Is There Hope for a Civilization Facing Barbarism?
James M. Kushiner, Executive Editor, Touchstone
Herbert Butterfield said in one of his 1949 radio talks (collected in Christianity and History) that “the study of history does open one’s eyes to a significant fact”:
The plain truth is that if you were to remove certain subtle safeguards in society many men who had been respectable all their lives would be transformed by the discovery of the things which it was now possible to do with impunity; weak men would apparently take to crime who had previously been kept on the rails by a certain balance existing in society; and you can produce a certain condition of affairs in which people go plundering and stealing though hitherto throughout their lives it had never occurred to them even to want to steal. A great and prolonged police-strike, the existence of a revolutionary situation in a capital city … are likely to show up a seamy side of human nature amongst people who, cushioned and guided by the influences of normal social life, have hitherto presented a respectable figure to the world.
Butterfield allows that this dynamic would not be the case “were there no flaws in human nature in the first place.” But the facts witness to the flaws, and,
even when society presents a tidy appearance to the historian or the observer its human constituents must make a pathetic bow before a God who searches the secrets of the heart.
There remains what Solzhenitsyn called the line of good and evil running through the heart.
But granted the flaws in human nature, then the orderings and arrangements of a healthy society seem to help out man’s imperfections, conspiring with quiet inducements and concealed checks to keep the surface of life comparatively respectable; though down below there slumbers all the time the volcano that lies in human nature, and an unexpected cataclysm may bring it into activity. On the operation of certain safeguards which in normal times work so quietly that the superficial observer may miss them altogether depends all the difference between civilisation and barbarism.
While a civilization may require the swords of Roman legionnaires, Christian civilization needed not Rome’s crucifixions but only Our Lord’s, which ultimately put an end to theirs. ... We sit on the knife’s edge between barbarism and Christian civilization.
Dismay not, pray more, speak up, and stand your ground.
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture