The Reasons for Optimism, Part 4

The Reasons for Optimism, Part 4

Geoffrey Botkin
December 21, 2012


Reason Number Four: People are asking for civilization

“America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without knowing civilization.” Well, not quite. If Oscar Wilde really said that1, he did not know American Colonial culture which reached superior heights of liberty, justice and prosperity. But Wilde did see American barbarism-to-decadence in his lifetime. Brother killed brother in the War Between the States, young women fawned over eugenics, and both young men and women paraded, like lemmings, to the decadent novels of the 1890s.

By 1900, the whole world watched America recklessly experiment with decadence. We Americans learned how to hatefully slander civilization, and scoff at tradition, law, moral restraint, civilization and Christianity. A century later, impertinence and irreverence dominated American society even in the Evangelical church, which has become impotent in defending, identifying, modeling or proclaiming virtue and righteousness. Americans in general had become the most immature and shallow people on the planet, spiritually hollow, lacking ambition or interests, coarse, vulgar, and fiercely selfish. The counter-culture was marked by divorce on demand, abortion on demand, willful ignorance, illiteracy, promiscuity, bastardy, intoxication, lawlessness, hopelessness, and the abuse of psychotropic drugs, both legally and illegally.

Cops, judges, and doctors are the overworked ‘mandatory reporters’ who see the more gruesome results of this decadence. Inside the privacy of the exam room, doctors hear (and see) confidential horror stories of social devastation. Moral derangement and moral bankruptcy hurt people. And then devastate society. Several generations of families have been ruined by moral disorder. And now a suffering society wants cultural foundations back.

One doctor told me two days ago that he spends more time dispensing moral prescriptions than on pharmacological analysis or physical diagnosis. He’s trying to give patients what they really need to be able to live in the real world on the street: moral discernment and discipline. His patients are desperate for more than a five minute introduction to Right and Wrong, and this doctor provides it because it can save their lives.2 The causes of disease, injury, anxiety and malaise are attached directly to a complete ignorance of virtue.

Another doctor, not a religious man, is also discovering lost standards of right and wrong. He condenses his advice into one desperate order: “Above all, be civilized.”
But what does this mean to a culture that trained itself to be fashionably uncivil? How can a person act civilized if a person has never been civilized? What is civilization? The doctor defines it by all those things we threw away - tradition, law, moral restraint, civilization and Christianity. He is reintroducing the vocabulary of virtue. He tells his fellow citizens they must have patience, circumspection, understatement, modesty, honesty, kindness, thrift, and charity. He prescribes these as necessary to life. He is not ashamed to advocate permanent, total-commitment marriage and sacrificial love. He is not afraid to champion a forgotten institution, the family, and to describe what family life can look like. He tells patients to “cherish those to whom you are close—parents, siblings, children, other friends and neighbors.” He tells people to keep covenant with one another and to be wary of the environmental toxin “popular culture,” and why it is “vapid, transient and contemptible.”

Why has the Evangelical church been so confused about this basic vocabulary of basic discipleship? Because they have taken a position of friendly familiarity with the world, even to the point of letting the world lead their congregations into savagery.

Weak churchmen have bought into a theology of pessimism and are uncomfortable with virtue. There is widespread embarrassment over what the Bible says about Civilization and sin. Nations in Africa which are desperate for Christian civilization, Biblical law, and the blessings of real culture are denounced by hip American pastors who are made very nervous by an immovable moral standard.

Let me quote yet a third physician, a British agnostic, who understands his times and his neighborhood better than the average Evangelical pastor in the U.S:

“It is one of the tasks of civilization to tame our inherent savagery. But who, contemplating contemporary…culture, would recognize in it any civilizing influence, or rather fail to recognize its opposite? It is a constant call to and celebration of degradation, not only physical but spiritual and emotional. A culture in which Amy Winehouse, with her militant vulgarity and self-indulgent stupidity, combined with a very minor talent, could be so extravagantly admired and feted, is not one to put up strong barriers against our baser instincts, desires and urges. On the contrary, that culture has long been a celebration of those very urges. He who pays the savage never gets rid of the savagery.”3

Yes. But he who builds order can get rid of the savagery. Today a minority is emerging who see a task that needs to be done. Civilization is broken and needs to be made orderly. Order is established in civilization through culture.

Tomorrow: Why culture will replace counterculture in the 21st Century.

  • 1. The quote cannot be solidly attributed to him, but many other writers and journalists have made use of it.
  • 2. Physician names withheld because they could be penalized for spending more than the allotted five-minute Treat-‘Em-Street-‘Em guidelines of national healthcare.
  • 3. Theodore Dalrymple It's Fun to Smash Things, The Spectator, 13 August 2011. Dr. Anthony Daniels is perhaps England’s most astute agnostic, a cultural observer and critic nonpareil. He generally writes for international publications under the pen name Theodore Dalrymple.

About the Author

Geoffrey Botkin is a cultural analyst, political consultant, veteran filmmaker, husband, and father. He currently serves as a senior consultant to the Western Conservatory of the Arts & Sciences.


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