“For He was made man that we might be made God; and He manifested Himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and He endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality.”
—St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation
“Have this mind among yourselves,” avowed Saint Paul, “which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians, 2:5–7). Anglican C.S. Lewis placed enormous weight on the significance of Christ’s Incarnation and wrote about it on a number of occasions. In and through the miraculous incarnation, the divine nature of the Son was perfectly united with human nature in one divine Person. This person, Jesus Christ, was both “truly God and truly man.” In Mere Christianity, Lewis observed: “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.“1 Accordingly “[t]he central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation.” In the book Miracles, Lewis further explained:
They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. Just as every natural event is the manifestation at a particular place and moment of Nature’s total character, so every particular Christian miracle manifests at a particular place and moment the character and significance of the Incarnation. There is no question in Christianity of arbitrary interferences just scattered about. It relates not a series of disconnected raids on Nature but the various steps of a strategically coherent invasion—an invasion which intends complete conquest and “occupation.” The fitness, and therefore credibility, of the particular miracles depends on their relation to the Grand Miracle; all discussion of them in isolation from it is futile… In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity. . . But He goes down to come up again and bring the ruined world up with Him. . . .2
J.I. Packer, a protégé and admirer of Lewis, states that “the supreme mystery with which the gospel confronts us” lies in “the Christmas message of incarnation.” He explained: One of Lewis’s admirers, theologian J.I. Packer, says that “the supreme mystery with which the gospel confronts us” lies in “the Christmas message of incarnation.” He explained:
The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man—that the second person of the Godhead became the “second man” …, determining human destiny,… and that He took humanity without loss of deity…3
C.S. Lewis said of the miracle of the Incarnation:
“Something really new did happen at Bethlehem: not an interpretation but an event. God became Man. On the other hand there must be a sense in which God, being outside time, is changeless and nothing ever ‘happens’ to Him. I think I should reply that the event at Bethlehem was a novelty, a change to the maximum extent to which any event is a novelty or change: but that all time and all events in it, if we could see them all at once and fully understand them, are a definition or diagram of what God eternally is. But that is quite different from saying that the incarnation was simply an interpretation, or a change in our knowledge. When Pythagoras discovered that the square on the hypotenuse was equal to the sum of the squares on the other sides he was discovering what had been just as true the day before though no one knew it. But in 50 B.C. the proposition ‘God is Man’ would not have been true in the same sense in which it was true in 10 A.D. because though the union of God and Man in Christ is a timeless fact, in 50 B.C. we hadn’t yet got to that bit of time which defines it.”4
As we worship the triune God, and reflect upon the miracle of the Incarnation this Christmas season, it is a most momentous occasion to reflect upon the one who descended from Heaven to become one of us, for our salvation, and for His eternal glory. As Paul said, “”Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever” (1 Timothy 1:15-17). Ligonier Ministries describes the miraculous consequence of the Incarnation and the world it made possible:
“Paul gives us some of the most profound reflections on the incarnation in the entire New Testament. Philippians 2:5–11 tells us that the Son of God did not consider His equality with God as something to be used solely for His own advantage at the expense of others; instead, He voluntarily condescended and took the form of a servant and became “obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross” (v. 8). In this condescension, our Savior did not surrender any divine attributes such as omniscience or omnipotence, though He did veil His glory. Without giving up His glory, He chose not to fully manifest it to all who saw Him as He walked the earth. But this veiling was only temporary. On account of His work, God exalted the God-man Christ Jesus, rewarding Him for His obedience and revealing Him as the source of eternal salvation for all who believe (vv. 9–11).”
1 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Touchstone, 1996), p. 155. 2 C.S. Lewis, Miracles (Touchstone, 1996), pp. 143, 147-148. 3 J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), pp. 45-46. 4 C.S. Lewis, The Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves
The Nativity of our Lord, or the Birth-day of Christ commonly called Christmas Day, December 25.
Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure Virgin: Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Morning, First Lesson
Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.
2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
3 Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
4 For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian.
5 For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.
6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
8 The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel.
Morning, Second Lesson
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
Evening, First Lesson
10 Moreover the Lord spake again unto Ahaz, saying,
11 Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.
12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.
13 And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?
14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
15 Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.
16 For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.
17 The Lord shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father’s house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah; even the king of Assyria.
4 But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,
5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
8 This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.
9 But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.
The Texas suit against the various swing states where irregularities were commonplace is rock solid. Here’s the reality. A cursory glance at the Texas lawsuit before the bar of Supreme Court of the U.S. reveals that the chief challenge comes down to the arbitrariness of various Boards of Election in swing states arbitrarily changing rules, deadline dates for acceptance of ballots, and so on, all of which made the irregularities and perceived fraud that the GOP laments possible. When it comes to adjudicating this rule, acknowledging Democrats will be partisan enough to deny the rule, it could still be said Trump safely has a 5-4 majority on his side, and it could end up being 6-3 advantage with Chief Justice Roberts. It’s a well-established legal axiom that the legislative authority cannot be usurped and Covid became the backdrop for these arbitrary rule changes. With the past as prologue, Gorsuch and Barrett have adjudicated election fraud cases and would seem partial to my interpretation here.
The chances of the election going, either way, are well into the double-digit percentage now as a result. Trump is fast lapsing as his role as an underdog.
The Texas legislative rule case which seventeen states have joined is by far the strongest as states have standing to sue another state in SCOTUS as the court of original jurisdiction.
The other thing is that access to the Supreme Court is controlled by the conservative majority Supreme Court Justices themselves, and the conservative justices control docket access for all of the U.S. Court of Appeals’ circuits that are pertinent to the swing states. There seems to be the smugness on the part of Bidenistas that they know the mind of conservative Justices better than they know themselves. The GOP strategy was deliberate to get their appeal to SCOTUS, even testing the waters.
Donald Trump frankly has as much in his favor when it comes to obtaining a second term in spite of being the underdog right as Biden thinks he has perched on his pretense to be President-Elect. I am willing to bet evidence of fraud will be presented in the Texas suit, but the suit’s key question doesn’t hang on fraud, rather the legal rule related to Election Boards usurping legislative authority. Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are all in play. The margins are narrow in some states too.
Even the late Justice Ginsburg too acknowledged in the year 2000 that the most definitive date as to the election outcome is January 6th not the Safe Harbor deadline date nor when the Electoral College convenes Monday, December 14th. The process could go either way, whether we rely on the Electoral College or contingent election in January per the Constitution depending on ensuing events.
A Review of Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (New York, NY: Sentinel, 2017) by Ryan Setliff.
[originally published on November 2018]
Here’s the Cliff Notes’ version of the Benedict Option; in case you missed the apologetic for the monastic trap; simply put, it’s a failed strategy of attrition in the cultural war when the only viable alternative is an insurgent strategy.
In allusion to the science-fiction protagonist Hari Seldon in the Issac Asimov novel Foundation who tries to rescue a future fictional galactic empire by chartering an intellectual redoubt of knowledge and wisdom, author Rod Dreher sees himself as a guru trying to head off the decline of Christian culture in an essentially a post-Christian era by creating monastic silos. That he means well is admitted. That he has just cause for alarm is granted. But his tactics are ultimately amiss.
Polemical critiques of this book shouldn’t be conflated to be simply an issue of Western Christianity versus Dreher’s Orthodoxy. There’s room for even the Protestant and Catholic to appropriate the hypothesis as Dreher doesn’t narrow the communions that may embrace his “option” to just his newly adopted Orthodox communion.
There’s little reason to dispute Dreher’s claim that the Religious Right in the United States have engaged in a false triumphalism to speak of a ‘Moral Majority.’ The demographic transformation of the country over the last four years have done little to increase Christianity’s fortunes. The continual militant secularization of the academy has played a big part of the incremental secularization and dechristianization of America as secular humanism grips the thoughts of intellectuals. The broken families and social pathologies endemic in the United States manifest an obvious problem of America’s Sexual Revolution as four out of ten children are born out of wedlock nowadays.
While Christian conservatives may sympathize with Rod Dreher’s desire to see Christianity flourish once more, his prescription is woefully misguided. It has elicited criticisms from across Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant communions. What Dreher sees in monastic life carries a certain air of practical gnosticism and resignation to the world. The danger of ensconce in a cloister is that Christians become dominated by the barbarians who may not afford our little cloister the autonomy and freedom it needs. The militant secularization and mandated state secular humanist educational models of Sweden and Germany tend to point to the futility of such defeatism. He counsels Christians to build an “ark” and eschew “unwinnable political battles.” It’s the proverbial Ostrich in the sand strategy, one destined to fail, and one that should elicit refutation given the seriousness of what’s at stake.
One can only imagine the man (or perhaps his posterity) who takes the Benedict Option seriously eventually emerging from his cocoon like Charlton Heston’s character in The Planet of the Apes to survey a future wasteland devoid of humanity and feeling the compulsion to curse the very humanity that destroyed itself. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned in The Cost of Discipleship, the Christian must accept the reality that his prayer cloister is merely but part of the world. One cannot be salt and light in a dark cloister.
