Both Orwell (real name Eric Blair) and Huxley left a substantial body of work that bore out the conviction that modern man was incapable of coping, resolving the demands of his time. Other writers, less artistic yet still formidable in understanding both the soft and hard tyranny that became secular humanism reigning the 20th century, tackled similar political ground, yet unafraid to acknowledge their theological debt in such an undertaking: James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Vaclav Havel, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Andre Malraux, Francios Mauriac and Raymond Aron come to mind. All tackled the issues that the Church herself was born to ignite and resolve, yet was late in doing so. The Second Vatican Council’s four Apostolic Constitutions are perennial to quarry the insight that remained buried within the traditions of the Church, only unearthed by twin philosophical ideals motivating John XXIII to call for Vatican II. Gaudium et Spes “The Pastoral Constitution On The Church In The Modern World” opening statement remains single in the minds of Catholics who remember the spirit of Vatican II: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” For men like Ignatio Ellacuria (a Jesuit murdered in El Salvador) Gaudium et Spes was a clarion call to arms. But for many other writers and intellectuals the challenge of the enlightenment was to be resolved in favor of man’s capacity to manage life in the modern age.
This post will examine how Orwell and Huxley tackled the moral challenge of their country: examining the reciprocal relation between the political institutions of Empire, perception, language and moral norms was a prerequisite demanding titanic effort if man was to be permitted the advantage of a future.
European writers were never permitted the optimism that galvanized American efforts under Truman. Although Reagan quarried much from watching Roosevelt, it remained for him to single out American exceptionalism as the source for our renewal. Truman maintained similar intellectual posture when confronted with challenges evoked from successful invasion. It was America that provided the West with both the resolve and the material means to strangle the murderous ideologies stalking Europe. Others intimately knew that the real struggle was within the theological and moral foundation of culture itself.
Artists and writers throughout Europe were humble enough to reconcile themselves to an intellectual error clothed within the pursuit of Reformation, yet ruthlessly born and nurtured within the Enlightenment: man could divine absolute means in finding sufficiency for itself absent a transcendent source. What many in Europe could not fathom within their political craft or institutions was statecraft outside of Empire. The Vatican herself remained tied to the political and cultural resolutions of the Congress of Vienna’s onslaught against the egalitarian principles of France. In such an embrace, the Church was an inadequate reserve in assessing responses to both the challenges of her time and intrinsic deficiencies of contemporary Empire. She remained tied to the fate of European Empires! Until John XXIII.
Artists throughout Europe and Russia began to examine how both man’s productive capacity in outstripping moral refinement also enslaved man in his process of consumption. Although artists struck cord in properly diagnosing the ailments of the west most were unable to affirm the Church as the locus of cultural renewal. The artistic lament was necessary. James Joyce’s nobel savage stuck in his tribal night, unencumbered, politically numb, lives in a stasis, an equilibrium breeding a therapeutic ethos that politically fosters the Fascist impulse. What are we to make of Huxley, Orwell, Solzhenitsyn, Joyce, Beckett and hosts of others who were first to see the breach that became the horrors of the 20th century.
All spoke forcefully and meaningfully about the moral imperatives that house language! All exposed the horrors that became Totalitarianism. There are imports here for a contemporary analysis of Islam! For Huxley and Orwell, they choose to examine the conditions that permit mind slaughter in Newspeak: the petty tyrannies of public correctness.
Newspeak dominated the ranks of those committed to the noble lie. It was devised to meet both cognitive and ideological needs. It also remained the weakest link in Marxist arsenal. Its purpose was to provide the language (a medium) harnessing the mental habits proper to its devotees. Its goal is to make all other modes of thought impossible! (Like all the arts in modernity, they remain totalistic in scope. This is significant when studying contemporary rap music.) Newspeaks intension was to make speech on any subject independent of consciousness. What Huxley and Orwell dreadfully exposed was how ideology was designed to diminish the range of thought. It is heard as an euphony outweighing every consideration of artistic order other than exactitude or consolation. How does one recognize its appearance: like all tyranny, its petty in both outlook and scope.
The artists that witnessed the calamity that became the 20th century wrote to express a mood of despair. They understood how the current state of culture, when tied to either an extrinsic emancipatory political ideology or an erroneous intrinsic anthropology created the failure of a soulless automaton unable to shape the future. This had significant political and social consequences.
The arrival of America under Truman’s vision exposed a political calamity that Burke, Churchill, Huxley and Orwell knew remained the Achilles heel of Britain. Namely that man’s social order must correspond to a moral order discovered by reason. The hypocrisy that dominated Britain’s social, political life never permitted cultural or political renewal. In this respect our Founding Fathers refined the admonishment of Machiavelli in pursuing man’s end and not man himself as the final analogue forming the birth of cultural and political institutions. This is the content of American Exceptionalism! All other regimes pursued an unhistorical anthropology, man himself, and in doing so suffered exhaustion.
Through literature (it always was unhoused theology), Orwell, Huxley, Solzhenitsyn, Haval and legions of other writers undertook the task to fictionalize a world absent Christ. What glimpse awakened them?
The recognized contrast that at the beginning of the modern age (1500 A.D.) absent mechanized or digital technology, man was filled with an exuberant hope. Four hundred years later abetted by mechanized life, man’s grasp was increasing in direct proportion to an unacknowledged despair. Can human nature be changed? What if man binds himself to a technologically sophisticated emancipatory technique thrashing inside the bonds that kindle both solidarity and love? Can we devise a way so that man forgets his longing for freedom, liberty and the enduring commitments that kindle love?
What all these artists, writers understood so well was a wisdom common to orthodoxy, a tragic mindset born to recognize moral contrasts with consequences. Namely, how secular humanism works within the promise of freedom itself. The murderous ideologies that begot the pagan political monstrosities that were Fascism and Totalitarianism are born and nurtured within the liberty of human striving. How does the Church fit in here?
Man needs the Church’s Tradition to recognize and affirm a simple truth hidden from all ethical systems outside of revelation. Man’s freedom itself can be the means of destroying man.
And what is the purpose of the Church?
To shape man’s freedom to enjoy the fruits of a life the corresponds to the Creator!