Anthony Esolen (Crisis Magazine) wants to know where all the flowers have gone, or something like that. In his article 1 "How to Identify a Healthy Culture," Esolen inquires:
In addition to asking “Why are the churches empty?” we might also ask, “Why are our public buildings so ugly? Why do we no longer have any folk art to speak of? Why do neighbors not know one another? Why are there no dances for everyone of all ages to enjoy? Why is the sight of a young lad and lass holding hands as rare now as public indecency used to be? Why is no one getting married? 2 Why have family trees turned into family sticks, or family briars?”
Also, why is the rain defiantly falling before sundown? Why does the morning fog not disappear promptly by eight? Why does the snow slush insolently upon the hillside? Why do those kids play their music so loud, wear their pants so low, their hair so long, and sass their elders? Where oh where have the halcyon days and halcyon ways of Camelot gone?
Gone to graveyards, every damn one:
“Why are there so many feral young men and women, tattooed and slovenly, loitering about shopping malls or slouching towards the internet for their porn? Why are there so many old neighborhoods, roads, and bridges crumbling, while millions of young men are unemployed or, worse, unemployable? Why do so many teachers believe it their duty to tear down the glories of their own civilization, calling it ‘critical thinking,’ without a passing thought as to what will remain in their place? Who are what used to be called the “leading men” of an ordinary town? Are there any? Who are what used to be called ‘city fathers’? Are there any?
“Where are the songs of yesteryear? Where are the poems? Where are the holidays? What happened to the parades and the marching bands?”
The songs of yesteryear are in the Smithsonian or on your local oldies station; the poems of yesteryear are in libraries and anthologies. Holidays are typically indicated on any calendar. Can someone please send Mr. Esolen a list of parades, either in his locality or any other? As for marching bands, can someone direct him to the nearest high school or college campus? Is Anthony Esolen living in some kind of cultural deprivation tank?
Onward to the peroration:
“What virtue do we honor, other than what we call tolerance, which turns out not to be tolerance at all but the ‘virtue’ of demanding that there should be no honor granted to virtue?”
I don’t know about Anthony Esolen, but I was brought up to believe that virtue is its own reward and that lusting after honors was unseemly.3
The limited research I have done does not disclose Mr. Esolen’s date of birth, but he graduated from Princeton in 1981, which would suggest he was born in the late 1950s. Perhaps he was exposed to repeated playings (and showings) of “Camelot” in his formative years and thus acquired a distorted idea of reality? All I can say is that, for a man perhaps a decade younger than I am, he plays the part of an old fogy surpassingly well ("the sight of a young lad and lass holding hands"); and like most old fogies, he pines for an idealized past that never existed.
Or maybe Mr. Esolen is not so uninformed as he seems. Maybe he is employing a neat (though routine) rhetorical ploy: exaggerating the virtue of that which you praise (in Esolen's case, our cultural past) while simultaneously exaggerating to the point of caricature the vice of what you criticize (in this case, our cultural present), so that the comparison between the two is both utterly clear and utterly invidious. This is why many people consider the phrase "employing a rhetorical ploy" to be synonymous with "lying through your teeth," something that would never be tolerated in Camelot.
2 According to the most recent statistics I could find, there were 2,118,000 marriages in America in 2013, which means that 4,236,000 individuals got married, a slightly higher figure than Mr. Esolen’s “no one”. Meanwhile, Mr. Esolen is doing his best to prevent millions of other people from marrying simply because they don’t suit his definition of marriage-eligible.
3 Not that I ever had much of either virtue or honors, but still...