Thursday, March 28, 2024

Show Me the Man…


…and I will show you the crime.

Total warfare opened an abyss for nearly everyone.  Millions of men were slaughtered by the weapons of progress, and millions more – along with wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters – were forced to adjust to the horror.

The Age of Nihilism: Christendom from the Great War to the Culture Wars, by John Strickland

With this chapter, Strickland examines the first of three ideologies that grew out of the Enlightenment’s removal of God from man and society.  Here, he will examine communism; in subsequent chapters, he will examine nationalism (through the lens of national socialism), and then liberalism. 

…liberalism was dedicated to the individual; nationalism was dedicated to the national community; and socialism was dedicated to the working class…

In each case, the eschatology was a kingdom of posterity: transcendence through progress.  In each case, an impotent attempt at deriving meaning was attempted; impotent, because none of these offered a meaningfully transcendent possibility.

There were glimpses of the old Christendom coming through: the Christmas truce of 1914 – not a formal truce between the warring parties, but informal, on the lines, between and among French, German, and British soldiers, many of whom said enough of this: let’s play football, hold a mass, and sing Christmas songs.

But the underlying current was one of a civilization without a stable culture to support it. 

…an important difference exists between civilization and culture.  The former depends on the latter, drawing from culture the beliefs and values that sustain it.  But when culture dies out, it leaves civilization in a state of rootlessness.

The utopian culture of humanism had died out with the Great War.  Civilization was groping for a culture that could replace it; absent a culture that could sustain civilization, civilization would die as well.  It is here where Strickland offers the three secular ideologies of the Communists, National Socialists, and liberalism as man’s attempts to build culture.

But as we shall see, this therapy could not be accomplished without purgatives and amputations equal in many cases to the effects of the Great War.

Making omelets requires breaking eggs, etc.  Which brings us to a focus on the communists.  Within this post, I will intersperse some of my thoughts of how all of this from one hundred years ago is available to us today in the West – in full flower, out in the open, no longer even hidden under a superficial veneer.

The year 1927 marked the beginning of a new start for the Soviet Union, ten years after the revolution.  Vladimir Lenin had died a few years earlier.  A parade, on Revolution Day, with Joseph Stalin atop the monumental tomb dedicated to Lenin.  Stalin stood there, having staged and executed a ruthless struggle to succeed the founder.

Films were made of the founding and of Lenin.  These adapted the concept of Nietzsche’s “great man,” and Strickland offers the idea that Nietzsche as much as Marx influenced communists and communism’s ideology (or, at least, its implementation).

Lenin managed the party with an iron will that would have impressed the “self-overcoming” creator of Zarathustra.  He overwhelmed his rivals with an intellectual brilliance and violent contempt lacking any pretense of human sympathy.

It strikes me that this need not be driven by a deliberate merging of the two thinkers – Nietzsche and Marx – nor does Strickland suggest this.  It seems, more so, that such a merging of Nietzsche with any impotent ideology (including nationalism and liberalism) is inevitable when the impotence is due to a lack of a transcendent.  Someone or something has to be in charge, at the top.  Always.

Leon Trotsky was present from the beginning – 1917.  When it was announced that the revolution had to begin with a dictatorship, many revolutionaries (Mensheviks) objected, and Trotsky gave his “dustbin of history” speech. 

“You are pitiful, isolated individuals! You are bankrupts. Your role is played out. Go where you belong from now on – into the dustbin of history!”

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Men Have Forgotten God


If modernist art and the human sciences had been dissolving the West’s cultural foundations for decades, the First World War brought the utopian structure down like an edifice demolished.

The Age of Nihilism: Christendom from the Great War to the Culture Wars, by John Strickland

The Enlightenment project hit its peak in the second half of the nineteenth century.  The last stronghold of the institutionalized inequality of man, slavery, was banished in the West.  Economic growth was accelerating – a clear vision of an improved economic standard of living for all.  Personal liberty, for most, was clearly advancing.

The achievements of utopia may have been impressive on economic and political levels, but on a cultural level things were different. … It was becoming increasingly evident that utopia was threatened by the very beliefs and values that inspired it.

