family as sacred and lead and change society so that the family is protected and promoted. This is the patriarchy that will rebuild our nation.

Women? True womanhood needs to be restored as well. If masculinity is fulfilled in fatherhood, femininity is fulfilled in motherhood. So what is motherhood? Esolen making no attempt to be conclusive, gives three characteristics that need to be restored and have been recognized in every culture. The first is gentleness. The second is compassionate “in the literal sense: she suffers with the suffering.” The third is stated as an idiom, “A man may build the house, but the woman makes the home.” Is Esolen saying that women need to get out of the work force? No. Not at all. Rather, he is noting that a woman’s nature, her essence, is fulfilled in motherhood and thus all activities outside the home should never usurp this first priority or even put it at risk.

The next two chapters focus on our hands: our hands insofar as they are the instrument by which we work and play. Esolen is calling for a restoration of both. Work insofar as we need again to learn to work with our hands the earth, the stone, the trees, the garden and play insofar as we need to smash the video games and t.v. and just let the children play. Outside. In bare feet. By the ocean. In the forest. In trees. Without parents and teachers organizing every moment of their playtime.

The last and one of the most significant steps is to “reclaim the polis”. He explains how the Greeks thought of the Polis and democracy and how our understanding of them is so far removed that we would be called idiots and barbarians by their standards. Why? We consider it democratic when our one vote is one vote out of millions. How is this democracy? How can fathers effect a difference in society when the leadership is so far removed? The answer: get the state out of the home and the town and the village and city and province and allow those closest to the issue the authority to make decisions for their family, village, city and province. The result will be stronger families, villages and provinces because the fathers and mothers are directly involved.

Out of the Ashes is a book that desperately needs to be read and heeded and shouted from every rooftop. There is hope!!! We can rebuild our great nations. There may be ashes everywhere, but with enough sifting we’ll find the remains of the skeleton – a femur here, a skull there, a tooth, a toe and together we can stand and rebuild – one small bone at a time.

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