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.