Catholic author says new book on tradition asks widely-ignored questions

The Unbroken Thread Penguin Random House

A Catholic author says his new book on the “wisdom of tradition” is meant to be an antidote to a false notion of human freedom. 

“I’m not a theologian. I’m not a philosopher,” author Sohrab Ahmari said at a May 11 event featuring his book at the Catholic Information Center in Washington D.C.  

“But I can pose as a journalist questions that I think have been ignored by our contemporary cultural, social, and political arrangements,” he added. 

Ahmari is the op-ed editor at the New York Post, and author of the new book “The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos.” He is an Iranian-born journalist who converted to Catholicism after living in the United States for more than two decades. His conversion memoir, “From Fire, by Water,” was published in 2016.

At his May 11 presentation, Ahmari said he wrote his book as a response to the world’s false idea of finding freedom through maximizing individual autonomy. He said it presents a dozen questions, and poses answers through exploring the writings of great thinkers.

Ahmari said that around one-third of the thinkers cited in the book are Catholic. “But there are also Protestant thinkers like C.S. Lewis, Confucius is there, and some surprising ones like Andrea Dorkin, the radical feminist,” he said.

In his talk, Ahmari referenced the life of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest in the early 20th century who was arrested by the occupying Nazi regime and taken to Auschwitz concentration camp. He offered his life voluntarily in replacement for another man sentenced to death.

Ahmari noted Kolbe’s religious and philosophical formation that allowed him to live a fulfilling life. He said he wanted to pass on a similar ideological formation for his son to develop Kolbe’s virtues.

Ahmari said he wrote the book for his four year-old son as an “act of posterity,” because he is worried about the possibility of his son living a life without moral purpose. 

Another section of his book explores the question, “What is freedom for?”  Ahmari said that section deals with Russian exile Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s controversial 1978 commencement address at Harvard University, “A World Split Apart.”

Solzhenitsyn had won the Nobel Prize in Literature after spending eight years in Soviet labor camps for speaking out against dictator Joseph Stalin. Ahmari said that when Solzhenitsyn appeared at Harvard, he was expected to praise the United States. Instead, the Russian offered pointed criticisms of the U.S. legal system, media, and culture.

According to Ahmari, Solzhenitsyn criticized a culture of legalism in the West, which he defined as one that allows and encourages individuals to pursue their own selfish ends up to the limit of the law. 

“He saw an abusive Western media,” Ahmari said, “whose overriding concern wasn’t in serving the truth or readers, but their own agendas.”

“Solzhenitsyn saw a West where the clamor of intellectual fashion shut out the true intellects, where shallow public opinion swallowed true excellence,” he said.

In his address, Solzhenitsyn said, “Should I be asked whether I propose the West, such as it is today, as a model for my country today, I would frankly have to answer negatively.” This was the “most shocking” statement he made, Ahmari said.

Ahmari said his goal in the chapter is to show Americans that they should not take their liberties for granted because Solzhenitsyn, a man who had experience in the Soviet labor camp system, could see Americans falling into bondage albeit under different circumstances.

The book has drawn praise from many, including Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. 

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