Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Understanding the 20th Century

For the first time since Christianity formed souls and societies, we find ourselves faced by a public and social apostasy which is no longer merely the schism of a nation or a king, nor the heresy of a teacher or a sect, nor a political and moral revolt, but which is a whole civilization cutting itself off completely from Christianity, a civilization that must be reconquered, re-Christianized."
Maurice Blondel

I suppose what I want to do with this post is lay out my understanding of the "grand narrative" of the 20th Century. In essence, my theory is that "practical" Christian Society failed in the the 19th Century and events of the 20th Century were the results of the secular attempts to build a better society.

Catholic Traditionalists are inclined to think that the serious rot in Western Civilisation began with Vatican Two, but more perceptive minds were well aware that the rot had set in well before then.  The above quote is from Maurice Blondel, written at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Perceptive Christian  minds of the time, like Blondel, realised that the society built by institutionalised Christianity was in DEEP trouble. Indeed, reading some of his contemporaries at the end of the 19th Century, one is impressed with their keen awareness of a sense of an impending transformational change about to engulf society. These authors were passionate Christians who were horrified at the progressive secularisation of society and wanted to reverse the trend and yet they realised they were up against a formidable foe in the face of Modernism.

Now by Modernism, I mean a philosophy of life that is for all intensive purposes Positivistic. And what was apparent to these thinkers, writing at the about the turn of the 20th Century is that positivism was crushing the all before it. Essentially, the history of the 20th Century could best be described as the battle of ideas born within the Positivist vision following the practical irrelevance of European Christian Culture. When Nietszche proclaimed that 'God was dead", he shouting the death of the motive force of European Civilisation.

Now it needs to be understood that understood that Fascism, Communism and contemporary Liberal Democracy are all ideologies framed within the Positivistic metaphysical system, and as such, all are a break from the European Civilisation which existed before 1914. They arose out of the vacuum that came about with the "Death of God". Sure the philosophical foundations of Modernism/Positivism go all the way back to intellectual errors in the Medieval philosophy but they only become culturally transformative after the First World War, when significant numbers of people took them on board and were able to effect their consequences.

Why people took them on board is interesting. What's really apparent in reading the authors of the late 19th Century, is the social ferment and instability in all of the European countries of the time.  Europe's population increase by four hundred percent during the 19th Century, and despite all the scientific advances, vast numbers of people were malnourished, uneducated, poorly housed and living in poverty.

Happy, well fed people don't revolt, and the fact of the matter is that many people weren't happy. Not in the Gloria Freedman sense but in the sense that their crushing poverty and limited ability to escape it induced a yearning for something better. Traditional Christianity taught them to "bear their cross" and seemed unable, with certain few exceptions, come up with any real solutions. The practice of Charity was inadequate to the needs generated by the population explosion and traditional Christianities defence of private property and the realities of lasseiz faire Capitalism meant that the social structure of society was pretty much entrenched. This left people with three options:

1) Bear your cross. i.e. Suck it up.
2) Emigrate to the New World.
3) Abandon the traditional conception of Man and Society and look for something new.
Emigration is an interesting one, and it would be interesting to see how much it contributed to the stability of the 19th Century by acting as a "pressure valve" against social agitation. But its also interesting as a metric with regard to how bad things really were in Europe at the time. Passage to the New World was not without its perils ship wreck were common and emigration was usually final, in the sense that it severed a man from his family and his past.  The fact that large numbers of people were prepared to undertake it gives some idea of the social pressures that people were under. Europe, despite its technological and cultural glories was a social mess.

Likewise the French revolution is seen as the originator of the modern world, but it needs to be understood that the Revolution did not arise ex nihilo, rather deep social problems were its gestational medium. The Revolution needs to be seen as an attempt to escape them. Had France of Louis XVI been prosperous and well fed, I doubt if there would have been any Revolution at all. Likewise, specter of Socialism only became real only after the population explosion of 19th Century Europe was able to digest it through the laissez faire Capitalism of the time, producing an exploited urban proletariat, disaffected and ripe for agitation. The ideas of the philosophes are only given an audience when times are hard.

