What is Wholly Orders?
Wholly Orders began as something of a general academic-style survey of philosophical questions related to the wholeness of being, presented by means of a meditation upon the Western humanities, drawing heavily on my training in philosophy and literature, with podcast episodes running throughout the American academic year of 2017-2018. This focus was aimed at providing a more poetic view of being than that offered by the fragmented and reductionist views dominating Western thought since the advent of modernity and its later descent into postmodernity.
My return to the podcast in 2019 went more deeply into questions and topics that any serious inquiry into wholeness from within the perspective of the Western philosophical and literary tradition must inevitably pursue, but which are, these days, often ignored or downplayed in many academic quarters: those questions related to the sacred and to faith in the Christian, especially Catholic tradition, and those questions related to the true, the good, and the beautiful.
Many today cannot see the connection between faith and reason, faith and philosophy. I wish to challenge the premise that such fragmented thinking is somehow a “given” starting point for anyone sincerely engaged in the life of the mind. We must choose between faith and the world, yes, but this is not to be mistaken as a choice between faith and philosophy. Not at all.
In the hopes of making that more evident, late last year, I decided to reboot this project from the ground up in 2020, making the issue of faith clear in its foundation from the start. This is a philosophy program that accepts the traditional Catholic notion of faith guiding reason.
It is a meditation on and defense of the Western canon, drawing on philosophy and poetry.
What is your academic background?
My Ph.D. is in German literature. My dissertation was on Goethe’s “Urfaust” fragment. I also have two M.A. degrees. One is in philosophy, with an emphasis on phenomenology and existentialism. The other is in German literature, with a specialization in the late eighteenth century. I wrote a Master’s thesis on Herder’s poetics. In addition to my studies in the US, I also spent one year each abroad at two different German universities during (post-)graduate study.
My philosophy training (both MA and BA) was done within the Jesuit tradition, which emphasizes the history of ideas, from antiquity to present. In those days, we all were grounded in Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, no matter what our official emphasis was. My literature training (both Ph.D. and MA) was entirely in the tradition of Germanistik. The traditional Germanistik approach is much harder to find in the US these days, unfortunately. It corresponds to “Germanic Languages and Literatures” in traditional American academic terms, emphasizing both literature and linguistics, in which literature (my preferred “side” of the two) was covered as a tradition from the medieval period to the present.
Anyone interested in more detail, including links to some of my academic work, should visit my profile on academia.edu.
What do you mean when you say that you are a "traditionalist conservative"?
I am a small-c conservative, and not in any partisan sense. I am much more comfortable with the conservatism of thinkers who defend tradition, who speak of the true, the good, and the beautiful, as opposed to some political ideology or manifesto.
Some of the thinkers in this regard, who inform my views, apply the word ‘conservative’ to themselves, and some do not. Some are fellow Roman Catholics, and some are not. But I am influenced by thinkers such as the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, T.S. Eliot, Russell Kirk, Roger Scruton, Christopher Dawson, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Eric Voegelin, Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Thomas Molnar, and many others.
As a traditionalist conservative I start with the presumption of a sacred, as opposed to a secular, perspective. I agree with the Orthodox Christian philosopher Philip Sherrard, that wholeness presupposes the sacred. Therefore, I am quite critical of modernity, of the ideological, and of the tendency in modern and post-modern thinking to flatten our thinking into more horizontal terms. By such a ‘presumption,’ as it were, it should be noted that those who include the sacred in their vision of wholeness are not the ones making an arbitrary or reductive decision. Rather, it is those ‘modern’ thinkers, who presume to bracket out the sacred, that, in fact, arbitrarily limit their understanding of reality.
Indeed, the fact that I must explain this notion of ‘conservative’ thinking, that it is no longer an obvious option or possibility even to many who are well-read in the canon, points to just how flattened our thinking has become.
There are many of us who trained in the humanities, not because we wanted to be ideological “culture warriors,” but because we recognized the gift, the inheritance from those generations that had gone before us, and we wanted to do our part to pass it on to the next generation. I remain dedicated to passing on these truths, in fact, now more than ever.
This is not an ideological position, but it is, to my way of thinking, at the heart of what it truly means to be conservative. A true conservative, in my book, operates canonically, and not ideologically.
Traditional conservatives, if I might wax tautological for a moment, defend tradition, whereas ideological “conservatives” tend, in my experience, to be just about 10-15 years behind the curve set by the ideological “progressives.” And I don’t care to be associated with any part of that curve.
Who are you, outside of the podcast? What are your interests, aside from the work that you present on the program?
I’m James Landes. Although I’ve lived around the world, Kansas is my home.
I developed a love of radio when I was growing up in the 1980s. I listened to radio far more often than I watched television. In those halcyon days, AM radio was not dominated by sports and political talk shows, so it was infinitely more interesting than now, and more reflective of local communities. I used to experiment with radio kits, modifying antennas, etc., in order to hear stations from a number of surrounding states. Those born in the post-internet age will not really be able to understand how exciting that was. I listened to a lot of open format talk radio on AM, which was not so corporate and controlled, at least not to the high degree that it is today. I listened to a lot of late night classical or jazz music radio on FM. And shortwave, too.
My interest in podcasts and podcasting grew naturally from this background. My preference for late night recording sessions is probably grounded just as much in my past listening habits as it is in waiting for things to quiet down (i.e. for my dog to go to sleep).
I’m a bit of a language nerd, having lived in several different countries. In terms of teaching language, I have taught German at the university level (composition, advanced conversation, reading knowledge for graduate students, etc.).
I have a strong and growing interest in traditional liturgy, coupled with a passionate disinterest in arguing with anyone about it. So I shall merely say here that I am quite grateful for the work of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) in particular.
After many years of developing my skills as a cook, I have, of late, finally begun to dabble in learning about nutrition. I’ve been pleasantly surprised, as perhaps only a middle-aged bachelor could be, at the salutary effects of doing so.
My humor is well on the dry side. If my humor were a martini, it would be made without taking the cap off of the vermouth, just the symbolic pour.