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Harrison Butker's commencement speech (transcript) is probably the most politically incorrect public exposition I've ever heard from a (relatively) public non-political figure. Butker is the Kansas City Chief's placekicker, and a devout Catholic. He hits nearly all the culture war hot topics: abortion, pride month, women's role in society, the Covid response, and Biden's leadership or lack thereof.

While the mainstream and new media are universal in their condemnation of this speech, the NFL up to this point is merely "distancing" itself from Butker's viewpoints. If Butker's career can survive intact, this seems to be further evidence in favor of the "vibe-shift". Indeed, he may have shifted the Overton window himself: he mentions his "teammate's girlfriend" (Taylor Swift); and simply by being on the same team as Travis Kelce, Butker's beliefs has the potential to be platformed to the millions of women who have started following the Chiefs.

Courage is contagious: the more people who stand up to the regime, the easier it becomes for others to do so. In my own small way, I signed a petition in support of Butker under my real name. While this seems a small risk to take, it isn't one I would have countenanced four years ago.

Scott's April Links led me to Walt Bismarck's "How the Alt Right won", a fascinating retrospective on a movement now nearly a decade old and six years removed from its slide into irrelevance following Charlottesville. Walt's surprising claim is that the Alt-Right won: identitarian politics, ranging from anti-immigration and desire for traditional gender roles from the "Alt light" to White nationalism, HBD, and skepticism of Israel from the harder "Alt right" are now quasi-mainstream among Republicans.

Walt is mostly incorrect. Certainly many Alt-Right talking points have been taken up by the Dissident Right, but the DR is an online phenomenon. Even now, the median Republican supports Israel, doesn't know what "HBD" stands for, and is only conceptually concerned about illegal immigration. Walt himself seems to have been both mildly blue-pilled and black-pilled following contact with the real world: a steady corporate job and girlfriend mellowed his edgier takes, while his realization that normie Republicans simply don't share the Spencer worldview and had no stomach for activism showed him the futility of full-on White Nationalism.

More compelling is Walt's personal journey and description of the heady year of 2015-2016 and the subsequent reality-check of 2017. While Walt paints with a broad brush, there is much truth in the wave of black-pilled Ron Paul supporters flocking to the hard right, entertaining and promulgating ideas for outside the normal discourse: I was one of them. He captures well the excitement and ethos of 2015-2016. He also captures well the ennui and bitterness following Charlottesville and Doug Jones' senate victory. With Covid throwing a massive wrench in the collective imagination, Walt's essays serves as a good reminder of the rollercoaster ride that was politics in the 2 years between 2015-2017.

Walt chooses to skip over much of 2018-2024. While 2017 was a very bad year (in addition to Charlottesville and Doug Jones, there was McCain sinking the repeal of Obamacare and his subsequent adoration by the left, which was for me personally a massive black pill), 2018-2020 was far better. Trump passed two major pieces of legislation which helped unleash an economy that had been sputtering under Obama. Doug Jones, rather than throwing a wrench, voted for each. 2018 was not the mid-term bloodbath that many feared. The politicized and baseless investigations into Trump made it clear to the median Republican that there was a deep state that was determined to undermine and overthrow Trump. By early 2020 I was cautiously optimistic about the direction of the country.

Then Covid happened. March 2020 to January 2021 was a dark time: the authoritarianism against law-abiding citizens, rioters burning down our cities suffering no prosecution, election laws changed to make "allowance" for Covid, relentless DEI. The intense isolation and frustration of feeling like the only sane person in a world gone mad. I believe this pent-up frustration was partially responsible for the events of January 6th. January 6th itself was a turning point. The harsh crackdown on the rioters when whole cities had burned six months earlier with no reprisal made it clear to the median Republican that there was a deep state that was determined to undermine and overthrow them. The culture war was now existential. And the Right started to put up a fight.

Into the fray stepped Rufo, Desantis, and Lindsay. They were able to identify core leftist ideology and repurposed previously leftist jargon (CRT, DEI) into pejorative labels. Desantis and Rufo put the weight of legislative action against the pervasive left-wing hegemony. Groups such as the National Conservatives, self-described Post-Liberals, and Christian Nationalists started coalescing and providing intellectual leadership for a new Right. X and Substack have allowed for the exchange of ideas that would have been impossible in 2020. Everyone, conservative or not, now sees that the emperor has no clothes. The deep state exists, and is sclerotic and incompetent. Several key victories, mostly through the Supreme Court, have served to shift the legal framework in favor of the Right. The Right isn't just fighting, it is often winning.

Walt is incorrect that the Alt-Right won. But he is correct that it had an important dissident voice that provided a valuable alternative to think-tank Conservatism. The newer leaders on the Right may be more "mature", more "institutional", and only retain a subset of the Alt-Right's objectives, but they owe a debt to the Alt-Right. They no longer need to apologize or throat-clear. They can speak plainly and authoritatively. The battle lines are clear, and the next stage of the fight can now commence.

You are reading too much into what I wrote. I am not Austrian. 100% reserves will not resolve business cycles, nor is that prescription practicable. I think even the New Keynesians have more interesting things to say on economics than Austrians. I happen to work for a large-ish bank that practices fractional reserve banking (as all retail banks do), and I can sleep at night.

I think Cochrane is the closest to being correct of the three that I laid out. I also think his proposal for 100% equity funded banks is both practicable and better aligns savers and borrowers, and will definitively end bank runs. I think all three are closer to being "correct" than the Austrians, whose main claim to fame is thoroughly debunking Marxist economics (admittedly not a high hurdle to clear).

I would love to hear more from you on the post-war Keynesian literature and how it is relevant to the rest of my post; that is the part that actually interests me.

