Quote of the Day

[The] determination to build Jerusalem, at once and on the spot, is the very force which is responsible for the intolerance and violence of the new political order � if we believe that the Kingdom of Heaven can be established by political or economic measures � that it can be an earthly state � then we can hardly object to the claims of such a State to embrace the whole of life and to demand the total submission of the individual � there is a fundamental error in all this. That error is the ignoring of Original Sin and its consequences or rather identification of the Fall with some defective political or economic arrangement. If we could destroy the Capitalist system or the power of bankers or that of the Jews, everything in the garden would be lovely.

Christopher Dawson (and here), Religion and the Modern State (1935), quoted in Michael Burleigh, Earthly Powers: The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe, from the French Revolution to the Great War. (As of p. 152, the Burleigh book is excellent.)

6 thoughts on “Quote of the Day”

  1. The desire to build an improved society, even a vastly-improved society, is not in itself a bad thing–certainly, many of the Founding Fathers were motivated by such desires. The problem begins when “improved” is conflated with “perfect.” It’s like sailing a boat, or flying a plane. You may want to head the boat directly into the wind, but if you point the boat at too acute an angle, then it will stop dead in the water. You may want the airplane to climb, but pull back too much on the yoke and you will get an aerodynamic stall, with the airplane falling and at risk of entering a spin.

    To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law – a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.

    –A Canticle for Leibowitz

  2. That error is the ignoring of Original Sin and its consequences or rather identification of the Fall with some defective political or economic arrangement.

    While this point of view may not be congenial to all, its basic thrust leads to more respect, not less and more freedom, not less. It recognizes that human nature is not infinitely malleable and our tendencies are at best mixed. The distinction between the way Benjamin Franklin describes the errata of his life and the concept of original sin may be huge to a theologian but in terms of practical political science, they have similar effects.

    We view with wonder & appreciation the grand moments when we transcend our nature; we accept the nature of our responsibility; we accept the fact that a utopia imposed upon us is not likely to be true to our “human nature” – so we accept its messy complexity & want a government that frees it while also curbing its excesses. (Presidents are term limited, but anyone can be president – not just some “aristoi” of virtue or brilliance. All of us are tainted but all of us can be heroic.)

  3. I suspect many “perfect-society” designers are people who have never actually *run* anything, and hence have not experienced the frictions that exist in doing so. They don’t understand Moltke’s dictum: no plan ever survived the initial contact with the enemy.

  4. After reading the first couple sentences I thought the guy was talking about Islam, but after finishing and seeing the date I realize he was probably talking about socialism, not that the two have anything in common.

    (Following the wikipedia link, I wonder if he and Belloc ever hung out.)

    Nevertheless, he hits the nail on the head, something that early 20th century English writers were very good at doing.

    (Completely off topic: Is “I wonder if…” a question? It looks like a statement to me, but then again, it is also passively asking a question. Help!)

  5. There is perhaps a sliding scale, at one end of which are modest proposals (truly modest ones, not the Swiftian kind) to realistically address some systemic problem or clearly definable risk, and at the other end of which are things like the Dolchstolegende and Lenin’s fascination with conspiracy theories.

    David, big props for quoting Walter Miller.

  6. “…probably talking about socialism…”

    Nazism and Communism — note the date.

    The application of this text to contemporary ideas, issues, people or conduct is left to the imagination of the reader. I can think of a couple of analogoies.

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