Written by Vladimir Moss



     As Tony Judt writes, the ravages of Hitler and Stalin may be seen as complementing each other in their destruction of pre-war bourgeois civilization, both Christian and Jewish: “Hitler’s war amounted, de facto, to a major European revolution, transforming Central and Eastern Europe and preparing the way for the ‘Socialist’ regimes of the postwar years which built upon the radical change Hitler had brought about – notably the destruction of the intelligentsia and urban middle class of the region, first through the murder of the Jews and then as a result of the postwar expulsion of Germans from the liberated Slav lands.”[1]


     The destruction was less in France and England, where the horrors of the Second World War, unlike the First War, elicited a reaction against the bestiality of extremist ideologies, both of the right and of the left. Liberalism and democracy enjoyed a kind of resurrection, especially in England. There was even what George L. Mosse has called a “Christian renaissance” – although that description is probably an exaggeration of the real, but short-lived phenomenon. Nevertheless, for a short period a number of intellectuals sincerely wrote and spoke of the possibility of reviving Western Christian civilization by returning to its roots. Thus the French Catholic Jacques Maritain put forward a “neo-Thomist synthesis”.


     Again, the philosopher C.E.M. Joad, a leading agnostic, “confessed that the Nazis had turned his mind to religion.


     “Joad’s reasons for conversion point out the essence of the Protestant revival. The problem of human evil occupied his mind. This evil was so widespread that it could not merely be seen as a by-product of unfavourable social or political circumstances; a different approach was needed. For Joad, Christianity provided the answer; it enabled man to face the reality of evil and then to transcend it. Not unnaturally, the Protestant renaissance was deeply concerned with the sinfulness of man and the evil which resulted form this. Existential in orientation, it asked man to confront his sinful nature, to understand it, and to have faith in God.”[2]


     An Anglican intellectual of a traditionalist Christian bent was the poet T.S. Eliot, author of Murder in the Cathedral and The Waste Land. He wrote: “The World is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.”[3]


     A Catholic intellectual with a similar message was Malcolm Muggeridge, one of the very few journalists who had told the truth about the Ukrainian famine in the 1930s. He was more pessimistic than Eliot: “So the final conclusion would surely be that whereas other civilizations have been brought down by attacks of barbarians from without, ours had the unique distinction of training its own destroyers at its own educational institutions, and then providing them with facilities for propagating their destructive ideology far and wide, all at the public expense. Thus did Western Man decide to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down, and having convinced himself that he was too numerous, labored with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer. Until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keeled over – a weary, battered old brontosaurus – and became extinct.”


     Still more influential were the Oxford dons J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit, and C.S. Lewis, author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Significantly, both these works were stories for children: only in this allegorical form, it would seem, could the old world and the old faith be celebrated with conviction. They remain very popular to this day, with successful film adaptations of their works; Lewis in particular remains a powerful force for conservatism in contemporary western theology.


     Bradley J. Birzer writes: “Clyde Kilby, an English professor from Wheaton College, worked with Tolkien in the summer of 1966, helping him to organize the manuscript for The Silmarillion. ‘Tolkien was an Old Western Man who was staggered at the present direction of civilization,’ Kilby recorded after a summer of conversations with Tolkien. ‘Even our much vaunted talk of equality he felt debased by our attempts to “mechanize and formalize it.”’ Tolkien wrote that the saints living in the modern world were those ‘who have for all their imperfections never finally bowed head and will to the world or the evil spirit (in modern but not universal terms: mechanism, “scientific” materialism, Socialism in either of its factions now at war).’”


     “Like many Englishmen,” continues Birzer, Tolkien “feared a world divided in two, in which the smaller peoples would be swallowed. Only fifteen years earlier, in reaction to the Teheran Conference, Tolkien had written: ‘I heard of that bloodthirsty old murderer Josef Stalin inviting all nations to join a happy family of folks devoted to the abolition of tyranny and intolerance!’ One would be blind to miss Tolkien’s disgust. ‘I wonder (if we survive this war) if there will be any niche, even of sufferance, left for reactionary back numbers like me (and you). The bigger things get the smaller and duller or flatter the globe gets. It is getting to be one blasted little provincial suburb.’ Soon, he feared, America would spread its ‘sanitation, morale-pep, feminism, and mass production’ throughout the world. Neither ‘ism’ - corporate consumer capitalism or communism, both radical forms of materialism - seemed particularly attractive to Tolkien, a man who loved England (but not Great Britain!) and who loved monarchy according to medieval conventions, while hating statism in any form.


