In a nostalgic piece about 1860s and ’70s New Jersey in the May/June 2014 issue of Touchstone magazine, writer Anthony Esolen compares the antics of 19th century schoolkids to those of today:
“Four hundred students, most of them day students from the nearby families of farmers, merchants, artisans, and miners, were enrolled in the Chester Institute at its peak. There were no police (Chester did not have any policemen until the twentieth century), there were no teacher’s aides, there was nothing under lock, there were no surveillance cameras, and there were only a few adults for all those children.”
Meanwhile, last week in Philadelphia the following was typical of the complaints reported by local news media after a block party concert in one of the more well-heeled parts of the city:
“‘My entire house was peed on. People were having sex two feet in front of my children and everyone was drunk that day,’ said Sibyl Lindsay of Northern Liberties.”
Esolen posts this lament:
“It strikes me that … our great-grandparents would never have allowed their children, our grandparents, to associate with people like us. But that isn’t quite right. They knew what sin and crime were. … They knew bad people.
“But they didn’t know half-people. They knew cads who fornicated in despite of the law of God and man. But they did not know the half-dead, who fornicate in a fog of listlessness or loneliness or indifference. …”
C.S. Lewis talks about half-people in his writings. These are moderns so jaded and past immoral that they fall into beds, not even from intense lust but from complacency and lack of imagination. Thinking to have broken free of God, they have been marooned on an island of insipidness. They have no idea of the pure passions or joys of their ancestors. So thin are the souls going to hell these days that the demon Screwtape apologizes to his dinner guests:
“… it would be vain to deny that the human souls on whose anguish we have been feasting tonight were of pretty poor quality. Not all the most skillful cookery of our tormentors could make them better than insipid.
“Oh, to get one’s teeth again into a Farinata, a Henry VIII, or even a Hitler! There was real crackling there; something to crunch … a cruelty only less robust than our own.”
Ours is an age not of passionately bad men but of half men. Not of people driven with zeal to do evil, but of adolescents who have sex on 2nd Street Philadelphia in broad daylight because they are bored.