Civic Renaissance's 2021 Year in Review: How the power of ideas can help us lead better lives in 2022
To celebrate: a give away of THIRTY BOOKS in THIRTY DAYS, CR swag, yearlong Wondrium subscriptions, and more!
This month marks the one year anniversary of Civic Renaissance.
In this issue of CR, you can expect:
Some reflections on what we have learned together throughout this past year
A special “thank you” to CR subscribers
An invitation to share your thoughts about what you enjoyed most from CR this past year, and also what you’d like to see from CR in 2022. (And a celebratory giveaway: THIRTY books in THIRTY days and CR swag!)
New course idea—Philosophy and Film: Explore life’s biggest questions through great films, old and new
What we learned together in 2021
Looking back can often help us move forward in strength and wisdom.
Considering the past also reminds us of where we’ve come from, and the growth that we’ve enjoyed. And in turn reflecting on our growth and the intellectual territory we’ve covered together here can be encouraging; after all, meaningful change takes time.
I created Civic Renaissance to be a community of people who care about the highest things—ideas and questions of origin, purpose, and destiny—and who care about healing our world and divided society through the wisdom of the past and civil dialogue. Everything I do and love revolves around these themes.
So, let’s take a look at some of the ideas, themes, and questions we’ve explored the past year.
First, some quick stats on what Civic Renaissance has accomplished, with your help, over the last year:
Given away over 50 books
Gifted nearly a dozen Wondrium / Great Courses annual subscriptions
Hosted over a dozen conversations about beauty, goodness and truth attended by tens of thousands of people
We have grown to a community of tens of thousands of lifelong learners from across the globe
With your help, I know we can do even more in 2022!
And over the past year we’ve explored a wide array of questions and areas related to the human condition, the complexity of human life, and the necessity of continuing to study, read, think deeply, and grow in order to lead a rich and meaningful life.
A surprising silver lining of the COVID 19 Pandemic. I launched Civic Renaissance last January. The first issue was about what the pandemic has taught us about intellectual humility.
It’s true, the pandemic has been a tool of profound division. But I also offered an alternative, suggesting that the pandemic presents us with a unique opportunity to usher in an era of renewal grounded on renewed love, empathy, and compassion for our fellow man. Read more here about what Boccaccio’s classic series of tales, The Decameron, teaches us about how times of social disintegration, catastrophe, and plague can actually be forces for good, too.
The power of curiosity to heal our divides. Curiosity is a fundamental wonderment about the world around us. It is a zealous interest in questions related to the human condition: Who are we? What is our purpose? What is our position amid the cosmos? In this CR issue, I argued that curiosity can lead to personal fulfillment. Curiosity breeds more curiosity, and curiosity fills our hearts and nourishes our soul. But curiosity can do more: it can help heal our deep social divides, too. We live in an age of certitude, where expressing openness to new or challenging ideas is often seen as a sign of weakness. In reality, however, being open to being wrong is a sign of profound strength.
We explored these themes in a conversation in partnership with Braver Angels, which you can view below.
Paideia, humanitas, and civility — what are they and why do they matter? This was one of the most widely shared CR editions. Here, we explored how our view of education today differs from views of education in other times and places. Today, we often associate education with gaining a skill so that we can get a job and provide for ourselves. This is a very utilitarian, and very modern, view of education. In Ancient Greece, by contrast, education was viewed as soul craft. It was character education. It was fundamentally about helping us cultivate our humanity to the fullest, maximizing what is best in us and in our nature, and minimizing what is worse. The Ancient Greeks’ word for this process was paideia.
In Ancient Rome, this concept of paideia found expression in the term and concept of humanitas. And yes, in case you’re wondering, humanitas is linked to our modern concept of the humanities, the purpose of which is to help us appreciate the beauty and dignify of “humanness,” both in ourselves and others. And for the Roman, humanitas meant not just education, but also benevolence and love of humanity.
During the European Renaissance, this view of education as a tool that cultivates our character, our souls, and our love of humanity found expression in the term civility, the topic of my forthcoming book from St. Martin’s Press.
What do these ideas from our history—these past views of education—mean for us today? It’s no secret that we could probably use a little more civility in our modern era. It’s harder, though, to see how we might do so. But what could it look like to re-link our concept of education with cultivating our humanity, and by extension, with civility—a fundamental appreciation of the dignity of our fellow human beings, and the bare minimum of respect they are owed in light of that?
