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. . .”
—Theodore Dalrymple, “What We Have to Lose.” 2015. City Journal. December 23, 2015. https://www.city-journal.org/html/what-we-have-lose-12199.html.