Dreher could contend he’s misunderstood or offers nuance as he proposes reengaging secular culture, but his tactics are fundamentally rooted in separation―a spiritual apartheid.
An Address To The Faculty and Students of Harvard University, delivered 8 June 1978, Harvard University.
“I am sincerely happy to be here on the occasion of the 327th commencement of this old and most prestigious university. My congratulations and very best wishes to all of today’s graduates.
Harvard’s motto is “VERITAS.” Many of you have
already found out, and others will find out in the course of their lives, that
truth eludes us if we do not concentrate our attention totally on it’s pursuit.
But even while it eludes us, the illusion of knowing it still lingers and leads
to many misunderstandings. Also, truth seldom is pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter.
There is some bitterness in my today’s speech too, but I want to stress that it
comes not from an adversary, but from a friend.
Three years ago in the United States I said
certain things which at that time appeared unacceptable. Today, however,
many people agree with what I then said.
The split in today’s world is perceptible even to
a hasty glance. Any of our contemporaries readily identifies two world powers,
each of them already capable of entirely destroying the other. However,
understanding of the split often is limited to this political conception:
that danger may be abolished through successful
diplomatic negotiations or by achieving a balance of armed forces. The truth is
that the split is a much [more] profound [one] and a more alienating one, that the rifts are
more than one can see at first glance. This deep manifold split bears
the danger of manifold disaster for all of us, in accordance with the
ancient truth that a kingdom — in this case, our Earth — divided against itself
There is the concept of
“Third World”: thus, we
already have three worlds. Undoubtedly, however, the number is even greater; we
are just too far away to see. Any ancient and deeply rooted, autonomous
culture, especially if it is spread on a wide part of the earth’s surface,
constitutes an autonomous world, full of riddles and surprises to Western
thinking. As a minimum, we must include in this category China, India, the Muslim world,
and Africa, if indeed we accept the approximation of viewing the latter two as
For one thousand years Russia belonged to such a
category, although Western thinking systematically committed the mistake of
denying its autonomous character and therefore never understood it, just as today
the West does not understand Russia in Communist captivity. It may be
that in past years Japan has increasingly become a distant part of the West. I
am no judge here. But as to Israel, for instance, it seems to me that it’s been
the part from the western world, in that its state system is fundamentally linked to religion.
How short a time ago, relatively, the small,
new European world was easily seizing colonies everywhere, not only
without anticipating any real resistance, but also usually despising any
possible values in the conquered people’s approach to life. On the face of it,
it was an
overwhelming success. There were no geographic frontiers [limits] to it. Western society expanded in a
triumph of human independence and power. And all of a sudden in the 20th
century came the discovery of its fragility and friability.
We now see that the conquests proved to be short
lived and precarious — and this, in turn, points to defects in the Western view
of the world which led to these conquests. Relations with the former colonial
world now have turned into their opposite and the Western world often
goes to extremes of subservience, but it is difficult yet to estimate the
total size of the bill which former colonial countries will present to the West and it
is difficult to predict whether the surrender not only of its last colonies, but
of everything it owns, will be sufficient for the West to foot the bill.
But the blindness of superiority
continues in spite of all and upholds the belief that the vast regions
everywhere on our planet should
develop and mature to the level of present day Western systems, which in theory
are the best and in practice the most attractive. There is this belief that all those other worlds are
temporarily prevented (by wicked governments or by heavy crises or by their own
barbarity and incomprehension) from taking the way of Western pluralistic democracy and
from adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their
progress in this direction.
However, it is a conception which develops out
of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds,
out of the mistake of measuring
them all with a Western yardstick. The real picture of our planet’s development
is quite different and which about our divided world gave birth to the
theory of convergence between leading Western countries and the Soviet
Union. It is a soothing theory which overlooks the fact that these worlds are
not at all developing into similarity. Neither one can be transformed into the
other without the use of violence. Besides, convergence inevitably means acceptance of the
other side’s defects, too, and this is hardly desirable.
If I were today addressing an audience in my
country, examining the overall pattern of the world’s rifts, I would
have concentrated on the East’s calamities. But since my forced exile in
the West has now lasted four years and since my audience is a Western one, I
think it may be of greater interest to concentrate on certain aspects of the
West, in our days, such as I see them.
A decline in courage may be the most striking
feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world
has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country,
each government, each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations.
Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and
the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire
society. Of course, there are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining
influence on public life.
Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their
statements, and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how
realistic, reasonable, as well as intellectually and even morally worn it is to
base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And decline in courage is
ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same
bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and with countries not supported
by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they
get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and
threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.
Should one point out that from ancient times
declining courage has been considered the beginning of the end?
When the modern Western states were created,
the principle was proclaimed that governments are meant to serve man and man lives to be free and
to pursue happiness. See, for example, the
American Declaration of Independence. Now, at last, during past decades technical
and social progress has permitted the realization of such aspirations: the
Every citizen has been granted the desired
freedom and material goods in such quantity and of such quality as to guarantee
in theory the achievement of happiness — in the morally inferior sense of the
word which has come into being during those same decades. In the process,
however, one psychological detail has been overlooked: the constant desire to
have still more things and a still better life and the struggle to attain them imprint many Western
faces with worry and even depression, though it is customary to conceal such feelings.
Active and tense competition fills all
human thoughts without opening a way to free spiritual development.
The individual’s independence from many types of
state pressure has been guaranteed. The majority of people have been granted
well-being to an extent their fathers and grandfathers could not even dream
about. It has become possible to raise young people according to these ideals,
leaving them to physical splendor, happiness, possession of material goods, money, and leisure, to an almost
unlimited freedom of enjoyment. So who should now renounce all
this? Why? And for what should one risk one’s precious life in
defense of common values and particularly in such nebulous cases when the
security of one’s nation must be defended in a distant country? Even biology
knows that habitual, extreme safety and well-being are not advantageous for a living organism. Today, well-being
in the life of Western society has begun to reveal its pernicious mask.
Western society has given itself the
organization best suited to its purposes based, I would say, one the letter of
the law. The
limits of human rights and righteousness are determined by a system of laws; such
limits are very broad. People in the West have acquired considerable skill in
interpreting and manipulating law. Any conflict is solved according to the
letter of the law and this is considered to be the supreme solution. If one is
right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required. Nobody will mention that one could still not be
and urge self-restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice
and selfless risk. It would sound simply absurd. One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint.
Everybody operates at the extreme
limit of those legal frames.
I have spent all my life under a Communist regime
and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a
terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale than the legal one is not
quite worthy of man either. A society which is based on the letter of the law
and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level
of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial
influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic
relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing
man’s noblest impulses. And it will be simply impossible to stand through
the trials of this threatening century with only the support of a
In today’s Western society the
inequality has been revealed [in] freedom for good deeds and freedom for evil deeds. A
statesman who wants to achieve something important and highly constructive for his country has
to move cautiously and even timidly. There are thousands of hasty and irresponsible
critics around him; parliament and the press keep rebuffing him. As he moves
ahead, he has to prove that each single step of his is well-founded and absolutely
flawless. Actually, an outstanding and particularly gifted person who has unusual and
unexpected initiatives in mind hardly gets a chance to assert himself. From the
very beginning, dozens
of traps will be set out for him. Thus, mediocrity triumphs with the excuse of
restrictions imposed by democracy.
It is feasible and easy everywhere to undermine
administrative power and in fact it has been drastically weakened in all Western
countries. The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make
society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals. It’s time, in the
West — It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.
Destructive and irresponsible
freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little
defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of
liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of
pornography, crime, and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and
theoretically counterbalanced by the young people’s right not to look or
not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to
defend itself against the corrosion of evil.
And what shall we say criminality as such? Legal
frames, especially in the United States, are broad
enough to encourage not only individual freedom but also certain individual
crimes. The culprit can go unpunished or obtain undeserved leniency with
the support of thousands of public defenders. When a government
starts an earnest fight against terrorism, public opinion immediately accuses
it of violating the terrorist’s civil rights. There are many such
Such a tilt of freedom in the direction of evil
has come about
gradually, but it was evidently born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept
according to which there is no evil inherent to human nature. The world belongs
to mankind and all the defects of life are caused by wrong social systems,
which must be corrected. Strangely enough, though the best social
conditions have been achieved in the West, there still is criminality and there
even is considerably more of it than in the pauper and lawless
The press too, of course, enjoys the widest
freedom. (I shall be using the word press to include all media.) But what sort
of use does it make of this freedom?
Here again, the main concern is not to infringe
the letter of the law. There is no true moral responsibility for deformation or
disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist or a newspaper have
to his readers, or to his history — or to history? If they have misled public
opinion or the government by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, do we
know of any cases of public recognition and rectification of such mistakes by
the same journalist or the same newspaper? It hardly ever happens because it
would damage sales. A nation may be the victim of such a mistake, but the
journalist usually always gets away with it. One may — One may safely assume
that he will start writing the opposite with renewed self-assurance.