How might we revive an educational culture that cares about cultivating our humanity and kindness—and one that doesn’t merely see students as units to be formed and fit into the job market? We reflect on all this and more here.
What MLK teaches us about civility and the power of ideas to heal our divides. In this re-examination of King’s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, we learned several important lessons about the nature of civility, and how knowledge of intellectual history has power to heal our divides:
There is a moral foundation to civility.
Unjust norms are no norms at all.
A more just and equal future requires that we recognize that there is an essential difference between civility and politeness (the thesis of my forthcoming book).
Read more here.
CR launched it’s first course, Greek mythology in ten minutes, a crash course in the stories, figures, and ideas that form an important basis of The Great Conversation—the iterative dialogue of thoughtful people across time and place on the highest ideas, and questions of origin, purpose, and destiny.
Civility and Manners in Homer’s Odyssey. I read Emily Wilson’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey this past year—the first translation into English by a woman—and couldn’t help but see that the entire epic is story about manners and social norms. The pivotal concept in the Odyssey is the concept of “xenia,” or guest-friendship, which consists of norms that govern the hospitality that one owed to a stranger in Ancient Greece. The high standard of xenia calls upon us to treat the “other” with the same decency we accord to those closest to us. We might describe this high standard of conduct as requiring kindness: the word kindness derives from the word kin, and refers to treating strangers with the benevolence we accord our kin. This parallels my definition of civility: treating others according the irreducible respect we owe them by virtue of our shared humanity. Read more here.
Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Nashville Hot Chicken—and a tried and true recipe for you to make it at home!
On beauty, hypocrisy, and integrity. Integrity is when all parts of the self make sense together. Hypocrisy, meanwhile, is when our inner self conflicts with our outer actions. What, then, happens when beauty deceives us—when there is a mismatch between appearance and reality? Find out more here.
And on the theme of beauty, enjoy this conversation on the extent to which beauty can heal our divides with Civic Renaissance and Braver Angels, below.
On leisure and class. I wrote this after reading Paul Fussell’s rather interesting book on social class in America, Class: A guide through the American status system. He makes some interesting—and sometimes funny—observations.
For example, he notes that there is a difference between economic class and social class. Economic class has to do with wealth, and is relatively easy to quantify and classify. Social class is broader; it incorporates attributes and habits such as taste, consumption, language, mannerisms, and more. One can have a bank account that reflects one class, and mannerisms and taste that reflect another. Fussell’s final chapter is on what he calls “the classless class”—or a group of people who transcend the rigid class barriers in America. He calls them the “X class.” Members of this class, Fussell says
Transcend social class because they are self-determining, self-cultivated, and non-conformist.
Engage in strenuous effort of self discovery, and are original, innovative, and curious.
Are secure in their own skin, prize autonomy more than anything, and shirk society’s attempts to tell them to behave a certain way. They are often self-employed, and Fussell calls them the “unmoneyed aristocracy.”
Love beauty, learning, good books, and good quality for its own sake—not to impress anyone else.
Fussell recognizes that becoming part of the “X class” has nothing to do with wealth or the acquisition of things (how I define luxury). Instead, it’s about developing a frame of mind that cultivates and utilizes one’s time and intellect (how I define leisure).
And, Fussell says, the good news is that we can all become Xs. Today, technology and economic development has left us wealthier and with more discretionary time than any other time in history. This prosperity gives each of us a chance to be part of what we might call the “leisured class.” How might we use this unique opportunity and start a Civic Renaissance today? Read more here.
I was thrilled when the Great Courses asked me to create a course series (scheduled for 2023) called Storytelling and the human condition, which will explore what it means to be human through great works of art and stories from across time and place.
