Literature of Western Civilization: 14th to 21th Century
Though people die, and empires fall, they leave to succeeding generations their advice and legends in literature. Until recently, this literature was confined to writing; and with the invention of the printing press in 1455, thousands upon thousands of books have since been published. That was until the early 20th century, with the invention of the “moving picture.” This invention has since revolutionized Western Civilization, in many ways for the worse, as the literature of previous generations affect the decisions of succeeding generations.
Every one of these empires had one thing in common; a control over the literature and educational material of the children that inhabited the empire. For example, in Egyptian or Babylonian culture, the priests were the educated members of society; they were the architects, they could read and write, and they would teach the nobility and the rich these arts. All science and understanding of religion was held by the priest classes, for the purpose of maintaining control over the populace. This was upheld by the Roman Catholic Church; all books were kept in the monasteries, and the knowledge of reading and writing was preserved and withheld by the priesthood. The Bible especially was kept hidden from all but those specially commissioned to teach it, and it was written in Latin, to further distance its words from the common people.
With the invention of the printing press, all this changed. No longer could the priest class withhold knowledge from the peasantry; the first books printed were Bibles, and these Bibles taught the message of individual liberty and free market economics under the moral law of God. The chains were broken. Because the printing press was ever so much more efficient than hand copying, the cost of these Bibles went down significantly, eventually meaning that a Bible could be placed into the hands of the common man, who then could learn to read and to write. This meant that by the time of the Reformation, enough people were literate enough to read Martin Luther’s writings.
We begin our study of Western Civilization literature with the Bubonic Plague (1348-1350). As 25 million Europeans perished, faith in the Roman Catholic church was undermined; priests fled their churches in fear of the plague, leaving the poor people without the sacraments or the last rites. Faith in the predictability of God was undermined, as this “judgment” fell on both the rich and the poor, the church goer and the drunkard. Unlike Job, the people began to despise God in their hearts, and this was reflected in the literature of the time; notably the Decameron and Canterbury Tales. In both these works, God and religion in general are viewed skeptically; the ancient Greek and Roman “fate” took the place of both.
Here are the five questions we have studied in this course. They are:
Sovereignty: “Who’s in charge here?”
Authority: “To whom do I report?”
Law: “What are the rules?”
Sanctions: “What do I get if I obey? What will happen if I disobey?”
Succession: “Does this outfit have a future?”
We will now review six works from the 16th century; Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, Utopia, Acts and Monuments, Essays of Michel Montaigne, Dr. Faustus, and William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, in light of these five questions.
First, the 95 Theses. Written by Martin Luther, a monk in a small German monastery, in response to the abuses of the Roman Church and the Pope. The sovereign power in his theses, surprisingly, is “the Lord and Master Jesus Christ.” This is in contrast to Catholics claim that the Pope had the power of Christ and even a godhood. “The Pope” he says, “can only remit, and cannot remit any penalties other than those that he has imposed either by his own authority or by that of the Canons.” Here, he is stating that the Pope is sovereign only over the affairs of the church, and that his authority is limited by the Canons. “The Pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that it has been remitted by God and by assenting to Gods remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remissions in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely unforgiven.” The Pope in this case does represent God. “God remits guilt to no one whom He does not, at the same time, humble in all things and bring into subjection to His vicar, the priest.” But he does state that the Christian needs to be subject to Christ through all things, included the Pope himself. His view on law is that works of love can make man better, but pardons from sanctions do not.
Utopia, written by Thomas More in 1516, was a satirical work ridiculing an idea of socialism, over a hundred years before they became a prominent force in European politics. The authority to the imaginary character was the “eternal, invisible, infinite, and incomprehensible diety… the Father of All… call(ed) Mithras in their language.” Mithras is the name of a Persian god, associated with the sun; if Thomas More, a devoted, persecuting Catholic, actually believed what he was writing, he would have been a part of the ancient sun cult. The authority in this work is clearly the community, better thought of as this vague statement; the “general welfare.” Private property in Utopia is evil incarnate, and that it supports the governments he sees that steal from and oppress the poor. He is against the monetary system and the division of labor, and he never brings up God or the church even. As for laws, the laws of man are seen to impose artificial scarcity; there is no hope to determine cause and effect in history, God is most certainly not the source of history. The future only holds destruction, since human nature cannot support a Utopia.