In other words, liberalism does not have the means to defend and hold onto liberalism; Enlightenment values were killing the Enlightenment.  It is very easy to see this today, but there were those who saw this coming more than a century ago – men like Chesterton and Belloc.

Nietzsche and Wagner were already being venerated at the dawn of the twentieth century.  They inspired a new generation of nihilist thinkers.  Music, art, literature, science, philosophy – all developed branches from this nihilistic trunk.  The one thing all had in common, regardless of discipline: a conscious effort to destroy Christianity.  In other words, deconstruction: a rejection of what the West had once been, to be replaced with…whatever.

For its elitist membership, all values inherited from Christendom’s distant and recent past were to be abandoned in exchange for a life of sensuality and rebellion.

Franz Kafka demonstrates the inevitable future.  In Metamorphosis, the hero awakens one morning to find he has been transformed into a monstrous insect:

It is an absurd and disturbing opening, but the story amasses an ever-growing series of setbacks to demonstrate that utopian man is anything but what the humanists had once proclaimed.

But this is almost child’s play when seen against The Trial.  The hero is charged with a crime he did not commit.  In fact, the crime is never even named. 

His hero is persecuted, arrested, put on trial, and finally, in the last scene, “shot like a dog.”

Emile Durkheim would write of anomie, a condition in which the individual, cut off from traditional morality, is unable to live morally.  In other words, it isn’t that God is dead; it is that man is dead to God.

Durkheim met the end of his life wondering when, exactly, the anomy caused by secularization would be alleviated.  For his twenty-first century successors measuring suicide rates in the sociology departments of modern universities, the question is still being asked.

But of all of the branches that grew from the trunk of nihilism, perhaps the most culturally subversive human science to appear was psychology.  And the father of this branch was Sigmund Freud.  In his wake, the sexual conventions of two millennia became casualties.  And the fruit of this nihilistic tree was running full-speed toward the abyss of the Great War. 

The blow that hurled the modern world on its course of self-destruction was the Great War of 1914 – 1918. (Barzun*)

Ideological nationalism, the efficiency of the bureaucratic state, government-led propaganda, mass conscription, and the new industrial economy – all products of the new utopian civilization erected over the previous century – led to the deaths of some ten million soldiers and another ten million civilians due to hunger and disease.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Rebel With a Cause


The record is stunning.  To take only one microcosmic example: In the year 1866, two important works of literature had begun to appear in serial form side by side in the same literary journal. The Russian Mesenger (Russky vestnik). 

The first novel was War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.  The second was Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

The Age of Nihilism: Christendom from the Great War to the Culture Wars, by John Strickland

Stickland is describing the boom that occurred in Russian secular culture once the West’s humanist ideals were embraced.  Here, Stickland will focus on Dostoevsky, noting that he would document, better than any of his contemporaries, the growing crisis of utopian Christendom – the version of Christendom that came to replace, in Strickland’s view, the paradisaical Christendom that existed for the first thousand years in the West, and, until more recently, in the East.

Dostoevsky, son of a brutal father who was murdered when his peasants rose up against him, was never an atheist, although he nevertheless liked to spend his time among atheists.  He would keep up with the latest streams of progressive Western thought.  Most in this camp would look at the Russian Orthodox Church with contempt.

They would also look down on the poor and impoverished.  Dostoevsky would write of these same poor and impoverished, stirring dissatisfaction with the status quo.  A lesson for our time, perhaps: when the status quo is atheist, it is the Christian who is a rebel:

John 15: 18-19 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.  If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

Dostoevsky would write, when contemplating how different he was, the torment he suffered as “a child of this century”:

“And despite all this, God sent me moments of great tranquility, moments during which I love and find I am loved by others.  … This symbol is very simple, and here is what it is: to believe that there is nothing more beautiful, more profound, than Christ…”

Yet, he would remain rebellious in temperament.  He would join a group that would meet at night, discussing books by prominent French socialists.  Having been found out, the members of the group were sentenced to execution.

