The Curse of Polarization

Susannah Black
Susannah Black received her BA from Amherst College and her MA from Boston University. She is an editor at Mere Orthodoxy, Plough Quarterly, Postliberal Thought and its journal New Polity, and The Davenant Press. Previously, she was an editor at Providence and Fare Forward. She's a co-founder of Solidarity Hall and The Simone Weil Center, and is on the boards of the Distributist Review, The Davenant Institute, and The Simone Weil Center. Her writing has appeared in First Things, The Distributist Review, Solidarity Hall, Providence, Amherst Magazine, Front Porch Republic, Ethika Politika, The Human Life Review, The American Conservative, Mere Orthodoxy, Fare Forward, Postliberal Thought, and elsewhere. She blogs at Radio Free Thulcandra and tweets at @suzania. A native Manhattanite, she is now living in Queens.

Dear friends,

Upset with the Chrisitan right? You’re really not going to like the post-Christian right. As secularization advances in both the Democratic and Republican Parties, and in parallel parties in Europe, our levels of division and partisanship are going to rise rather than fall, argues Tobias Cremer of Oxford. Research for his recent book, Faith, Nationalism, and the Future of Liberal Democracy, has led him to conclude that religion can have a tempering effect on political extremism, and can provide an identity solid enough to lead men and women not to seek their identities in political ideologies.

Elayne Allen also sees polarization—and the profound oversimplifications of much political media—as a curse. She looks for hope in the new crop of “little magazines”: small publications, humanist and Christian humanist in inspiration, that provide their readers with the opportunity for temperate intellectual engagement and the exercise of practical wisdom. The communities these publications create, she argues, are crucial crossovers between the academy and public life. And they provide, for those who want it, the chance to continue the pursuit of liberal learning beyond the academy. “This intellectual practice,” she writes,

is profoundly important for both public life and personal flourishing; and one of the things that the tradition itself implies is that these two are in fact linked. When someone reads a humanistic publication, her mind and spirit are fed by the deep wells of ressourcement while her practical reason is still engaged with public matters and the concerns of her political moment. . . . At the heart of such publications, I think, is an unspoken belief that politics need not be a realm of pure power, but can sometimes obey reason and conform to truth and justice; that conversation, beauty, and friendship can be roots of political order.

As the public-facing part of the Breaking Ground project draws to a close at the end of this month, Anne and I have been reflecting on how profoundly grateful we are to have been able to spend the year building this community, thinking together, and seeking clarity and complexity for the sake of wise action in the words and wisdom of our contributors. We invite you to continue this journey with us and explore the other publications that Allen comments on in this piece, many of which publish Breaking Ground’s community of writers, and several of which (CommentMere OrthodoxyPloughNew Polity) are also edited by Breaking Ground’s editors.

There’s a whole world out there. Dive in. Subscribe, read, share, write—and pitch me!