John Foxe, Acts and Monuments (1563). Though he recorded the martyrdoms of a couple hundred saints, we will only review a few. Lady Jane Grey states that Christ the Lord, and God the Father are the authority, the Trinity being the sovereign power. This is also upheld in Thomas Cranmer’s final prayer, in which he says “O Father of heaven, O Son of God, Redeemer of the world, O Holy Ghost, three persons and one God, have mercy upon me.” The authority, as said by Lady Jane Grey, is the Word of God. “I ground my faith on God’s word, and not upon the church. For if the church be a good church, the faith of the church must be tried by God’s word; and not by God’s word by the church, neither yet by my faith.” The Bible is the ultimate standard, but it must be interpreted by individuals, not the church and most certainly not the State.
The Essays, written by Michel Montaigne, are not entirely clear on a lot of our five questions. Montaigne puts in the mouth of Augustus Caesar either God or Fortune, and Plato says nature, fortune, or art, but not God. He does not commit himself on sovereignty. In his famous essay, Chapter XXX, On Cannibals, he says “We have no other level of truth and reason than the example and idea of the opinions and customs of the place wherein we live: there is always the perfect religion, there the perfect government, there the most exact and accomplished usage of all things.” Truth therefore, is relative, there is no ultimate standard, there is no ultimate sovereign. Man is God. As for succession, the laws of nature. The lawlessness of the pagans are far superior to Christendom and even Plato’s Republic. Western Civilization has nothing for humanity.
Dr. Faustus. Written in 1587 by Lutherans, it’s a tale in which God withdraws his hand to allow demons to deceive men, but in which he is clearly still sovereign. But amongst the learned men, there is no consensus. According to the devil who speaks to Faustus, the Oriental Prince (Satan) is the supreme being, a rival power to God, but God is the ultimate sovereign because Satan hasn’t defeated him yet. As for authority, the kingdom of legion is under the Devil. Satan has authority over his devils, and the author sees Faustus bargain with the devil as a willing rejection of the authority of God. Sanctions result, and after 24 years of unrestrained power, the devil can do whatever he wants to him. Since Faustus transferred ownership of even his own body to the devil, he sees no way out of this. On the night of his death, his fellow students urge him to beg Jesus Christ’s forgiveness (make a new contract with the true sovereign being) but in the end he refuses to do so, and is torn apart that night. Sanctions are a part of both a contract to the devil (death) or to God (protection).
William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (1599). Cassius, one of the conspirators, believes that though man is sovereign, there are also spirits making a lot of noise and having some control. Caesar, however, is in ultimate authority, and must be destroyed. Directly after, he invokes the gods, and yet he claims that it is his sword that will support him. He can shake off his master’s yoke, because he believes in the ultimate autonomy of the individual. Brutus then states that man floats on the tides of fortune, but that he can strike when he deems it time or lose his ventures… and then directly after states that the spirit of Julius Caesar still is about causing their destruction. There is no definite sovereign in the writings of Shakespeare. Man is fully autonomous, but Caesar views himself as being in charge. Sanctions still do result; the two main assassins died, one by military defeat and one by suicide. There is no future to this play.
So to conclude our review of Western Civilization until the 16th century, there was no longer any general vision of Christendom. The fake enlightenment had destroyed it as being the general public opinion. Committed Christians still wrote of life after death, but they to had lost sight of the kingdom of God on earth and in history. Montaigne had hope in make-believe Utopia, but there was no hope though to get from our society to Utopia; and Thomas More ridicules this idea. We see a rejection of the division of labor. The New World gave humanity no hope, though we do see an exception in Montaigne who believed that the Cannibals had a garden of Eden somewhere. Skepticism and a loss of a sense of “to whom do I report?” pretty much sum up this period of history.
As we go into the 17th century, we see five major factors at work in England. In a struggle for church reform, a struggle broke out between Anglicanism (the established church) and Puritanism. This developed into a Civil War, from 1642-49, also issuing in another war; the pamphlet war. Thanks to the printing press, the spread of ideas had become easier than at any other time in history, and as one side or the other took control of the printing presses, varying authors took advantage of the strife to release a large-scale war of ideas, even introducing pre-Communist ideas. This period ended with the restoration of Charles II in 1660, ending the Puritan experiment in England.
