Going through some of my University of Dallas-educated parents’ books over Thanksgiving, I came across one by a UD legend: Frederick (Fritz) Wilhelmsen. Fritz was a legendary old Thomist philosopher at UD. Most of my Claremont friends would say he was imprudent about about Politics, supporting Catholic monarchy in its Franco-Carlist form as he did. But Fritz had a whole lot of prudence about the small-”p” politics of culture.
Two of his best articles include his contribution to our current debates about the aims of liberal arts universities: “Great Books: Enemies of Wisdom.” Fritz took as his inspiration Aquinas’ quote that “the study of philosophy is not directed toward discovering what men may have thought but toward knowing what is true.” The principles and insights that we might glean from the great books are what matter, in other words, not the books themselves. And the act of teaching is the transmission of those insights to the next generation by a human being with his own free will and own mind; that teacher becomes another authority in the student’s mind, which one can learn from and hopefully surpass. This led Fritz to praise the lecture as a form of teaching, over the St. John’s/TAC Socratic seminar.
Another timely (and even seasonal!) article by Fritz, which probably is his most read because it appeared in William F. Buckley Jr.’s reader of American Conservative Thought, is “Christmas in Christendom.” Get a copy of either Fritz’ Citizen of Rome or Buckley’s book for some wonderful reflections about Christmas.
But the essay yesterday by Fritz I read that was new to me- and blew me way- was "The Hour is Short: The Hour is Now." I think it should be read as a sequel to “Great Books: Enemies of Wisdom,” because the two really go nicely together. Unfortunately Citizen of Rome is out of print; anyone interested in the McLuhan way of looking at the changes to media technology ought to find a way to get a copy and read that essay. Even thought Fritz wrote “The Hour is Short” before the advent of social media (or even the internet), it is as fresh in 2021 as it was 40 years ago. I found (more or less) direct insights in Fritz’ essay about the following topics:
-modern politics’ obsession with persons
-the Rhetorical Presidency
-the Great Books programs
-the Traditional Latin Mass
-the Catholic Social encyclicals
- the confusion about how Pope Francis' statements are translated
Alot of those are inside-Catholic baseball topics I realize, but they are still important these days. For our purposes, I think Fritz was onto a connection that should be stressed more and more by us political scientists in 2021 between the “Rhetorical Presidency” studies of Jeff Tulis and the McLuhan media studies.
But here is a quote from Fritz for us postmodern conservatives:
What Incarnational politics needs far more fundamentally than a political program is a political philosophy. Programs come and go but philosophy, as we understand the term in the Catholic Tradition, attempts to discover something permanently true (even if the permanently true concern itself [is] with the ephemeral: after all, we are all ephemeral!). The Truth will set you free. Nothing could be more refreshing in the political smog in which we live today than a genuine political philosophy. Such a political philosophy - sophisticated: deeply traditional: thoroughly post-modern - could light up action already under foot and point toward the direction in which action might move.