Wednesday, May 8, 2024

The Sound of Inevitability


Nevertheless, however fervently Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox writers called nihilistic Christendom back from the abyss, theirs remained little more than a cry in the wilderness.

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

Communism and liberalism (of a sort) came out of World War Two as victors.  Communism would fall first, at least its Soviet incarnation.  Liberalism would limp along, albeit that limp grew increasingly more noticeable over time.

Secular ideology was not the solution; utopia, whether communism or liberalism, was a failure.  While many Christians continued to pursue utopia, there were those who saw the problem clearly.  Nicolas Berdyaev would write:

“…what is taking place in the world today is not a crisis of humanism (that is a topic of secondary importance), but a crisis of humanity.”

It was a process of dehumanization in all phases of culture and social life; most importantly, the dehumanization of moral life.  Man ceased to have any value at all; to be powerless and to be replaced.

Referring to C.S. Lewis:

To confront this development, the Oxford literary scholar and accidental theologian wrote a book with the dystopian title The Abolition of Man (1943).

Man was reduced to instinct, and he was allowed only his rational mind to confront this life.  In other words, men without chests.

T. S. Eliot would write (sounding a lot like Doug Wilson):

“…we must abandon the notion that the Christian should be content with freedom of cultus…. The Christian can be satisfied with nothing less than a Christian organization of society.”

Not that every member of society need be a Christian, but it would be a society that the natural end of man is acknowledged for all, with the supernatural end of beatitude for the Christian.

Absent this, in other words, and continuing down the slide of secularism, totalitarianism was the likely outcome.  Yes, perhaps a soft totalitarianism, but it would be totalitarianism nonetheless. 

Stalin was out, Kruschev was in.  Although a true believer in communism, he at least toned down the actions of the police state within the Soviet Union.  But it remained totalitarian.

Liberalism fared little better; this was even anticipated by many.  Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World offered a picture of this illiberal future dressed in liberal garb.  Totalitarianism was the inevitable destiny for the West:

“The quaint old forms – elections, parliaments, Supreme Courts, and all the rest – will remain.  The underlying substance will be a new kind of non-violent totalitarianism.”

Yes, the forms remain: we still pretend to hold elections, pretend that there is a Supreme Court that applies justice, pretend that our parliament represents us and upholds the Constitution.  But it is all a façade, a Potemkin Village of governance.

There is the Frankfurt School and critical theory – negation: every expression of contemporary culture is considered oppressive, as are science and rationality.  Deconstruction, disintegration: this was the purpose and objective; it was becoming the reality.

Jean-Paul Sartre.  The child of a loveless marriage, the grandchild of a man who refused to speak to his wife for forty years.  Suffice it to say, he was deeply critical of human relationships.  He had a mistress for life, but wouldn’t marry her: she would cook, clean, sew, and even manage his affairs with his many other lovers.  This mistress was Simone de Beauvoir – surprisingly, or maybe not, she became a founder of the feminist movement.

Alienation became an important theme in Sartre’s work.  Love, and especially the sacrificial love found in Scripture, subverts human authenticity.  In addition to attacking Christianity – a given by this time – even humanism came into focus for attack.  Human life is totally meaningless. 

The ends justify the means.  Show trials are morally legitimate, as long as the ends are objectively progressive.  Innocent victims in this way share in the guilt of standing in the way of progress. 

The 1960s.  As meaningful a decade for the West as that which followed Luther’s ninety-five theses.  In the United States, this meant the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.  The Great Society.  But the big step was Vietnam. 

Napalm showers

Showed the cowards

We weren't there to mess around

A complacent society stepped into the mud that would help to usher in nihilism with full force.  Kennedy first sent in a few thousand “advisors.”  They would support a coup against Diem – he was assassinated.  Kennedy was shot; the Gulf of Tonkin was spun in favor of war.

More than a million Vietnamese and over 50,000 Americans; more American bombs dropped on this enemy than against all of Germany in World War Two.  Purposefully killing civilians by the thousands.  My Lai, 1968.  Some eighty-thousand Vietnamese captured and tortured as suspected Viet Cong sympathizers.

In 1972 the contradictions of liberal world building were captured graphically in an image of a nine-year old girl named Kim Phuc running naked in terror from an American napalm strike on her village.

More soldiers conscripted.  Drug use, fragging. 

Years and years of

Bloodshed and warfare

Our mission was only to get in and kill

A free vacation of palm trees and shrapnel

Trading innocence

For permanent psychotic hell

-          Dream Theater, War Inside My Head

As time went on, the US civilian population became disgusted with this war.  Of course, the risk of the draft added fuel to this disgust.  College campuses became a flashpoint for this disgust.  Berkeley, Columbia, Kent State: four dead in O-HI-O.


The Graduate.  Plastics.  A perfect metaphor for the replacement of something real (Christianity) with a cheap imitation (whatever label one might apply to what the West had become by then).  Ben Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman, epitomizes the nihilistic man.  No desire for anything meaningful.  After a rush to the church, he gets the girl moments after she married another man.

The two escape by bus, a brief smile on Ben’s face.  Then, nothing – a return to a catatonic stare.

As the bus continues into the distance, the viewer is left with a realization that these is nothing on the road ahead – the American Way – that promises an escape from dystopia.

How easy it was for nihilism to walk in the front door.


  1. "This mistress was Simone de Beauvoir – surprisingly, or maybe not, she became a founder of the feminist movement."

