Thursday, July 01, 2010

What the Future Holds

“We cannot now see what kind of world it is that the forces of humanism are bringing us to, especially since history has a way of bringing the unexpected. A great catastrophe may lie in our future. Or, perhaps a Ninevah-like repentance of the whole society, with a general healing of the ravages caused by humanism. But if the present progress of humanism should continue, the immediate future will not be bright. “If God is dead,” said Dostoevsky, “everything is permitted.” The humanist insistence that its sentiment will not be hobbled by any outside restraint brings us the world he had in mind. Everywhere it is dominant it brings us “higher” morality, which never seems to work out as promised. The Enlightenment smuggled in teleology and ethics to its machine world, and it ended up in the blood bath of the 1790s. Why was that? Because, said Toynbee, the Enlightenment ethic was based on “Mephistophelian maladies of disillusionment, apprehension and cynicism,” rather than the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Toynbee saw the same features growing in our society.” “Herbert Read once remarked that “a society does not dethrone its flatterers.” After the vision of human perfectability was incorporated into the democratic faith, the biblical view of man as sinner began to fade in the popular consciousness. But now that the masses have been comfortable for several generations with that flattering portrait, it is about to be replaced by one they can hardly imagine. There are clues aplenty in the nihilism of the visual arts, the film, stage and fiction, but soon it will be plainer. F.A. Voigt has described how the crimes of National Socialism were all prefigured in the literature, stage, and film of inter-war Germany. “The transition from things imagined to things real is a very easy one, and men, no less than children, will suit action to fantasy.” (Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction, pp. 85).

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