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Each of these “skeptical conservatives” seems to believe that conservatism can rest on secular foundations because secularism, when properly presented, is at least as credible as religion. The historical record suggests otherwise. Great numbers of those living in secular societies suffer from existential angst and look to non-Christian and secular religions in a sometimes-desperate effort to recover meaning and direction. This is especially true of intellectuals, who, as Paul Hollander has written, “find it less tolerable and more troublesome to live in a world of ‘disenchantment’ from which ‘the ultimate and sublime values have retreated’— as Max Weber characterized the corrosive process of secularization.”16
Hollander concerned himself primarily with the political religion of communism, while Joseph Schumpeter identified democracy as the substitute faith of intellectuals deprived of religion. But there is also the endless list of social causes, headed, most recently, by the campaign to halt “global warming” (or when we are all shivering, “climate change”). As Burke sagely observed, “man is by his constitution a religious animal,” and if “we should uncover our nakedness by throwing off that Christian religion which has hitherto been our boast and comfort, and one great source of civilization among us, and among many other nations, we are apprehensive (being well aware that the mind will not endure a void) that some uncouth, pernicious, and degrading superstition, might take the place of it.”17
This recognition helped to lead the philosopher Roger Scruton to conservatism. In 1968, he looked on as students, votaries of the religion of revolution, rioted in Paris and, as a result, broke with leftist friends; and although he did not immediately regain his faith, he always recognized that the central manifestations of the culture to which he was heir “derived from the Christian faith. Even the pagan writings of D. H. Lawrence depend for their penetration on a language rooted in the Book of Common Prayer and in the imagery of the Psalms and the Gospels. Four Quartets owed its immense power over people of my generation to its ability to summon the ghost of a Christian belief that had all but died in us, but which was seeking to breathe again.”18
It was the author of the Four Quartets, the self-described reactionary T. S. Eliot, who argued that culture, as that which makes life worth living, was essentially the incarnation of a people’s religion. That did not mean that all Europeans believed the Christian Faith to be true, but that what they thought and did drew meaning from a Christian culture. “Only a Christian culture,” Eliot wrote, “could have produced a Voltaire or a Nietzsche. I do not believe that the culture of Europe could survive the complete disappearance of the Christian Faith.”19 If Christianity were to go, Europe, he warned, would face a long night of barbarism—and so it does.
This was not, as Eliot made clear, an argument for the truth of the Christian Faith; he knew that belief—in Christianity or in atheism—is finally a matter of ultimate conviction, and ultimate convictions can neither be proved nor disproved. Nevertheless, it was more than a reaffirmation of Christianity’s social utility. He was not merely claiming that the historic Faith made for a more disciplined social and political order, but that it allowed men to reflect upon permanent things, to preserve a culture in which the perennial questions concerning truth, morality, and meaning could be seriously confronted. No wonder then that Russell Kirk identified Eliot as the principal conservative thinker of the twentieth century, a man who sought order in society and, more important, in the soul.20
Professor Muller mentions Eliot only once, and then in passing, perhaps because, like most secularists, he would prefer to ignore those who profess the Christian Faith. And in the current world of conservatism, he can do so with confidence. He and those of like mind have succeeded in making conservatism over in their own image; they have taken over the National Review, launched new magazines, and set the agendas for influential think tanks. At the same time, they studiously ignore, when they are not attacking, the work of reactionary conservatives such as the Agrarians, Russell Kirk, or George F. Kennan.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 12 January 2012 20:49|