With the restoration of the king also meant the restoration of the established Church of England, and to this authority there was a minority resistance. Most notably of these was an itinerant preacher, John Bunyan, most famously known for his books, The Holy War and Pilgrim’s Progress. For refusing to take a license, he was thrown into prison, where he spent much of his life, writing books and papers of Puritan nature.
As the struggle between churches was raging in England, a larger struggle developed in Europe itself. Following the Protestant Reformation, the Anti-Christ Church responded with the formation of the Jesuit Order, a counter-reformation. This organization infiltrated every nation in Europe, killing and shaping the politics of these nations for the cause of the Catholic Church. As Catholicism took root, Bloody Queen Mary took the throne in England. Her reign of terror was sufficient to cause English abhorrence of Catholicism, and from then on it became a Protestant hotbed, funding and even giving military aid to Protestant nations in Europe, particularly the Netherlands and the Protestant nation states of Germany during the 30 Years War, and later even sending out the King James Bible throughout the world.
The 30 Years War was actually a series of wars between 1618 and 1648 in Central Europe. One of the most destructive conflicts of European history, it resulted in the deaths of two-thirds of the German population, and the complete destruction of entire provinces; in short, this conflict was one of the most epic struggles of Protestantism against Catholicism. Beginning with the refusal of the Holy Roman Empire to allow for freedom of worship within its domain, the Protestants took arms to defend their freedoms. Raising massive armies, the Catholic forces were at the beginning mostly victorious, sweeping through Germany, conquering city after city, until Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, brought his troops and genius military mind to the cause of the Protestant nation states. Wallenstein, the equally brilliant Catholic general, raised an army at his own expense and pursued the Lion of the North, until, at the battle of Lutzen, he soundly defeated the Protestant forces, and slew Gustavus Adolphus in the year 1632.
This conflict, however, was ultimately key to Protestant success in the Netherlands. The Duke of Alva, a Catholic general with a fierce temper and feared reputation, was sent by Spain to subdue the Protestants in Holland. Massacring and pillaging, his army conquered and sacked Mechelen, Zutphen, Naarden and Haarlem. Queen Elizabeth I of England sent funds and supplies to aid the Protestant cause, even sending naval assistance. Ultimately unsuccessful, the “Iron Duke” of Alva was ordered home by the Spanish king, and independence was won for the Netherlands.
At this time, Spain had a monopoly on the Caribbean New World, given by the Papal power, and gold and other precious resources were being sent back to the continent, propping up the Spanish empire. In response, Queen Elizabeth I commissioned privateers, such as Sir Francis Drake, to scour the seas and plunder Spanish ships and holdings in the New World. This had four major results:
The Protestant forces, though still outmatched, had far less to deal with in their struggles thanks to the military resources being sent to the New World to protect Spanish interests there. This more than even the financial aid by England aided the Protestant cause in the Netherlands.
It weakened the Spanish Empire as a whole. Like most empires, Spain relied upon the wealth plundered from other nations or the New World to sustain its economy, and as privateers burned and pillaged, this life line was strangled.
Such treasure as these privateers plundered were returned to England, making the English crown wealthier, and also gave Sir Francis Drake the naval experience needed to defeat the Spanish Armada that was to come shortly thereafter.
It established England’s future as a colonial power. While in the New World, Sir Francis Drake claimed land for the English crown, mapped the area, and later circumnavigated the globe. English colonization of the thirteen colonies was to later be the safeguard to religious liberty and individual freedom in the 18th century.
As these struggles raged around Europe, literature and entertainment also began to grow, and reflected the opinions of the aristocracy and society itself. Some of these 17th century works include Macbeth, Don Quixote, The King James Bible, Francis Bacon’s Essays, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
The most prominent entertainment of the day, William Shakespeare’s plays were to have a great influence on the future of Western Civilization. Of these plays, Macbeth stands out. The play begins with witches, not God. The witches made the prophecies, and they are central to the play. This likely reflects the views of the audience, who at this time were still in superstitious fear. There is no priesthood, as this play is about everything except Christianity, or whatever shred of it the Anglican Church represented at the time. The play instead is centered on the struggle for power: inheritance. It was started by the prophecy, which foretold that Macbeth would become king, but since inheritance and succession were necessary, Macbeth tried to get both for himself through the murder of the current king. Shortly after this murder, he kills his friend Banquo, due to the prophecy that Banquo’s children would rule, and the ghost of Banquo returns to haunt him thereafter. Lady Macbeth goes mad, due to her sins. She sees marks on her hands that no one else can see, and her perception of reality is changed.
