Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture is a highly prophetic book by Prof. Anthony Esolen. The book is revealing in terms of how much American culture has deteriorated in its repudiation of social norms and Christian morality. But it is not simply focused on the moral decay outside the church. The decadence also occurs inside the church as well. Esolen, a Catholic, has witnessed much of this cultural turpitude in both academia and the church. Out of the Ashes lays out a thorough game plan for how to recover and rebuild what has been destroyed by the cultural deterioration in American society.
One of the issues that he focuses on first is on the nature of language. Being connected to language is the ability to tell the truth. In American culture today, the norms have been destroyed so as that to tell the truth about gender has not only become a “politically incorrect” matter but also something that has been shunned as a form of bigotry by the LGBT movement. No longer is one allowed to say that man is man and woman is woman without being labeled as a bigot. No longer is one allowed to say that male is not female and female is not male. No longer did God create male and female, but instead, God also created “gender-neutral” too. Esolen comments on this inability to tell the truth equating it with the “NewSpeak” of 1984. Orwell had a friend who worked at a British news company who would discuss about how much he had to lie in order to sustain his job. The “NewSpeak” in 1984 was a way to prevent people from being able to tell the truth by establishing a vocabulary code that would prevent them from thinking otherwise.
Esolen starts with the ability to tell the truth and goes on to discuss the death of language. He references in his book, an article taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia back in the 20th century. He details how the writing in this article was not supposed to be “good” writing and yet this writing is infinitely times better than much of the writings seen today. The primary reason why language is in decay is because most people have not seen good writing. Esolen focuses also on education and the modern university. It is no longer a relational situation between students and professors but a matter of grades and passing tests. That would not be problematic if there were was allowed more free discussion. But with the cultural deterioration comes a new cultural orthodoxy which silences discussion that it disagrees with.
Esolen then attacks the feminist movement. The feminist movement, even in its first wave mode, had significant failings. When the suffrage movement was happening, politicians seized on it as an opportunity not to grant women freedoms but to get their ideas on prohibition passed. Prohibition was one of the worst policies in the country to have taken effect. It did not stop people from drinking and people who still brewed were unable to do it in a safe matter. Aside from this, the feminist movement would eventually mutate into what is today. Feminism did not stop at simply wanting certain rights, it wanted so many rights that it could do away with men. Feminism went hand-in-hand with the sexual revolution which would call for abortion, contraceptives, IVF pregnancies, etc. With these forces in play, the roadmap for the destruction of the family was laid out.
Esolen further describes the regulations imposed on small businesses. Where there were numerous small businesses being allowed to operate, many people tended to know each other and the small communities could serve the needs of society better. But the larger corporations did not want this competition any longer. The larger corporations knew they would lose business if the small businesses could compete freely and interact with community better. Who imposed so many regulations that would stomp on top of the small businesses? It was the large corporations. Never underestimate the willingness of a large corporation to impose on itself regulations if it means that a small business will be stamped out of existence. Governmental collusion with these mass corporations has meant the economic destruction of many entrepreneurs trying to create something out of nothing.
All of this that Esolen describes centers around family, society, and relationships with God and man. Separation from God leads to separation from man leads to dependence on the nanny state. So then what is the solution? Esolen’s solution is to target, as the villain, the expanded government of America. One must convince themselves that the larger the government grows, the more we become de-sensitized in our relationships. If one sees the news today, you hear complaint’s about the President’s immorality and how he has to “set the moral tone for the country”. That already is problematic considering that the President is an elected official. The moral tone of the country is what sets the President’s tone in a democratic society, number one, but number two, and most importantly, to put trust in the government to set the moral tone is already committing the mortal sin of placing your trust in princes.