Because instant and credible information has to
be given, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors, and suppositions
to fill in the voids, and none — and none of them will ever be rectified; they will stay on
in the readers’ memories. How many hasty, immature, superficial, and misleading
judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification.
The press — The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus, we may see
terrorists described as heroes, or secret matters pertaining to one’s nation’s defense
publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of
well-known people under the slogan: “Everyone is entitled to know everything.”
But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era. People also have the
right not to know and it’s a much more valuable one. The right not to have
their divine souls [stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk.] A person who works
and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of
Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic
disease of the 20th century and more than anywhere else this disease is
reflected in the press. Such as it is, however, the press has become the
greatest power within the Western countries, more powerful than the legislative
the executive, and the judiciary. And one would then like to ask: By what law has it
been elected and to whom is it responsible? In the communist East a journalist
is frankly appointed as a state official. But who has granted Western
journalists their power, for how long a time, and with what prerogatives?
There is yet another surprise for someone coming
from the East, where the press is rigorously unified. One gradually discovers a
common trend of preferences within the Western press as a whole. It is a
fashion; there are generally accepted patterns of judgment; there may be
common corporate interests, the sum effect being not competition but
unification. Enormous freedom exists for the press, but not for the readership
because newspaper[s] mostly develop stress and emphasis to those opinions
which do not too openly contradict their own and the general trend.
Without any censorship, in the West fashionable
trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not
fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever
find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally your
researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There
is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by
fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevent
independent-minded people giving their contribution to public life. There
is a dangerous tendency to flock together and shut off successful development. I
have received letters in America from highly intelligent persons, maybe a
teacher in a faraway small college who could do much for the renewal and
salvation of his country, but his country cannot hear him because the media are
not interested in him. This gives birth to strong mass prejudices, to blindness,
which is most dangerous in our dynamic era. There is, for instance, a
self-deluding interpretation of the contemporary world situation. It works as a
sort of a petrified armor around people’s minds. Human voices from 17 countries of
Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia cannot pierce it. It will only be broken by the
pitiless crowbar of events.
I have mentioned a few traits of Western life
which surprise and shock a new arrival to this world. The purpose and scope of
this speech will not allow me to continue such a review, to look into the
influence of these Western characteristics on important aspects of a
nation’s life, such as elementary education, advanced education in the
humanities and art.
It is almost
universally recognized that the West shows all the world a way to successful
economic development, even though in the past years it has been strongly
disturbed by chaotic inflation. However, many people living in the West are
dissatisfied with their own society. They despise it or accuse it of not being
up to the level of maturity attained by mankind. A number of such critics turn
to socialism, which is a false and dangerous current.
I hope that no one present will suspect me of
offering my personal criticism of the Western system to present socialism as an
alternative. Having experienced — Having experienced applied socialism in a country where the
alternative has been realized, I certainly will not speak for it. The well-known
Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has
written a brilliant book under the title
Socialism; it is a profound
analysis showing that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total
destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death.
Shafarevich’s book was published in France — Shafarevich’s book was published in France almost two years ago and so far no
one has been found to refute it. It will shortly be published in the
But should someone ask me whether I would
indicate the West such as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would
have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society in its present
state as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through intense suffering our
country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the
Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look
attractive. Even those characteristics of your life which I have just mentioned
are extremely saddening.
A fact which cannot be disputed is the weakening
of human beings in the West while in the East they are becoming firmer and
stronger — 60 years for our people and 30 years for the people of Eastern
Europe. During that time we have been through a spiritual training far in
advance of Western experience. Life’s complexity and mortal weight have produced
stronger, deeper, and more interesting characters than those generally
standardized Western well-being.
Therefore, if our society were to be transformed
into yours, it would mean an improvement in certain aspects, but also a change
for the worse on some particularly significant scores. It is true, no doubt,
that a society cannot remain in an abyss of lawlessness, as is the case in our
country. But it is also demeaning for it to elect such mechanical legalistic
smoothness as you have. After the suffering of many years of violence and
oppression, the human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those
offered by today’s mass living habits, introduced by the revolting invasion of
publicity, by TV stupor, and by intolerable music.
There are meaningful warnings which history gives
a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, the decadence of art,
or a lack of great statesmen. There are open and evident warnings, too. The
center of your democracy and of your culture is left without electric power for
a few hours only, and all of a sudden crowds of American citizens start looting
and creating havoc. The smooth surface film must be very thin, then, the social
system quite unstable and unhealthy.
But the fight for our planet, physical and
spiritual, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future;
it has already started. The forces of Evil have begun their offensive;
you can feel their pressure, and yet your screens and publications are full of
prescribed smiles and raised glasses. What is the joy about?
Very well known representatives of your society,
such as George Kennan, say: We cannot apply moral criteria to politics. Thus, we
mix good and evil, right and wrong, and make space for the absolute triumph of
absolute Evil in the world. On the contrary, only moral criteria can help the
West against communism’s well planned world strategy. There are no other
criteria. Practical or occasional considerations of any kind will inevitably be
swept away by strategy. After a certain level of the problem has been reached,
legalistic thinking induces paralysis; it prevents one from seeing the size and
meaning of events.
spite of the abundance of information, or
maybe because of it, the West has difficulties in understanding reality
it is. There have been naive predictions by some American experts who
that Angola would become the Soviet Union’s Vietnam or that Cuban
Africa would best be stopped by special U.S. courtesy to Cuba. Kennan’s
to his own country — to begin unilateral disarmament — belongs to the
category. If you only knew how the youngest of the Kremlin officials
laugh at your political wizards. As to Fidel Castro, he frankly scorns
the United States, sending his troops to distant adventures from his
right next to yours.
However, the most cruel mistake occurred with the
failure to understand the Vietnam war. Some people sincerely wanted all wars to
stop just as soon as possible; others believed that there should be room for
national, or communist, self-determination in Vietnam, or in Cambodia, as we see
today with particular clarity. But members of the U.S. anti-war movement wound
up being involved in the betrayal of Far Eastern nations, in a genocide and in
the suffering today imposed on 30 million people there. Do those convinced
pacifists hear the moans coming from there? Do they understand their
responsibility today? Or do they prefer not to hear?
The American Intelligentsia
lost its nerve and as a consequence thereof danger has come much closer to the
United States. But there is no awareness of this. Your shortsighted politicians
who signed the hasty Vietnam capitulation seemingly gave America a carefree
breathing pause; however, a hundredfold Vietnam now looms over you. That small
Vietnam had been a warning and an occasion to mobilize the nation’s courage. But
if a full-fledged America suffered a real defeat from a small communist
half-country, how can the West hope to stand firm in the future?
I have had occasion already to say that in the
20th century Western democracy has not won any major war without help and protection
from a powerful continental ally whose philosophy and ideology it did not
question. In World War II against Hitler, instead of winning that war with its
own forces, which would certainly have been sufficient, Western democracy grew
and cultivated another enemy who would prove worse, as
Hitler never had so many resources and so many people, nor did he offer any
attractive ideas, or have a large number of supporters in the West as the Soviet Union. At present, some Western voices
already have spoken of obtaining protection from a third power against
aggression in the next world conflict, if there is one. In this case the shield
would be China. But I would not wish such an outcome to any country in the
world. First of all, it is again a doomed alliance with Evil; also, it would
grant the United States a respite, but when at a later date China with its
billion people would turn around armed with American weapons, America itself
would fall prey to a genocide similar to the in Cambodia in our
And yet — no weapons, no matter how powerful,
can help the West until it overcomes its loss of willpower. In a state of
psychological weakness, weapons become a burden for the capitulating side. To
defend oneself, one must also be ready to die; there is little such readiness in
a society raised in the cult of material well-being. Nothing is left, then, but
concessions, attempts to gain time, and betrayal. Thus at the shameful Belgrade
conference free Western diplomats in their weakness surrendered the line where
enslaved members of Helsinki Watchgroups are sacrificing their lives.
Western thinking has become conservative: the
world situation should stay as it is at any cost; there should be no changes.
This debilitating dream of a status quo is the symptom of a society which has
come to the end of its development. But one must be blind in order not to see
that oceans no longer belong to the West, while land under its domination keeps
shrinking. The two so-called world wars (they were by far not on a world scale,
not yet) have meant internal self-destruction of the small, progressive West
which has thus prepared its own end. The next war (which does not have to be an
atomic one and I do not believe it will) may well bury Western civilization
Facing such a danger, with such splendid historical values
in your past, at such a high level of realization of freedom and of
devotion to freedom, how is it possible to lose to such an extent the will to
How has this unfavorable relation of forces come
about? How did the West decline from its triumphal march to its present
sickness? Have there been fatal turns and losses of direction in its
development? It does not seem so. The West kept advancing socially in accordance
with its proclaimed intentions, with the help of brilliant technological
progress. And all of a sudden it found itself in its present state of weakness.