The causes of inflation

Having recently finished Cochrane's Fiscal Theory of the Price Level, I was primarily struck by how contrived all modern macro-economic models are, whether Monetarist, New Keynesian, or Fiscal. New Keynesian models, for example, imply bizarre outcomes such as spiraling deflation when interest rates are at or near zero, yet rather than discarding the model economists instead warn of spiraling deflation at the zero bound. From a methodological standpoint, there appears to be a tradition of "fixing" a model by declaring a variable to be stochastic or subject to regime-change; yet without going back and re-deriving the model with these additional assumptions. Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium (DSGE) models jointly estimate macro-economic variables and policy parameters, despite policies being a choice; rendering predictions of potential policy impact on relevant economic variables futile.

Indeed, I posit that all three frameworks are missing a key element that drives inflation: the fact that the representative inter-temporal discount factor is non-constant, and that the discount factor is directly impacted by fiscal policy.


First, some background. The representative agent (let's say me) prefers consumption now than consumption in the future. There are many philosophical reasons that this may be so, but the existence of debt appears to be ample empirical evidence for this assumption. The amount by which I prefer current consumption to future consumption is called the "discount factor", and can be modeled in a variety of ways. In discrete time, it is often symbolized using the Greek letter "beta" (not to be confused with the CAPM beta) and is typically somewhat less than 1 (perhaps in the .85-.99 range). Micro-economic models call the rate at which I prefer current consumption to future consumption the "elasticity of inter-temporal substitution", and typically model the impact of interest rates on this inter-temporal substitution effect. In equilibrium, the interest rate is directional proportional the negative log of the discount factor: r = a - log(beta), or if beta is modeled as exp(-delta), r = a + delta.

In a simple economic model with no government spending, no Federal Reserve, and no banks (frictionless financial markets) (and oh, to live in such a world!), the discount factor is directly related to the savings rate and amount of investment in "physical" (though intangible in the case of software and innovation) capital. Having a long term view implies a high savings rate. Savings are invested in capital. Capital is the primary driver of long-term economic growth, as it allows economies to produce more goods with greater efficiency. If the aggregate discount factor is at .95, then any capital investment with a (risk-adjusted) return greater than 5% would be financed, leading to more economic growth than if only capital investments with returns greater than 10% were financed.

Government spending, a central bank, and retail banks throw this simple model into flux. Unlike mutual funds, which act as a true intermediary by taking investors money and directly putting the money into portfolios of stocks and bonds, retail banks lend "safe" and thus cheap deposits. This cash has to go somewhere, and eventually makes its way back to a bank as a deposit...which is then lent out again. This cheap borrowing, and subsequent rise in the broad deposit base, artificially lowers the lending rate. Austrian economics correctly states that this leads to over-investment: investment is unbacked by corresponding saving, causing a bubble and mis-allocation of economic resources. A much more economically straightforward approach (and one also suggested by Cochrane) is for banks to be financed entirely by equity: investors can buy stocks in a bank, who then uses the money raised by an equity issuance to fund lending. This approach would let retail banks truly act as intermediaries, being rewarded for expertise in credit risk management and identification of wise investments, without introducing investment distortions.

Government spending is also a distortion. The government has to spend on something: either they hire private companies (a form of consumption or investment, depending on the nature of the spending) or directly create consumer or investment goods. Since this investment is also not tied to savings, distortion is introduced (Ricardian equivalence not-withstanding).

Finally, central banks control the interest rate either via the rate at which they allow retail banks to borrow or by directly creating money and purchasing government bonds on the open market. Purchasing government bonds increases the demand for bonds directly, giving the government more capacity to borrow and spend and facilitating more distortion.

Mainstream theories

Monetarists, New Keynesians, and Fiscal theories are aware of all the above, yet don't directly introduce these facts into their canonical models. Loosely speaking, Monetarists consider inflation to be driven in the long run by changes in the money supply: "Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon" according to Friedman. Mathematically, MV = PY, where Y is economic output, P is the price level, M is the money supply, and V is the velocity of money (how frequently it changes hands). Under the assumption that V is a stationary process (conceptually, mean reverting) and that Y is long-run exogenous, the only impact on P comes from M. Unfortunately, M is not well defined, especially, as Cochrane correctly points out, in the presence of increasing financial innovation and removal of financial frictions. If I can purchase a television by an immediate transfer from my investment portfolio with no conversion to cash, then M is not only all cash and deposits, but also all bonds and stocks. Central bank open market operations, where money is created to purchase bonds, then has no impact on the money supply. Cash is created, but bonds are removed from the market, which is net-neutral for the money supply.

New Keynesians, in the tradition of the original Keynesians, consider inflation to be caused by excess demand. This is explicit in their canonical models, where the inflation rate is a function of the output gap and expected future inflation. New Keynesian theories struggle to explain the lack of inflation from 2009 to 2020, where fiscal and monetary policy were both accommodating, but in which inflation stayed stubbornly low.

Finally, Fiscal Theorists consider inflation to be the result of government deficits that are not backed by corresponding future surpluses. In this theory, government debt is valued by the present value of future primary surpluses (cash flows excluding interest expenditure). Government can either credibly promise to pay back new debt (in which case the current value of debt remains constant), or the price level will increase to deflate the current level of debt. This theory is relatively simple and has many advantages that Cochrane articulates in detail. My biggest issue with the theory is that the mechanism for inflation is opaque. The government can issue debt and promise future surpluses, leading to Ricardian equivalence. But if the government doesn't promise future surpluses, people are free to spend the money, driving up the price level. This theory does not, to my knowledge, tie consumer behavior back to the representative agent's utility function.

What about the discount factor?

And now I can finally get back to my own theory. Each of the three theories posited above assumes that the discount factor is constant. I believe that the discount factor is dynamic and that this dynamism directly leads to inflation. Fiscal policy can directly impact the discount factor, while monetary policies can stimulate inflation by decoupling interest rates from the discount factor.

