Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The Death of Man


He's a real nowhere man

Sitting in his nowhere land

Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

-          Nowhere Man, The Beatles


We're on a ride to nowhere

Come on inside

Taking that ride to nowhere

We'll take that ride

-          Road to Nowhere, The Talking Heads


Knowhere (pronounced "no where") is a fictional location appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics and in related media. It is depicted as the enormous severed head of an ancient celestial being….


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

Utopia means literally “nowhere.  And in his playful way, [Thomas More] coined a variation of it, eutopia. Which he used in his book’s subtitle.  The second term means “good place.”  It is this, of course, that ultimately came to give utopia its meaning.

And so, to extend More’s play on words, it can be said that if there is anything the history of Christendom demonstrates during its age of nihilism, it is that a good place without God is nowhere.

Whether via communism, fascism, or liberalism, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche could not be evaded: the death of God permits any action as moral.  This is inescapable, and we see today that we have not escaped it.

An understanding that we are all fallen – as Solzhenitsyn would write (paraphrased), the line dividing good and evil runs through every human heart – leads to the humility of repentance.  We have stopped recognizing the line within us and only find it between us and others.  Repentance isn’t to be found in a culture built on indignation. 

Fascism fell with the fall of the Nazis; at least that’s what we tell ourselves.  Communism would fall, or so it seemed at the time, with the fall of the Soviet Union some forty-five years later.  Economic plans, even economic miracles were promised, and failed to produce. 

Promises to double meat production resulted in the killing, first of dairy cows, then of breeding cows.  Still the doubling wasn’t achieved, and the consequences lasted for years thereafter.  Larionov, the author of this scheme, was first given the Order of Lenin by Kruschev – based solely on his promise.  After the failure, he would commit suicide.

Reforms introduced by Gorbachev only opened the door to express discontent.  Chernobyl blew the doors open: no containment structures in place (a cost saving measure driven by scarce financial resources), the disaster was initially covered up, only furthering the speed toward implosion of the communist state.

Into this void, religion would step in.  There was a revival of Orthodox Christianity.  Film would drive home the point.  The 1987 film, “Repentance,” would end with a line that would become famous in the last days of the Soviet Union: “What good is a road if it doesn’t lead to a church?”  It was a road to nowhere.  By the end of 1991, the Soviet Union was no more.

And yet the three decades that followed the collapse of Communism witnessed the progressive disintegration of its ideological rival, liberalism.

Progressivism was always the destiny of liberalism: divorce God from a society that emphasizes the individual.  We see what this has led to: ever more individualized individuals; almost daily we are testing the boundaries of what it means to be an individual.  We have come to the point where we are free to explore the possibility – even hold it as a hope – of no longer being human beings.

As Patrick Dineen would write: the promise of liberalism has failed because it has succeeded.  Its self-contradictions have made this so.  Liberalism held some hope as long as it remained grounded in Christianity; but if it remained grounded in Christianity, it wouldn’t have been liberalism.  Without the humility of Christianity as the chief virtue and Christian repentance as its perfect expression, humanity was freed to pursue pride.  Pride always leads to man’s fall.

The end of history gave an open runway for the progressivism inherent in liberalism to expand.  There is no limit to “progress”; there is always something more toward which one can progress, whether toward good or evil.

 We have seen this “progress” of the West’s liberalism advance throughout the post-Soviet Eastern Europe, and even today with the war in Ukraine.  In order for the utopia of liberalism to maximize the individual, a few hundred thousand individuals must be sacrificed for the greater utopian good.  This, not only in Ukraine: we have seen it in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Serbia.

All traditional cultural boundaries have been abandoned, or, better said, liberalism offers no defense against those cultural boundaries that have not yet been abandoned.  One can point to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and Roe v. Wade in 1973 as milestone events.  There were to be no limiting conditions on individuals expressing their individualism.

As individualism was maximized, the state gained more power.  As the state granted more authority for unlimited individual expression, more people would look to the state as savior.  Of course, media would do its part to advance the cause.  An entire book can be written just of these actions and their effects during the last four years.

The best our rightly-concerned modern intellectuals can come up with is a return to pre-progressive liberalism.  Consider Jordan Peterson as an exemplar of this notion.  It is an ideological dead end.  Liberalism offers no supporting culture, and for a society with a supporting culture, liberalism offers no defense against its destruction.

Whatever one can say about Putin in Russia, Xi in China, and even Orbán in Hungary, it is clear that at least they have some care about the cultural stability within the societies they each govern.  And this is one reason why liberalism cannot stand such actors.


We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise.  We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.  We castrate and bid the geldings to be fruitful.

They are not men at all.  Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void.  Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men.  They are not men at all: they are artefacts.  Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.

-          C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

It is claimed that liberalism has provided a better life than any other system in human history.  When it comes to material goods, this is clear.  When it comes to every other measure of quality of life, the results are mixed at best, and clearly harmful at worst.

In those lands where it has advanced the furthest – North America and Western Europe – liberty has simply not brought general happiness.

As Christians, we know that history has not reached its end, and will not do so until Christ’s Second Coming.  And we know He will be victorious; we have read the book.


This brings me to the end of this fourth and final volume of Strickland’s work.  On the one hand, I admire the effort it took to present such a broad examination of the trajectory of the two-thousand years of the West through Eastern Orthodox eyes.

On the other, I think it is too simple to lay our current condition on the Great Schism of 1054 (and I use this event as shorthand for Strickland’s argument).  Of course, I say the same about any starting point in history from which such singular claims are made: the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Civil War, World War One, the sexual revolution, the unipolar moment, etc.

I have made such arguments when focused on the Enlightenment, and I would say the same thing here.  All such events had events that came before which contributed, and all such events led to consequences and subsequent events that likely were not possible except for the preceding events.

But, overall, I found this journey with Strickland worthwhile, and I do appreciate the work he put into this study.


  1. I agree with the criticisms of liberalism in general. But we also must remember that liberalism was formulated when we still had a Christian consensus in society. I also think liberalism was bifurcated at the beginning.

    One branch was a result of the Enlightenment's rejected of revelation and sole focus on reason. That is where progressivism, socialism, and libertinism came from.

    The other branch was a result of Christian's developing political theology under the light of revelation and reason together. We have people like Samuel Rutherford, myriad other Reformers, and Locke to thank for that. These men were all deeply committed Christian and from my best understanding saw liberalism as a political outcropping of Christianity and a way to bring toleration between the different sects of Christians.

    This is the liberalism of Mises. He held to a conservative morality, which came from Christianity even if he didn't follow it. It is also the liberalism of the Christian founders all the way through theologians like Francis Schaeffer.

    See an article on Mises cultural thoughts:

    I have tried to distill down some ideas of what kind of social framework is both Christian and libertarian. Here is an article organizing my thoughts.

  2. Our only concern out in reality is keeping the advanced utopians within their utopia after the collapse. Allowing them to escape will only infect other areas ...