This means that the mistake must be at the root,
at the very basis of human thinking in the past centuries. I refer to the
prevailing Western view of the world which was first born during the Renaissance
and found its political expression from the period of the Enlightenment. It
became the basis for government and social science and could be defined as
rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and enforced
autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called
anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of everything that exists.
The turn introduced by the Renaissance evidently
was inevitable historically. The Middle Ages had come to a natural end by
exhaustion, becoming an intolerable despotic repression of man’s physical nature
in favor of the spiritual one. Then, however, we turned our backs upon the
Spirit and embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal.
This new way of thinking, which had imposed on us its guidance, did not admit
the existence of intrinsic evil in man nor did it see any higher task than the
attainment of happiness on earth. It based modern Western civilization on the
dangerous trend to worship man and his material needs. Everything beyond
physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human
requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left
outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did
not have any superior sense. That provided access for evil, of which in our days
there is a free and constant flow. Merely freedom does not in the least solve
all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones.
However, in early democracies, as in the American
democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted
because man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual
conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such
was the heritage of the preceding thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty
years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual
could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts
or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere
in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian
centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were
— State systems were becoming increasingly and totally materialistic. The West ended up by truly
enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man’s sense of
responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer. In the past decades,
the legalistically selfish aspect of Western approach and thinking has reached
its final dimension and the world wound up in a harsh spiritual crisis and a
political impasse. All the glorified technological achievements of Progress,
including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the 20th century’s
moral poverty which no one could imagine even as late as in the 19th
As humanism in its development became more and
more materialistic, it made itself increasingly accessible to speculation and
manipulation by socialism and then by communism. So that Karl Marx was
able to say that “communism is naturalized humanism.”
statement turned out not to be entirely
senseless. One does see the same stones in the foundations of a
humanism and of any type of socialism: endless materialism; freedom from
religion and religious responsibility, which under communist regimes
stage of anti-religious dictatorships; concentration on social
structures with a
seemingly scientific approach. This is typical of the Enlightenment in
the 18th Century and of Marxism. Not by coincidence all of communism’s
meaningless pledges and oaths are about Man, with a capital M, and his
happiness. At first glance it seems an ugly parallel: common traits in
thinking and way of life of today’s West and today’s East? But such is
of materialistic development.
The interrelationship is such, too, that the
current of materialism which is most to the left always ends up by being
stronger, more attractive, and victorious, because it is more consistent.
Humanism without its Christian heritage cannot resist such competition. We watch
this process in the past centuries and especially in the past decades, on a
world scale as the situation becomes increasingly dramatic. Liberalism was
inevitably displaced by radicalism; radicalism had to surrender to socialism;
socialism could never resist communism.1 The communist regime in the East could
stand and grow due to the enthusiastic support from an enormous number of
Western intellectuals who felt a kinship and refused to see communism’s crimes.
And when they no longer could do so, they tried to justify them. In our Eastern
countries, communism has suffered a complete ideological defeat; it is zero and
less than zero. But Western intellectuals still look at it with interest and
with empathy, and this is precisely what makes it so immensely difficult for the
West to withstand the East.
I am not examining here the case of a world war
disaster and the changes which it would produce in society. As long as we wake
up every morning under a peaceful sun, we have to lead an everyday life. There
is a disaster, however, which has already been under way for quite some time. I
am referring to the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic
To such consciousness, man is the touchstone in
judging everything on earth — imperfect man, who is never free of
pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. We are now
experiencing the consequences of mistakes which had not been noticed at the
beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have
enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete
Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have
placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we
were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. In the
East, it is destroyed by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In
the West, commercial interests suffocate it. This is the real crisis.
The split in the world is less terrible — The split in the world is less
terrible than the similarity of the disease
plaguing its main sections.
If humanism were right in declaring that man is
born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die,
his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot
be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best
ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most of them. It
has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life
journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a
better human being than one started it. It is imperative to review the table of
widespread human values. Its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not
possible that assessment of the President’s performance be reduced to the
question how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline.
Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of
It would be retrogression to attach oneself today
to the ossified formulas of the Enlightenment. Social dogmatism leaves us
completely helpless in front of the trials of our times. Even if we are spared destruction by war, our
lives will have to change if we want to save life from self-destruction. We
cannot avoid revising the fundamental definitions of human life and human
society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit
above him? Is it right that man’s life and society’s activities have to be
determined by material expansion in the first place? Is it permissible to
promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual integrity?
If the world has not come to its end, it has
approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the
Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge: We
shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our
physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more
importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era.
This ascension will be similar to climbing onto
the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but —
When an August trailer revealed that the 40th president of the United States of America, Ronald Wilson Reagan, would be playing a role in the new Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, I resolved to make my first foray into the popular first-person shooter franchise. While I had occasionally played Call of Duty (CoD) at friends’ houses growing up and completed the campaign of the much-venerated Modern Warfare 2 many years after its release, I had never before purchased a CoD game. The Gipper’s rousing speech to the CIA special-operations task force you join in the single-player campaign was more than enough to spur me to remedy that.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead
“Gentleman, you’ve been given a great task: protecting our very way of life from a great evil,” Reagan begins. “There is no higher duty, there is no higher honor, and while few people will know of your struggles, rest assured the entire free world will benefit. I know you won’t fail us,” he ends. Some reacted to the trailer by asserting that Reagan would send players “to do war crimes” in Cold War. For my part, there’s almost no limit to the amount of money I would have spent to attain the high honor he spoke of. Fortunately, it cost me only $60.
If you’ve forked over the cash for the reasons I did, you receive immediate gratification — that is, after the twelve hours it takes for the game to finish downloading — when the campaign begins by showing footage of Reagan at his 1980 inauguration. Moreover, the first two missions are preempted by a vengeful new commander in chief explaining to your task force’s supervisor that after the horror of the Iranian hostage crisis, “it’s time to send a message” to those who would do Americans harm. Some might call it fan service. I call it giving the people what they want.
Those first missions see CoD mainstays such as Alex Mason — whom you play as — and Frank Woods, led by charismatic, Aviator-clad newcomer Russell Adler, tracking down two Iranian operatives known to have participated in the hostage crisis. Interrogation of those two operatives leads Adler and his team to believe that a Russian agent with a history of stealing American nuclear secrets and material known as Perseus is once again up to no good. It’s this information that triggers Reagan’s stirring speech and signals the beginning of a new phase of the game in which you play as a new character whose background, personality traits, and name you can customize, even though you will be referred to by the rest of the team only as “Bell.”
Most of the rest of the campaign sees the team running around the Eastern Bloc — Berlin, Ukraine, even the Lubyanka Building, which served as KGB headquarters in Moscow — wreaking havoc and killing Communists everywhere you go. The exception to this rule is a flashback to Vietnam during which Bell and Adler gather intelligence on Perseus, lay waste to VC emerging through tree lines, and hop in a helicopter to provide air support for pinned-down U.S. forces. Nowhere in the campaign are you asked to fire on innocents or otherwise “do war crimes.”
After a failed attempt to bring Perseus to justice just before your last mission, it is revealed that back when you were given the impression that you were customizing Bell, you were really choosing how best to condition him. Instead of a longtime CIA contractor, the primary player-controlled character in Cold War is a minion of Perseus, betrayed by one of the Iranian operatives you hunted down as Mason earlier in the game. To Bell’s fortune or perhaps misfortune, he was rescued by Adler’s team only to be enrolled in the CIA’s MK-Ultra program. Bell never fought Charlie in Vietnam or willingly joined up with Adler’s task force, but his memories were reconstructed so that he believes he did, bonding him to Adler and instilling in him a belief in his team’s mission.
The problem with this plot twist is that it’s supposed to set up a dilemma for the players: Do you stop Perseus or take revenge on Adler and Uncle Sam for what they’ve put you through? It’s no choice at all though. Even though you spend the campaign playing as Bell, he is, quite literally, a voiceless, faceless gun. Cold War spends far more time endearing Adler, the scarred, “I wear my sunglasses at night” Vietnam vet to players than it does Bell. And besides that, there wasn’t a cold chance in hell that I was about to fall short of the Gipper’s high expectations. Sure, what Adler did to Bell was monstrous. But as Adler so often reminds you throughout the campaign, he has a job to do (this doubles as Bell’s trigger phrase — one that keeps him in line). So long as you understand that it is a Reaganesque belief in America’s righteousness, personified by Adler — not Bell — who serves as the game’s protagonist, you’ll find the campaign immensely satisfying.
In a shrill review of Cold War for the Daily Beast, Alec Kubas-Meyer writes that “Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Is a Reagan-Worshipping Right-Wing Fever Dream.” For a culture so dominated by the Left that people such as Kubas-Meyer, who have no qualms in outright lying to their readers about the game even after completing it — he says Reagan grants Adler’s team “blanket license to massacre” — a Reagan-worshipping right-wing fever dream is just what the doctor ordered. A stellar soundtrack and cameos from an inquisitive but sure-footed James Baker and a rebuked-by-Reagan Al Haig complete the dream.