“And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Macbeth
This sums up the views of the play. It is radically anti-Christian, very modern in its outlook, the belief that there is no truth or possibility to effect history. In this outburst, Macbeth is stating that there is no meaning to life or the universe. The play centers on politics and power, not ethics; the actions of individuals do not result in sanctions, but the fates determine who has power one day and who has power the next, and plays with individuals like a “poor player that struts and frets upon the stage.” The sovereign power clearly is fate.
The next work is a Spanish novel, Don Quixote. It is the story of a madman, and he is driven mad by books of chivalry. He sold pieces of his land to buy these books, which were at that time cheap enough for him to be able to buy, thanks to the printing press. He imagines a rekindling of a chivalric hierarchy, which is oath-bound. To that end, he takes his trusty steed, an old horse, a rusty suit of armor, and a lance and sword, and sets out on his “quest”. Realizing that he must pledge the oaths of knighthood to even begin his quest, he makes an amused tavern owner dub him a knight. Afterwards, he begins a string of adventures, including attacking giant windmills, attacking monks, and obtaining a squire, a man, who though a half-wit, retains more sense than his master. Eventually, coming down with a fever and on his deathbed, he comes to his senses, curses the books of chivalry, and dies with regret upon his lips. In this entire story, God is absent from the book, and in the end, the church cannot help him, nobody can help him. This shows how weak the church was, and even in Spain the Catholic Church could not stop the success of this book. Don Quixote represents a dead tradition, an ideal of Christendom long gone.
Undoubtedly the most influential and important piece of literature, The King James Bible was the work of highly educated men, working together on a committee commissioned by King James I of England. The most successful committee project of all time, they produced a literary masterpiece, establishing the standard of high English. It was read universally, in pulpits, in homes, the rich, the poor, nearly every domination accepted this version of the Bible. It shaped the culture in general and the thinking of Protestants, it’s very wording shaping the way it was read.
It was for the masses, but the elite revered it, and even non-Christians praised and continue to praise it. It was intensely theological, sparking great battles; and it was tied to stories, which made it easy to remember. The message of hope found in the King James Bible was encouraging to all Christians, and it retains its influence to this day.
Francis Bacon, well-known scientist, also wrote a series of essays. These essays were shaped by Christianity, but were not necessarily Christian. They were written for an educated elite, and proclaimed a new world of science. The New Atlantis was utopian and statist, and the religion of New Atlantis was not in any way Christian. The Atlantans secretly sent spies into the regular world to accumulate knowledge, and then returned to Atlantis, there to reveal and store the newly acquired knowledge. They never went back to share technological advancement, and did not involve themselves in the world around them.
John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, was an agent of Parliament under Cromwell. He was Unitarian in theology, but he still had influence in Trinitarian circles because of his personal influence. Paradise Lost is an epic poem modeled on Homer and Virgil, and the first version was ten books with over ten thousand lines of verse. The central issue is power, not ethics, and is the central focus of Book 1 and 2. This poem is a mixture of biblical imagery, Greek myth, and a celebration of Greek cosmology.
Satan declares that “force had made (God) supreme above his equals”, or that the power of God has forced him down below, but in hell God has no authority over him, in other words, God is not ultimately sovereign. Satan’s rebellion is merely a rebellion against power, not against the ethics of God. The Bible however, seems to indicate that God’s greatness is directly due to his ethics; the only way to defeat God is to be more ethical than he, and, as we all know, that is an impossible goal. God’s sovereignty is not based upon power, though he holds absolute power, but upon ethics.
This book was written for the educated elite. At this time, the elite were beginning to shift their allegiance from Christianity to rationalism; one myth was as good as another. Now, it is a book that people pretend to read, but is otherwise not well-known; a sort of achievement amongst scholars.
For our final work of the 17th century, we look at John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. A Puritan living in the Restoration, he reflected a new kind of Puritan, pietism. This view is a form of Calvinism, a belief that how you live your life (culture) is irrelevant to your spiritual life; that somehow, you walk a spiritual journey with no need for a physical change.
