The Monasteries of America

Saint Fionán is claimed to have founded the Skellig Michael monastery in the 6th century. There’s some dispute about when the monastery was founded, but it is largely considered one of the first Catholic centers of learning outside of Rome. There, the monks copied old texts, taught novices to read and write and proselytized to the Irish heathens. Slowly, monasteries were founded around Europe, doing the same work, often on behalf of the ruling families.

If you’re an ancient history buff, one of the things you probably understand is just how important the Catholic Church was in preserving and maintaining the knowledge of the ancients. Throughout the Middle Ages, tucked away in monasteries, monks spent their days copying and preserving texts from antiquity. It was a slow and tedious process, but it was the only way to preserve and proliferate knowledge.

That last bit is important. Storing up knowledge in books at a monastery is fine, but passing them around so others can learn and expand upon what’s in those books is how civilization flourishes. Those monks copying old texts were increasing the mass of human understanding. Copying Aristotle meant that the copy could be sent to another monastery to be read and copied again. It also meant more men exposed to Aristotle, and not just in the monasteries. The nobility were able to build libraries too.

The thing about the medieval system was that it was tightly bound by Catholicism on one end and the state on the other. Intellectual life had to appeal to the king and the Church. In this regard, the Church served another key role. They vetted and filtered the books that were produced, thus they controlled the knowledge of the society. The crown may have had a monopoly of force, but the Church gave it legitimacy and an intellectual structure through which to rule.

We like to think that the modern age is a time when information flows freely around society, unencumbered by the state or powerful interests. Colleges and universities are endlessly going on about having free speech and open debate. Journalists insist their job is to speak truth to power, which means saying things that are outside the approved list of truths. Even so-called conservatives bang on about the glories of free and open dialogue, usually while they denounce Donald Trump.

The truth is, the monastery system is still with us. Instead of the crown financing the learning centers, it is billionaires, corporations, non-governmental organizations and international bodies. Instead of monasteries, we have think tanks, research centers and foundations. All of which are “not for profit” which means contributions are tax deductible. The rich pay themselves for supporting the organizations that exist to promote the interests of the rich and powerful.

All around Washington DC, there are organizations, like American Enterprise Institute, that are financed by rich people to pump out papers, books, commentary and experts to populate TV and radio. If you look at their 990 filing, you see that the guy in charge made $700K in compensation. Board members made six figures, with most in the mid-200’s. Charles Murray made $270K just from this one job. His books, speaking fees and so forth probably double that number. Being a “thinker” pays well.

AEI is a big foot operation, but there many smaller ones too. The Fund for American Studies funds journalists and reporters with grants. The list of programs on their 990 is mostly benign stuff that sounds nice. Then you see the long list of trustees. The one name that jumps out is Fred Barnes who took $25K for his troubles. One of the benefits of being a journalist, who plays ball, is you get to sit on boards at these non-profits. Some pay more than others, but it is easy to see how it can add up.

Then there is the magazine rackets. National Review has a thing called the National Review Institute. Notice how they always call their people “fellow” to give it that academic feel. Their 990 is not very interesting, but NRI is mostly a clearing house. The director makes $200K a year, in case you’re curious. That’s small potatoes compared to John Podhoretz, who takes over $400K in salary from Commentary Magazine, another non-profit operation.

Of course, it’s not just indigenous billionaires paying these people to promote them in the press. Foreign governments get in on the act too. The government of Malaysia famously bought favorable coverage from conservative media a few years ago. You may recognize the name Ben Domenech from that article. He writes for the Federalist and was in on the anti-Trump crusade. He also got jammed up in a plagiarism scandal, yet he somehow remains in good standing with conservative media.

My favorite, I think, is Brent Bozell, who Mike Cernovich has been going after on Twitter. Bozell runs a racket called the Media research Center. It’s supposed to police the media for bias. Brent makes $400K for his trouble, that’s when he is not penning anti-Trump pieces for Breitbart. No one should begrudge Bozell his money, but when the media watchdog is paid by the same people funding the media, it’s hard to take him seriously.

