Birzer Against the Machine

by Patrick J. Deneen on March 23, 2012 · 2 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

Don’t miss Brad Birzer’s superbly thoughtful essay “Christian Humanists Challenge the Machine.” He provides a lucid historical and philosophical roadmap tracing the anti-humanism of the modern impulse of mastery, beginning – ironically enough – with the rise of so-called “humanism,” a view that asserts the prospect of humanity’s control over nature and his own destiny:

Man’s victory over nature will not satiate his avaricious appetite. He will then want control over man, thus denying the uniqueness of each person created in God’s Infinite Image. “The man engaged today in the labor of ‘techniques’ knows full well that technology moves forward in final analysis neither for profit nor for the well-being of the race,” Guardini explained. “He knows in the most radical sense of the term that power is its motive—a lordship of all; that man seizes hold of the naked elements of both nature and human nature.” But, God did not create Man to become either individually or collectively a power. The goal of all life, Jesus showed us and St. Paul reminded us, is Love, the willingness to sacrifice one’s self for the greater good—the greater good of family, friends, community, Church, and God. There can, in fact, be nothing greater than Love, as it is the motive power of the universe and all life. The universe was created through words of Love, and fallen man is redeemed through the Love of the Word become Flesh, sacrificed on a tree, and risen from the tomb. The overthrowing of Love as the object of society, therefore, and the greed for power can only lead to destruction. Ultimately, the search for power will destroy the destroyer. “The final stage is come 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,” C.S. Lewis explained in The Abolition of Man. Ironically, because this means that the generation that discovers this will overturn all previous generations and shape all future generations, this revolutionary generation will be a tyrant and dehumanize all. “They have stepped into the void,” Lewis argued. “They are not men at all: they are artefacts. Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.”

While his analysis is sweeping in scope, and bracing in its understanding of the immensity of the challenge that modern man faces, his conclusion is hopeful (and appropriately so, for a Christian):

Still, as always, there are signs of hope. The home school movement in America is slowly reorienting the education debate away from inane equality and student self-esteem to a more liberal arts approach, stressing rigor and virtue. Movements in music (Arvo Part, Henryk Gorecki, Mark Hollis, and Kevin McCormick), art (the New Humanists, though they lack a strong understanding of the religious underpinnings of sound aesthetics), and architecture (the New Urbanists) are demonstrating a serious understanding of tradition and the real meaning of art as a glorification of, first, God’s creation, and, second, the human person. The continued impressive sales of the fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Flannery O’Connor, and Walker Percy are also good signs. Other artists, such as Michael O’Brien, also produce quality work. Perhaps most important, we have possibly the greatest religious leader in centuries with Karol Wotija as Pope John Paul II. As a playwright, poet, philosopher, and former anti-Nazi and anti-communist, this humble Polish priest has captivated the moral imagination of millions and may be responsible for the beginning of the end of Communism with his “Be Not Afraid” speech in Poland in 1979. Since the beginning of his pontificate, John Paul II has urged scholars to broaden their understanding of Christian Humanism as a response to modernity, post-modernity, and all human-centered ideologies. Dr. Kirk, who ended his pilgrimage in the City of Man, becoming a resident of the City of God in the spring of 1994 would no doubt approve these trends.

After all, only a people who accepts a moral foundation of its culture, a protection of its property, the decentralization of power, and a “national humility” will in the long run survive. Once a people forgets its purpose, it will fall into decadence. “Not by force of arms are civilizations held together,” Kirk wrote in 1958,” but by the subtle threads of moral and intellectual principle.” Kirk spent his adult life in the moral sartorial arts, re-weaving the subtle threads, reminding of us of the rich tapestry that should inform our lives. Liberalism was a put a passing phase, its energies and imagination exhausted; the conservative must remind men that they are men, ready to fight the good fight, for community, tradition, and the Highest purpose.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar D.W. Sabin March 23, 2012 at 11:37 am

Absent the notion of “liberalism” as opponent, would “conservatism” simply become flaccid or, perhaps deranged, as it is today. The real threat is not liberalism nor conservatism, it is totalitarianism, the voracious spawn of industry allied to the State. The Corporate Homunculus pilots this Euclid Truck in the vast mine of modernity. It is a person designed by committee.

avatar Chris Travers November 7, 2012 at 1:08 am

Joseph Tainter’s works on civilization collapse are actually really interesting here. His point is that people like to solve problems and this leads to social complexity with diminishing returns until large investments are required to maintain the same quality of life and at that point there is no turning back from collapse. In this view, we are already headed along the lines towards collapse. Our current complexity is bought by fossil fuels and we, like Rome, will not be able to survive a shift from using other accumulated surplusses of energy from other peoples and times to becoming self-sufficient.

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