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National Review Gives Tradition Its Due

Detail of Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull, 1819 (Architect of the Capitol)
Contribute to our Fall 2018 Webathon and help keep the flame alive.

‘Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors,” Chesterton wrote. “It is the democracy of the dead.” Welcome to November, which the Church that taught Chesterton much of what he understood about tradition dedicates to . . . the dead. At National Review, we include the dead in our deliberations about what parts of the world that we inherited from them we should preserve. Some parts we would rather modify or develop. What parts were mistakes that we should just jettison? Our forebears don’t dictate the answer, but they have a say. If you agree that they should, we encourage you to support our Fall Webathon.

November is also when Americans vote, typically with an eye to the future. At National Review we are mindful that it belongs not only to us but to our descendants, and hence our tenacity in reminding you about, for example, the necessity of fiscal conservatism, which sounds like the stuff of think-tank wonkery but is, at bottom, a matter of fairness to generations yet unborn. We would rather they thank than blame us.

We are not the only forum for discussion of education — the word’s Latin roots mean “a leading out,” from a present state of narrow ignorance to an intellectual landscape of broadened horizons — but we are more inclined than most to appreciate the value of great-books curricula, in which the conversation between the past, the present, and the future is constant and fruitful. Savor it: “The difference between the present and the past is an awareness of the past in a way and to an extent which the past’s awareness of itself cannot show,” T. S. Eliot argued nicely, 100 years ago almost to the day. “Some one said: ‘The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.’ Precisely, and they are that which we know.”

In the education section of the current issue of the magazine, Graham Hillard makes the case for Christian colleges that are guided by the principle that “truth both exists and matters,” and John J. Miller reports on the Classical Learning Test, a college-entrance exam that stresses what its name implies. On any given Saturday you are liable to encounter in our webpages M. D. Aeschliman, an American humanities professor in Europe. Like his mentor Lionel Trilling, he lives at the intersection of literature, culture, politics, and religion. Last spring, in a remarkable essay here at NRO, Aeschliman located a shared natural-law wisdom in the writings of Lincoln and Leo XIII, those pillars of 19th-century American and Catholic thought respectively.

Lincoln will not be on your ballot next week, but he’ll be a helpful presence if you let him. Undecided? Ask yourself: For whom would Honest Abe vote? And while you’re at it, cast your mind back a little further, to the days of Washington and Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison. Remember, they had us in mind when they laid the foundations of this republic, hoping we could keep it. We strive to reciprocate their mindfulness, Richard Brookhiser, of course, being our resident dean in that department. We keep the Founders’ flame alive, and so can you, by assisting us. Please contribute to the 2018 Fall Webathon as much as National Review contributes to your ability to see in contemporary America an adventure spanning the centuries in both directions, past and future.


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