We need not assume the mantle of an anti-materialist to appreciate that a certain degree of social equilibrium is dismissed or ignored during the holidays, allowing for a lack of societal and personal restraint. Many otherwise normal considerations are subsumed into the pursuit of a “happy” holiday. All too often this demands we forgo normal obligations and long-held practices in the pursuit of temporal exuberance. Of course, the holy seasons of Advent and Christmas are typically approached with a spirit of reverence and excitement, but when inherited customs are displaced, we provide an opportunity for other influences to prevail. A cherished, but potentially wearisome tradition that can become corrupted is the giving of gifts. The best gifts should encourage the family member or friend to live life to the fullest extent possible, while also pursuing the higher potentialities of their existence and their faith.
After decades of giving presents that were usually dispensed with, or discarded in a few days, or “regifted” to aid another’s frenzied pursuits, I became determined to give gifts with a point, or at least gifts that would connect the recipient with the larger social and political tradition of which they are part. The gifts that are most likely to endure and fulfill the stated goal are books and fountain pens. Gissing’s Ryecroft preferred books to food, and a great book as a gift can provide sustenance that no other gift can. A fountain pen reminds us of the power of writing, allows the writer to engage in his or her craft with a closeness unmatched by a keyboard or ballpoint, and is a novel and exceedingly pleasurable gift for anyone. Here are some gifts with a point you might want to consider:
1. André Gushurst-Moore’s The Common Mind provides an elegantly written and philosophically convincing survey of the worldview Burke inherited and that he helped transmit to posterity. The common mind, or Christian humanism, is understood from both the perspective of a philosophical inheritance and as a perpetual challenge to contemporary life as well; as a social and political tradition dependent on the ennobling of the good, the true, and beautiful; and, the exhibition of personal restraint, and an affirmation of the transcendent nature of existence. Gushurst-Moore begins his defense of this tradition by engaging in a process of retrogression, examining the central figures who affirmed the common mind, beginning with Thomas More and concluding with Russell Kirk.
2. The new edition of Russell Kirk’s Prospects for Conservatives, the first imprint of Imaginative Conservative Books, should be on every Christmas list! The tome contains a new introduction by Dr. Brad Birzer, and a new subtitle. As one who possessed the largest and last remaining collection of the earlier version of this book, A Program for Conservatives, and shared the books with his Duke Divinity School colleagues in the early 1980s (much to their dismay), this republication is an event of great and enduring importance. (For the record, I gave the remaining hundred copies of the book that I purchased from a centenarian in California to the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal.)
3. Of interest to students of theology, regardless of one’s persuasion, is yet another monumental contribution by Thomas C. Oden. John Wesley’s Teaching: Volume 3, Pastoral Theology affirms Wesley as a central figure in the Reformation, but more importantly, as a defender of classical, consensual Christianity.
4. If you seek to recover the lost world of prudential political rhetoric, and a time when statesmen outnumbered politicians, you might want to take a look at Patrick Henry-Onslow Debate: Liberty and Republicanism in American Political Thought. The disputed election of 1824 was one of the most important presidential elections in American history. After an indecisive electoral college vote, the House of Representatives selected John Quincy Adams as president over the more popular war hero, Andrew Jackson. As a result, John C. Calhoun ended up serving as vice-president under Adams. Neither man was comfortable in this situation as they were political rivals who held philosophically divergent views of American constitutional governance. The emerging personal and philosophical dispute between President Adams and Vice-President Calhoun eventually prompted the two men to take up their pens, using the pseudonyms “Patrick Henry” and “Onslow,” in a public debate over the nature of power and liberty in a constitutional republic. The great debate thus arrayed Calhoun’s Jeffersonian republican vision of constitutionally restrained power and local autonomy against Adams’s neo-Federalist republican vision which called for the positive use of inherent power—a view that would become increasingly compelling to future generations of Americans. In the course of this exchange some of the most salient issues within American politics and liberty are debated, including the nature of political order, democracy, and the diffusion of political power. The level of erudition and insight is remarkable.
5. The Noble Fountain Pen. My most pointed recommendation concerns the gift of a fountain pen during this holy season. I prefer vintage pens, especially the old American varieties, Sheaffer, Waterman, and Parker among many others. There are many traditional pen stores throughout the country that deserve commendation, and one of the best kept secrets in the Southeast is Joe Rodgers Office Supply in Cleveland, Tennessee, in the Chattanooga suburbs. The owner, Greg Serum, offers the best supply of fountain pens and supplies you will encounter. On-line sites worth visiting include:
Penhero.com has an encyclopedic list of pen-related links as well that are of great assistance to anyone interested in fine writing instruments.
Books on this topic may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.