THE IDOL OF HISTORY IN OUR POST CHRISTIAN MODERN CULTURE
Conflict Between Historicism and Positivism:
History and Time have replaced eternity as the arena of full determination. (See my paper, “Changing Concepts of Time,” i.e., if Time is unreal history is an illusion and ultimate reality is removed from history). This means that the control of history and time have been transferred from God to Man and the State. The State began to dominate Western thought in the 19th century and Hegel’s idea of the state as the embodiment of morality began to command men’s mind (see George Iggers, “The Dissolution of German Historicism,” Richard Herr and Harold Parker, editors, Ideas In History, p. 292ff., 1965) The denial of the presence of German historicism is premature. For Hegel, the state embodied the current status of the Geist, or the developing spirit of the world, and, as such, it expresses the truth for the time and embodied the moral imperatives for the day. Postmodern politics seeks to use the state as the moral voice of humanity and to bring about humanity’s advancement by the state’s moral action (cf. Capitalistic Democracy, Socialism, Communism).
The biblical prophets confronted the kings and priests with the Word/Law of God. In modern and postmodern perspectives the politicians challenge the people to match its vision for humanity’s progress. Both the lawgiver and Sinai have been shifted to a new locale.
In his book, Social Contract, Jan Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) has written, “It would take gods to give law to men.” He said gods, not God, and the new gods became vocal in the French Revolution. The voice of God was now the voice of the people. Morality thus was beginning to be a statist, not a theological product. The State’s goal is by definition rational, whereas Christianity is irrational and thus the great enemy of the modern moral state.
At the same time, another strand of Enlightenment thought was moving toward a related goal. Condorcet’s hope was in science and in rationality (1743-1794). For him measurement is our best source of knowledge, and the scientist the most qualified of men (e.g. Essay on the application of analysis to the probability of majority decision renders a’ la pluralite der voir, 1785); and Jean LeRond D’Alembert (1712-1783) and The French Revolution). Karl Marx (1818-1883) wanted scientific socialism, which meant expert men ruling for the workers of the world. The power to rule was being moved from God to the State’s experts. Logically, vast bureaucracies have arisen to supplant the elected rulers (i.e., Washington, D.C., 1949, “Power Groups” brokers).
The Medieval era was not interested in utopias but for the Renaissance, not the City of God, but the city of men (e.g. The Secular City). At the heart of the utopian dream was the will of the self-styled elite minority to impose its ideal common w wealth on the majority.
In the process of paradigmatic change in thinking, Christianity and man’s problem of sin were displaced as irrelevant for the solutions, which the radical intellectual and cultural changes had precipitated. It is anomia, lawlessness that gives precedence over the life system of the secular city. For the utopian, instead of sin, ignorance is the problem to be remedied by statist education, so that man might reach his human potential. For the utopian, for the humanist, man’s ignorance is heightened by the ostensibly false teaching of classical Christianity. This meant removing education from the hands of the Christians into the hands of the state, where supposedly true education and true morality will flourish (note these issues are emphasized once more in Goals 2000, Outcome Based Education and multicultural pluralism).
As early as the 17th century, there were humanistic thinkers calling for a society dedicated to Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Each of these crucial cultural factors were removed from God and the Church and placed in the hands of the secular state. Fraternity was to be grounded on humanistic truth: Equality meant an equal status as slaves of the state. Fraternity was to be the result of new secular Utopia.
But because the state is the embodiment of morality, what the state does is therefore held to be inescapably good. To oppose the state is to oppose the Geist, the Spirit of The Age (the Zeitgeist) in its inevitable march to the Great Society (e.g.. Postmodern American Great Society.
Fraternity in some societies has come to mean living in communal housing under the most wretched circumstances. Because the state’s purpose is by definition moral, the failure of collective housing is due to the failure and rebellion of individuals in such units. The state’s goals are by definition rational, whereas, it is held, Christianity is irrational and thus the great enemy of the modern moral state. This cultural battle for the minds of men is fundamental in our postmodern cultural war. Those who fail to recognize the nature of conflict will be victims of it! (See my “Cultural Wars in The Secular City”)
Dr. James D. Strauss, Professor Emeritus
Lincoln Christian Seminary, Lincoln, IL