Furthermore, the triumphs of science vastly undermined the authority of religion. Childbirth, which had roughly a 5% mortality at the end of the 19th Century was bought down to less than 1%, not by prayer but by modern medicine. Why go to the priest when the doctor is more effective. It didn't take much of a push to lure the masses towards secularism.

The point of this is that Christianity had practically failed, particularly as a social phenomenon and while people still continued to mouth religious platitudes and perform religious observances, they did so out of habit rather than conviction. When more liberty was finally given to them, especially Catholics after Vatican Two, religious practice withered.

The intellectual vacuum left by Christianity paved the way for secular solutions to societal problems, solutions which rejected the Christian metaphysic and which were ultimately positivist, and therefore modernist, in their foundation. Fascism, Liberal Democracy and Socialism are the Right, Middle, Left repesctive "solutions" to these problems but are ultimately all cut from the same modernist cloth. And there is nothing in Modernism which prevents the transformation of one to the other except perhaps historical contingency.


Alfred Woenselaer said...

I agree (also with your last post). The moment you do away with God you create a vacuum to be filled. By maintaining that there is no God you simultaneously say everything and nothing is possible. In other words, you give yourself moral permission to be a hypocrite. It is nice to be a holier than thou hypocrite. Which is probably why positivism/modernism has been so effective.

Jason said...

Interesting essay, doctor. Just a correction though: emigration to the America from 1880 to 1920 or so often was not final. Many Italians, Germans, Slovaks, etc. returned to their homelands after a stretch in the New World (and many of these, perhaps a third or so, would then immigrate to the U.S. again).

MK said...

Positivistic metaphysical system a break from which existed before 1914.

Sure, but the seeds were sown in the Reformation. We now reap what was sown. Solidarity!

Europe's population increase by 400%; despite scientific advances, vast numbers of people were malnourished, uneducated, poorly housed and living in poverty.

The population merely grows to match the extra food produced in every era. Those who don't are soon invaded. This IS the human condition. As animals, we will always grow to fill our environment. Humans will "live in poverty" forever. For moderns who dream we can escape the Cross? Of eclipsing human nature? Ha. Death awaits us all. And if we look at modernity, suffering has never been greater.

The triumphs of science vastly undermined the authority of religion.

I don't see this. Look at Muslims and fundamentalism. Science just allows a small sliver of the world's population to pretend death is not just around the corner. But it's still just pretending.

The Social Pathologist said...


The thing about modernism is that it ditches the restrictions imposed by God. One one hand, it gives the illusion of promethean freedom while opening the door to all forms to evil.


I'm aware that lots of people returned, and for a variety of reasons. I think a small portion of people from the Mayflower returned as well. However emigration to the New World was premised on the possibility of a better life, but it is one that was undertaken with a significant amount of risk, at least until the late 19th Century. (I try not to go into too many intricacies to keep the posts short). Life had to be pretty bad to leave.

My own father had to run the gauntlet of communist guards, but he was prepared to take the risk as he saw no future, but it does give an idea of how bad things were and the measures taken to escape them.

Interestingly, I saw a lot of refugees from the War in Yugoslavia, who came to Australia to try and make a better life. I image about 50% returned. Most of them could appreciate the material benefits of living here but came to realise that what they missed the most was the social capital from the countries which they escaped. A lot of them couldn't handle the individualism and social isolation.


Science was convincing enough, especially to large numbers of Europeans, to ditch the traditional view of the world.

Anonymous said...

