The Corner

The Little Way

Rod Dreher’s new book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, which describes the life and tragic death of his sister, is the most powerful book I’ve read in years. It overflows with that inexplicable mix of joy and pain that a writer can only achieve when he is telling the truth. And it speaks especially profoundly to the power of home, and to the mixed blessing that is a life lived among people who know you at least as well as you know yourself. If, like me, you live very far away from the place you were born, you will at times find this book almost unbearably difficult to read. But only almost, because you will also find in it a moving affirmation of the sense that most of us can only discern rarely and vaguely in the bustle of our daily lives—the sense that beyond our petty vanities and momentary worries, beyond arguments and ambitions, beyond even principles and ideals, there is a kind of gentle, caring warmth that is really what makes life worth living. It is expressed through the words and acts of people who rise above themselves, but it seems to come from somewhere deeper. Maybe it’s divine, maybe it isn’t, but it’s real, and it effortlessly makes a mockery of a lot of what goes by the name of moral and political philosophy, and especially of the radical individualism that is so much a part of both the right and the left today. And it’s responsible for almost everything that is very good in our very good world. If I had to define what conservatism ultimately means for me, it would be the preservation and reinforcement of the preconditions for the emergence of that goodness in a society of highly imperfect human beings. But politics is of course only one very crude way to strengthen and protect those preconditions. A powerful story that brings us face to face with that mysterious something can do far more. And this book tells a mighty powerful story. Well worth your while.

Yuval Levin is the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of National Affairs.

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