     “In his politics, Tolkien greatly resembled his closest friend and fellow member of the Inklings (the famous Oxford literary group), C.S. Lewis. During England’s darkest days of World War II, hope emerged from an unlikely source. An Oxford don - a professor of English literature, who would later be best known for a seven-part children’s fantasy series - gave frequent public addresses to the English people. Their purpose was to bolster English spirits. In late February, 1943, he devoted three of his addresses to a philosophical rather than a theological question. These relatively heady lectures were entitled: ‘Men without Chests,’ ‘The Way,’ and ‘The Abolition of Man.’ In each, C.S. Lewis addressed the nature and the future of character in England. Rather than spending his address on buoying the optimism of the English during the war against the German National Socialists, Lewis decided to ask what the English were really fighting for. Freedom from Nazi brutality was good, of course, but not, he argued, if it merely led to the victory of the ‘conditioners,’ the democratic bureaucrats on the loose in England who served as an internal threat. The conditioners claimed to be liberating individuals from arbitrary restraints imposed by ‘religious sanction, and inherited taboos, in order that “real” and “basic” values may emerge.’ In other words, the conditioners needed to destroy history and faith, which they claimed as artificial shackles on the true, unadulterated self. Such debasement of tradition, Lewis argued, can only lead to the creation of man-made (and consequently, man-centered) philosophies, ignoring the Natural Law. But, the Natural Law, Lewis cautioned, ‘is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all value is rejected.’ Anything created outside of the Natural Law will simply be mere ‘ideologies,’ that is, finite systems created by finite minds, shadows of shadows of a complex and nuanced world. ‘The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in,’ Lewis concluded.


     “Two years later, Lewis published his ideas on character, virtue, and the Natural Law in novel form, That Hideous Strength, part three of his renowned space trilogy. Published two years before Orwell’s similar anti-totalitarian masterpiece, Lewis’s novel is a theistic 1984. The story revolves around a group of academic and bureaucratic conditioners – known as the N.I.C.E. (National Institute for Coordinated Experiments), who take over a small but elite English college as a prelude to a takeover of Britain. To stop ‘That Hideous Strength,’ a new King Arthur emerges in the form of a philology professor, Dr. Ransom. With the aid of small group of friends, he awakens Merlin from a fifteen-century long sleep. Modernity perplexes Merlin. In a telling conversation, Merlin states: ‘This is a cold age in which I have awaked. If all this West part of the world is apostate, might it not be lawful, in our great need, to look farther… beyond Christendom? Should we not find some even among the heathen who are not wholly corrupt? There were tales in my day of some such men who knew not the articles of the most holy Faith, but who worshipped God as they could and acknowledged the Law of Nature. Sir, I believe it would be lawful to see help even there. Beyond Byzantium.’


     “Ransom responds: ‘The poison was brewed in these West lands but it has spat itself everywhere by now. However far you went you would find the machines, the crowded cities, the empty thrones, the false writings, the barren books: men maddened with false promises and soured with true miseries, worshiping the iron works of their own hands, cut off from Earth their mother and from the Father in Heaven. You might go East so far that East becomes West and you returned to Britain across the great ocean, but even so you would not have come out anywhere into the light. The shadow of one dark wing is over all.’


     “Lewis was virulently anti-Nazi and anti-communist, and, like Tolkien, he also knew that democracy has its own risks. The West has bred all three political/economic systems. As an ideology, man-made and man-centered, bureaucratic democracy may appear as a brightly-colored package, more pleasing to the eye than the grittiness of socialism, but it too desires to make man a means to an end, to make him a mere cog in a machine…”[4]


     In spite of his being a democrat, Lewis was very perceptive about the evil uses to which the word “democracy” could be put. Thus his Screwtape (an imaginative incarnation of the devil) writes: "Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose. The good work which our philological experts have already done in the corruption of human language makes it unnecessary to warn you that they should never be allowed to give this word a clear and definable meaning. They won't. It will never occur to them that democracy is properly the name of a political system, even a system of voting, and that this has the most remote and tenuous connection with what you are trying to sell them. Nor of course must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle's question: whether 'democratic behaviour' means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to them that these need not be the same.


     "You are to use the word purely as an incantation; if you like, purely for its selling power. It is a name they venerate. And of course it is connected with the political ideal that men should be equally treated. You then make a stealthy transition in their minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal. Especially the man you are working on. As a result you can use the word democracy to sanction in his thought the most degrading (and also the most enjoyable) of all human feelings... The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say I'm as good as you. The first and most obvious advantage is that you thus induce him to enthrone at the centre of his life a good, solid, resounding lie.