Those who fell away would have done so in any event. If science had not advanced they would have found some other pretext. They apostatized because they had evil wills. Our Lord predicted that the greater part of mankind would choose the devil rather than Himself. Read the Gospel of St. Matthew 7:13-15. As Fr. Mueller wrote in his The Great Revolt Against Christ: "St. Cyprian, therefore said: 'Let no one think that virtuous men and good Christians ever leave the bosom of the Church; it is not the wheat that the wind lifts, but the chaff; trees deeply rooted are not blown down by the breeze, but those which have no roots. It is rotten fruits that fall off the trees, not sound ones; bad Catholics become heretics (or in the case whereof you write herein, apostates)as sickness is engendered by bad humours. At first faith languishes in them, because of their vices; then it becomes sick; next it dies; because, since sin is essentially a blindness of spirit, the more a man sins, the more he is blinded; his faith grows weaker and weaker; the light of this divine torch decreases, and soon the least wind of temptation or doubt suffices to extinguish it.' Witness the great defection from faith in the 16th century, when God permitted heresies to arise, in order to exercise His justice against those who were ready to abandon the truth, and His mercy toward those who remained attached to it; to prove, by trials those who were firm in the Faith, and to separate them from those who loved error; to exercise the patience and charity of the Church, and to sanctify the elect; to give occasion for the illustration of religious truth and the Holy Scripture; to make pastors more vigilant, and value more the sacred deposit of faith; in fine, to render the authority of tradition more clear and incontestable." Toward the end of the article Fr. Mueller writes of the spirit of pride, lust and covetousness which imbued the wicked protestant heresiarchs and their followers, and of how this spirit made certain that they would have been lost in any event, even had they not left the Church. The same is to be said of these modern apostates. You have a tendency to blame the Church and tradition whilst holding the people to be somehow faultless, innocent and unwitting victims of their circumstances and clerical ineptitude. This was not, and is not the case. They apostatize because they want to apostatize and will do so regardless of what anybody says or does. They hate the light as is written in the Gospel of St. John 3:20, and therefore scurry away like the self-made (by their evil wills) cockroaches that they are. As for the French Revolution, this was a rising of criminal scum agitated and led by Jews and Freemasons. You ought to read Abbe Augustin Barruel's Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism. The Abbe was an eyewitness who was forced to flee France and take refuge in England because of the proto-bolsheviks' anti-Christian extermination campaign. He can't be accused of being a Nazi or some such crap. the Nameless War by Captain Archibald Maule Ramsay, a veteran of WWI and a statesman who did his utmost to keep his country on the right course at the beginning of the Second World War, but was unfortunately silenced by unjust imprisonment is another excellent book. The Secret World Government, or The Hidden Hand by Maj. Gen. Count Cherep-Spiridovich, a Russian nobleman and officer in the Tsarist Imperial Army is another book that should be read by all who have an interest in discovering the real identities and motivations of those who run things. There are some things which one, if one be a Catholic one must disagree with in the Count's book, such as his assessment of Torquemada, the Inquisitor, but overall it is very good. There is a superb selection of such books to be found in the catalogue of OMNI Christian book club. Many of the older titles can also be found free online. They ought to be printed, as it is only a matter of time before the enemies of Christ cause them to be deleted.

Jason said...

That's a little surprising to me, doctor, that 50 percent of Bosnians (I asssume) could not handle Australian life. Life has certainly been a challenge for many of the Bosnians that live in my Midwestern city, but I don't think that half choose to return. Perhaps because there is a fairly large community of them here, it has been easier for them in some ways.

Come to think of it though perhaps it's not so surprising, for the reasons you suggested. I have to confess that I myself find Australians to be a bit much, based on my limited experience with them (although the Australian hotel owner in Florence was quite nice). This has nothing to do with your countrymen, naturally, but rather with my own temperement, which is quite Central European.

The Social Pathologist said...


Toward the end of the article Fr. Mueller writes of the spirit of pride, lust and covetousness which imbued the wicked protestant heresiarchs and their followers, and of how this spirit made certain that they would have been lost in any event, even had they not left the Church

And yet Abbe Augustin Barruel found refuge with them.


Agree, there is a very strong prole element in Australian culture. The behaviour of Australian tourists overseas is generally appalling. There is however a small cultured class (which crosses all social strata) which is very good but does not have much influence, being swamped by the proletarian mass. I imagine your Florentine hotel owner was one of them.

What really kills the Bosnians is the work centric nature of life here and the social atomisation. They're used to living in far more social communities where everyone knows everyone else and says hello.

Anonymous said...