An immediate shift to higher discount rates (lower discount factor) will cause immediate price level increases. As I now prefer current consumption even more over future consumption, I will spend more today and save less for tomorrow. Since higher discount rates lead to less economic growth, there is less room for supply side easing of inflationary pressure. Populations that have higher discount rates will also tend to vote in myopic governments who focus on short-term benefits while ignoring long-term structural and financial concerns.

Expansionary fiscal policy puts additional cash in consumers or investors hands. The presence and continued growth of additional cash will have an impact on savings rates: why should I bother to save if I will simply receive more government cash in the future? The discount rate will rise as a result. Cochrane does have a point: debt that is backed by future surpluses will not have the same impact on the discount rate, since eventually the gravy train will stop. However, Cochrane does not allow discount rates to change, robbing the model of a key mechanism for inducing inflation.

Expansionary monetary policy does not necessarily impact the discount rate. While in a frictionless society with no government, an interest rate decline can only happen when discount rates also decline, in an expansionary monetary episode lower interest rates can lead to higher “real” discount rates. The availability of cheap money relative to discount rates leads to increases in borrowing and current consumption which leads to demand-side inflation. This is a standard Keynesian argument, but I go one step further: long periods of low interest rates can lead to a lethargic population that assumes that money will always be free. How this manifests in a utility function is ambiguous: it could be that this actually lowers the discount rate in the long run (raises the discount factor). If this is the case, then a sudden interest and fiscal shock to the system can causes an even larger increase in the discount rate.

2021 was a time of fiscal excess, supply shortages, and post-pandemic YOLOing. Discount rates shot through the roof, as evidenced by both heightened consumption and declines in workforce participation, hitting both the demand and supply side of the economy, funded by accommodating fiscal policy. It is a testament to the American people that we seem to a large extent to have come back to our senses. Despite continued deficits, inflation has come down as the discount rate has dropped to near previous levels. However, it is clear how easy it would be to devolve into a South American-style economy, characterized by short-termism and fiscal irresponsibility at both the individual and government levels.

Why is this culture war material?

To what degree are low discount rates driven by culture? Americans were originally positively selected for long-termism. By definition, they had an unusually high capacity for adventure, exploration, hard work, and desire to create a better world for their descendants. Most of the immigrants to the United States since have had similar positive selection. Even the Irish and African populations, who may have been negatively selected on certain attributes (by the potato famine and by defeat/capture by rival tribes respectively), there isn't anything to suggest that their discount rate was negatively selected for. When America was a melting pot, they were assimilated into a culture that favored long-termism.

When considering modern immigrants in light of discount rates, I come to a surprising conclusion. Whatever issues illegal immigrants have (and I have many concerns!), they may well be positively selected on discount rate. They risk danger and uncertainty for a better and brighter long-term future. On the other hand, while seemingly the most successful immigrants, Indians could very well be negatively selected on discount rate. Rather than stay in India and help transform it into a fully developed nation, they come to the United States to enjoy immediate success. Indians (Brahmins) have administrative and managerial talents that often far outpace the mean American and they enjoy great success navigating the PMC (the growth of which could also be a consequence of higher discount rates). Yet in my experience, these high-capacity Brahmins do not actually drive innovation or change. If I'm correct about this, the current surfeit of Indian executive talent could contribute to American economic stagnation.

"Christian Nationalism" is a label given by its detractors, so I agree it certainly sounds more theocratic than it actually is. I should have more carefully defined it in my original post. Here are specific parts I find compelling:

  • They believe: They recognize the totality of Scripture and supremacy of God and fully embracing its implications. One of these implications being an understanding of a just or flourishing society that is at complete odds with the Western perspective. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theonomy.
  • They fight: They meet the apostasy of our society head on. They recognize that politics is endogenous to the human state, and as Christians we cannot escape it. Christianity cannot be "above" politics, we are already in it whether we want to be or not. The question is not "if", but "how".
  • They build: They are starting to build a parallel society, with new educational and civic institutions, while not fully withdrawing from broader society (contra Rod Dreher). They truly are in the world but not of the world.

As I hinted in my original post, I'm starting to personally recognize that God has already defined what a flourishing society would look like, and it is not (purely) libertarian. While I don't favor a state Church, I would be in favor of including a statement that all orthodox Christians believe into our Constitution, such as the Nicene creed. If "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.", then we should enshrine morality and religion in the Constitution.

On the other hand, I recognize there are downsides as well:

  • The elevation of the Church to a position of political authority tends to corrupt the Church. There is a reason to render to Caesar's what is Caesar's; and to God's what is God's. A state church benefits the state far more than it benefits the church.
  • On the question of the salvific implications of a national religion, it requires the sovereign to truly believe that they are subject to the divine; otherwise they will manipulate the genuine faith of their subjects to horrible ends. Historically, the evidence is that rulers tend towards skepticism and machiavellianism rather than caretakers and redeemers of their people.
  • On a practical note, it would be difficult to implement in our increasingly post-Christian society.

Edit: clarity, formatting, spelling

I posted on this forum because I did want to hear a non-Christian perspective on Christian Nationalism (good, bad, and ugly), so I appreciate your response. I hope that non-Christians can find the topic interesting, in the same way that I find discussions on GamerGate interesting despite not being a gamer.

EDIT: To respond to your larger question about the appropriateness of religion in a rat-adjacent forum, I believe rationalism is an incredibly useful tool for uncovering knowledge. I believe rationalism is downstream of Truth: in the beginning was the Logos (the Word), the Word was with God, and the Word was God. If I'm understanding you correctly, you conclude that there is no God because it doesn't follow from rational principles; without God I don't think there is such a thing as rational principles. Or, to put it crudely:

Jesus is Lord -> 2+2=4 -> everything else that follows.

