Feb 17, 2022·edited Feb 17, 2022

Possibly I might be an small-scale elite, or elite-adjacent, of sorts, if being known around the world in a subfield of science counts. But I've come to the firm conviction that aspiring to be an elite can be quite dangerous to one's spiritual health.

Over the years I've seen that becoming famous and influential to any degree requires sacrifice, as is necessary for service to any idol. It could be the sacrifice of one's family, one's health, one's integrity, or something else, or all of them, but sacrifice is required that no Christian in good conscience could make. And if one is not willing to make those sacrifices, there are a hundred other peers who will, and thereby get ahead.

The biblical Daniel is upheld as an exemplar, but it is important to note that Daniel did not ambitiously pursue a career as a high official in a pagan empire but instead was raised up by the special providence of God. And God certainly could by special providence raise up a Christian in America to high office and influence, but otherwise I think any Christian seeking high office and influence is likely to make a shipwreck of his faith. When I look at professed Christians among the elite, the higher they are, the less firm their faith seems to be. And why should we expect it otherwise, in a world with values hostile to those of the Bible?

It may be the case that we would be better off with a natural aristocracy because that would enable a man of firm Christian conviction to possess great authority simply by virtue of birth. But in our current society, I fear that it is the most pathological who reach the highest.

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I feel as though I lack the foundation for appreciating the point being made here. What's so special about the Marshall Plan, the TVA or NATO that I can confidently say, "Yes, these were well implemented designs"? If these are successes, what would failure have looked like?

Also, I don't like George Bailey as a model. The guy was ready to off himself and leave 4 (or at least I think it was 4) fatherless kids until he had his own ego stroked. (And the alternative reality was totally implausible; no way a woman who looked like his wife would end up single unless she wanted to.) If Bailey deserved to die for anything, it was for perpetuating the evil of fractional reserve banking.

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Feb 15, 2022Liked by Aaron M. Renn

Great, thought-provoking post. I would like to refine the thinking and language a bit to stimulate the thinking and the discussion.

Mitch Daniels is said to "re-shape" Purdue University. "Re-shape" can be interpreted in many ways. Change can be conservative or radical (to the root). Radical reshaping would have been transforming Purdue from a STEM-oriented university into a humanities-oriented university, to take one example. Turning Christians loose to "change the world" without conservative attitudes and guardrails will be unwise.

What Mitch Daniels did was to recognize that the educational mission of Purdue was threatened by certain external and internal factors. He addressed those factors in order to save the institution so that it could succeed in its mission. He did not redefine the mission.

Why would evangelicals be unlikely to accomplish what Daniels did? In addition to the anti-elite, anti-authority biases in evangelicalism, there is an anti-institutional bias. The word "institution" is a dirty word to many evangelicals. Institutions are perceived entirely in terms of institutional inertia, fiefdoms, bureaucracy, self-serving fights against changes that don't benefit the current bureaucrats, etc.

Traditional conservatives (Kirk et al.) would argue that the health of a society depends on the health of its institutions. To lead an institution in such a way that it better fulfills its mission and accomplishes greater things for the common good is an important task, but it does not resonate with many evangelicals.

And the fundamentalist wing is even more anti-institutional than described above.

We need conservative evangelicals who can understand existing institutions in terms of their mission, which is defined in terms of the Good (and the common good in their particular society), and then try to improve the institution to overcome obstacles to that mission. The obstacles Daniels encountered (e.g. ever-rising costs and tuition) did not exist 60 years ago. That is a classic example of how conservatism must adapt to changing times. But we don't truly "re-shape" institutions so much as reinvigorate them and make everyone in them aware of current challenges, then lead the way to overcome those challenges.

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