"And yet Abbe Barruel found refuge with them." This was nearly three hundred years after the original infernal outbreak. These poor Englishman had been raised in heresy for generations by then, they had not the same culpability as the original apostates of the 16th century who knew the Truth and wilfully rejected it. At any rate their kind treatment of French Catholic refugees wasn't because of their Protestantism, but in spite of it. Many of the English have (or had, in this day and age one increasingly is forced to speak in the past tense in regard to anything good or decent.) a natural sense of decency and justice. Professor Plinio Correa Oliveira wrote of this in an article on the vocations of the various races of Europe: "In the English soul, there is something so honest and serene that it obliged Protestantism to assume a Catholic over-garment-Anglicanism-otherwise it would not have been swallowed by the people." There was a great deal of difficulty had in imposing the new religion in many English counties. There were risings in favour of the True Faith in Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Cornwall among others. In a few areas such as Lancashire there were many who kept the Faith through the centuries and still hold it by God's grace today. The counter-revolutionaries probably would have succeeded, had not the so-called "nobles", to their eternal shame, sold Our Lord for their thirty pieces of silver. To paraphrase Belloc, it took a campaign of persecution worthy of the Bolsheviks to root out the age long religion of the English. One can see that the Communists were not the inventors of what they so expertly practiced, a combination of murderous terrorism and the assiduous brainwashing of children and young people with doctrines of demons, it was not the Jacobins either, they weren't the first. It was the prots. It was they who exterminated priests and religious and many of the older generation who dared remain steadfast, whilst simultaneously teaching poor innocent children that their forefathers were nothing but villains or fools, and that it was only with the glorious arrival of the devotees of satan (I mean "bearers of light, ha ha.) that day had finally dawned after a long night, and they, the children, now had a duty to propagate the new ways of being and thinking, and to denounce counter-revolutionaries whenever and wherever they found them, and so on and so forth. To give you a couple of examples of the less decent sort of prot, and what can be expected of them I suggest you read about the prots of the 16th and 17th centuries making alliances with the Turk, Dutch Calvinists even wore little pewter medals bearing an inscription to the effect that they'd rather be Mahometans than Papists. For a more recent example look up the story of Tolkien's mother Mabel's conversion to the True Church and the satanical way her own family, members of the "Baptist" sect treated her as a result. The beasts ought to have been flogged through the streets and spat upon the whole way. As Catholics we ought to do everything we can to fight the enemies of God, and with His gracious assistance defeat them, so that the Kingship of Christ will be extended over the entire world.

Anonymous said...

I find this strain of attack on the immorality of protestants very strange, I come from NYC and a significant portion of my mothers church are ex-catholic, as is she, and their primary concern when leaving the catholic church was the observed moral weakness of the catholic church, people just came to church for their hell insurance and the church leadership didn't care.

Latin america is currently undergoing a protestantization and the same thing I've noticed anecdotally, catholics are less serious about morality than protestants, has been surveyed.

Catholics are less likely to:
-read the bible
-pray daily
-do charity work

Protestants are more likely to:
-say premarital sex is wrong
-abortion is wrong
-irony of ironies they're slightly more likely to say contraception is wrong
-oppose same-sex marriage
-declare divorce immoral
-etc, you can see for yourself i'll provide the links

The whole thing
An interactive morality map where you can compare catholic-protestant moral views by country and issue.

I encourage you to read all of it, they also do a comparison of protestants who attend weekly and catholics who attend weekly which is a bit of a stronger barometer of who is or isn't serious about their faith, the protestants show stronger conservative and moral commitment here too. I linked this specific section below.

Of course being moral is no guarantee of faith, the pharisees were exceptionally moral (outwardly), it at the very least shows a greater degree of moral weakness in the catholic church. I would also like to add, even when they're stronger than catholic numbers, I still find a disturbing lack of commitment on some moral views among protestants.

