A True Catholic Humanist: Gilbert Murray & The Imploding West

Gilbert Murray is not often thought of being Roman Catholic, I remain unsure of his personal affections regarding the sources of contemporary Catholicism; he remained throughout his life a very deep public man of Britain, throughly engaged in the issues that dominated both his own life and the moral reserve that was Empire.  He remained the single most significant public intellectual before the rise of electricity and the end of Empire under Truman’s tutelage.  Their remain very few individuals that encompass the breadth of Gilbert Murray’s vision of literary or political statecraft.  Many do not study him today for simple reasons:  most do not command what Murray quarried with his grasp of ancient and romantic languages.  Only the likes of a Matthew Arnold, Lincoln, T.E. Lawrence, Raymond Aaron, Eric Voegelin, Edmund Burke, Henry Clay, Henri De Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar and perhaps the reach of Henry Kissenger can explicate his range of motion.  Winston Churchill called him the most learned man of Europe.

His tome is littered with essays that point to a fierce religious acumen in demonstrating the implicit theology of politic.  For him, politics is the handmaiden of theology.  His ‘Satanism and World Order’ is the finest essay revealing the dangerous turn late 19th and 20th century political thought took from continental philosophy.

All around Murray, he saw an informing (Satanic) presence that embraced freedom while circumventing every moral norm that preserved liberty.  That presence was ‘determinism’, and its cultural reach throughout Europe was lethal.

Murray was humble enough to understand how both the Enlightenment and Protestant Reformations overthrew the classic anthropology that grounded thought since the Church Fathers.  A seemingly benign calculation evicted such a foundation stone in light of efficiency.  Other than late Catholic martyrs like John Fisher or Thomas More, Murray remained at the center longer than anyone of his time, save possibly Churchill; witnessing and testifying to the intellectual breach that consumed man and his world early 20th century.

For Gilbert Murray, it was an elated sense of drift that propelled the Protestant intellect under the guise of German idealism to rummage through an erroneous held belief that Catholicism was archaic.  Although the Church did not fight for her political independence, the preservation of European Monarchies was for the Vatican an acknowledged concession in light of the Congress of Vienna which sought a defeat of Napoleon and his revolutionary egalitarian spirit.

Murray never lost sight of the twin fruits of an enormity that dominated the thought of Victorian life; chance and necessity being the alternative shapes of political power afflicting the governing class.  Hegel had a nemetic counterpart in Murray’s advancing thought that dangerous currents remained different facets of one identical illusion.  The modern Western belief in omnipotence of Chance gave birth in mercantile countries to a firm cultural ethos of laissez-faire.  A philosophy of practical life which was founded on a faith in the miraculous enlightenment of self interest.  Murray knew the import this omen had for the oracle of British foreign policy.  It remained for Murray to hue or tack those who would listen, that all was not well in either Downing or Westminster.

Just what did Murray grasp so early that others ignored?

Murray understood how the embrace of an informing calculation meant the demise of moral, spiritual life!  He understood better that any other, that the West’s success lay in accepting a limited view of spheres of autonomy throughout culture itself.  He advised many a foreign minister to accept this refusal as explicative for the demise of Islam.  It remained for many other westerners after him to repeat the mantra that an unreserved extension of the empire of determinism from the physical to the moral sphere was tantamount to suicide.  Murray intimately recognized that economics was only a social sphere of man’s freedom, it remained of a piece not the whole.  But the god of efficiency ruthlessly marched on denying, emptying the human person of any intrinsic worth or personhood.  Like the pagan ancients of old, we only measured from an extrinsic compass, blind of both our heritage and the unfolding precipice before us.

Murray enunciated the false gods of modernity in Calvinism, Jewish Zealots, the Mahdist’s of Sudan, primitive Muslim Arabs, nineteenth century western liberal votaries of progress and Communist Marxism.  All remained hinged to a false humanism that man remained the measure of all things!  Murray would ask, what is the measure of man?

From such theologic sentiments Murray critiqued the political humanism that would be called Modernity. From it, Murray would seek to quarry the linkages binding 16th century Calvinism to 20th century Communism.  The link was Liberalism and the ideas of progress found in Darwin, Comte and Hegel.

Why mention Murray at all?  Because he understood that ideas have consequences!

Throughout his long life he understood how lethal unhoused abstractions were on the body politic of citizens.  For Murray, the acceptance of any determinism spur a false confidence that brooked personal and corporate disaster.  For him, the addicts of predestinarian creeds had the fortuitous stimulating effect of an assumption that one’s own will was coincident with the will of God, and therefore was bound, a priori, to prevail.

In Calvinist’s theology, it is Jehovah who vindicates His elect, it is Marxian’s Historical Necessity as an impersonal force that brings about the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, for modernist’s the end justifies the means.  Throughout all, what is missing is a standard to measure one’s standing.  What’s missing is the spiritual virtue of ‘Fear of the Lord’.

Simply put, in the absence of character, bereft of principals; how does one discern criteria?  All that’s left is calculation; one is abandoned to the interests of the powerful at large.

Murray would admonish both the atheist and the believer to fortify his standing with moral refinement.  One simply cannot rest on passion, calculation or history alone.  Hadn’t Islam conflated its own historicism to an inexorable logic leading them to defeat at alien infidel hands?  Murray insists that any embrace of an abstract determinism, absent any moral heritage is dangerous for it permits feebleness of one’s reaction to present tribulation.  For him, false belief was to sap the moral heritage, the courage of any believer to acknowledge the need to render an account of himself before the challenges of his time.

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About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
This entry was posted in Alex Tocqueville, Arnold Toynbee, Conservatism, Education, Eric Voegelin, Ethics, Hans Urs von Balthasar, International Relations, Islam, John Paul II, Middle East Peace, Morality, Near East, Perils Of Specialization, Politics, Raymond Aron, Satan/Evil, Theology, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A True Catholic Humanist: Gilbert Murray & The Imploding West

  1. I don�t usually reply to posts but I will in this case. WoW

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