Unlike Vice, the derisive Dick Cheney biopic that many conservatives nevertheless embraced as 2019’s best superhero film, Cold War readily affirms a pro-American worldview. For that, its stunning graphics, and its well-constructed plot — to say nothing of the multiplayer and zombies modes that players have the option of utilizing — the newest installment of CoD is well worth the investments of time and capital. So get to work. You have a job to do.
Every decade or so comes an intellectual history book that one has to read. Previous claimants to ‘must-read’ intellectual histories were Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and David Gress’ From Plato to NATO: The Idea of the West and Its Opponents. Now there’s a book bold enough to postulate: “Among the greatest challenges facing humanity is the ability to survive progress” (p. 29). Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick J. Deneen is an insightful and trenchant tome that accomplishes much with its brevity, readable prose, simplicity of style, and the persuasiveness of its overall argument.
Of Liberalism, Patrick J. Deneen candidly remarks:
Liberalism has failed not because it fell short, but because it was true to itself. It has failed because it has succeeded. As liberalism has ‘become more fully itself,’ as its inner logic has become more evident and its self-contradictions manifest, it has generated pathologies that are at once deformation of its claims yet realizations of liberal ideology. A political philosophy that was launched to foster greater equity, defend a tapestry of different cultures and beliefs, protect human dignity, and, of course, expand liberty, in practice generates titanic inequality, enforces uniformity and homogeneity, fosters material and spiritual degradation, and undermines freedom. (p. 3).
Deneen posits that “[T]he political project of liberalism is shaping us into the creatures of its prehistorical fantasy, which in fact required the combined massive apparatus of the modern state, economy, education system, and science and technology to make us into: increasingly separate, autonomous, nonrelational selves replete with rights and defined by our liberty, but insecure, powerless, afraid, and alone.” (p.16) The paradox of liberalism has been its embrace of the state that has liberated man from the past constraints of non-state actors, tradition, patriarchy, clans and guilds, and institutional edifices like the Christian church, and yet liberalism often marched to the beat of a different drummer with the rhetoric of triumphant individualism.
One underlying premise of Deneen’s work is that the liberal enterprise is unsustainable. He notes critically that Liberalism has a marked tendency to impute moral deformity to people, compelling them to adjust their behavior for the worst in service of fulfilling liberal ideals. “Liberalism teaches a people to hedge commitments” opting instead for “flexible relationships”; hence economic and political bonds are “seen as fungible. . .” as well as ties “. . .to place, to neighborhood, to nation, to family, and to religion. . . (p. 34). As Karl Marx phrased his lamentation of liberal “bourgeoisie” values, [liberalism] “put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors’, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.’ It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. . .” (Marx ironically lamented liberalism’s underlying materialism, yet he posited an alternative societal paradigm that put its philosophical materialism on steroids.)
Deneen is keen to the apparent paradox that the fortunes of “individualism and statism advance together, always mutually supportive, and always at the expense of lived and vital relations that stand in contrast to both the starkness of the autonomous individual and the abstraction of our membership in the state” (p. 46). This is a stark reality that extreme Libertarian ideologues prefer to ignore yet the reality is that the rise of the modern global market economy came almost exclusively with an ever increasingly, centralized state. “It is impossible to understand the massive concentrations of political power in the twentieth century, appearing so paradoxically, or it has seemed, right after a century and a half of individualism in economics and morals,” Robert Nisbet explained, “unless we see the close relationship that prevailed all through the nineteenth century between individualism and State power and between both of these together and the general weakening of the area of association that lies intermediate to man and the State” (p. 60, c.f., Robert Nisbet, The Quest For Community: A Study In The Ethics Of Order And Freedom, p. 157).
Just how and why is the liberal political enterprise failing? It comes down to its misunderstanding of human nature. Alongside misguided assumptions of human perfectability that subsume liberal democracy, and quixotic aspirations for spreading liberal democratic institutions world-wide, its anthropology is false much as Marxism proved to be. The modern liberal political enterprise rejects people’s innate sense of rootedness in a life lived out in their local communities as well as freedom of association — all of which have been supplanted by the instrumentality of both the state and the market economy. Despite the dominance of liberalism, society experiences a glaring sense of alienation, increased polarization between rival groups, and the marginalization of the historic voluntary associations such as the church: the former influence of which has been dramatically displaced by the centralized state. The liberal state (and its agents) with its emphasis on individual autonomy has inadvertently, and at times quite intentionally, subverted institutions and associations that stand athwart the iron wills of individual autonomy and their ironic champion: the liberal state.
Liberalism as Anti-Culture
Deneen takes aim at what he characterizes as “Liberal Anticulture,” and he notes that Liberalism has a pronounced tendency to extirpate culture, local conventions, and tradition wherever it advances, as it dissociates nature from culture. It does all of these things in service of Liberal ideals by positing “the absence of cultural forms” in an idealized state of nature whereby the individual embraces a “radical autonomy” reflective of this prehistoric state of nature; on this point, Deneen exorcises the ghosts of Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau who sowed this idea (p. 67). Deneen elucidates upon the origins of the anticulture:
“Anticulture is the consequence of a regime of standardizing law replacing widely observed informal norms that come to be discarded as forms of oppression; and it is the simultaneous consequence of a universal and homogenous market, resulting in a monoculture that, like its agricultural analogue, colonizes and destroys actual cultures rooted in experience, history, and place. These two visages of the liberal anticulture thus free us from other specific people and embedded relationships, replacing custom with abstract and depersonalized law, liberating us from personal obligations and debts, replacing what have come to be perceived as burdens on our individual autonomous freedom with pervasive legal threat and generalized financial indebtedness. In the effort to secure the radical autonomy of individuals, liberal law and the liberal market replace actual culture with an encompassing anticulture. ¶This anticulture is the arena of our liberty—yet increasingly, it is rightly perceived as the locus of our bondage and even a threat to our continued existence. The simultaneous heady joy and gnawing anxieties of a liberated humanity, shorn of the compass of tradition and inheritance that were the hallmarks of embedded culture, are indicators of liberalism’s waxing success and accumulating failure. The paradox is our growing belief that we are thralls to the very sources of our liberation—pervasive legal surveillance and control of people alongside technological control of nature. As the empire of liberty grows, the reality of liberty recedes. The anticulture of liberalism—supposedly the source of our liberation—accelerates liberalism’s success and demise.” (p. 66).
Here Deneen’s analysis shines as his observation that the liberal democratic state in tandem with the market economy has continually acted as a solvent of culture and local convention. Contrary to Libertarian ideology, the market economy advanced with political centralization. Liberalism’s embrace of centralization can be felt in the advocacy of world government by its modern champions from Immanuel Kant to more recently Mises and Hayek. In Liberalism (1927), Ludwig von Mises advocates a “world super-state really deserving of the name,” which will emerge if we “succeed in creating throughout the world . . . nothing less than unqualified, unconditional acceptance of liberalism. Liberal thinking must permeate all nations, liberal principles must pervade all political institutions.” Comparably Friedrich Hayek argued for replacing independent nations with a world-wide federation: “The abrogation of national sovereignties and the creation of an effective international order of law is a necessary complement and the logical consummation of the liberal program.” Liberalism despite its superficial anti-statism in rhetoric advanced its fortunes on centralizing political experiments, and shares the cosmopolitan character of Marxist ideology. This is why liberalism has been so fundamentally radical, revolutionary, and disruptive; despite Francis Fukuyama’s heralding liberal democracy as the end of history, liberalism cannot hold to a benign stasis but rather mutates in undesirable ways emanating ironically from its success.
Deneen recognizes that culture restrained the development of both the centralized liberal democratic state and the market economy. “A core ambition of liberalism is the liberation of such appetites from the artificial constraints of culture—either to liberate them entirely as a condition of our freedom or, where they require constraint, to place them under the uniform and homogenized governance of promulgated law rather than the inconstant impositions and vagaries of diverse cultures.” Contrary to popular libertarian ideology, liberalism — even the classical variety — isn’t merely “an effort to constrain and limit government,” and its early proponents often lobbied for an essentially “powerful and often arbitrary government” from Paris to Philadelphia. . .” which was deemed necessary to “secure the basic conditions of freedom and its requisite stability” (p. 69).
With the success of liberalism in the economic arena, the liberal political enterprise now aims at undermining the remaining cultural constraints upon materialistic and sexual appetites, in the name of advancing freedom and equality. In many ways, as Deneen’s thesis suggests, liberalism is insidious, radical, and transformative of society and is engaged in an on-going “. . .expansive project of conquering nature” (p. 70). Deneen notes how the presence of culture traditionally moderates against the quixotic, rootless, and ultimately utopian traits of the liberal political enterprise, as “liberalism. . . has aimed consistently at dissociating cultural forms from nature. The effect is. . . to liberate [man] from acknowledgement of nature’s limits while rendering culture into wholly relativist belief and practice, untethered from anything universal or enduring. . .” (p. 71). Being at odds with nature, liberalism leaves man lacking in the capacity to properly adjudge his relationship to nature. Liberalism continually dissolves the mediating role previously played by culture and tradition which informed man’s relation to nature in time’s past.
