(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following was originally published on June 12, 2011. It is reprinted as a follow-up to last week’s column that diagnosed the social sickness that has made school shootings almost commonplace. This column takes an in-depth look at how we have come untethered from the norms of decency and what used to be called “natural law.” Next week I will reprint a column that pinned the blame for our social collapse on “progressive education.”)
A few months ago, I asked the question, “How did we get here?”
If you have to ask where “here” is, then you may as well not read this column. But if you, too, believe that “here” is the end of the road for Western civilization, then you may as well read it and weep.
I have explored a few possibilities already to explain the collapse of American values and American traditions in the past 50 years (which roughly correspond to my own life span up till now). Most of them seem to be linked to the phony Marxist philosophy of “redistribution of wealth,” whether in the guise of the New Deal, the Great Society, social justice or “the myth of permanent plenty.”
It is almost — but not quite — unbelievable that such a fundamentally un-American philosophy should have taken root in such a short time not just among radicals and revolutionaries, but among the very institutions that are the pillars of our society. There is no way that you can simply conclude that Franklin Roosevelt was a Marxist or that Lyndon Johnson was a communist, yet the policies of both presidents played into the hands of the enemies of capitalism and democracy.
How could that be?
Forces are clearly at work that operate behind the scenes, or at a much deeper level than is ordinarily apparent, to shift America from a nation governed by a Constitution to a nation governed by an agenda. That means movement from a land of free and responsible people to a land of prisoners who do not even know there is a prison.
In a sense, we have reached that stage which C.S. Lewis referred to (in his book of the same name) as “The Abolition of Man” — a time when mankind has severed its ties to the Creator in a kind of dangerous declaration of independence that leaves her vulnerable not to divine retribution, but rather to human intervention.
As Lewis wrote in 1943, about the time all of this was getting under way in earnest, “The final stage [occurs] when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself.”
It is thus to ourselves that we must turn if we wish to answer the question, “How did we get here?”
The problem is that when man obtains full control over himself and thus declares God irrelevant, if not dead, we can no longer assume any truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal is just a hypothesis. That all men have certain unalienable rights is an assertion without any predicate. That “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” have any inherent value is an unproven proposition.
Indeed, instead of taking for granted certain fundamental propositions about the worth of the individual, the importance of right action, and the value of honor, mankind finds itself in the position of being manipulated to serve that which is convenient rather than that which is constant.
“For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.” That is how Lewis describes it. He addresses in particular the ability of educators to mold future generations into anything at all — untethered to values, morality or higher purpose beyond that which the educator wishes to instill.
Lewis notes that educators in every generation have sought that power, but concludes that “the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.”
If we have really reached that stage when mankind has thrown off religion and reduced all aspiration to that which is merely “rational,” then perhaps that explains the decline in Western civilization for the past hundred years. It certainly fits the bill. Have we not turned our values and our education over to secular humanists and turned our back on God?
And if we cannot easily see the face of God, do we really think we can see in any better focus the faces of these superior creatures who are molding us and our society into “what shape they please”?
I think not. That is why it is so hard to answer the question, “How did we get here?” No doubt we have been steered from the high point of human dignity, as immortalized in the Declaration and Constitution, to the suicidal precipice of Marxism and social justice, but no one can say for sure how it happened. All we know for sure is that, for most of us, it is not our hand on the steering wheel.
Lewis put the dilemma of progress severed from eternal values perfectly:
“Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side.”
As Lewis concludes, “Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who follows the triumphal car.”
Clearly, for the past 100 years, mankind has been taught to see itself as driving the car. Our education, our politics, and our religion have all encouraged us to value progress, and to envision mankind as the engine of progress.
But it is time that we all ask the question of ourselves — are we truly driving the car? Or are we walking behind in shackles? Do we as individuals have more dignity than our grandmothers and grandfathers? Or less?
If you think you are better off than Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, then I wish you the best in your brave new world. But if you agree with me that you are worse off, then ask yourself why. You might even want to pray about it.
Frank Miele is managing editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Montana. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.