Starting with 2+2=4 can get you quite far, but it won't uncover all knowledge and it would be futile to ask it to prove or disprove revelation.

A good summary can be found here: https://g3min.org/a-review-of-mere-christendom-by-doug-wilson/. For a critical perspective, see Heidi Przybyla's interview on MSNBC.

Every sin, no matter how "small", condemns us. However, at a societal level there is a clear distinction between a population that occasionally looks on someone with lust, and a population that murders and rapes babies.

Christian Nationalism

Within my own circles this is rather a hot topic, but I've yet to see it discussed in this forum. Christian evangelicalism has had its own version of the culture war; to whit, how involved and in what manner should Christians (both individually and the Church) be engaged in society and politics. There are factions of "Big Eva" who seem to be moving more Left (see the recent "He gets us" commercial in the Super Bowl). There are those who think that the "third-way"ism of Tim Keller (taking a high road that transcends politics and culture war) is still relevant in these days (from my perspective, with echos of Martin Niemoller). And there are those who are actively seeking a more aggressive and explicitly Christian approach to governance and policy. For those interested, a useful taxonomy provided by the Gospel Coalition describes to a reasonable first approximation the different approaches that Christians have to our current moment.

I have had my own journey in the direction of Christian Nationalism (though I wouldn't...yet...apply that label to myself). While in college I was a pro-life Ron Paul libertarian, over the years I've become less individualistic as I've grown in my faith. I used to think of religion as a private exercise. I know recognize the centrality of community. I even have begun to entertain the idea that there may be salvific consequences for those who are under the authority of a Christian leader. If the unbelieving spouse can be sanctified by his or her believing counterpart, and an entire house can be baptized when the head of the house believes, could there not be salvation extended to a nation whose head of state is an orthodox Christian and whose government practices the precepts of the Word? (If you are interested in more of my ramblings on this topic, https://pyotrverkhovensky.substack.com/p/what-is-christianitys-role-in-culture and https://pyotrverkhovensky.substack.com/p/on-theocracy-and-redemption)

Christianity in America has enjoyed centuries of being a dominant culture. Many Christians, having grown up in a culture that was at least outwardly compatible with Christianity, have slipped into casual acceptance of cultural norms. They are in the world, and of the world. In many cases self-proclaimed Christians are functionally agnostic, with no significant lifestyle differences from Atheists. Do we really believe Christ is Lord or do we not? Do we not believe in divine judgement and divine mercy? Is Church a weekly therapeutic exercise or is it a place where we meet the transcendent and drink of the body and the blood? Christian Nationalism, at its core, recognizes the reality and consequence of a world in which Christ is Lord. There is no "third way", there is only God's way. (For a somewhat related essay on the reality of God, see https://pyotrverkhovensky.substack.com/p/christianity-and-culture-continued).

There is a common assumption among Christians that all sin is equally damning. Man can never follow the Law, and Jesus even makes it clear that the Law didn't go far enough (the Law allows divorce, and does not explicitly proscribe lust). At the individual level, this assumption is correct. Outside the atonement found in Jesus, we all stand condemned. Yet at the societal level, there are varying levels of alignment with God's will. Every single person in Nazi Germany was a sinner. Every single person in 1941 USA was a sinner. Yet it would be an unusual Christian who would argue that 1941 USA was not more aligned with God's will than Nazi Germany. Not all societies are created equal, and there are varying degrees of misalignment. If I look at a woman in lust, I am clearly sinning and am condemned; but at least my desires are in alignment with God's ideal. It is only the object of my desires that is inappropriate, as being attracted to my wife is not only not a sin, but is a key part of a relationship that is a representation of Christ's love for the Church. Same-sex attraction is more disordered as both the object and the desire itself are misaligned. Transgenderism is completely disordered: the object, desire, and self are all misaligned. Societies that venerate increasingly disordered behavior will inevitably sink into corruption and decay. Christian Nationalism, perhaps alone among contemporary strands of Christian thought, fully acknowledges these implications.

My perspective, as a Christian:

  • There is knowledge/truth that cannot be discovered via purely rationalistic/logical means (as hinted at by Godel)
  • There is truth that is inherently unfalsifiable
  • Science/rationality is an incredibly useful tool, and is a subset of the tools/revelation that God has provided us to understand his world
  • Like all tools, this tool can (and due to our fallenness will inevitably) become unaligned with God's will/plan
  • Unless another tool is yet to be discovered (and I doubt such a tool will be), there is no way for humanity to ascertain unfalsifiable truth/knowledge without revelation (either general or specific).

I've been re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time since I was a kid. I'm not a huge fan of Lewis' children's books, but there are certain moments that stand out. Two that resonate with me:

From the Dawn Treader:

"In our world," said Eustace, "a star is a huge ball of flaming gas."

"Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of."

From the Silver Chair:

"Hangeth from what, my lord?" asked the Witch; and then, while they were all still thinking how to answer her, she added, with another of her soft, silver laughs: "You see? When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is like the lamp. Your sun is a dream; and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp. The lamp is the real thing; the sun is but a tale, a children's story."

"Yes, I see now," said Jill in a heavy, hopeless tone. "It must be so." And while she said this, it seemed to her to be very good sense.

The entire framing of this ad points to an unseriousness about Christ on the part of its creators. There is a growing tendency in protestant circles to believe that our mission is to shepherd the path to individual and societal self-actualization. This is clear in mainline denominations, where in my town only coffee shops are more likely to prominently display price/transgender flags. But it's seeping into "evangelical" denominations as well. Even doctrinally sound churches sing insipid lyrics about Christ as our friend (rightfully lampooned by South Park), are pastorally lenient on premarital cohabitation and divorce (even protestants are supposed to consider marriage covenantal), and are quite squishy around women ordination.

