Another view

According to Karl Mannheim, foolishly condensed, ideologies come in four flavours. There are 1. chiliastic, millenarian, nutjob ideologies. 2. There are liberal, humanist, “progressive” ones. 3. There are conservative, often babbling individualist versions of the same. 4. And there are commies. In each case a utopia is conceived, towards which our society should aspire. A Christian, this patriarch of sociology nevertheless bought into Marxist analyses of class and condition to explain the preference for each in its culture and time. Marxists did not like Mannheim, however, because he wasn’t essentially a commie.

I’ve been clearing out books during the lockdown, and came to Ideology and Utopia (1929). It was “in my face” more than forty years ago. I decided to keep it, as I do with many old books which were once important to me, as their spines remind me not only of old times, but of what remains as a constituent of my own outlook on things. I like to be staggered by the news that I wasn’t born yesterday. (Next to Mannheim is Masaryk.)

We have lived in, though we have largely passed through, an “age of ideology.” It came with the Enlightenment, according to me, and goes out with it. When the half-educated children of Harvard, Yale, and the drive-in universities espouse socialism today, they have nothing like the elementary self-knowledge that Leftists of the past exhibited. “Half-educated” is of course an over-estimate: their utopias are filled with so many contradictions that they have “evolved” into something else. (“Post-modern.”) They are incoherent even by the traditional standards of madness, and have no arguments unlikely to be reversed.

And yet something remains of what used to strike me as the contrast between an ideological and a religious view of life. That the ideologists (including chiliasts) cannot understand the religious view, might almost go without saying; they put it in another ideological category, so that it can be easily dismissed. They would not be interested in, for instance, the comparative study of religions, which shows the same moral and even spiritual features arising again and again, in societies centuries apart. This is because they are only explicable as evidence of Grace — of realities intrinsic to the universe, yet external to human thought and planning. There is God, in other words.

With an apprehension of God comes the possibility of what the Protestants call “humble access”; of humility in the larger view. This is also at the origin of genuine science, where the truth is sought as something outside us, as opposed to control over nature, or over our fellow man (which is the basic impulse of magic). We know, as it were, what we don’t know, and that fate is not finally in our own hands. The orders we are willing to obey may come from priests, bishops, imams or bonzes, but only because they are believed to represent an order beyond normal human powers.

Politics, to such a view, are of a strictly limited, merely transient significance, and the “visions of utopia” are of no significance at all. Any idea of human progress must necessarily be false.

My principal, practical hope from the present viral medical crisis — a light affliction as these things go, but heavy enough to get everyone’s attention — is that it will help people think. For everywhere I turn, I see plain lessons,¬†especially for Christians, including lapsed ones. It is as if the Creator were reminding us how to tell what is important from what is not. It is interesting to me how the infection has suddenly shut down almost everything in the latter category, and made the world quiet for a moment.

But paradoxically, He has also let His Church be publicly closed, as a much-deserved scourge, cutting her off from all routine sources of income. Yet she is living within. At the place I attend, for instance, the Fathers are singing eleven Masses each day, to empty, often locked chapels. These are sung on behalf of the people, while they are “away.”

Am I saying there could be something godly in this; in this systematic confutation of all received “ideological” views? Gentle reader will guess that I am saying, Yes.