by Anniel 9/1/16
Europe and America and Politics Without God, by George Weigel. First Published in 2008. Available on Kindle. • I had not thought to review this book any further, but decided I would because of what is happening in the EU in our day. One might say this is a history book that is principally a study of the removal of history, culture and God from the societies within the EU, and the results of the legacy of atheistic humanism. It is also intended as a caution to America to stay away from the path followed by the EU. Too late the caution.
Aleksander Solzhenitsyn warned that the loss of history makes mental cripples of us all, while Vadim Borisov taught that the one thing that can totally annihilate a people is to remove its memory, and its thought, then its soul will die, and Karl Marx himself said that: “Atheism affirms man through the denial of God.”
The starting premise of The Cube and the Cathedral is in a statement by the author:
It is not true, as is sometimes said, that man cannot organize the world without God. What is true is that, without God, he can only organize it against man. That is what the tyrannies of the mid-twentieth century had proven — ultramundane humanism is inevitably inhuman humanism. And inhuman humanism can neither sustain, nor nurture, nor defend the democratic project. It can only undermine it, or attack it. George Weigel
We know what a Cathedral is, and in this case Weigel is speaking specifically of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The Cube spoken of is the grand modern design of the Arch de Triomphe, and across the Seine is La Grande Arch de la Defense, a great glass space designed by Johann Otto Von Spreckelsen, a sternly modern Danish architect.
The huge glass building also houses the International Foundation for Human Rights, and was approved by Francoise Mitterand, who served as French President from 1981 to 1995, to celebrate the Rights of Man in this new age of humanity. For bragging rights Mitterand loved to point out that the Cube is so large and the Cathedral of Notre Dame is so small by comparison that it is dwarfed by the Cube.
Weigel’s question is:
Which culture . . . would better protect human rights? Which culture would more firmly secure the moral foundations of democracy? The culture that built this stunning, rational, angular, geometrically precise but essentially featureless cube? Or the culture that produced the vaulting and bosses, the gargoyles and flying buttresses, the nooks and crannies, the asymmetries and holy “unsameness” of Notre Dame and the other great Gothic cathedrals of Europe?
Weigel has many questions about the political position of the European nations and their seeming cultural suicidal tendencies. No demographic growth, illegitimate births, abortion, for instance, and loss of faith and history, anti-semitism, praise of dictators, overwhelming immigration, etc.
The latest edition of this book was up-dated in 2010, so at that time Weigel thought that the U.S. was not yet as far down the road of cultural suicide as Europe, and thought that Pope John Paul II could lead a resurgence of religious faith in certain countries. The depredations of Obama in the US were just getting started, and Pope Francis had not strayed so far into the social gospel and accommodation of Islam.
Weigel covers a lot of history, but there are two sections of this book that I would like to discuss in some detail because both answer so many questions that seem overwhelmingly important for us to understand.
Why were there such fierce arguments over whether a new constitutional treaty for the Proposed European Union should include any references to the Judeo/Christian heritage of European countries? How could so many leaders be so threatened by the idea of nearly 2,000 years of real history? Didn’t Christian thought lead to Europe’s commitment to human rights?
But fight against referring to those rights they did. Many people were mystified, particularly in the US, that acknowledging a commitment to democracy and and human rights could threaten democracy and human rights.
The differences between the use of military power in the US to protect Europe after two devastating world wars and incursions against dictators like Sadaam Hussein, led the Europeans to a policy of non-intervention and a belief that military power was no longer legitimate in the post 9/11 World, and yet they still depend on the US and NATO to protect them.
After the chaos of the 20th Century, Europeans came to believe that nationalism has been discredited, that no power politics should be tolerated, sovereignty should be ended and cooperation should prevail. Another of those Utopian visions of life as Europeans wished it to be. There are social researchers who trace these attitudes to feelings of guilt over the horrors of two world wars, the Holocaust, communism, genocides, and other disruptions to peace.
Weigel asks why the Europeans keep believing in myths if they have such feelings about history. Why do they accept that Yasser Arafat wanted peace with Israel? That Islam has coexisted with Europe and feels unfairly left out by Europe not acknowledging its adherents contribution to European greatness. And he wonders why so many European intellectuals agree with the myths.
An historian named John Keegan asks what accounts for a good many Europeans at the beginning of the 21st Century to espouse “a philosophy of international action that actually rejected action and took refuge in the belief that all conflicts of interest were to be settled by consultation, conciliation, and the intervention of international agencies?”
Weigel, as an American, wonders why such large percentages of Europeans think America caused 9/11? Why did George W. Bush cause war? And many other anti-American memes. Then he turns to what J. H. H. Weiler, an observant Jew, terms the “Christophobia” of so many European intellectuals. Why, asks Weigel, ”
. . . did so many of Europe’s political leaders insist that the new constitution for Europe include a deliberate act of historical amnesia, in which a millennium and a half of Christianity’s contributions to European understandings of human rights and democracy were deliberately ignored, indeed denied?”
On May 1, 2004, the new EU’s full membership of 25 nations began work on a constitutional treaty for its members. And the question arose as to whether the preamble should make any remarks about Christian contributions to European society. French President Jacque Chirac argued that France was a fully secular society with no ties to Christianity, stating that,”France is a lay state and as such she does not have a habit of calling for insertions of a religious nature into constitutional texts.”
Former French President, Valerie Gisgard d’Estaigne, (b.2/2/1926), who presided over the constitutional convention later affirmed the French position, “Europeans live in a purely secular political system where religion does not play an important role.” Oh, that was never true and there were horrified arguments, but in the end the view of the intellectuals pretty much prevailed.