The reality is our opinion makers are all kept men. They are the monks and clergy of our age, shaping intellectual life and setting the limits of what is and what is not permitted in the public sphere. This is done mostly to promote their own position, but financed by the donor class, on whose behalf the monks and priests of the commentariat work. When you are living the 1% lifestyle, your not about to rock the boat by speaking truth to power.

The reason they are fainting over Trump and the rise of the Alt-Right is the same reason the Church panicked over Martin Luther. The difference is Jan Hus is an army of bloggers and writers on-line using the megaphones of social media. Trump, like Frederick III, is legitimizing much of it by speaking candidly on the issues of the day. Just as Trump supporters have no illusions about what Trump is as a politician, the commentariat is fully aware of what he represents, which is why he must be destroyed.

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Hades
Hades
4 years ago

“The reality is our opinion makers are all kept men. They are the monks and clergy of our age, shaping intellectual life and setting the limits of what is and what is not permitted in the public sphere. This is done mostly to promote their own position, but financed by the donor class, on whose behalf the monks and priests of the commentariat work.”

So much this!

Lorenzo
Lorenzo
4 years ago

The links to the 990 reports generate only some useless html, in Firefox, anyway. E.g.

[-AccessDeniedRequest has expired18002016-05-03T01:45:20Z2016-05-03T03:55:47Z20AF4ADFA29D5E6C/Y975nTf7aFgil2YaUsZ8PVtA+uP7hagAfKkTkLVLREaT9VwDsesSc4SLgcXVGYUBB25GzeWNX4=]

Lorenzo
Lorenzo
Reply to  thezman
4 years ago

Thanks for fixing the links. As if I need another hobby, I’m going to start looking up lots of form 990s.

Montefrío
Member
4 years ago

Those interested in the history of Europe and the monks would do well to read Christopher Dawson. Those interested in a fictionalized post-nuclear-holocaust history involving monks and the dissemination of preserved knowledge should read Walter Miller, Jr.’s “A Canticle for Leibowitz”. Those interested in living a life on the fringes might have a look at the works of Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu and Han Shan, among others. True hermits and monks are anything but “kept” men and live anonymous lives.

Saml Adams
Saml Adams
Reply to  Montefrío
4 years ago

Thanks for the rec. More train reading….

Andrew
Andrew
Reply to  Montefrío
4 years ago

Canticle for Leibowitz was one of those books I read in high school… Then a couple years ago a local small bookstore was closing, it’s owner had died and the kids were liquidating the place. Got a couple Heinlen novels, plus…A Canticle for Leibowitz and a few other novels, and a mayonnaise jar of pre-1982 pennies, and a ceramic dog my son (at the time he was 3) had his eye on, all for $10. If we hadn’t been on the way to the park, and “somebody” wanted to go, I would have stayed longer and looked for more books,… Read more »

Montefrío
Member
Reply to  Andrew
4 years ago

I was 15 when I read it (1961),stayed up all night, read it right through. Still had quite a bit to learn before I could truly appreciate it, but I’ve read it twice a year since and no longer lend out copies, as I never get them back. The 1997 posthumous sequel is not as good, but worth reading if for no other reason that the obvious zen elements introduced. That novel, along with the works of the others mentioned, made me promise myself 50 years ago that if I made it to old age, I’d be a kind of… Read more »

CaptDMO
CaptDMO
4 years ago

“When you are living the 1% lifestyle, your not about to rick the boat by speaking truth to power.”
SEE: “They Live”, John Carpenter.
Far easier to get through than an economics/PoliSci thesis.
Aesop’s Fables level suitable for -1 standard deviation point comprehension on the bell curve.
“Whit these “special glasses” you’ll see things as they are, BUT, it’ll give you headaches!”