We are trapped in the culture's post-Christian milieu, and we like it. We just want to be a little more recognized within it.

"He gets us". What narcissism! God needs nothing outside of himself. God is the almighty, the Triune, omnipotent, without whom nothing would exist and without whose ongoing sustenance nothing would continue to exist. The Spirit hovered over the face of the waters, and creation began. The Word was in the beginning, was God, and spoke through the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament; and became flesh and dwelt among us. Christ came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, the very laws and prophecies that he inspired. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," says the Lord. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts." Our response is not to bloviate banalities on national TV. Our response is to fall on our knees in holy fear, reverence, and repentance.

Atlanta is a strange city. It simultaneously has a distinct old-south vibe, inner-city blight, an aggressive ("vibrant"?) and mainly white LGBTQ community, and a modern skyline dominated by the headquarters of Fortune 500 companies. It is also separated from some of the most "southern" rural areas in the USA by a drive of mere minutes.

It was to Atlanta that I drove for the Peach Bowl, the first-time ever match between my favorite college team and my second-favorite college team.

There are plenty of culture war aspects to the game that I could describe. There are the homeless tents and camps scattered beneath crumbling ruins of houses and former businesses in the old Downtown while across the street is one of the most expensive and luxurious stadiums ever made. There were the two mostly rural (but wealthy!) fanbases completely out of place in south Atlanta: what seems perfectly normal in the Grove or in State College becomes grotesque when placed next to either a homeless camp or a glistening 5 star hotel. There is the transfer portal and opt-outs wreaking havoc to bowl games and the rise of Name Image Likeness (NIL) shell companies that effectively launders alumni donations to pay college athletes which enable rich and (mostly) conservative alumni to buy championships rather than elections.

Instead I will describe the invocation given before the game. Before every American sporting event the crowd is invited to stand for the National Anthem. Most know to place their hands over their hearts during the anthem. This time as we were invited to stand, I was anticipating the anthem to start playing and put hand over heart. Instead the announcer asked us to bow our heads for an invocation. This was the first time I had experienced a prayer prior to a football game and in my cynicism I expected a universalist crowd-pleasing platitude. As a serious Christian, I was willing to listen respectfully but did not want to intimate that I thought the prayer was actually being made to the God of the universe. The first word from the black preacher disabused me of my cynicism: "Father", he prayed. I adopted a more reverent posture as I recognized this preacher genuinely believed he was talking to God. He prayed that the athletes would perform to their best of their abilities, that there would be no serious injuries, and finally for an attitude of gratefulness that we had the opportunity and means to enjoy such a venue. In light of the blight and ghetto surrounding the stadium, I especially appreciated this last sentiment.

As he was concluding his prayer he delivered his most potent and shocking affirmation: "we pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior, who died for our sins, and on the third day rose again! AMEN!".

Seventy thousand people were dead silent, stunned. Then a significant portion (possibly a third to a half) broke out in applause. An Ole Miss fan next to me chortled, "I don't think that went according to script!". The band struck up the anthem, and hands were placed over hearts. The anthem is often my favorite part of a sporting event: two teams may hate each other but they become unified in support of a shared nationality and identity. This time, it was a distant second place compared to the invocation.

Alabama - Tennessee: Spending an afternoon with 100,000 members of the "grill" crowd.

I have been to several football games at "tier-2" SEC and Big 10 teams. This was my first visit to one of the college football elite. This was a fanbase that has exacting expectations for their team. It was also one with a nervous edge: Alabama had suffered a home loss to Texas and had looked vulnerable in several other games. Like most SEC fanbases, several hours of lubrication had preceded the kick-off. It was a loud, rowdy, yet very focused crowd. Even in the interior areas, the fans would yell "Roll Tide"; the large concrete hallways providing amplification and echo.

Unsolicited, a mostly-sober Alabama fan engaged me in single-sentence conversation: "Our girls are so much hotter than theirs". When I declared my neutrality in the upcoming showdown, he said "oh, you're unbiased then. Aren't our girls so much hotter than theirs?"

In the SEC, people dress up for games. The sorority girls especially dress for display, revealing and augmenting what is typically already top-tier aesthetic qualities. As one large banner hung on a House, re-affirming my previous encounter, "our girls are hotter than UT's!". Several of the sorority members gyrated on the porch as living proof. These girls are secure in their identity: in their looks, their social networks, and their sorority (and these three are all heavily correlated).

In five years, these girls will be wives. They will be more mature and less wild; dressed to the nines but more modestly. In ten years they will have two or three kids. Their beauty will be diminished but they will have found new identity in their children, husbands, and school social networks. They will still faithfully attend games, raising up the next generation of die-hard Alabama fans.

During the game, a particularly enthusiastic fan behind me shouted encouragement and tirades in full volume and with little let-up. Somewhat ironically, his pejoratives for the UT fanbase centered particularly on their inadequate cultural sophistication, with "podunk" and "redneck" frequent descriptors. To one slightly effeminate student he yelled "you should get a Bud-light". With his accent, appearance, and bearing he was almost a perfect Hollywood caricature of an Alabamian. During a momentary lull in the action he let me know he was pursuing his master's degree.

Most of the fanbase was well educated and well-off. While there is a joke that only 10% of Alabama fans actually attended the university, the majority of those in attendance had certainly had a college degree and beyond. The cost of a game is prohibitive to all but the most connected or wealthy. While I didn't pay for my ticket, parking, or the tailgate activities rumor had it that the per-person cost was well into the 4 figures. No one even blinked at the 15 dollar stadium beer.