As a thought exercise at one point George Weigel makes a list of Christians who are “airbrushed” out of European history by these actions. I ‘m going to do the same thing, but add Americans and include both good guys, bad guys and some “things”, so you can make your own choices if you like:
The Bible (including Moses, and God and His Word)
The Declaration of Independence
All of the Apostles and Prophets
Pope John Paul II
The US Constitution
Ronald Reagan . . .
And Beethoven, and Benjamin Franklin, and and and . My list took about 5 minutes and I feel so guilty for omitting so many worthy people.
In a StubbornThings article called “A Denmark That Once Was” (2/17/15), I described the great dealings of the Danes in saving their Jewish citizens
during WW II, and asked how their descendants could have so thoroughly forgotten or turned against their own history. After rereading The Cube and the Cathedral, I think now that their history was not so much forgotten as it was stolen, and that they no longer have a patrimony of strength and freedom. The same thing can be said of almost any EU member country, even my mother’s once strong Sweden and father’s Finland.
Author George Weigel asks many other questions but then gets to the nub of his thinking by backing up and asking WHY did Europe have the 20th Century it did? And that brings us to the second section of the book that fascinates me: What is the nature of freedom?
There were arguments about the meaning of Freedom as propounded by two Friars in the 13th and 14th Centuries, the Middle Ages, before the so-called “Enlightenment” began. The first Friar was Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1225 – 1274). He was a believer in the freedom of man to be excellent. Freedom to Aquinas meant the struggle to choose wisely and act well through use of our intelligence and self interest. He said that man has a longing for truth, goodness and happiness as a built-in part of his nature.
Of course Aquinas recognized our fallen nature and the evils that men do. He taught that freedom meant education and seeing others live wisely and well, until freedom becomes a habit. Man needs to learn that freedom is the organizing principal of the moral life and how to live in a truly human manner.
Virtues are the strongest principles in a moral life. The four Cardinal virtues to be strengthened are prudence, justice, courage and wisdom. The journey of a life lived in freedom is to become morally strong, and to then consistently choose wisely and well. We want to be happy, and to give others the right to that same happiness in their sphere of influence.
It is law that educates us in freedom, rightly understood. That ubiquitous double sided coin strikes again. If we understand that the law should cease being applied from outside, but become an internal part and parcel of our very soul and freedom, then we acknowledge God’s laws as beneficial to all mankind.
The second Friar, William of Occam (ca. 1286 – 1347), had a very different concept of freedom. He was born and educated in England, joined the Franciscans and served in Germany. Yes, Occam’s a Razor was his brainchild. Philosophers consider him to be the chief proponent of nominalism which taught that universal concepts or ideas exist only in our minds and have no other reality. So there is no such thing, for instance, as “human nature.” That is only the name we give to our common experience as people. Everything else is “particular” to each person.
Mr. Weigel explains it thus:
Nominalism had a great influence on Christian moral theology. And because politics, as Aristotle proposed, is an extension of ethics, nominalism’s impact on moral theology also had a tremendous influence on politics, via political theory principles. How? Go back to our [human nature] example. If there is no such thing as human nature, then there are no universal moral principles that can be read from human nature. That means that morality is simply law and obligation.
And law is always somewhere outside me. Law, in other words, is always coercion – both divine law and human law, God’s coercion of us and our coercion of one another.
At this point one has to ask several questions: How long do bad ideas last? How long do they perk through different societies before they are accepted “wisdom?” Do those ideas become universal, as it were? Do ancient evils appear in modern guise to trap the unwary?
Back to George Weigel explaining what happened because of nominalism’s teachings:
Ideas, as always, have consequences. And in these ideas, historian of philosophy Josef Pieper writes, “extremely dangerous processes were being set in motion, and many a future trouble preparing.” Pinckares, [a] disciple of Aquinas, wrote that Occam’s work was “the first atomic explosion of the modern era. The atom he split though was . . . not physical but psychic,” for Occam shattered our concept of the world and thereby created a new, atomized vision of the human person and ultimately of society. With Occam we meet what Pinckares calls the freedom of indifference Here freedom is simply a neutral faculty of choice. And choice is everything for choice is a matter of self-assertion, of power. Will is the defining human attribute. Indeed, will is the defining attribute of of all reality. For God too is supremely willful, and the moral life, as Occam understood it, was a contest of wills between [man’s] will and God’s imposition of His will through, for example, the Ten Commandments.
I am sorry to be so lengthy here, but do you begin to see where this discussion is headed? If man’s will is everything we can’t have those pesky Ten Commandments in our way, so do away with them. How long has that one been brewing? And now, in our day, the Commandments have become an insult to be smashed and hidden from all eyes.
Pregnancy inconvenient? A woman has the will, or “the right to choose.” If it is her will, a child is murdered in the most gruesome of manners, and doctors and hospitals must participate in the sacrifice. Or if it be her will to bear children with multiple “baby daddies,” who can deny her that “right?”
Or her “right” to have the government support her “family?”
And what about the “right” of those baby daddies to scatter their seed where they “will” with no thought beyond the scattering? Who are they to be forced to accept responsibility for their choices? Why should anyone, female or male, be “punished” by having an inconvenient child?
Man can be indifferent to anything he does not care to acknowledge. And so we become “willful” creatures with no brakes on our “choices.” And truth ceases to matter. Matters of philosophy begun in the 14th Century seem to have led to Nietzsche, who is considered the modern prophet of this “will to power”, the self actualization that leads to entrapment of the soul in a false freedom with no spiritual grounding or spiritual power.
Weigel’s book sets out the ancient evils loosed upon the earth quite clearly, but we need to take heart and also think about the actions and plans of the Great God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He also seeded the earth with great men and ideas which prepared our own founders in the fight for freedom.
Consider reading this book and all of George Weigel’s hopes for the world.
If I could I would assign it as required reading as an antidote to evil and as affirmation of our precious freedoms. • (846 views)