Liberalism in practice has been the solvent of culture, tradition, and local governance. Alexis de Tocqueville noted the advent of liberal political orders with “the experience of fractured time,” and the marked tendency of people in liberal regimes to liberal for the short-term convenience of the presence with ill regard for the ways of the past, and similar indifference towards the consequences of decisions wrought in the present times upon future generations (p. 74). Aristocracy, Tocqueville observed, “links everybody, from peasant to king, in one long chain. Democracy breaks the chain and frees each link. . . . not only does democracy make men forget their ancestors, but also clouds their view of their descendants and isolates them from their contemporaries. . .” (pp. 74-75). Surmising Tocqueville on the matter, Deneen remarks “Modern liberal democracies. . . would have a powerful tendency to act only for the short term, thus to discount the consequences of their actions upon future generations” (p. 75). Deneen hints that we’re nowadays living with the “brutish indifference” apprehended by Tocqueville of liberal man in his views towards the well-being of the working class and poor, natural resource management, and a generalized lack of concern for the impact of present decisions on future generations (p. 76). Liberalism, Deneen disdainfully notes, has succeeded in liberating man from personal obligations to the ways of his forbears as well as posterity; because of man’s fragmentation due to “the fracturing of time,” liberal man is alienated even from the present, and incapable of meaningful self-government, owing to his essential rootlessness from ancestors, culture, custom, tradition, time and place (p. 77). Deneen cites agrarian thinkers such as Wendell Berry to further his case that liberalism debases true culture and community (pp. 78-79). Deneen conjures Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who “clearly perceived the lawlessness at the heart of liberal orders,” which he elucidated upon in his 1978 commencement address at Harvard entitled, “A World Split Apart.” Therein, Solzhenitsyn criticized liberal reliance upon “legalistic” life, and liberalism’s obsessive quest for autonomy which stood athwart our natural liberty (p. 82). The nub of Solzhitsyn’s argument was that liberalism’s chief moral failing is an inability to “foster self-governance” (p. 83) Deneen stresses that the Liberal Anticulture‘s revolution acts as a perpetual solvent of cultural ties, rootedness in place, and devoid of connections to the past and tradition: “Longstanding local rules and cultures that governed behavior through education and cultivation of norms, manners, and morals came to be regarded as oppressive limitations on individual liberty” (p. 84) Deneen aptly describes liberalism as “parasitic”, adding that:
“Liberalism extends itself by inhabiting spaces abandoned by local cultures and traditions, leading either to their discarding or suppression or, far more often, to their contentless redefinition. Rather than produce our own cultures, grounded in local places, embedded in time, and usually developed from an inheritance from relatives, neighbors, and community—music, art, storytelling, food—we are more likely to consume prepackaged, market- tested, mass- marketed consumables, often branded in commercialized symbolism that masks that culture’s evisceration (p. 88).”
Devoid of cultural norms and tradition, however, liberal man is unequipped for self-government. The implications point to the trajectory of liberalism’s future leading inadvertently to alienation and nihilistic despair.
Under Liberalism, Thrasymachus and the Strong Wins
In Plato’s dialogues contained in The Republic, a character therein, namely Thrasymachus, infamously posited that “justice is nothing more than the will of the stronger. . .” and under the present Liberal paradigm that axiom has been ratified into practice, despite incessant pieties to equality by liberal ideologues, though it’s never officially acknowledged to be the case.
In marked contrast to the Millian principle, Edmund Burke posited the rule by the ordinary, in which custom and prejudice provided a host of moral imperatives that animated society. Americans were Burkeans in practice even if they never were well acquainted with Burke’s writings:
“Most [Americans] lived in accordance with custom — with basic moral assumptions concerning the fundamental norms that accompanied a good life. You should respect authority, beginning with your parents. You should display modest and courteous comportment. You should avoid displays of lewdness or titillation. You should engage in sexual activity only when married. You should have children — generally lots of them. You should live within your means. You should thank and worship the Lord. You should pay respect to the elderly and remember and acknowledge your debts to the dead. (p. 147)
Whereas Millian society is organized for the benefit of the strong, influential and powerful, “by contrast, a Burkean society is organized for the benefit of the ordinary – the majority who benefit from societal norms that the strong and the ordinary alike can be expected to follow.” Deneen explains that civil society can be rendered beneficial to the great mass of people by its emphasis upon “. . .informal norms and customs that secure the path to flourishing for most human beings; or it can be shaped for the benefit of the extraordinary and powerful by liberating all from the constraint of custom. Our society was once shaped on the basis of the benefit for the many ordinary; today it is shaped largely for the benefit of the few strong.
In the past, classical liberalism summoned Alexis de Tocqueville, a liberal of sorts with a capacity for analysis and reflection upon the human condition, had evaluated American political institutions with a mixture of admiration, detachment, sympathy, and skepticism. De Tocqueville prophetically lamented that democracy lacks sufficient capacity for future considerations and tends towards a short-term expedient mindset, and as Deneen observes:
“Alexis de Tocqueville noted the connection between the rise of liberal orders and the experience of fractured time. He observed that liberal democracy would be marked above all by a tendency toward presentism. In its egalitarianism and especially in its rejection of aristocracy, it would be suspicious of the past and future, encouraging instead a kind of stunted individualism” (p. 74).
Yet this postmodern wasteland seldom produces an Alexis de Tocqueville, who possesses the capacity for prudent reflection and criticism of the very liberal institutions he celebrates, but rather the present-day yields ideologues whose worldviews conform to their pet theories while their pet theories are seldom in accord with either historical experience nor the human condition. Patrick Deneen notes that Liberal critics of Liberalism lack the detachment and objectivity to critique it honestly, as he notes “liberalism’s apologists regard pervasive discontent, political dysfunction, economic inequality, civic disconnection, and populist rejection as accidental problems disconnected from systematic causes” engendered by the present paradigm, and “their self-deception” emanates from the vast culmination of interests that aim to preserve the status quo (p. 180).
What Hath LiberalismWrought?
Alexis de Tocqueville, the French journalist and observer of Jacksonian America, envisioned a future dystopian United States where life itself became enervated by a phenomenon that maybe aptly described as “democratic despotism.” Tocqueville writes:
After having thus taken each individual one by one into its powerful hands, and having molded him as it pleases, the sovereign power extends its arms over the entire society; it covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated, minute, and uniform rules, which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot break through to go beyond the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them and directs them; it rarely forces action, but it constantly opposes your acting; it does not destroy, it prevents birth; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, it represses, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupifies, and finally it reduces each nation to being nothing more than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd. ¶I have always believed that this sort of servitude, regulated, mild and peaceful, of which I have just done the portrait, could be combined better than we imagine with some of the external forms of liberty, and that it would not be impossible for it to be established in the very shadow of the sovereignty of the people.
In many ways the dystopia foreshadowed by Alexis de Tocqueville has come to ripe fruition in the twenty-first century Western world. Deneen observes, “For liberal theory, while the individual ‘creates’ the state through the social contract, in a practical sense, the liberal state ‘creates’ the individual by providing the conditions for the expansion of liberty, increasingly defined as the capacity of humans to expand their mastery over circumstance.” Deneen adds:
“Far from their being an inherent conflict between the individual and the state — as so much of modern political reporting would suggest — liberalism establishes a deep and profound connection: its ideal of liberty can be realized only through a powerful state. If the expansion of freedom is secured by law, then the opposite also holds true in practice: increasing freedom requires the expansion of law. The state does not merely serve as a referee between contesting individuals; in securing our capacity to engage in productive activities, especially commerce, it establishes a condition in reality that existed in theory only in a the state of nature: the ever-increasing achievement of the autonomous individual” (p. 49).
The Future Prognosis
Patrick J. Deneen’s prescience about liberalism being doomed is spot on. I accept it and find it well-reasoned. “The logic of liberalism,” Deneen observes, “will inexorably continue to unfold, impelling the ship toward the inevitable iceberg.” Liberal democracy, in essence, will prove itself to be an unsustainable enterprise that’s doomed to inevitable failure. Its present difficulties are embedded to the paradigm itself, and the contradictions may prove too difficult to work out of the operating system, as Liberalism itself is the disease, and stability and a future requires an operating system reboot.
Nevertheless, Deneen leaves a lot of unanswered questions. He doesn’t purport to be a far-reaching prophet so much, and the future is uncharted, and Deneen hasn’t endeavored to predict the future with any degree of specificity so much as reveal how liberalism has unraveled by its own paradoxical contradictions. Nathaniel Blake notes in his review within The Federalist:
“If liberalism has failed: what next? Deneen does not embrace the rise of populist strongmen and ethno-nationalism, or other unsavory alternatives rising in response to liberalism’s failures. But he argues that more liberalism, or a purer liberalism, will only make things worse. We must consider the future of liberty after liberalism, or else offer reasons to believe liberalism can be reformed.”