The world in Pilgrim’s Progress starts out as a wilderness, unchanged by man or science or anything else; it’s just a wilderness. Christian, the main character of this tale, abandons his wife and children because of a spiritual issue; they are all going to perish otherwise. He then leaves “the World” but he does not die; he is still a part of history yet not of it. If he isn’t on earth, where is he? Christian’s view of the future is to abandon this life for the next; leave nothing for your heirs, just get out of the world and live for the great beyond.
Nothing the King (God) or his men can do can repair the Slough of Despond, even after working on it for 1600 years. God gave it his best shot, but he couldn’t do it. There is just doom; there is no hope. History, according to the tale, is beyond reform. To make it to heaven, you have to walk across the wicket gate, but there is no cross! You leave this world, and enter the Christian life, without the salvation of Christ, still carrying your burden. You are redeemed by the cross in the next life. It is a rejection of the redemption of mankind in this world. God only saves souls.
If Christian’s repentance is signified by his abandonment of the world, then what does the wicket gate signify? He seems to enter the walk of a believer, still carrying his burden, with quite a ways to go before reaching the cross. At the least, it is a very confusing analogy concerning the Christian’s walk.
The 17th century was a battleground of rival ideas and civil wars. Europe was divided, civil wars, mostly over religion, broke out, leaving waste and ruin. Mass printing, a sort of info war, spread the message of rival groups, including proto-communism; and new rationalism, led by thinkers such as Francis Bacon or Isaac Newton, was an abandonment of the Bible and Christianity and replacing it with a new independence of man with nothing to do with Christian ethics. Magical outlook was still a force; and the secular literature and plays still reflected this cultural belief. New “rationalism” began to take hold of the elite, and the Utopias written after 1660 began to be secular only, before having focused on religion as well. An era of skepticism set in slowly, expressing itself as practical irrelevance of Christianity. Pietism spread in Protestant circles; this began an abandonment of society and a new focus on the individual walk of a believer. Old Christendom was steadily abandoned, and this abandonment was expressed in Don Quixote, a ridicule of Christendom and the Christian Church.
Now begins the 18th century, and the struggle between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestantism lessened, and began to be replaced by a debate between humanism and Christianity. This century also marked a victory for liberty in the American Revolution, and a spiritual revival with Charles Wesley’s Methodists and the Great Awakenings.
The humanistic debate can be summed up by Bernard Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees, written in 1714. It was an attack on traditional morality, as the basic idea of the book is that money spent on private vices would encourage economic growth. This book was a sort of founding of Keynesian economics, as it promoted a spending economy; if people spend money, it creates increased demand for goods and services. Everyone should become a consumer, especially of vices, because it will increase public wealth. There is no consideration of the origin of demand. He doesn’t seem to consider that proper spending, on non-vices, would have a much better and longer lasting benefit to the economy. This book scandalized European moral thought. It was widely read, and universally attacked, but regardless it spread throughout the Enlightenment. People began to see economic cause and effect as being cut off and separate from the Providence of God.
It’s approach was adopted by Adam Smith in his book, the Wealth of Nations (1776); individual decisions shape the social order and the economy through profit and loss. Smith said that individual self-interest is the central explanatory fact of social advance, and that men need freedom to pursue their own individual ends, and when there is this freedom, there will be greater wealth for society. Though there is truth to this, there must be a moral law. The nation that forgets God will perish, and the economic benefit by the vices purchased will only be short-lived.
The God of the Bible does not appear in either Mandeville’s poem or the Wealth of Nations. Mandeville supported instead the idea that there was no need of a god, but that man needed to pursue their own interests, particularly vices. Though Smith may not of agreed with the necessity to pursue vice, he did follow the basic premise; that society does not need God to prosper. This outlook dominated 18th century thought. The Scottish elite substituted social evolution for God’s moral order; they subjected sovereignty, authority, law, sanctions and progress to autonomous social forces. Individual decisions create social progress. This outlook, however, was abandoned by the French Revolutionaries, who desired central planning.
