Europe gained the leadership in world culture, not by its material wealth,
but by its pre-eminence in the things of the mind in science and
literature and ideas. It created the ideals which the rest of the world
followed. If modern democracy were to involve giving up this mission and
abandoning spiritual leadership for material satisfaction, then it would
justly mean the decline of Western culture.
But as we have seen, democracy is by no means essentially materialistic;
the democratic movement was founded on idealism, and if it is losing its
ideals that is not the fault of the people as a whole. One of the most
acute critics of modern tendencies, M. Lucien Romier, has written as follows:
The modern masses are not closed to ideas, but they
want them and understand them only within the limits of their own experience
and their own most constant and vital preoccupations. The problem is
not to level all thought down to mass tendencies, but to answer the
questions put by the masses. If the pure scientist or the philosopher
who is capable of originality and leadership refuses to answer
then some slave of the crowd, some low journalist or venal politician,
anxious for popularity and profit, will answer instead.
This is the vital problem of democracy, the problem of spiritual leadership.
We need men who are something more than cunning manipulators of the political
and economic machine, men who stand not for success or material efficiency,
but for the old Christian ideals of faith, hope and charity.
And it is not only religious people who feel this. Even a thorough sceptic
and modernist like Bertrand Russell is just as convinced as we are that
if modern society goes on putting power and economic efficiency above
spiritual values, it will end in disaster. This is what he says:
Our world has a heritage of culture and beauty, but
unfortunately we have been handing on this heritage only to the less
active and important members of each generation. The government of the
world (by which I do not mean its ministerial posts, but its key positions
of power) has been allowed to fall into the hands of men ignorant of
the past, without tenderness to what is traditional, without understanding
of what they are destroying.
And consequently the new society that is arising, based on pure economic
and scientific technology, is a society that is
incompatible with the pursuit of truth, with love,
with art, with spontaneous delight with every ideal that men have cherished
with the sole exception of ascetic renunciation.
It is impossible to state the issue more clearly. The society that exists
for wealth and power alone may attain a kind of greatness, but it is the
greatness of despotism, not that of a democracy.
Christopher Dawson (b. 1889)
from The Modern Dilemma (1932)
quoted in Return to Tradition: A Directive
Anthology pp. 311f
ed. Francis Beauchesne Thornton