Saml Adams
Saml Adams
4 years ago

“Ooooh, that’s a bingo! That’s how you say it?” “Nah, we just say “Bingo!”” You need to count in the “research for hire” these guys also do. Years ago doing some work in the ME, had to hire Ken Pollock at Brookings (a former senator was one of my firm’s board members and also on the Brookings board). Nice guy, but basically six figures for something sub’d out to some 15 buck an hour RAs.–but the risk evaluation had his stamp on it. It’s quite the racket. Plus a couple autographed copies of the “Path Out of the Desert”. Anybody… Read more »

Saml Adams
Saml Adams
Reply to  thezman
4 years ago

I doubt anyone on the Exec Committee even read the Brookings output…it was all about having the imprint. Ended up recommending holding on making the investment as it was clear just from walking around in the UAE that this was a bubble (2007) and the same assets could be acquired later for a lot less capital. Which they were in 2011. But the think tanks have a great racket and easy to see why they are so ripshit about Trump. He’s the little kid who keeps getting air time to point out yet again that they seem to have left… Read more »

James LePore
4 years ago

In C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, the High Priest of Ungit started all the trouble, because he was about to lose his life style. The King went along, happily, sacrificing one of his children to the god. The pundits and writers you mention are the high priests of the so-called conservative culture, the billionaires who support them are the King. Trump is a plague upon their land. They have to destroy him.

Severian
4 years ago

One of my pet projects is compiling a lexicon of our modern monasteries’ output. Just like the average college student can’t read Aquinas anymore without special training, in a generation or two nobody will have any idea what baffling words like “cisgender” mean. And hey, I’m Irish, so I’m just carrying on the noble traditions of my people (see also: my drinking habits). Nice Jan Hus reference, by the way, but you’re wrong about all the think tanks being in the pocket of billionaires — as we all know, the RAND Corporation works for the Reverse Vampires.

Etcetera
Etcetera
4 years ago

That’s for spelling out this particular piece of corruption for us.

I don’t think monks are a very good analogy for paid propagandists. These people are doing the same thing that writers for Pravda used to do. While the Catholic Church came up with the term “propaganda” their abilities have for a long time been surpassed by secular organizations.

Etcetera
Etcetera
4 years ago

This is a nitpick, but I’m not as erudite and have no idea what to make of the Frederic III reference. I went to Wikipedia and they provided a list of Frederick III’s they have articles on: Frederick III, Duke of Upper Lorraine (c. 1020–1033) Frederick III of Sicily (1272–1337), also known as Frederick II of Sicily Frederick III of Germany (1289–1330), nicknamed the Fair, King of the Romans Frederick III the Simple (1341–1377), King of Sicily Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor (1415–1493) Frederick III, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (1424–1495) Frederick III, Elector of Saxony (1463–1525) Frederick III, Elector Palatine (1515–1576) Frederick… Read more »

ganderson
ganderson
Reply to  thezman
4 years ago

The Kings of Prussia were all named Frederick, William, or Frederick William.

Lorenzo
Lorenzo
Reply to  thezman
4 years ago

You can scroll rightward on the picture here
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F%C3%BCrstenzug
and eventually see another picture of Fred III.

That mural is one of the things worth visiting Dresden for if you get there before the Allah Howlers wreck the place.

james wilson
james wilson
4 years ago

I once assumed that the internet would end the information monopoly and facilitate a great increase in acquiring knowledge and understanding. How could it not? Tocqueville was not fooled. “When people are free to do what they want, they will seek to be alike.” There are many comforts in being alike in an opinion, and only one in being alone.

Anonymous Bro
Anonymous Bro
4 years ago

If Progs are a Christian heresy, then: 1. MLK, JFK, and Lincoln are the Holy Trinity 2. Equalism is the promised land. 3. Hitler is the devil. 4. Universities are the churches, think tanks are the monasteries (thanks ZMan!) 5. Whiteness is the original sin. 6. Giving away your priviledge (land, jobs, daughters) is the path to salvation. If we are to believe purely evolutionary (by natural selection) explanations for the human race, then cults like Progs, which are self abnegating, go against everything that evolution claims organisms are put on earth to do. I think evolution by natural selection… Read more »

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