Originality is not a hallmark of Why Liberalism Failed. In many ways, Deneen’s insightful critique is immensely complimented by his ability to summon the wisdom of the most able socio-political thinkers in modern times, such as: Alexis de Tocqueville, famous for his Jacksonian era reflection upon America political culture, namely Democracy in America; Robert Nisbet, whose renown emanates from his sociological work The Quest for Community which posits that the intermediary institutions between the individual and the state are essential to civil society, and the breakdown of authentic local community and its institutions emanating from expanding central state authority is to the detriment of civilizational, political, and societal stability; and Edmund Burke, the British conservative liberal, famous for his Reflections on the Revolution in France, had critiqued the Jacobin innovators of his time in their efforts to make society anew.
In his article “The Problem With Liberty: A Warning to Conservatives,” Deneen admonishes conservative readers to note the critical influence of Alexis de Tocquville, Edmund Burke, and especially Robert Nisbet:
Conservatives of an earlier generation like Robert Nisbet recognized that the rise of individual autonomy and centralized power would grow together, that Leviathan would expand in the name of liberty. He understood that the most fundamental obstacle to the rise and expansion of the State was the “little platoons” praised by Edmund Burke: particular and real ties to familial, religious, and civil institutions. ¶[Nisbet] called for a “new laissez faire,” a laissez-faire of groups. He understood that what would prevent the rise of the kind of the liberty promised by Leviathan would be something like a robust patchwork of more local institutions and relationships that affords true responsibility demanded of adults: debts and gratitude to each other, obligations and responsibilities that should and must be grounded in real human relationships, not in a dependency upon a distant and impersonal State. Such arrangements reject the cold indifference of a world composed of radically individuated selves connected only abstractly through the State.
Patrick J. Deneen, “The Problem With Liberty: A Warning to Conservatives,” Ethika Politika (Dec. 2, 2015).
What Other Reviewers Are Saying in Approvation of Deneen’s Thesis
Aram Bakshian writing in the Washington Times observes of Deneen’s book: “I was deeply impressed by the force and conviction of his critique of today’s liberal social and political order, and his analysis of its gradual evolution over time.”
Gene Callahan notes in The American Conservative that “Patrick Deneen’s new book, out today, plays mortician for one of America’s most popular ideologies,” to which he adds, “Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen has written a book vitally important for understanding the present crisis in Western politics. If this work had appeared two or three years ago, it still would have been of great significance, but coming as it does in the wake of Brexit, Trump, and other shocks to the liberal consensus, its relevance is further enhanced. . .”
Fred Bauer’s review in the National Review is compelling, as he remarks:
“Deneen offers liberalism as the last survivor of the three major modern ideologies, the other two being fascism and communism. He argues that the quest for autonomy (to be independent and self-directing) is one of the driving forces of liberalism, which has come to define liberty as “the condition in which one can act freely in the sphere unconstrained by positive law.” This is in contrast to the classical view of liberty as self-rule and, thus, as “the learned capacity of human beings to conquer the slavish pursuit of base and hedonistic desire.” To Deneen, modern liberalism defines freedom as the absence of restraint, and takes attaining such a state as its primary purpose. The Right and Left — “conservatives” and “progressives” — might differ on what restraints should be dissolved, but both, he claims, make the liberal promise of autonomy a central goal. “
What Other Reviewers Are Saying Critical of Deneen’s Thesis
Some critics of Why Liberalism Failed, such as Paul D. Miller’s piece “Does Liberalism Have A Future?” in Providence Magazine, have suggested that Deneen failed to take a nuanced view of liberalism in its various incarnations from the classical liberalism to the late progressivism that is often paradoxically illiberal, but rather Deneen conflates the liberalism of Locke with the Progressivism of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. I have no doubt of Deneen’s capacity for reflection to differentiate between classical liberalism of Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, and Adam Smith from the neo-liberalism of Hayek and Mises to the later-day Progressivism of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Elizabeth Warren.
What if the later-day Progressivism and Social Democracy’s dissolution are but a portent of future Spenglerian catastrophe of societal oblivion that the unworkable liberal paradigm — with its myriad contradictions and paradoxes — inevitably leads us toward?
Liberalism has for centuries been lumbering forward and mutating in its bubbling ether of contradictions. And Deneen correctly identifies its substantive principles, and tacitly acknowledges the very freedom it engendered, led to its myraid incarnations and mutant offspring including Soviet Communism and Fascism that cannot be adequately understood without first understanding the liberal soil these totalitarian ideologies grew up in. The polemic tendered by Miller is wrought by its own failed analysis. Deneen seems to have a more penetrating mind and prognostic ability than given credit for. On the whole, Deneen adequately digested his research material, and carefully avoided dwelling on minutia, avoiding tweezing out every nuance, so as to illuminate his profound hypothesis with clarity. Its brevity is actually a testament to its genius, because many scholars lose their clarity of message in the labyrinth of nuance.
Classical liberalism was unable to maintain any sort of stasis as a civilizational-societal paradigm for Western Civilization, and in reality, it underwent a metamorphosis and evolution so to speak. Progressivism similarly failed. Accordingly, any effort at being nostalgic for the old classical liberal vision of free-markets and a night-watchman state doesn’t change the present reality, and this sort of well-wishing is futile at best.
Contrary to the insinuations of the left-wing daily, The Guardian, Deneen doesn’t idealize ripping the vestige of liberalism out root and branch as he is keen to see that liberalism grew up in the soil of the classics and Christianity filtered through the Middle Ages into modern times.
Other criticisms of Patrick Deneen’s work are dismissive and sophomoric, such as Christian Gonzalez‘s insistence that “Patrick Deneen’s critique of liberalism exhibits an undue nostalgia for the past and ingratitude for the virtues of the present,” an article which ironically appeared in National Review, a neoconservative magazine whose cultural criticism now devolves to concerns about the ills of “sexism” in response to Deneen’s observation about the consequences of feminist emancipation at the behest of market liberalism; yet a clear implication has been increased job competition for the former patriarchal heads of the household, higher male unemployment, the deterioration of the notional living wage for the patriarch, and decreasing fertility rates among couples. With domestic birth rates being well below the replacement level fertility of 2.1 children per couple, feminism’s gains (at the behest of liberal institutions) is more curse than a blessing. As Deneen himself put it, “All but forgotten are arguments, such as those made in the early Republic, that liberty consists of independence not only from the arbitrariness of a king but of an employer,” hence the landed freeholder was ideal, yet Liberalism preaches false freedom where the wife has freedom from the husband, and the result is she’s shackled to the workplace, amid an imploding fertility rate while there are more unmarried adults than married adults in the United States, all of which considered jointly offer a portent of a civilization on the road to ruins. (The fact that this book review in an ostensibly conservative magazine reads like something appearing in Mother Jones or The New Republic is telling enough about the intellectual weakness of mainstreamed conservatism, which is but another variant of liberalism at best, and it willingly sacrificed tradition, familial stability, and Christian moral norms in the service of market efficiency and the demands of the indifferent ruling elite.)
Envisioning Order in a World After the Liberal Paradigm
If one wants to conjure Leo Strauss and take an esoteric reading of Why Liberalism Failed, here’s the capsule summary of implications emanating from this provocative and remarkable thesis. Deneen is not interested in begging authoritarian or totalitarian alternatives to liberalism. To suggest otherwise would be intellectually disingenuous. That he believes Liberalism as a civilizational paradigm is beset by unworkable contradictions and all but doomed to implode on itself is granted. He doesn’t purport to prophesize exactly what the outcome will be, but the clear implication is that we’re in a time of upheaval as liberalism nears its death throws.
What Deneen implicitly points to as an alternative paradigm would be informed by our actual historical experience with liberalism. Any supplanting paradigm that succeeds liberalism would be aimed at preserving some of the beneficial hallmarks of Liberalism, but nevertheless, jettisons its worst and glaringly inconvenient attributes. An obvious alternative to the failed liberal paradigm would be a revitalized civil society that places as much stress on an individual’s embrace of his duties, obligations, and sense of personal responsibility to fulfill these obligations, as the current emphasis on the autonomy and rights of the individual has had with the present, albeit failed liberal paradigm. As Russell Kirk observed:
Man’s rights are linked with man’s duties, and when they distorted into extravagant claims for a species of freedom and equality and world aggrandizement which human character cannot sustain, they degenerate from rights to vices. Equality in the sight of God, equality before the law, security in what is one’s own, participation in the common activities and consolations of society — these are the true natural rights. The presumptuous demands of Rousseau, Condorcet, Helvetius, and Paine for absolute liberties which no state in history ever could accord are the very reverse of natural justice; they are unnatural because impious, ‘the result of a selfish temper, and confined views.’ In the political sphere, these claims are absurd, for the exercise of any must be circumscribed and modified to suit particular circumstances.
Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, 7th Rev. Ed. (Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway Editions, 1953, 2016), 63-64.