     "Now, this useful phenomenon is in itself by no means new. Under the name of Envy it has been known to the humans for thousands of years. But hitherto they always regarded it as the most odious, and also the most comical, of vices. Those who were aware of feeling it felt it with shame; those who were not gave it no quarter in others. The delightful novelty of the present situation is that you can sanction it - make it respectable and even laudable - by the incantatory use of the word democracy."[5]


     Tolkien took a similar view: "I am not a 'democrat' if only because 'humility' and equality are spiritual principles corrupted by the attempt to mechanize and formalize them, with the result that we get not universal smallness and humility, but universal greatness and pride, till some Orc gets hold of a ring of power - and then we get and are getting slavery."[6]


     In another place Lewis admits that "monarchy is the channel through which all the vital elements of citizenship - loyalty, the consecration of secular life, the hierarchical principle, splendour, ceremony, continuity - still trickle down to irrigate the dustbowl of modern economic Statecraft".[7]


     It is this old-fashioned attachment to monarchism and the hierarchical principle that continued to make England different from the Continent in the first two decades after the war. And even after that this cultural difference continued to effect British politics. However, these traditionalist Western Christian critiques of contemporary civilization all suffered from a common defect: they failed to go back to the real source of European Christian civilization, the Orthodox so-called “Dark Ages”, which ended with the Great Schism of 1054. This made their critiques insufficiently deep and radical, in spite of their undoubted insights. One Westerner whose critique did not suffer from this defect was the American hieromonk, Fr. Seraphim Rose. A generation younger than Tolkien and Lewis, he noted that the revolutions of Hitler and Stalin were only an early, “negative” phase of the revolution, which prepared the way for a new, “positive” phase that was still more radical: “The Nihilism of Hitler was too pure, too unbalanced, to have more than a negative, preliminary role to play in the whole Nihilist program. Its role, like the role of the purely negative first phase of Bolshevism, is now finished, and the next stage belongs to a power possessing a more complete view of the whole Revolution…”[8]


     In fact, it was the western democracies which, in the second half of the century, were carrying out the next phase of the antichristian revolution with hardly less success than the anti-democratic totalitarian regimes of the first half, albeit in less violent ways. This should remind us that Fascism, Communism and Democracy all owe their origins to the first anti-Christian revolution, the French revolution of 1789…


     The critical transitional period began in 1953, when, on the one hand, the violent, masculine phase of the revolution passed its peak with Stalin’s death, and on the other hand the seductive, feminine phase began with the discovery of the contraceptive pill… 1953 was also the year of the discovery of DNA. Theoretically, this made possible the abolition of disease and old age, even the changing of human nature itself through manipulation of the human genome. Thus the Nihilist dreams of Nechayev and Nietzsche, which became nightmarish reality in the era of Stalin and Hitler, have given way to more peaceful visions of life without God (at least in any form recognizable to traditional monotheism). Thus our ideals now are not salvation or the Kingdom of heaven but education and clean water, human rights and robots (including, human rights for robots![9]), cloning and gene therapy.


     The aim of this continuation of the revolution by non-violent means – its “positive”, “creative” phase, as opposed to its “negative”, “destructive” phase up to 1945 – is the same as before: to reconcile a renewed mankind to a completely this-worldly faith and hope. The first, violent, nihilist phase of the revolution was necessary in order to root out the old, other-worldly faith. In Lenin’s famous phrase, “you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.” But now mankind can proceed to a new age of universal prosperity and happiness from which all sorrow and pain will have fled away and in which, consequently, the “opium” of traditional religion will no longer be necessary, being replaced by more this-worldly (but still “spiritual”) opiates...


     These opiates are substances that raise the mood, such as serotonin. As Yuval Noah Harari writes: “Today, when we finally realize that the keys to happiness are in the hands of our biochemical system, we can stop wasting our time on politics and social reforms, putsches and ideologies, and focus instead on the only thing that can make us truly happy: manipulating our biochemistry. If we invest billions in understanding our brain chemistry and developing appropriate treatments, we can make people far happier than ever before, without any need of revolutions. Prozac, for example, does not change regimes, but by raising serotonin levels it lifts people out of their depression.


     “Nothing captures the biological argument better than the famous New Age slogan: ‘Happiness begins within.’ Money, social status, plastic surgery, beautiful houses, powerful positions – none of these will bring you happiness. Lasting happiness comes only from serotonin, dopamine and oxyrocin.


     “In Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World, published in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression, happiness is the supreme value and psychiatric drugs replace the police and the ballot as the foundation of politics. Every day, each person takes a dose of ‘soma’, a synthetic drug which makes people happy without harming their productivity and efficiency. The World State that governs the entire globe is never threatened by wars, revolutions, strikes or demonstrations, because all people are supremely content with their current conditions, whatever they may be. Huxley’s vision of the future is far more troubling than George Orwell’s 1984. Huxley’s world seems monstrous to most readers, but it is hard to explain why. Everybody is happy all the time – what could be wrong with that?”[10]


     In October, 1949 Aldous Huxley, prophet of the “positive” phase of the revolution, wrote to his former pupil George Orwell, denouncer of the “negative” phase, after the publication of 1984: “It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor sight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on 1984.


     “Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals — the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution — the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual’s psychology and physiology — are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest.


