Civilization and Its Enemies

Jan 18, 2018 by

What is civilization and why is it important? Civilization is many things, but at its heart, it is both the inheritance of societal ideas, customs, and traditions which inform the body, and it is how that body is structurally organized based on that inheritance coupled with the ongoing changes of socio-political development. Western civilization, for all of its imperfections, is, nevertheless, Christian in its inheritance and still Christian in its current state of composition (needing to be awakened to be sure).

Political theology, as an academic sub-discipline of political philosophy, is the study of how religious and theological ideas and systems have influenced the concept of the political. It is not “faith-based” politics as many people might think or otherwise claim. In fact, it is a discipline that is otherwise fairly secular; but one that recognizes the profound and tremendous importance of the theologico-political question as foundational for civilization itself.

One of the most important developments of the late “Enlightenment,” one that Christians of all people need to understand, is the sudden and venomous attack on civilization launched by everyone from Rousseau to the German romantics—albeit for very different reasons. Rousseau, who has been described as the “Moses of the Romantics” by historian Tim Blanning and is the spiritual godfather to the postmodern movement whose greatest representative is Michel Foucault, was the first to assail civilization as oppressive, corrupt, and based on dominance hierarchy. His solution, which might sound familiar to us today, was to tear down the edifice of civilization whereby—in civilization’s destruction—greater equality and freedom for all would be achieved for individuals.

The German romantics, on the other hand, were much more complex in this game of civilizational struggle. The German anti-nihilist tradition of philosophy, from Hegel to Nietzsche, and Spengler to Heidegger, shared with Rousseau the concern that civilization was oppressive, sterilizing, and ultimately nihilistic (and therefore needing to be fought against). However, unlike Rousseau, they got very specific as to what the disease infecting genuine civilization was: the materialistic, hedonistic, utilitarianism of Anglo-French liberalism.

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