Francis Leiber put it more simply: “No duty without its right. No right without its duty.” Another obvious alternative to the failed Liberal paradigm would be the revitalization of the intermediary institutions between the individual and the state, i.e., voluntary civic associations. Under later-day progressive ideology, freedom of association once characterized as the “cornerstone” of freedoms by Alexis de Tocqueville, has been encroached upon by ever-expanding central state authority. The former role carried on by the intermediary associations (e.g., the church, benevolent societies, guilds, voluntary civic associations, et al.) between the individual and the state has been displaced and trounced upon by the modern liberal democratic political enterprise. The revitalization of civil society that is so necessary to finding order and stability after liberalism is rooted in the primacy of the local community. As Deneen notes: “Properly conceived, the community is the appropriate setting for flourishing human life. . . that requires culture, discipline, constraint, and forms” (p. 79). For the liberal anticulture to be bridled, in effect, authority and power must devolve to local communities where culture and tradition can be revitalized, and allowed to flourish once more — absent the impositions of the liberal state.
Deneen dismisses the quaint notion of going back to the good old days as there’s no primordial past or golden age prior to liberalism that can be effectively summoned (p. 184). He suggests “we must outgrow the age of ideology,” and repudiate flawed, full-fledged theories of human societal reworking and reorganization, such as Marxism, which should be dismissed because of its false anthropology so at odds with human nature (pp. 141, 183, 187). But as well, the implicit argument is that Liberalism much like Marxism “is based on falsehood about human nature, and can’t but help to fail. . .” (p. 6).
Deneen envisions a post-liberal Western society rooted in a newfound emphasis on local communities—grounded by the activities and influence of non-state entities grounded in the primacy of faith and family. Deneen remarks: “What we need today are practices fostered in local settings, focused on the creation of new and viable cultures, economics grounded in virtuosity within households, and the creation of a civic polis life. Not better theory, but better practices” (p. 197). Smaller communities and responsive local governance would cultivate the culture requisite to offer a fulfilling, meaningful human existence, and overcome the alienation so endemic to the failed status quo of the Liberal paradigm.
All things considered, Patrick J. Deneen’s insightful book is an erudite and masterful work on the failure and inevitable catastrophe that awaits the liberal paradigm. It’s important to stress he is not advocating throwing the baby out with the bathwater by repudiating every positive societal result emanating from Liberalism’s success. The thesis is provocative, engaging, but also ironic, and as Deneen paradoxically notes: “Liberalism’s success today is most visible in the gathering signs of its failure. It has remade the world in its image. . . Yet our liberation renders us incapable of resisting these defining forces—the promise of freedom results in thralldom to inevitabilities to which we have no choice but to submit” (p. 16). The illusion of contemporary political theater is that “we choose between protection of individual liberty and expansion of state activity. . .” when the reality is individual liberty and state expansion “both move simultaneously in tune with our deepest philosophic premises” (p. 17).
Overall the book is well-written and possesses fluid prose that’s easy-to-read. The thesis is engrossing. Deneen recognizes the integral nature of culture and the local community to Western Civilization and those essentially preliberal institutions have provided the basis of social and political order, as well as social cohesion, for centuries. Renewal of Western society, and liberalism if it’s indeed possible to renew liberalism, requires recurrence to essentially ancient and/or medieval ideals, such as: the inviolability of the traditional family, and the recognition of the importance of faith and Christian religion at defining cultural moral norms. Renewal won’t happen overnight, and it entails summoning what Alexis de Tocqueville lauded as the “corps intermédiaires” and Burke affectionately dubbed “the little platoons.”
Boredom, civil strife, despair, and nihilism are the fruit of anti-civilization. In his poem The Hollow Man, T.S. Eliot wrote, “This is the way the world ends: Not with a bang but with a whimper.” Nevertheless the ancient light from the past as well as the faith of our forefathers gives us hope to escape the nihilistic despair wrought by modernity.
Can defenders of those permanent things that T.S. Eliot affectionately spoke of endeavor to save civilization? “By ‘the Permanent Things,'” explained Russell Kirk, “[T. S. Eliot] meant those elements in the human condition that give us our nature, without which we are as the beasts that perish. They work upon us all in the sense that both they and we are bound up in that continuity of belief and institution called the great mysterious incorporation of the human race.” The Hellenic and Roman classics, the literature of the Western World, and the holy writ of Christianity, its Bible and its creeds, gives us hope — hope not for utopia — but for continuity, and a reluctant acceptance of the human condition in this temporal realm, and yet life to be lived with purpose. For those of faith, we put our hope in the afterlife: “. . . we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). We, the creators, partake of the creative nature of God as image-bearers. We create civilization and have it in our power to bring about its lamentable downfall.
The academy has devolved into Marxism Mills, churning out agitprop affecting Western Civilization’s slow-motion suicide. A century past, John H. Newman articulated an ideal of what college education should be: “A university training is the great ordinary means to a great but ordinary end; it aims at raising the intellectual tone of society. . . It is the education which gives a man a clear conscious view of his own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them and a force in urging them.” Yet for the past half-century, institutions of higher education have exposited a degeneracy of civilization, manifest in the gangrene ideas of Marxism, modernism, and post-modernism. And just as Richard Weaver posited “Ideas have consequences,” the consequence of this pedagogy is an intellectual bankruptcy of its pupils: their enchantment with radical revolutionary left-wing utopian politics, and climatic embrace of nihilistic despair given the false anthropology animating their utopian ideology.
Theodore Dalrymple remarked “. . .our intellectuals should realize that civilization is worth defending, and that the adversarial stance to tradition is not the beginning and end of wisdom and virtue. We have more to lose than they know.” His 2001 article “What We Have to Lose” appearing in City Journal is worth revisiting, and I quote a portion at length for your consideration:
“An attachment to high cultural achievement is thus a necessary but not sufficient condition of civilization—for it is said that concentration-camp commandants wept in the evening over Schubert lieder after a hard day’s mass murder—and no one would call such men civilized. On the contrary, they were more like ancient barbarians who, having overrun and sacked a civilized city, lived in the ruins, because they were still far better than anything they could build themselves. The first requirement of civilization is that men should be willing to repress their basest instincts and appetites: failure to do which makes them, on account of their intelligence, far worse than mere beasts. . .”
University of Notre Dame Political Science Professor, Patrick Deneen, elicited renown for his cultural-political critique of modern liberalism, entitled simply Why Liberalism Failed? In this lecture, Patrick Deneen presciently scans the future, and holds out hope for the prospect for an ennobled aristoi and a more refined populace. He concurrently acknowledges the persistence of class and inequality (yet he prudently denies a way forward is to be found in the growing popularity of Democratic Socialism,) but rather he posits that only an ennobled aristoi can support a humane condition of the populace, and only a well-formed populace can restrain the hubris of the élite and even orient them toward virtue. Through such a carefully constructed mixed regime of aristocracy and populism, the common good may find a better articulation in public policy as well as manifest itself in what Alexis de Tocqueville dubbed the “corps intermédiaires” and Edmund Burke called “the little platoons.” In turn, this influence would act to reproof the core weakness of the present neo-liberal order that was deliberately erected to forestall such a possibility and rather has solidified the material and political aggrandizement of the elites at the expense of the material comfort and political influence of the broader masses.
“In a revolutionary epoch, sometimes men taste every novelty, sicken of them all, and return to ancient principles so long disused that they seem refreshingly hearty when they are rediscovered.” ―Russell Kirk, 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘊𝘰𝘯𝘴𝘦𝘳𝘷𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘷𝘦 𝘔𝘪𝘯𝘥: 𝘍𝘳𝘰𝘮 𝘉𝘶𝘳𝘬𝘦 𝘵𝘰 𝘌𝘭𝘪𝘰𝘵
Western man has wrestled precariously with the last few centuries of Enlightenment’s obsession with rationality and naked reason. Reason became the Moloch of our age. It’s produced the phenomenon of intellectual hubris and the epistemological absurdity of reducing perceptive truth to that which can empirically validated by the scientific method. As Russell Kirk exclaimed, “Even the wisest of mankind cannot live by reason alone; pure arrogant reason, denying the claims of prejudice (which commonly are also the claims of conscience), leads to a wasteland of withered hopes and crying loneliness, empty of God and man: the wilderness in which Satan tempted Christ was not more dreadful than the arid expanse of intellectual vanity deprived of tradition and intuition, where modern man is tempted by his own pride.” As Nicolás G. Dávila observed, “When he is stripped of the Christian tunic and the classical toga, there is nothing left of the European but a pale-skinned barbarian.” For all these reasons, reason cannot stand as an idol above concerns for a transcendent order. Kirk’s canon of traditional conservative thought may be summarized thus:
A belief in a transcendent order based in tradition, divine revelation, or natural law;
An affection for the “variety and mystery” of human existence;
A conviction that society requires orders and classes that emphasize “natural” distinctions;
A belief that private property ownership, and freedom are closely intertwined;
A faith in custom, convention, and prescription, and
A recognition that innovation must be tied to existing traditions and customs, which entails a respect for the political value of prudence.
Recovering of more ancient traditions pose an antidote to the perils of Enlightenment. As Dávila said “Reason is no substitute for faith, as colour is no substitute for sound.”