     “Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud’s inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects.


     “Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.”[11]


     Günther Anders suggested how the devil might recommend going about the reconditioning of humanity: “Don't act violently. Hitler's kind of methods are outdated. Just create a collective conditioning so powerful that the very idea of revolt will not even come to the mind of men anymore.


     “The ideal would be to format individuals from birth by limiting their innate biological skills. Secondly, conditioning would be continued by drastically reducing education, to bring it back to a form of professional integration. An uneducated individual has only a limited horizon of thought and the more his thought is restricted to poor concerns, the less he can revolt. Access to knowledge must be made more difficult and elitist. Let the gap widen between the people and science, let information for the general public be anaesthetized with any subversive content.


     “Especially no philosophy. Again, persuasion should be used not direct violence: entertainment will be broadcast massively, via television, always flattering the emotional or instinctive. We'll occupy the minds with what's futile and playful. It is good, in a chatter and unceasing music, to stop the mind from thinking. We'll put sexuality at the forefront of human interests. Like social tranquilizer, there's nothing better.


     “Generally, it will be done to ban the seriousness of existence, to deride everything that is of high value, to maintain a constant apology of lightness, so that the euphoria of advertising becomes the standard of human happiness and the model of freedom. Conditioning will thus result in such an integration itself, that the only fear - which must be maintained - will be that of being excluded from the system and therefore of not being able to access the conditions necessary for happiness.


     “The mass man, thus produced, must be treated as he is: as a calf, and he must be monitored as a herd should be. Anything that puts his clarity to sleep is socially good; what would threaten to awaken him must be ridiculed, suffocated, fought. Any doctrine involving the system must first be designated subversive and terrorist and those supporting it should then be treated as such.”[12]


     “The new age,” wrote Fr. Seraphim Rose in the 1960s, “which many call a ‘post-Christian’ age, is at the same time the age ‘beyond Nihilism’ – a phrase that expresses at once a fact and a hope. The fact this phrase expresses is that Nihilism, being negative in essence even if positive in aspiration, owing its whole energy to its passion to destroy Christian Truth, comes to the end of its program in the production of a mechanized ‘new earth’ and a dehumanized ‘new man’: Christian influence over man and over society having been effectively obliterated, Nihilism must retire and give way to another, more ‘constructive’ movement capable of acting from autonomous and positive motives. This movement… takes up the Revolution at the point where Nihilism leaves off and attempts to bring the movement which Nihilism began to its logical conclusion.”[13]


     Compared with the seriousness of the analysis of western civilization by the thinkers we have just discussed, it is somewhat of a shock to encounter the essential triviality of the dominant academic philosophies of the time: the Anglo-Saxon school of linguistic philosophy, and the Continental school of Existentialism.


     Linguistic philosophy was deeply hostile to metaphysics, considering it to be in the strict sense nonsensical. Progress in philosophy could be made only by careful analysis of language, understanding the rules of “language games” (L. Wittgenstein), which enabled one to avoid “category mistakes” (G. Ryle). Undoubtedly this philosophy made some useful discoveries – for example, that the language of values cannot be reduced to the language of fact (G. Moore). But it had no explanation of its discoveries and made no attempt to integrate them into a larger philosophy of life. For example, no attempt was made to unite facts and values in some supralinguistic reality (such as God).


     Existential philosophy at least posed some supralinguistic theses, such as “Man makes himself” (Jean-Paul Sartre). If this is meant to assert that man has free-will, and is not completely dependent on his heredity and environment, it is true. But how then does the free, spiritual man relate to the physically determined man which these philosophers continued to believe in (Jean-Paul Sartre even became a Marxist)? We are given much eloquent verbiage in answer to this question, but no real solution to the problem. Or rather: none that is clearly comprehensible to the reader who is not in tune with the mysterious ramblings of the existentialists…


October 3/16, 2020.

St. Dionysius the Areopagite.

[1] Judt, Postwar.

[2] Mosse, The Culture of Western Europe, Boulder: Westview Press, 1988, p. 402.

[3]T.S. Eliot, Thoughts after Lambeth.


[4] Birzer, “How Did Lewis and Tolkien Defend the Old West?”, The Intelligent Conservative,July, 2015,

[5]Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, pp. 190-191.

[6]The Letters J.R.R. Tolkien.

[7] Lewis, "Myth and Fact", in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology, edited by Walter Hopper, Fount Paperbacks, 1979.

[8] Rose, Nihilism, Platina, Ca.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2001, p. 77.

[9] Tom Utley, “Human Rights for Robots?”, Daily Mail, June 24, 2016, p. 16.

[10] Harari, Sapiens. A Brief History of Humankind, London: Vintage, 2014, p.456.

[12] Anders, , ′′ The Obsolescence of Man ", 1956.

[13] Rose, op. cit., p. 88.

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