A decade has passed since I sat in my Introduction to History class listening to my professor lament on our inability to know history. Instead of introducing her students to the fascinating world of historical knowledge, she adeptly laid the foundation of its futility. Her philosophy ought to have caused her resignation as her own field of discipline had no purpose pursuant her own admission. In fact, her philosophy undermined the entire historical department at the University not to mention the discipline itself. The professor did not simply suggest this untoward line of thinking, she professed it as truth, at least in as much as it could be in a world without truth. She opined truth’s nonexistence in the same manner she dispensed with the ability to know history.
A few weeks into the course, I would hear the same professor attempt to validate her point of view that plagiarism is a moral wrong while many of the students argued that there were legitimate allowances for it. She had no ground to stand on since she had already dismissed the existence of truth weeks before. All she had at her disposal was indignation at the moral malaise of her students. It is not every day that a person comes face to face with the logical conclusions of one’s own philosophy.
Most people live in conflict with their own philosophy. They errantly think their philosophy true because their lives work. Instead they keep their philosophy about life distinct from their practical lives. As long as the two stay separate they are none the wiser. But what happens when we follow these misguided philosophies into everyday life?
When our worldview has deteriorated to the point where history is not ascertainable and truth has become a myth, the traditions and truths that shape moral behavior collapse alongside it. Worldview is a package deal. It cannot sustain one desirable outcome while extinguishing another built upon the same foundation. Most people live in contradiction to their philosophical ideas, but ideas have very real consequences. When ideas run their course and affect the moral fiber of a nation, they can have dangerous practical ramifications on a national level.
“In morals, as in physics, the stream cannot rise higher than its source. Christianity raises men from earth, for it comes from heaven; but human morality creeps, struts, or frets upon the earth’s level, without wings to rise,” writes John Henry Newman.
According to Arthur Pontynen and Rod Miller, authors of Western Culture at the American Crossroads, “a neglect of the liberal arts, particularly of history, results in either nihilism or totalitarianism.”
The realness of truth, the discipline of historical discovery, moral imperatives, and even the philosophy that allows for scientific exploration all derive from the same first principles birthed out of the Bible. Vishal Mangalwadi, author of The Book That Made Your World, traces the incredible history of how Christians spread this knowledge to the world. Dismantling these disciplines will collapse the foundation of Western Civilization. It will also dismantle any other nations that have borrowed from the West.
Progressives would have us believe that modern civilization has evolved towards greater and greater heights through human reason and power. However, secularism did not create the West: it is, instead, the illegitimate offspring of Christianity. Vishal Mangalwadi refers to secularism as a Christian heresy. It is a hyper-liberal version of Christianity that has been stripped of its spiritual moorings.
Secularism limps along because of what it borrows from Christianity, but the more it throws off the weight of tradition the less sustainable it will become. A world without truth, history, science, and morality is a world without modern civilization. If we want to keep these institutions, and thereby sustain the pillars of western civilization, we have to resurrect their original foundation.
The university itself is a Christian institution designed to explore God’s world through the disciplines of science, history, theology, mathematics, and etcetera. It too loses value when we remove the first principles that once gave it purpose. Only in the context of a real world with revealed truth and meaningful life created by a real God can these disciplines regain their place in the university, and consequently in society.
Russell Kirk writes in his magnum opus, The Conservative Mind, that, “without a foundation of first principles, science itself is worthless – a meaningless accumulation of unrelated facts.” The same holds true for history. Without truth, the discipline of history becomes a futile attempt to know what cannot be known.
Russell Kirk goes on to write that, “leadership can only be restored by the slow and painful process of developing moral gravity and intellectual seriousness, turning back the strength of traditional doctrines—the honesty with which they face the fact of evil. Our spiritual indolence can only be overcome by re-examination of first principles.”
There are many reasons the West is declining. However, when a structural foundation is decaying, one cannot simply repaint the walls or install new carpet. It is the foundation itself that needs attention, and its craftsmen are the people able to communicate and reestablish the pillars of first principles to its inhabitants.
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