    Now there is a surprising if not really surprising fact of history. A woman who never knew God and the kind of marriage relationship He created, rejected both. But in reality she rejected an ersatz version of each. If only she would have experienced the genuine articles.

  2. I also want to point out that liberalism after WW2 slowly succumbed to communism. The oppressor/oppressed classes were different but that was the framework the US government and culture have taken. Liberalism with a Christian foundation would have fought off communism and nihilism. But the elites were all materialist atheists and their world view has been imposed on us all. We are a soft totalitarian communistic country now.

    1. You may be right. What would it take to shake that off and create a different type of society? What form would that society take?

      I have said it before, probably even here, that America today reminds me, in a lot of ways, of Tsarist Russia just before the Civil War which saw the Bolsheviks emerge triumphant. Wealthy overlords, overbearing bureaucracy, middle-class citizens and peasants being continually ground down, fragmentation of society into opposing groups which cannot agree on anything, etc. Will America break down into violent revolution and civil strife? Or will we go, more or less quietly, into that good night, from which something else will arise?

      I tend to believe that the "quietly" part is not going to continue much longer. Maybe that is wishful thinking because, I'll be honest, I really do want this whole downward slide to hit bottom and start climbing again.

      As Tom Petty sang, "The waiting is the hardest part."

    2. I was just in Barcelona. Before, I thought Catalan was a dialect of "Spanish". I learned it is separate, closer to the southern version of French than Castilian (I learnt that's what they call "Spanish"--hence the quotes). Anyway, I was always pro-separatist. Coincidentally, they had elections yesterday. Anyway, it's all confused, because I support separatism but it is led by the left-wingers generally and the the more rightist are opposed--though some of the rightists are good on abortion, gay rights, and immigration, even pretty good on Covid (but horrible on Israel). Anyway, it's a big mish-mash. Almost like the world is confused, even in a nominally Catholic country (but really three or four countries). I still believe "Libertarianism in theory is decentralization in practice." I re-read BM's articles on this from 2017, but don't have such strong views as I did prior to Covid/Summer of George. It was good to get the full rubdown from a third-worlder at TSA back in the Land of the Free because I was randomly identified as a potential separatist despite paying "tribute" to the Barbary Pirates in the form of pre-check.

    3. RMB: " Liberalism with a Christian foundation would have fought off communism and nihilism."

      Perhaps. But I think liberalism offers no reason for a Christian foundation. As you write below, in response to Roger, "natural law, natural rights," which, I will add, cannot be sustained outside of a healthy Christian plurality in the population. I emphasize the word "healthy," because the Christina population in the West is rather sickly.

    4. Eric, nice to hear from you. I recall at the time of the vote in Catalonia, some libertarians complaining about the leftist views of this population (as you re-read my posts from the time, I know you know this).

      For joyous those who live in eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, and inland California would be if Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle voted to secede and form their own state.

    5. You are right Bionic. There is nothing holding Christianity to liberaism. Also, I think American Christianity has not been healthy because of the left the Western intellectuals took. They had societal power and used it to influence the church away from God.

  3. I don't know if this fits better here or in the last previous post, but it is what it is.

    "What are the ethical consequences of fascism? Once value is attributed to pure action, other people cease to be ends in themselves and become mere instruments, or obstacles, to the fascist political program. The logic of the fascist’s “creative” activism leads him to deny other people’s personhood and individuality, to reduce persons to mere objects. Once individuals are instrumentalized, it no longer makes sense to speak of moral duties towards them. Others are either useful and deployed or they are useless and discarded."

    "This accounts for the extraordinary narcissism and solipsism characteristic of fascist leaders and functionaries: anyone who embraces this ideology acts as though he is the only person who really exists. The fascist lacks any sense of the purpose of law, or any reverence for a binding moral order. He embraces instead his own raw will to power: laws and other social institutions are mere tools deployed in the service of this power. Because the fascist’s action requires no ultimate end, and conforms to no transcendent ethical norm or spiritual authority, various tactics can be embraced or discarded at whim — propaganda, violence, coercion, desecration, erasure, etc."

    "...The result is nihilism."

    1. This is very helpful Roger. It states clearly the problem with post-libertarian or "hardcore right wing" ideology. They reject any constraints on power because they see it as the only tool to protect themselves from leftists. This strain of thought also creeps into the Christian nationalist rhetoric as well. It is why I am skeptical of their program as well. Yes, self professed Christians don't want to have moral constraints put on the use of power... as long as the political action is toward "Christianity". But with a project like that they will reject Christ Himself.

      Better to stick with natural law, natural rights, property rights based libertarianism. The kind that Hayek, Rothbard and Hoppe have been teaching for years now.

      For anyone who wants the best logical explanation of why fascism, Marxism, etc must be rejected read The Road To Serfdom. Hayek explains what necessarily happens when people are made instruments of a policy and not humans to be valued and protected.

    2. Excellent quote, Roger. When people are considered "objects" instead of "beings," then anything goes. Like a rock in my yard, or refuse in my toilet.

  4. How easy it was for nihilism to walk in the front door.

    There is a saying that you can't beat something with nothing. Apparently, this is not true since we did have something and it was beaten with nothing. Maybe thrashed soundly is a better term.

    The question then becomes one in which we wonder, "What are we going to beat this nothingness with?" More of nothing? Something? What would that something look like? Why would it be any better than where we are today?

    We are going to find out. It will not be easy. I suspect that our society and culture will be taken to the very bottom (or nearly so) of the hole before we look up and see the light at the top.