Civilization and other Challenges

703683I’ve had the privilege to help out with the beginnings of a new Center for Western Civilization, located in Berkeley, one block south of the University of California, on the corner of Durant and Bowditch. We hope to enrich the university curriculum with lectures reflecting the traditions of the West, those of ordered liberty, privileged and responsible freedom, elected government, open markets, habeas corpus, rule of law, jury trials. These ideals are our rightful inheritance, principles that reflect John Adams’ “government of laws, and not of men.” Laws protect; men dictate. 

These are principles not always found in required university curricula. It is also true that freedom of speech and religion is not respected on many college campuses, with the most egregious intolerance found in the cloistered halls of the Ivy League and in the lofty liberalism of our public universities, namely U. C. Berkeley.

There is a correlation between this rise of intolerance, with its enforcement by campus bullies, and our increasingly empty churches, according to Mary Eberstadt. In “From Campus Bullies to Empty Churches” (Intercollegiate Review, Spring 2015), she describes the peer and faculty pressure on students to deny their Christian faith, to consider such belief a fairy tale. Christianity is not acceptable in quad or classroom, and students want to fit in. Christians and their beliefs are ridiculed. Parents, beware of paying outrageous sums for such an education! Students, beware of going into debt for a lopsided program, to put it kindly. 

And so it has been of some concern to many of us that the pillars of our society are crumbling and those who might rebuild the foundations – the best and brightest of the next generation – are being stripped of their heritage, our legacy to the young. Today a counter-revolution composed of brave warriors who are unafraid of the bullies, unafraid of the speech police, is challenging faculty and tenure tracks, armed with support networks. These conservative groups, folks that want to conserve our ideals enshrined in the constitution and Bill of Rights, grow stronger each day. They need our support. 

Our Center for Western Civilization hopes to do just that. In these early days, we have connected with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), founded by Frank Chodorov in 1953 who saw the need for a fifty-year project to “revive the American ideals of individual freedom and personal responsibility… by implanting these ideals in the minds of the coming generations.” A young William F. Buckley Jr. was ISI’s first president. Since then they have held seminars and summer programs based on six major principles: limited government, individual liberty, personal responsibility, the rule of law, a free-market economy, and traditional values (i.e. Judeo-Christian). 

This past year ISI established a U. C. Berkeley group, the Burke Society, and we hope to work with them as well. We will also network with others on campus concerned about these vital issues. 

God seems to be writing with our crooked lines, hopefully straightening them. While every effort we have made has been fraught with difficulties and impossibilities, doors keep opening. We boldly walk through them, wondering what is on the other side.

In April we will sponsor our first lecture. David Theroux, Founder and President of the C. S. Lewis Society of California, will speak on “C S Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism.” Lewis was keenly aware of the threat of totalitarianism, having lived through two world wars and witnessed the rise of Hitler and Stalin. Our event has outgrown the planned venue and we are moving it to a larger one. 

All the while my little novel-in-progress, The Fire Trail, considers these issues as well: the borders between wilderness and civilization, the effects of the sexual revolution on American culture, the dangers caused by a culture of narcissism and grievance, and the inclusivity that allows barbarians through our gates. It considers what defines us, who we are, for if we don’t know who we are, we don’t know where we are going. Our own history – that of America and the Western world – answers these questions, and it is to our founding fathers and mothers that we must turn. We cannot afford to look away, denying that the pillars are crumbling.

Some take exception to the label, Western civilization. Are we being ethnocentric? Daniel Hannan, a member of the European Parliament representing South East England, calls Western civilization the “Anglosphere,” and this is a useful name, for it avoids the charge that we are speaking only of America and Western Europe. The Anglosphere – the free English-speaking peoples worldwide – has an important story to tell, and tell again and again, for as Hannan says, “the Anglosphere is why Bermuda is not Haiti. It’s why Singapore is not Indonesia. It’s why Hong Kong is not China (for now)… the individual is lifted above the collective. The citizen is exalted over the state; the state is seen as his servant, not his master.” (Intercollegiate Review)

Much has been written denigrating the history of the West. Corruption, crimes, misogyny, slavery, conquest, and many other dark moments are brought to light, judged, and sentenced, both secular and religious. But this has been true of every era; there will always be the good and the bad in human society. And so we make judgments about what is good and worth conserving. We choose the good and reject the bad.

The existence of these dark events and those who perpetrated them does not warrant rejecting the foundations of our culture. And so, for example, we look to Michelangelo, Dante, Shakespeare in the Renaissance. We want to recapture their “mimetic content” as Joseph A. Mazzeo writes, to pass it on to the next generation, and to enrich and fortify our own. Likewise we want to disregard the Medicis, Strozzis, della Roveres, and other dark Renaissance figures. We judge what makes our people great, good and free, and eventually we realize that the artists and writers and statesmen of the “Western Canon” (so abandoned in our schools) looked to their own history, to the Christ story for mimetic content, for they lived in a living tradition. In the story of Christ we find the origin of our ideals, our unique Western worldview. We find the sacredness of each individual regardless of class, gender, race, and religion, a revolutionary concept. And of course Christ lived and breathed within the Jewish tradition of law and faith.

We must not take our Anglosphere inheritance for granted. It is unique, precious, and under attack from within and without. The first battle that must be fought is on our university campuses. The second is in Washington D. C.

2 responses to “Civilization and other Challenges

  1. Dear Father,
    Thanks so much for the encouragement. The Center is not a actually a part of the seminary, so the lectures are meant to supplement courses taken by undergraduates at Cal as well as enrich the Berkeley community, but of course any seminarians would be welcome to attend. Yes, the Great Books idea is an excellent one… hopefully we can incorporate such a program as well. And yes, like you, I recall my Western Civ classes in college (required 2 semesters, freshman year), which I retook later as an auditor at St. Mary’s Moraga, needing a refresher. Very little history is required for a Bachelors degree at most major colleges and universities today, and if any is required the subject need not be relevant to our own culture and institutions.
    Best to you,
    Christine

  2. Dear Christine: I applaud the inclusion of studies in Western Civilization at the seminary. I remember classes I had in high school and college in Western Civilization and the even-handed manner in which they were taught. Apparenly, according to you article, things have changed. May I suggest looking at the possibilty of forming a Great Books group as an adjunct to the Western Civ studies. I appreciate your writings and enjoy them for their content and for their style. Thank you.
    Donald True (retired)
    frtrue75@att.net

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