When Alabama scooped a fumble for a score to clinch the game, the crowd went berserk and the stands turned into a party. After the extra point, the loudspeakers played Garth Brook's "Friends in low places" and the entire crowd sang along, locking arms and swaying back and forth. Cigars starting being lit, and soon the stadium was filled with haze.

I was swept up in the post game excitement. The student body was crowding into the bars and restaurants to continue the celebration. Those of us who had driven to the game meandered back to our cars, knowing that traffic was going to be a disaster regardless of when we left. Along the way, I passed Greek houses where the real parties were at, though even the standard student housing appeared to be holding impromptu parties in the stairwells. Somehow a female Tennessee student made it into an Alabama dorm and yelled "Go Vols" at passing pedestrians. One incredulous fan yelled back "you lost!".

As Scott Greer would say, these fans are economically upper-class economically but who enjoy low-class activities (at least, as defined by our cultural elites). Yet is the tailgating culture truly low-class? The catered food at many tailgates is provided by top restaurants, there is typically at least one very nice liquor, and the cigars were ubiquitous following the victory. I saw an Audi R8, tricked-out trucks costing upwards of six figures, and campers that cost the equivalent of a small lakehouse. In addition, these are people who simply know how to have fun, and do so with enthusiasm and no excuses. There is self-awareness but no navel-gazing. These are people who know who they are and take pride in it.

Are we all postmoderns now?

I have a thought experiment, riffed from Schrödinger, of a box that when opened reveals whether or not God exists. While philosophically paradoxical (any entity that can definitively say God doesn't exist must be all-knowing and thus indistinguishable from God; an entity that says God does exist may only be referring to itself), I consider this a test for the strength of belief and/or the strength of the yearning for truth for believer and non-believer alike. Would someone be willing to stake a core part of their identity in opening such a box or would they rather leave it closed?

In my innocent (if not naive) moments, I consider the existence of God to be self-evident: life and consciousness are (to me) massive gaps in the Atheistic narrative. In my cynical (if not naive) moments, I consider the existence of God to be self-evident as well, but only as the creator/designer of our simulation.

During the "Sunday school" hour, my church has been having members talk about their lives and how they ended up being where they are geographically, professionally, and spiritually. Statements by two members struck me particularly:

  • "I could not believe in a God who has not suffered as I have" (in reference to Jesus being tempted in every way that we have, yet without sin; and his sacrifice on the cross)
  • "I struggled with how I could be both a thinking-person and believe in God"

These are members who, if offered the choice in my thought experiment, I'm sure would open the box. Yet they made statements that seem at odds with an assurance of the physical reality of God.

In the first instance, conditioning belief on an attribute of God (and one that has only existed for two thousand years!) implies a causality that runs in the opposite direction than it does: that the existence of God is predicated on our belief; or even worse, our preference for certain attributes of God. We may consider his attributes good but only because God is the creator of everything including morality. What we perceive (at least as through a glass dimly) as his good attributes are simply because we were made by a God who has these attributes. Any part of us that considers any aspect of God to be less than perfect is an error of our own fallen nature.

In the second, the desire (spurred by our post-enlightenment culture, perhaps) to appear (or even to actually be) intellectual and rational is juxtaposed against faith as if the existence of God is predicated on our ability to reason our way to him (or at least not reason ourselves away from him). Put succinctly, this line of thinking posits that we adjust our priors for the existence of God based on rational evidence or lack-thereof. Yet this presupposes our intellect to both be the primary means of knowledge about the existence of God and to be a reliable source of this knowledge. I have qualms with both presuppositions. The existence of God can be perceived experientially, and is probably a more robust evidence for God than mere philosophical puzzling (Colossians 2:8). Contra Aquinas, the intellect itself is fallen and incapable of definitively or reliably answering questions of God's existence. One of the genuine contributions of post-modernity and critical theory is bringing attention back to the limitations of rationality and scientific knowledge.

In both of my fellow Christians' statements, the "default" position is assumed to be one of agnosticism or "lack of belief". And indeed, everything about our culture assumes agnosticism. To participate and engage in culture is to do so within this agnostic backdrop. Every aspect of our interactions with non-believers and believers alike is permeated with this assumption.

Yet I owe this culture no allegiance. My acquiescence to the milieu (or should I say malaise?) is entirely self-imposed. Would that I could live in my own impenetrable bubble; surrounded by society without feeling the taint of it. The impossibility drives a desire to escape, to find a place where I can find the space to fully explore my relationship with God, with my family, with fellow believers, with nature; and better organize my own opinions and beliefs into a consistent narrative. It's the same desire that drives Rod Dreher to recommend cloistering away from culture, and Ayn Rand to fantasize about capitalistic communes. (It's worth nothing that neither acted on this desire; though Dreher did emigrate).

My fellow Christians keep reminding me that we are called to be in the world but not of the world. They are probably much better Christians than I; they may driven by a genuine desire to save the lost. I know myself, and I merely use the Biblical commandment as an excuse to amass temporal and superficial comforts at the expense of something much deeper. No fellow believer will uncover my secret: it is impossible to distinguish someone who is just "in the world" with someone wallowing in it.

Lest it be unclear at this point: I am inescapably postmodern.

I've wrestled with similar questions. Life was simpler before I had kids! The following is something I wrote a few months ago around Christian's response to culture:

I have been struggling with what Christianity’s role should be in a West that becomes increasingly culturally incompatible with the traditional teachings of the Church. I have read Christ and Culture by Neihbur and To Change the World by Hunter. I have perused the writings that are at least adjacent to Rod Dreher’s Benedictine Option. When it comes to Christianity’s role in the broader culture, I see three typical approaches. First, what are we commanded to do. As Jesus summarized the law, “Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself”. And the dual creation/commission mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply. Go into all the world and make disciples”. Second, how did Jesus himself engage with the culture and politics of his time. Third, what is the strategic direction we should take to maximize our impact on culture.