As they were being marched out to receive this punishment, a rider came up with a message from the tsar: they would not be executed, but instead sent for hard labor in Siberia.  A reprieve.  In Siberia, instead of limiting himself to live within the world of the intelligentsia, he would have hardened criminals for companions: murderers, rapists, child abusers.

He was not allowed to bring any of his books with him, yet somehow a charitable society did provide copies of the New Testament for the prisoners.  Dostoevsky would keep his under his pillow in the barracks for the next four years.

What Dostoevsky would discover in his time with the criminals: even if the world was transformed into a utopia, with everyone given wealth, health, and freedom, in the end that world was still populated by men such as these.  There is nothing in such a utopia that would heal the hearts of such men.

“In the course of several years, I never saw a sign of repentance among these people…”

Just like Nietzsche, Dostoevsky saw the dark side, the nihilism.  Dostoevsky was in prison, Nietzsche in the splendor of Bayreuth.  Yet, unlike Nietzsche, Dostoevsky was a Christian – this reality gave Dostoevsky the means to transcend this broken world.

Seeing a man savagely beaten in prison, Dostoevsky’s mind raced back to a time in childhood.  Out in the family forest, he heard the cry of a wolf.  Terrified, he fled the wood and came to Marey, one of his father’s peasants.  Peasants who were so cruelly beaten by Dostoevsky’s father that they would one day rise up and murder him.

Monday, March 4, 2024

History Rhymes


I am working through Matthew Barrett’s book, The Reformation as Renewal: Retrieving the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, at my substack.  However, I have a thought based on one portion of the text that I think better fits at this blog.

“Stab, smite, slay.”  And if “you die in doing it, good for you!”  To do nothing was to be an accomplice.  “If he is able to punish and does not do it – even though he would have had to kill someone or shed blood – he becomes guilty of all the murder and evil that these people commit.”  Not grace, but sword, said Luther.  And if you die trying to kill one of these rebellious peasants, fear not – you are a “true martyr in the eyes of God.”

The occasion was the Peasants Revolt in 1525.  Luther called for indiscriminate killing on the part of the nobles and princes and against the peasants. 

By its conclusion, the Peasants’ War resulted in mass carnage.  Different numbers have been estimated, but something like eighty thousand may have died in battle.

Barely armed common folk were pitted against well-trained soldiers.  It was a one-sided slaughter.

Across Germany the insurrection was snuffed out, dead bodies lay everywhere, and the outcry in Germany was so agonizing it felt unbearable. 

Having called for slaughter, Luther faced the backlash.  While he had no control of the soldiers, he could not escape his call to stab, smite, and slay.

With countless corpses rotting in the hot summer sun, Luther’s commission now seemed cruel, even malicious, and his credibility was tarnished, as was the reputation of the Reformation as a whole.

The carnage was apocalyptic in proportion, and the devastation was so severe that recovery felt like an impossibility.


Christian Zionist leaders cheer on Israel.  In the wake of October 7, they cheered on Israel.  Today, many continue to cheer on Israel.  Despite the slaughter, they cheer on Israel.  In fact, knowing the imbalance, they cheered on Israel four months ago in the face of the genocidal statements from Israeli leaders and despite what was certain to be the result of Israel’s aggression.

One of the best equipped militaries in the world against a trapped peasant army.  Tens of thousands killed, large portions of housing destroyed.  Hospitals targeted.  Food and power cut off.  Like shooting fish in a barrel, but only after not feeding the fish and pouring a little acid in the water.

I pray that the idea that Christians have to somehow support this corrupt state in order to give God the ability to carry out (their corrupt version of) His plan gets crushed.  In fact, I pray this crushes their corrupt version of God’s plan.

I pray that the reputation of these Christian Zionist leaders today is not only tarnished, but destroyed.  Unfortunately, they add to the reputational destruction of the Church.


Despite the damage to Luther’s name, the Reformer did not regret his previous writings.  He wrote An Open Letter on the Harsh Book against the Peasants and further defended himself.


And I bet most of today’s Christian Zionists will do the same.  The money is too good.