In the fall, we launched a second course, called Five classic books that will change your life
In July 2021, my family and I went on a New Grand Tour, walking in the footsteps of some of the great men and women who built our world, traveling to the homes and other important sites related to a variety of great thinkers, including:
Voltaire and Rousseau, famous frenemies of the French Enlightenment
Petrarch, father of Renaissance humanism and the Italian Renaissance
Alexis de Tocqueville, the most astute thinker on America and Democracy, and the author of the famous work Democracy in America
Francois Fenelon, French ecclesiastic and theologian, who offers us lessons on success, failure, and how ideas can help us to endure both
Blaise Pascal, French polymath who reflected on the greatness and wretchedness of the Human Condition
St. Augustine, among the most important and influential thinkers in the entire Western tradition
Michele de Montaigne, French essayist (indeed, arguably the inventor of the essay), from whom we drew some secrets of the intellectual life
Erasmus of Rotterdam, an unsung hero of moderation during the tumultuous sixteenth century
Montesquieu, a French aristocrat and philosopher who was also an unofficial Founding Father of America
CR Events and conversations
Reviving American Civic Life: A Conversation with Francis Fukuyama (December 2021)
Do We Need the Classics? A Conversation with Dr. Anika Prather (November 2021)
Eating with the Ancients: A Conversation with Margaret Visser on Manners in the Ancient World (September 2021)
Dr. King and the Classics: A Conversation with Dr. Angel Parham (October 2021)
A Conversation on Alexis de Tocqueville with his Relatives at His Historic Home in Normandy (July 2021)
On Manners, Morals & History: A Conversation with Bill Kristol (June 2021)
Lessons From a Philosopher King: A Conversation with Donald Robertson on Marcus Aurelius (June 2021)
Can Beauty, Art, and Philosophy Heal our Divides? (April 2021)
Can Friendship Heal our Divides? (March 2021)
What Is the Future of the Humanities? (March 2021)
Can Curiosity Heal our Divides? (February 2021)
A special thank you to CR subscribers
Thank you to those of you who have chosen to support this project of developing a new era of cultural, moral, and intellectual renewal by becoming patrons of, and subscribers to, Civic Renaissance! Each of you are part of the solution to problems in our culture.
Patrons of Civic Renaissance are the first to receive certain invitations and learn about certain opportunities, including private conversations with some of the world’s leading thinkers.
For example, this past year, CR subscribers were invited to private conversations with political theorist Bill Kristol, social anthropologist Margaret Visser, Francis Fukuyama, one of the greatest philosophers of our day, as well as the family of Alexis de Tocqueville.
If you are already a subscriber, THANK YOU! I’m excited to soon share some of the new exclusive invitations forthcoming this year. I hope you’ll take advantage of them!
If you’re not already a subscriber, and you’re interested in supporting this project or learning more about the benefits of subscribing, I hope you’ll consider this special subscription offer below!
I’d love to hear from you! + Details on the book giveaways!
If you were a charter member of our Civic Renaissance community from our launch in January 2021, I’d love to hear what you’ve enjoyed most this past year!
And if you are new to our CR community, I’d also love to hear what you have enjoyed most so far!
Most of all, I’d LOVE to learn what you would like to see from the CR community in 2022.
What can be improved?
What would you like to see more of?
Share with me your thoughts via email to be entered into the contest to win one of THIRTY books that I’ll be giving away throughout the month of February!
Here are some of the books in the giveaway:
Ryan Holiday’s new book, Courage is Calling
David Epstein’s Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
Donald Robertson’s How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius
Margaret Visser’s The Gift of Thanks
A biography of Thomas Merton, exploring the importance of leisure and contemplation for a life well-lived
Learn like a Pro: Science-Based Tools to Become Better at Anything Audible Logo Audible Audiobook
Dana Gioia’s Poetry as Enchantment
And many more!
Email your thoughts, comments, and feedback to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line CIVIC RENAISSANCE 2022 to be entered.
New course idea! “The Philosophy of Film”
The best teachers and instructors are lifelong learners themselves, which is why I LOVE creating courses and learning alongside you!
I’m considering launching a new course, perhaps as early as February and march, called “The Philosophy of Film: Explore life’s biggest questions through the ideas of great films.”
The course would be four weeks, and each week we’d watch a film and read a book that explore a foundational question in life.
How do we know what we know to be true? Plato’s Allegory of the Cave + The Matrix
What is the meaning of life? Terrence Malick’s Tree of life + Søren Kierkegaard
How can we be happy in life? Citizen Kane + Ecclesiastes
How can we make the most of our time on earth? Babette’s Feast + Seneca’s De Otium (On Leisure
What do you think? Is this a course you would enjoy taking?
Write to me directly with your thoughts at email@example.com, or vote anonymously below!
Thank you SO much for being part of the Civic Renaissance community.
We’ve achieved all that we have so far this year together, and I cannot wait to continue learning with and alongside you in 2022!