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Paul Johnson's Peroration

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Since we have been discussing his Modern Times, I thought I would excerpt his conclusion, below.

by the year 1900 politics was already replacing religion as the chief form of zealotry...At the democratic end of the spectrum, the political zealot offered New Deals, Great Societies and welfare states; at the totalitarian end, cultural revolutions; always and everywhere, Plans...all united by their belief that politics was the cure for human ills: Sun Yat-Sen and Ataturk, Stalin and Mussolini, Khruschev, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Castro, Nehru, U Nu and Sukarno, Peron and Allende, Nkrumah and Nyerere, Nasser, Shah Pahlevi, Gadafy and Saddam Hussein, Honecker and Ceausescu. By the 1990s, this new ruling class had lost its confidence and was rapidly losing ground, and power...Was it possible to hope that the 'age of politics', like the 'age of religion' before it, was drawing to a close?
...But it was not yet clear whether the underlying evils which had made possible its catastrophic failures and tragedies--the rise of moral relativism, the decline of personal responsibility, the repudiation of Judeo-Christian values, not least the arrogant belief that men and women could solve all the mysteries of the universe by their own unaided intellects--were in the process of being eradicated. On that would depend the chances of the twenty-first century becoming, by contrast, an age of hope for mankind.
That was written nearly twenty years ago. What we know now is that the 'age of politics" is back, at least in Congress and the White House.

Also, as I said in a previous post, I do not believe that the rise of moral relativism and the other social/intellectual trends can carry all the weight that Johnson puts on them.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (10 to date)
Grant Gould writes:

Blaming Shah Pahlevi on the repudiation of Judeo-Christian values is perhaps pushing the plausibility envelope a little bit.

floccina writes:

Were do early rulers who were supposed to be Gods and the divine right of kings fit into this?

Alex J. writes:

Technological progress and the decline of religion would encourage the view that we can and should, respectively, fix every problem in the here and now. Agency bias would lead us to think that any present failures would be due to conspiratorial Jews, capitalists, kulaks, klansmen, corporations etc. With the decline of religion, we can't blame the devil anymore, or god's mysterious ways.

Prosperity is easily received as our due, and few questions are asked concerning its cause or author . . . . On the other hand, every disastrous accident alarms us, and sets us on enquiries concerning the principles whence it arose . . . . And the mind, sunk into diffidence, terror, and melancholy, has recourse to every method of appeasing those secret intelligent powers, on whom our fortune is supposed entirely to depend. Hume

Also, more surplus means things can carry on dysfunctionally for longer and farther.

William Barghest writes:

Moral relativism no, but there is an obvious link between the decline of the ethic of personal responsibility and the rise of the ideological state, through I have no idea how the causality runs.

William Barghest writes:

Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.

"And those people should not be listening to those who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness."

Alcuin of York agrees that more voice is not the answer, or so it seems from this snipped from a letter to Charles the Great in 768.

fundamentalist writes:

Moral relativism is an effect, not a cause. The cause is declining acceptance of traditional Christianity.

Rebecca Burlingame writes:

@ Alex J,
When I think of the words that came from Hume's pen and how easily he got along with people in his lifetime, I am still amazed.

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

"Morals" at any one time and spot generally reflect a commonality of recognized and accepted obligations in human interactions (the "oughts" and "ought-nots;" the Deontic). What Johnson has observed are the diverse and increasing factors in Modern Times that have effected the formation of commonalities; the massive movements of peoples, internal mobilities within social orders and increasing disconnects (see, Barzun).

The ephemeral relationships, such as politics, displaced for many the longer traditions of religions.

We are now possibly entering an era of comparative analysis, displacing "relativism."

MernaMoose writes:

not least the arrogant belief that men and women could solve all the mysteries of the universe by their own unaided intellects


On the one hand, the Social Planners Know All and will Save us.

On the other hand, we are to become self-proclaimed Idiots Who Know Not.

The boundaries within which this "dialectic" plays out need to be drawn very carefully.

By the 1990s, this new ruling class had lost its confidence and was rapidly losing ground, and power

Political zealotry was in full swing long before 1900 (does anybody remember the French Revolution).

To say it had lost any ground, let alone "rapidly", by 1990, is beyond the pale.

There is always another boy coming along who would be king.

caveat bettor writes:

Relative economic growth trends correlate rather well with the acceptance of christian beliefs, don't they? From Rome to Constantinople, from Spain to France, from Britain to America, to South Korea today. Isn't that what the data shows?

I'm bullish on America, because of those few clinging to their guns and religion. I think South Korean growth rates might outperform though, given their superior church growth.

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