Finding the latin america catholic-protestant moral survey reminded me of the time I heard catholics, in the USA, were more likely to have abortions. It's always shocking because the catholic church has the air of rigidity and moral seriousness, but in my personal experience and partially corroborated by links above the strictness of catholic doctrine doesn't translate into serious christians or rigid christian morality. The clearest example to me is the belief that contraception is wrong, catholic doctrine adheres to this but a high number of catholics are in open opposition to it and how can italy and spain which are predominantly catholic have such abysmal birthrates, am I to believe they're vigorous practitioners of NFP?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 2.53 a.m.: Sadly you are right in regard to a great deal of this. This is the Apostasy, or a foreshadowing of it, written of in Holy Scripture. That is why God is giving them into the hands of their enemies as one can see in the invasion of apostate European countries by Mohammedans. This is the fulfilment of Deuteronomy 28:33. This is not a reason to leave the Church but to remain steadfast all the more. I would encourage all who have become Protestants to return to the Church. If you were on a ship and part of the crew were to mutiny with the intention of becoming pirates and murdering everyone who won't go along with them, the proper course of action is not to jump overboard and drown, but to fight and take back the ship. Remember the Prophet Elias who seeing how bad things were, how many of the Jews had apostatized and become idolaters, prayed that God might take him out of this vale of tears. Our Lord however told him that he must go on until the end, and that, bad as it was there were still 7,000 who remained faithful. In the end the wicked Jezabel (spelling used in the Douay-Rheims), the apparent victor over the prophet was righteously killed and afterward eaten by dogs. That is the way it will end now. Our Lady promised the remnant of the faithful that the wicked would be crushed by Her Son's wrath and the friends of God would receive a respite, a time of peace and tranquility, before the coming of the final anti-Christ and the Day of Judgement. May He soon smash those who dare to mock Him.

The Social Pathologist said...

@ Anon,

Finding the latin america catholic-protestant moral survey ...................... "

Thanks for this comment, because it is something I've been looking into over the past few months.

In a broad sort of way, I agree with you. You hint at something that was recognised by serious Catholic thinkers at the end of the 19th Century and it is a problem which has not been resolved in the Catholic Church.

On one hand, the "rigidity" or "monophorism" as Blondel called it, of the Catholic Church, tended to favour the creation of a type of Catholic who outwardly followed the rules whilst inwardly was spiritually dead. Hence all the "hypocrisies" you mention.

Protestantism, on the other hand, resulted in a spiritually alive person who was rudderless. I agree with you that Protestantism produces more sincere and active believers, but what they believe in, such as Gay Marriage by the Episcopalians, is in error.

I think one of the really interesting things is the tension between the freedom of Protestantism vs the Rigidity of Catholicism.It's my opinion that some of the really important theological developments in the last 200 years, such as the abolition of Slavery, Freedom of Conscience and Tolerance towards others were innovations which arose primarily in Protestantism and were "forced" onto Catholicism, despite its rigidity, by social pressures and circumstances. They weren't Catholic "in house" developments.

Catholicism may produce spiritual ossification and hypocrisy but is ultimately grounded in the Truth. Protestantism is a far more powerful motive force, but without direction, becomes self destructive in the main. Whoring Catholics have proved less harmful to the world than zealous Puritans.

Once again, your comment is good and with validity, I hope to expand on the theme in future posts. Your thoughts will be appreciated.

Nick B Steves said...

Now it needs to be understood that understood that Fascism, Communism and contemporary Liberal Democracy are all ideologies framed within the Positivistic metaphysical system, [Yup] and as such, all are a break from the European Civilisation which existed before 1914. [Certainly] They arose out of the vacuum that came about with the "Death of God". [Preach it, brother!] Sure the philosophical foundations of Modernism/Positivism go all the way back to intellectual errors in the Medieval philosophy [Absolutely.] but they only become culturally transformative after the First World War... [WAAAAAAAAAAAAAT!!???!!!!!]

What we have here is a failure to agree on "culturally transformative". It doesn't have to work its way down to the shoeshine boy before it's a done deal.


Happy, well fed people don't revolt

Wrong. They do. They are, in fact, a REQUIREMENT for revolt. Powerless people are powerless.

Overall, much to agree with here, and much to pull my hair out over... which I don't have time to do right now. ;-)

adam said...

I think in the US that the robber barons has alot to do with the shift. For the first time people saw how much you could have and how much you could get away with if you have enough money. There were at least two consequences. First, making money the ultimate end gave the illusion that c attaining privilege was democratized ( anyone can make money if they work hard enough). Second, the presence of money, especially in large quantities, masked or delayed alot of the consequences that Christianity claimed would result from bad behavior, making Christians look like pay poopers.

But Good is not mocked, whatever a man asked that he will real. Even if it takes close to 1000 years as in the case of Adam. He ate the forbidden fruit but didn't die until 900+ years later.