I have listed these three in descending order of importance. God’s commands should trump our perception of how Jesus engaged with the world (this perception being tainted by our predispositions and bias). Jesus’ example (even through our tainted perception) should certainly be given more weight than mere strategic direction especially since political strategists would (and in fact did) recommend a vastly different approach than Jesus took.

Of course, interpretation plays a key role in all three of these approaches. The words “as yourself” and the meaning of “love” can be read very differently. Some modern protestants may see this as a command to help both Christians and non-Christians along a journey of self-actualization. Calvin may have seen this as a command to ensure orthodoxy and right thinking in the population he was responsible for, even if it meant burning heretics at the stake.

All three of the authors I mention above interpret the “commandments” approach similarly and in a manner compatible with orthodox Christianity. I will delve into my own perspective in more depth later in this essay.

Neihbur focuses more than the other authors on the depth and unexpectedness of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Reading through the Gospels while attempting to remove our cultural expectations of Jesus is eye-opening: Jesus is caustic, frustrated, exasperated, and something of a pre-internet troll. He overturns money tables in a one-man riot. He is repeatedly the target of lynch mobs. What Jesus did not do was set up an earthly kingdom or impose God’s law through state force despite continual temptations (and certainly the ability) to do so.

The strategic direction is where the authors have the most disagreement. Hunter thinks we need to change the culture by being present yet different. He points to the success of small groups of people in changing opinions and culture especially through the influence of elite thought. Elites command outsized soft power and a compelling narrative that can be adopted by the elite will do more than any other political or cultural power to make society more aligned with God’s good design. Hunter wrote in the early 2010s, a simpler time when elites were left-leaning but not despised by millions of Americans. Dreher probably would agree with Hunter on the power of elites, and this may be a reason he calls for withdrawal. The elites are lost, and thus the culture is lost. The best option is to at least shield our children from the culture.

Commentary on God’s commandments

If I was offered the opportunity to be dictator what would I do? Would I, like Jesus, decline the option? My scope of effort is local and transient while Jesus’ was eternal, so I could not directly appeal to “WWJD” in this case. Indeed, if part of my call as a Christian is to encourage societal flourishing I could not decline such an opportunity. What would be the form of government and the laws which I would enact? Certainly I would not presume to know more about a flourishing society than God, so I would have to set up something very similar to a theocracy following God’s laws.

The very concept of theocracy is anathema to modern sensibilities, both Christian and non-Christian. Part of the reason for this is that “love” is often conflated with, or is considered inclusive of, “acceptance” and “tolerance”. Hence a call to love our neighbors is interpreted as an acquiescence to moral pluralism. But note the fallacy here: we have let a fallen and hedonistic culture (footnote 1) define love for us, and then have allowed them to hold us to their standard of love. Broad acceptance of immoral behaviors have negative societal impacts, as one would expect from a culture that deviates so strongly from God’s laws and good purpose.

The creation mandate is to be fruitful and multiply. Christians can and should have a strong voice against declining birth rates. It is one of the few moral areas surrounding sex and procreation that Christians can demonstrably practice what we preach. Yet we don’t hold any stigma for childless couples, late marriages, and women who prioritize their careers over motherhood. Our society also has frustrated singles, historically high levels of depression, and a sense of unfulfillment and loss. Christians have adopted the cultural milieu in this area unthinkingly. By prizing and enabling individual self-actualization we have begat physical and emotional barrenness. In a sense, “loving our neighbors” has led us to not having neighbors.

The creation mandate by itself is sufficient (though not necessary, since the Bible repeatedly describes Godly behavior on these issues) to explain orthodox Christian positions on many issues. Cohabitation and homosexuality are implicitly anti-natalist. Abortion is explicitly anti-natalist. Infertility via “sex changes” is anti-natalist. A society that is accepting of these lifestyles is one that is embracing death rather than life.

The great commission extends the creation mandate to proclaiming the gospel. This commandment directly contradicts Dreher’s approach for removing ourselves from society: it is hard to proclaim the good news when not involved in the world.

Commentary on Jesus’ example

Jesus took issue with the legalism and hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his time. He also fraternized with those were outcast by society either due to moral failings or by their socio-economic status. Both John the Baptist and Jesus led populist, anti-elite movements that shook Palestine and its leaders to its core. This runs directly contrary to Hunter’s suggestion for Christian engagement with the cultural elite. A modern equivalent may be a tent revival at the Talladega Speedway. Importantly, this fraternization did not extend to accepting or tolerating immoral behavior but changing it. The women of loose morals altered their lifestyles after their encounters with Jesus.

One point in Dreher’s favor is the argument that paying taxes into a system that supports abortion and gay marriage makes us complicit in society’s evil. I am personally very sympathetic to this argument. Every time I hear a snide commentator on NPR denigrate everything I believe in I grind my teeth. My hard work paid for those who wish my destruction. Yet Jesus tells us to render to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s; paying taxes that went to pay the very soldiers who nailed him to a cross.

Commentary on our strategic approach

There are two additional concerns I have with Hunter’s approach to Christianity’s engagement with culture. The first is simply that “faithful presence” is exposing oneself to intense temptation to conform to the world (see footnote 2). I would put Tim Keller in the very small group of Christians with a successful “faithful presence” but even he does so while fully engaged in ministry. The second is that a “faithful presence” is not the tactical win that he thinks it is. The grassroots radicalism of the Black Power movement led to the introduction of those ideas into the academy, and has now spilled back into the culture as if from the “elite”, but the “elite” only paid attention due to the initial populism.

