Christmas season usually generates reflection on the spiritual / philosophical side of life for many of us. What follows pays reverence to the profound importance of our Judeo-Christian heritage to America and Western civilization. It is based on an excerpt from my book, The Golden Mean: Libertarian Politics, Conservative Values.
Judeo-Christian Ethos — Guest Editorial — by Nelson Hultberg
The message will antagonize many of the modern intelligentsia. But the evidence is overwhelming that their collectivist-materialist-
secularist paradigm (with its dictum of moral relativism) is grievously false. I think it is fair to declare our civilization today to be undergoing a crisis of immense proportion, and I think it is equally fair to declare that the crisis stems from the compulsive materialism and secularism of our culture. If the Middle Ages glorified the spiritual aspect of life at the expense of the material, then our era has now enshrined the material at the expense of the spiritual.
The 20th century – in its acquiescence to scientism, immediacy, superficiality, statist aggrandizement, and endless material gratification – lost the great benchmarks of heroism and virtue that historic Christendom holds to be the true pillars of progress and proportion. By forsaking the spiritual side of our existence and its philosophical ground in natural law, the thinkers of modernity have hoped to unify mankind under the aegis of a technocratic and managed world bureaucracy of scientifically indoctrinated happiness. As if multi-faceted men and women, with all their diversified peculiarities, aptitudes and ambitions, will react in the manner of inanimate chemicals and thus can be molded into a socio-economic paradise through pervasive state coercion and planning.
The dream of the 20th century collectivists (a result of hubris unchained) was hideous in origin, and consequently the end product of such a dream has been the tragic erosion of the three pillars of civilization: objective morality, family solidarity, and ordered freedom. In abandoning the great religious tradition of our civilization, we have cut asunder the majestic unifier of life and with it all hope for true progress, harmony, and happiness.
The Golden Age of Freedom
For example, consider the early years of our country. Political philosopher, Frank Meyer, described them with the following: “Where has there ever been a society at once so noble and so free as the American Republic in the first half century of its existence?”
This nobility actually extends further, for the first 125 years of our nation (1789-1913) were history’s golden age of freedom. The values of a chivalrous and heroic existence were still predominant in men’s lives. The moral capital of a still Christianized West had not yet been expended. The concept of man being capable of becoming a great and noble soul through acceptance of a God-centered universe was what gave to this era its magnificence.
There were flaws, of course – the disastrous contradiction of slavery in the South for one, the restricted role of women for another. But for the most part, America of this period exemplified a way of life that strived mightily to approach a noble existence. And such an existence was the result of the value structure that sprang from the Judeo-Christian ethos. It did not come from materialism or relativism or egoism or any of the modern idols. It came from visions of the Transcendent and the glorification of man as something more than a consuming animal, from the knowledge that men have moral duties as well as political rights, that there is such a thing called “truth,” and that the rightful life will now and forever be sustained only through man’s capacity to choose what is heroic and honorable, elemental and enduring.
Our culture today has abandoned such guiding principles in favor of false rights and lessened duties, a relativistic concept of good and evil, and the base conception of man as nothing but an economic groveler consisting of predetermined matter in motion devoid of choice. The tyrannizing of our society is the result.
If we are to restore an enduring vitality to our way of life, we must then reinstate the great spiritual truths that gave us birth. We must find our way back to the beginning vision of America where the doctrine of traditional individualism resides upon the foundation of Judeo-Christian brotherhood.
When implemented into a political system, such a vision offers man the chance to find happiness and goodness through adherence to natural law and to grow as tall as he can dream. It praises his strengths, his accomplishments, and the nobility of his volitional concern for others because these attributes are grounded in reason and thousands of years of historical experience. They coincide with the characteristics of man’s basic nature, and their exaltation supports the needs of a peaceful, ordered, honorable society. Such a philosophy tempers the egoistic core of man with the concept of reverence for life and its Creator, while holding up to him the great ideal: a man of independence, purpose, courage, and integrity, plus compassion and concern for one’s fellows.
The Tyrannical Legacy
Reinstilling such a philosophy will not be easy, for the collectivist intelligentsia, so caught up in the ideologies of Jean Jacques Rousseau, Auguste Comte, and Karl Marx, has succeeded in thoroughly bastardizing the Judeo-Christian ethos and its foundation of natural law. It is this trio of philosophers that, more than any others, laid the groundwork for the downfall of the Lockean-Burkean blend of freedom, virtue, and order that animated the Founding Fathers.
Today’s collectivist intellectuals have learned their lessons from many philosophers of the past, but the above trio has been the most influential because of its banishment of the moral prescriptions of religion and its substitution of revolutionary egalitarianism for the rational individualism of Aristotle, Aquinas, Locke, Smith and Jefferson.
Using the creed of Rousseau and his progeny, today’s intellectuals have distorted the Judeo-Christian ethos and its libertarian-conservative political order, denigrating its verities, emaciating its spirit, and worst of all, secularizing its creed of “love thy neighbor” into a totally selfless doctrine of altruism wrapped up in the rigid determinisms of our age and the pseudo-scientific theories of the collectivist elite.
Compounding this problem is the fact that religion is now thought of as something derived solely from superstition and inappropriate to not only modern times but to reality itself. As a result of this debasement and man’s naive faith in the power of science to establish a material paradise on earth devoid of stringency and struggle, there has taken place a gradual erosion of the West and its natural law foundation.
If America and the West are to be saved, however, spiritual-philosophical balance must win out. Balance is the ideal, and this is man’s great quest, the search for the ideal. The Enlightenment vision of the Founding Fathers integrated with Judeo-Christianity offers hope for just such a balance. But what has to be done is to rid both the modern Academy and the modern Church of their tragic obeisance to statism which has made them partners to tyranny.
The ideas of Rousseau, Comte, and Marx must be rejected. This will restore the vigor, the immutability, and the assertive exaltation of heroic virtue that Western life was at one time all about. Then men will return to this great code of living once it has become again the rock of stability and sanity. And America will be able to once more get about the job of demonstrating the true gospels of life to the world – personal independence, productive work, and good will toward all men.
Nelson Hultberg is a freelance writer in Dallas, Texas and the Director of Americans for a Free Republic www.afr.org. A graduate of Beloit College in Wisconsin, his articles have appeared in such publications as The American Conservative, Insight, Liberty, The Freeman, The Dallas Morning News, and the San Antonio Express-News, as well as on numerous Internet sites. He is the author of The Golden Mean: Libertarian Politics, Conservative Values. Email: NelsonHultberg@afr.org