The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos – Book Review

Type: Non-fiction

Category: Ethics

Author: Sohrab Ahmari

Pages: 299

Publisher: Convergent

List Price (Hardcover): $23.99

Donald Trump signed an executive order during his last week as president directing the construction of a National Garden of American Heroes “to reflect the awesome splendor of our country’s timeless exceptionalism.”

On May 14th President Joe Biden revoked that executive order to satisfy a political base that doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism or tradition – and presumably because Orange Man Bad suggested it.

Trump’s national Garden of Heroes may not have survived the politically correct weed whacking by recalcitrant wokesters, but readers of Sohrab Ahmari’s The Unbroken Thread – Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos have been tossed a lifeline thread of wisdom in a literary garden blooming with hope and wisdom.

The op-ed editor of the New York Post, Ahmari’s concern for America’s current narcissistic culture pulses on every page of his bestselling book. Written in part for his toddler son, the Iranian-born author and former Muslim-turned-atheist-turned-Roman Catholic explores 12 existential questions about life that mankind has wrestled with since before the time of Christ.

While today’s woke Americans trash American history and Western Civilization by toppling statues, babbling incessantly about critical life theory and gender constructs, The Unbroken Thread taps into the wisdom of historic figures like Aristotle, Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Catholic saint Maximilian Kolbe for genuine answers to the true meaning of life, fulfillment and wisdom.

Parenthood and Christianity

When he was younger the author admittedly thought differently than he does today as a Christian convert and father. When his parents legally immigrated to the United States when he was 13, the teenager dove headfirst into the freedom of expression and thought his new country offered.

“Once I immigrated to the United States, I reveled in the chance to remake myself anew each day. My moral opinions were as interchangeable as my clothing styles and musical tastes. I could pick up and drop this ideology or that,” he writes in the Introduction. “I could be a high school “goth,” a college socialist, a law school neoconservative. I could dabble in drugs and build an identity around my dabbling.”

But after marrying his Chinese architect wife and becoming a parent, Ahmari said he found much of the West’s secularism lacking and empty.

“But what if that confidence of the modern world is an illusion, the product of a determined resolution not to confront the fundamental dilemmas of what it means to be fully human? Or what if beneath the moderns’ complacency lurks a deep soul-soreness?” he writes.

History’s Movers and Shakers

In 12 provocative chapters, Ahmari poses questions that he says modernists should be able to answer, questions like the scope and nature of reason; mankind’s responsibility to the past and future; how and what we worship; how we relate to each other, to our bodies, and to suffering and death.

The book is split evenly between two parts: The Things of God, and the Things of Mankind. Interwoven within the 12 biographies and the philosophical challenges faced by history’s intellectual heavyweights are anecdotes and observations from Ahmari’s personal experiences as a Catholic convert and new parent worried about his son’s future.

In Part 1, Ahmari provides fascinating portrayals of Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, Thomas Aquinas, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, husband and wife sociologists Vic and Edie Turner, black theologian, author and civil rights leader Howard Thurman and Saint Augustine.

Part II and The Things of Mankind offers an interesting palette of biographies of Confucius, Britain’s Father John Henry Newman, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the late feminist Andrea Dworkin, German philosopher Hans Jonas and the Roman philosopher Seneca.

In each portrayal, Ahmari provides compelling snapshots of his subject’s lives, warts and all. He shares how each chapter’s subject dealt with the book’s theme regarding the wisdom of committing to faith and serving others, juxtaposing their experiences with the same challenges confronting today’s selfies-obsessed, hedonistic culture.

Does God Respect You?

In Chapter 5’s Does God Respect You, the author peels away the prejudice and discrimination experienced by black theologian Howard Thurman in early 1900’s Daytona Beach. Using a pleasing narrative style sprinkled with fascinating details, Ahmari writes how Thurman used his Christian faith and powerful intellect to rebut a Hindu nationalist in Sri Lanka in 1935. The Sri Lankan intimated Thurman was a traitor to darker people because his Christian religion was used to discriminate against blacks in Thurman’s homeland.