While I disagree with Dreher’s conclusion that we should sequester ourselves on grounds that it is being disobedient to Christ’s calling, it is also transparently a strategy of failure. In the best case scenario it is a Christian “Atlas Shrugged”; where we let Sodom and Gomorrah burn while we create a new Christian society from the ashes. Far more likely we will become another Amish, with their cultural irrelevancy.

My tentative suggestion

I think that faithful, populist, grassroots movements is the most compatible with God’s commandments, with Jesus’ ministry and example, and is close to an optimal strategic approach. Christians certainly need to be engaged with the elite as Hunter suggests , but the biggest impact will be through converting already existing elites. This will happen more naturally and organically as the elite inevitably contact and confront the societal undercurrents of such a Christian movement.


I am aware that not all Christians believe that culture generally, and our culture specifically, is diametrically opposed to Christianity. I believe all earthly culture is tainted by the fall, just as all individuals are tainted by the fall. That said, some earthly cultures align more closely with God’s design than others. A culture that is 80% Christian will be more aligned with God’s design than one that is 10% Christian. One of my key concerns is that cultures move slowly, and we adopt new aspects to a culture assuming that it retains the same relative alignment with God’s design even as it moves farther away in actuality.


I also find it unavoidable to notice how apparently self-serving the “faithful presence” proscription is to an academic like Hunter.

Except most Nigerian Anglican churches are looking to officially break from the Church of England: https://www.wsj.com/articles/conservative-anglicans-call-for-break-with-archbishop-of-canterbury-over-same-sex-blessings-2564937b.

You can't wag the finger about wanting to turn the clock back, then issue a manifesto that... turns the clock back.

I'm fine with "turning the clock back" if there is a first-principles based approach for justifying it. What I don't want is nostalgic wishing for the "good old days". This is neither a compelling forward-looking vision nor epistemologically sound.

Also, parts of your manifesto are contradictory:

I'm not here to defend my article to a great degree :). I only weakly believe in it myself. That said, this statement is not a contradiction for two reasons.

First, there are roughly 3.7-4 million nurses in the US. There are 30 million aged 18-24. Making some rough assumptions, 10 million are thus between 18-20. Half of those are women, so we have 5 million 18-20 year old nurses, which is not out of alignment with the existing nursing population.

Second, my aim is not to reduce nursing staff; it is to reduce the inordinate bureaucratic bloat in finance and health. We spend an astronomical amount of our output on health care and finance. Health care and finance are both "intermediate" activities for the economy. One keeps the working population healthy enough to work, the other provides capital for businesses. Both industries should be enablers but they are a drag instead. Reducing the bloat can free us to focus on "final" goods and services.

Most people are against wokeness

I'm not sure there isn't a plurality of woke (or at least, who benefit from wokeism).

I live in a very conservative state, and yet many if not most of my acquaintances are woke. Admittedly, most of my acquaintances are co-workers and I work for a large company. Large companies today ubiquitously have what I consider excessive and aggressive DEI campaigns. Companies thus self-select for those who can tolerate wokeism. Yet even my acquaintances who are not woke often find their identify in being anti-woke. They have an interest in keeping wokeism around as a foil.

And now conservatives are making the same error that the wokes made, they are mistaking opposition to wokism as support for traditionalism.

I feel this argument rests on two assumptions and one (implied) axiom.

The assumptions: one, that there is a large enough "middle" who just wants to be left alone; and two, that this "middle" defines "left alone" consistently. For example, one person in the "middle" might say, "What happens in someone's bedroom is not my problem, but Pride parades are silly (why not have a 'adultery' parade, or a 'cohabitation before marriage' parade?) and may have negative impacts on societal morality". Another person is the "middle" might say, "Let's have as many pride parades as draws crowds!". These two opinions are in conflict even though they are both middle "leave me alone" positions.

The axiom: traditionalism and conservatism are synonymous.

I believe your assumptions are incorrect. I think in reality (and I could be very wrong) that this middle basically no longer exists even as a large section of the population thinks they are this "middle". If lines are essentially already drawn, I'm not sure there is a false dichotomy between wokism and traditionalism.

I also don't believe traditionalism and conservatism are synonymous: indeed, I'm calling for a conservative break from "traditionalism" in a sense. Simply returning to 1600 isn't my objective. My essay certainly espoused traditional values, but that was one example of a conservative vision for the future. More broadly I'm interested in a compelling, action-oriented conservatism as opposed to simple traditionalism.

Toward a principles-based approach to societal flourishing

The heterodox backlash to mainstream wokeness is inherently reactionary. Taibbi, Weiss, Peterson, Loury, Yarvin; even to some extent Dreher and Alexander all bemoan the current system and wish we could turn the clock back to ... 2008, or 1965, or 2015, or 1600.

There have been few real attempts to change the situation. Weiss is a small exception: she has helped contribute to the University of Austin, which, while I'm very skeptical of its success, is at least doing something. Desantis has perhaps the most success at a political level, though he is often criticized by many in the heterodox blogosphere.

Yet all these fights against wokeness whether merely verbal or actual do not propose a positive trajectory for our society; they merely reject the negative wokeness trajectory.

I want to help create a non-reactionary yet conservative vision for flourishing society. I want this vision to have the following elements:

  • Compelling and inspirational. I want people to be energized by the vision.

  • A call to action. This cannot be a passive "keep everything the same as it is right now" conservatism.

  • A call to a better self. I want this vision to have individual impacts even if society as a whole does not adopt this vision (yes, I know I'm channeling Peterson here).

I have articulated one such vision here: https://pyotrverkhovensky.substack.com/p/how-to-build-a-flourishing-society. I wrote it to at least provide one such vision of a flourishing society to demonstrate that I am not merely complaining but am willing to put some thought into this. I would love to have others (possibly y'all!) take the baton and make something more compelling and actionable.