Friday, 26 February 2016

I Believe - the personal philosophies of twenty-three eminent men and women of our time - published 1940

I found this book on the shelves at home in my early teens. It was published in a wartime edition; and I think my father retrieved it from an army library which was being disposed of in occupied Germany circa 1950.

As a young intellectual, I studied this book with interest - it presents a snapshot of the talked-about, know-to-middlebrows intellectuals of the mid-twentieth century who had been invited to contribute short essays on their deepest personal convictions.

I have a feeling that the book had a pretty big influence on me - at least for a few years.

Contributors range from great figures still remembered - WH Auden, Albet Einstein, EM Forster, JBS Haldane, Julian Huxley, Thomas Mann, Bertrand Russell, James Thurber and HG Wells. There are also a fair few whose star has since faded: Pearl Buck, Stuart Chase, Lancelot Hogben, Lin Yutang, Emil Ludwig. John Strachey, Hendrik Willem Van Loon...

Surveying the book after these years - I am struck by how homogeneous, overall, these personal philosophies are:

1. Essentially all of the contributors are explicitly Leftist - for several, socialism is their primary conviction.

2. Almost all are explicitly atheists - many go out of their way to explain their journey away from faith, several describe science as their most fundasmental faith - a few are syncretic perennial philosophers and Einstein a kind of deist.

3. There is one Christian: the Roman Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain - who was known as a political liberal.

When considering the pervasiveness of leftist secularism and the exclusion of Christianity from modern public discourse, this book - assembled in the late 1930s - shows the roots of this phenomenon.

By 1940, it is clear that the work of purging Christianity and reaction had already been done a the higher levels of the intelligentsia - and what happened through the next couple of generations leading onto the complete dominance of political correctness, was merely the diffusion downwards through the middle and into the lower classes of a left-secularism that was already solid and uncontested among the cognitive elite. 


Nathaniel said...

Interesting, it actually makes a lot of sense of somethings. I've wondered how something like Vatican II could happen (or so much change so radically in the '60s-70s), but it makes a lot more sense that the roots are a lot deeper. The future Pope John XXIII was already in his late 50's when this came out, a bit younger than many of these same people. If that was the zeitgeist, it seems quite probable a large percentage of the elderly Catholic leadership of the 1950's-1960's were ready for a change - perhaps even thinking it was long overdue to update/get with the times.

Imnobody said...

From the so-called "Enlightenment" on, the new cult of modernity fought to displace the old religion of Christianity among the elite. The 19th century saw the fight between these faiths. At the beginning of the 20th century, the victory of modernity among the elite was almost complete and the 20th century was spent deciding which version of modernity would win: liberal democracy, fascism/Nazism or communism.

The First World War finished the job. The intellectuals saw the death of the best young man justified by slogans of nationalism and Christianity. They reacted by rejecting these ideals (there are some poems about that). Maybe this could have been healed with time but then the Second World War happened and the damage was permanent. After the second war, Christianity was only marginal among the elites (The Inklings were an isolated throwback). After that, the elite was completely anti-Christian, although the masses retained Christianity for a while.

This changed with mass schooling and mass media, during the 60s. The baby boomers were the first generation that was not raised by their parents but by their teachers. So the chain of transmission of Christianity (and other traditional values) was broken and this generation adopted the modernity cult from their teachers. (In fact, anti-Christian people had tried this since the Enlightenment - read John Dewey- but this indoctrination was impossible until mass schooling and mass media)

The rebellion of the 60s was exactly that: young people rebelling against the ideology of their parents in name of the ideology of their teachers. A kind of ideological cuckolding that continues until today when a Christian parent sends his child to college.

After the baby boomers (Generation X and millennials), kids receive the modernity cult both from their teachers and from their parents (not to mention by the mass media). The replacement of Christianity with the destructive cult of modernity is complete. Only some dwindling minorities remain with the true faith.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Imn - Fair enough. I think your timescale is about right although I am not sure about all the steps.

WWI was maybe blamed on Christianity, certainly by most writers and intellectuals - but most of these were already leftists (hence latently anti-Christian) and that blame looked very much like an excuse for post-war letting-rip with sex etc, rather than a genuine reason.

It was the already-apostate who made the connection. Also, I'm not sure of how much radicalsim colleges and universities inculcate - at least in Britain, where until 25-30 years ago, schools were a much more intensive educational experience for most people. I think colleges had and have very little ideological effect at all on most people - except *allowing* them to get into bad habits of laziness, dissipation, self-idulgence etc.

Anonymous said...

Dr Charlton: This comment has nothing whatsoever to do with your post, but I felt I had to say how flabbergasted I was to see just how much of your writing is on the internet.

Have you ever tried to look back and collect together everything you have written that is out there?


dfordoom said...

"Also, I'm not sure of how much radicalsim colleges and universities inculcate"

The arts and the entertainment industry have been solidly leftist and atheist for a century. The indoctrination by way of movies, television, popular music, books (across the whole spectrum from high-brow to pulp fiction) and art has been relentless but it's also often been quite subtle, and therefore much more dangerous.

Universities only reach a minority but entertainment and the arts are inescapable and the indoctrination starts in early childhood and continues until old age. It probably overwhelms any influences from parents or teachers.

We can also easily forget that the influence of Hollywood was infinitely greater in the 30s and 40s than it is today. In those days if you controlled Hollywood you could mould society in whichever manner you chose. Hollywood has been evil from Day One. I doubt that many people in 1940 were all that influenced by the views of people like W. H. Auden or Julian Huxley but they were saturated in the views of those who ran Hollywood.

Bruce Charlton said...

@dfd - I agree - the mass media (not education) is at the centre of it. That was also my thesis in the book Addicted to Distraction - linked in the sidebar to the left.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Seeker - No. Like most people that write a lot, I tend to be focused on current projects.