“Jesus rejected hatred. It was not because he lacked the vitality or the strength. It was not because he lacked the incentive. Jesus rejected hatred because he saw that hatred meant death to the mind, death to the spirit, death to communion with his Father. He affirmed life; and hatred was the great denial,” Thurman wrote in his Christian classic, “Jesus and the Disinherited” describing his reasoning at the time.

Ahmari explained Thurman’s insight this way: “Fear, hypocrisy and hate are powerless before the Christ event – before the infinite Lord who bears the indignity of the finite, so that the finite might be raised to his infinite Lordship,” Ahmari wrote.

The author’s profile on the Catholic bishop Augustine (Chapter 6 – Does God Need Politics), illustrates how the revered saint tried the individualist philosophy as a successful teacher in Milan, Italy, before coming to the same personal realization that millions have encountered over their lifetimes; namely, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul.” (Mark 8:36)

That spiritual insight and Augstine’s frequent discussions with pagan Romans about their failure to honor God led to his classic tale The City of God. In that book Augustine portrays “the entirety of human history as a tale of two cities: the earthly city, which sought its highest good in this world, and the city of God, which sought it in the next.”

Is Sex a Private Matter?

Not all the profiles Ahmari shares involve religious leaders, such as Chapter 10’s Is Sex a Private Matter? In this chapter Ahmari explores sexual schizophrenia, feminist Andrea Dworkin’s “ferocious” views on the subject, and while her views on pornography and the innate depravity of men as a gender were arguably correct, her refusal to embrace traditional views of male-female relations left her theory muddled and bleak and men without any hope of redemption.

It’s not every author that has the courage to tackle deeply penetrating questions concerning the societal cost of maximizing personal freedom, the difference between liberty and license, and whether the opportunity of freedom without limits is worth it.

America’s Founding Fathers understood the concept that freedom without faith isn’t really freedom, or as James Madison said, our Constitution requires “sufficient virtue among men for self-government,” otherwise, “nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.”

You might say freedom today as we’ve traditionally known it hangs by a thread, but as Sohrab Ahmari has eloquently shown in his unique book, that thread remains unbroken if we demonstrate the wisdom of honoring tradition.

Thanks for reading Dean Riffs. Welcome to all those who love American liberty, free enterprise, and who believe God has blessed our country. 

Photo sources: Amazon, Catholic Herald, CICWashingtonDC, The Coming Home Network, Zola

Copyright 2021, Dean A. George©

2 Comments

  1. William Bray

    It never ceases to amaze me how each time Dean Riffs ups the ante to sensationalism. this is a perfect example of the best writing and critique of a masterpiece as you will ever find. My hats off to you Dean for sharing this amazing gem of a book that nails the present degradation of society to a tee.
    Natural to the Dean Riffs style, I laughed uncontrollably at the term used, “Orange Man Bad” even through my disgust of the left’s antics of cancelling everything good about society and tradition along with everything good about the previous administration’s monumental achievements. They can’t even give President Trump credit for leaving, and the left is pathetic.
    But fortunately we still have a trailblazer in our midst and Dean Riffs continues as our standard bearer to help fill the void after the loss of our great conservative conscience in Rush Limbaugh. I rank my friend Dean inching toward that kind of greatness. Nice work Dean, this was an amazing one repleat with truth and the American Way that the left won’t acknowledge.
    Perhaps President Madison did say it best as to how virtue is required for successful self-government. And it is painfully obvious that the left is lacking any kind of virtue that leads to successful governing. You cannot cloud exceptionalism with bailouts, payoffs and socialistic welfare. It is the death of democracy.
    Thank you Dean Riffs for starting the conversation and stimulating the thought process as it relates to present day. I very much appreciated reading this today.

    • Glad you liked the review, Chill. I really learned a lot about some of the greats of Western Civilization in this read, including a few people I’d never heard of. The author does a nice job illustrating how centuries ago Western Civ’s forebears were wrestling with the same issues about life’s meaning, how personal liberty is a good thing until liberty morphs into licentiousness, and how real freedom comes from submission to God and serving others. The author introduces these heavy subjects in an easygoing way, but honestly I had to take some profundity vitamins a time or two just to keep up. 🙂

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