In contrast to Mandeville and Smith was a work by Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe. Written in 1719, it was an explicitly moral tale. Robinson Crusoe begins with a young man given his father’s advice; success in life by honest hard work (middle class). Defoe was directly challenging Mandeville’s outlook by saying that living in righteousness would lead to wealth. Crusoe defies his father’s advice, goes to sea, and his rejection leads to disaster. He is stubborn and does not learn from the sanctions. He goes out to sea again, and wrecks upon an island, and is only saved by the ship’s stores. Therein, he finds a Bible, which he initially ignores. The Bible later on in the story becomes a major factor in changing Crusoe’s outlook. He decides he has been a rebel; he then sees God’s providence in all that has happened. The story then begins to parallel the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
This is the complete opposite of Mandeville. This book had a large audience; even though the elite were losing their faith, the general population was solidly Christian. Throughout the book, sovereignty, authority, law, sanctions and time are all viewed from a Christian perspective. He never loses the Christian outlook of hope and faith in God’s Divine Providence. The book has retained its popularity even to today, but films ignore the Christian element. This element cannot be ignored in the original book.
Jonathan Swift was a master of satire. His response to Mandeville, A Modest Proposal, written in 1729, proposed that society should adopt cannibalism. Children, he says, should be raised to sell for a profit. This satirical work was a direct attack on Mandeville; a private vice does not turn into public benefit. It is said in the language of reform; it ridicules it. Life is far more than dollars and cents.
His most famous work, however, was Gulliver’s Travels, 1727. The introduction is an argument as to who was authorized to publish his book, which was a reference to government censors; the basic world view is that a higher overview reduces an issue’s significance. He satirically overlooks politics and laughs, from the “height” of Gulliver.
To Gulliver, the empires of the world are very small, and the State cannot be trusted to act morally. Political loyalty exists, but is not reliable, as politicians in the governments he meets betray each other at every turn; and bureaucrats spend their careers competing for trifles, such as medals and colored ribbons. As for sovereignty, authority, law sanctions and time: God is not mentioned, but the laws are not trustworthy, the sanctions imposed are evil, and the State is an illegitimate authority; so then who else to turn to but God? Gulliver discovers this when he is forced to flee the State he currently resided when they were conspiring to poison him.
The great French atheist, Voltaire, represented the French Enlightenment outlook. His book, Candide, written in 1759, was basically a long rant of skepticism; skepticism regarding the progress of man, and regarding universal optimism. He points out the bloodiness of war; the results of war are not worth the bloodshed. He also rails on the uselessness of great wealth. Candide, the character of the book, had wealth, but it all dribbled away. The Kings had wealth too, but it all went away as well. Man’s desires are impermanent; they all go away. Church leaders are corrupt; the church is not reliable and not worthwhile force in society. Power is fleeting; power does not last, and the only place that understands this is El Dorado, a Utopia contained within the novel. He believes that critical thinking is corrosive in nature; it leads to no joy at all. He doesn’t see the benefit in anything. Fortune to Voltaire is ethically blind, and he refers to the Lisbon earthquake. How could God allow for such destruction?
Instead, he advises the simplicity of contentment in cultivating your garden. Don’t try to fix your society or civilization; just till your own garden. In other words, mind your own business; its hopeless. There is no hope in society or the future. Sovereignty is not found in God, authority is not to be trusted, everything is random.
Prior to the American Revolution, the Colonies had two major advocates in Parliament; William Pitt and Edmund Burke. The two appealed to English liberties, the illegitimacy of taxation without representation, and that the Americans would not stop fighting for their political liberties. These English liberties, they said, were basic human rights and could not be revoked by Parliament. They had faith in the progress of society in America because they understood that the Americans believed in freedom. Edmund Burke argued the logic of conditions; the colonies were three months sail away! They could not be permanently defeated, so you cannot keep them suppressed; give the Americans their English freedom.
In the meanwhile, the Great Awakenings had taken place in England and the Americas, and John and Charles Wesley began the Methodist movement. Wesley’s sermons started with the biblical texts: authority. He warned about the shortness of time in life. He warned that the lure of riches is doom, but the legitimacy of riches as tools of doing good, and he did not resolve the dualism in his sermons. Wesley taught a suspicion of wealth, and to leave your children enough to live happily, not in idleness. This view of inheritance has been held by several billionaires, including Warren Buffet.
Wesley did not want personal wealth, and he gave his money away. He taught to “earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can” but the poor people who followed him ignored his advice, and learned how to become wealthy, and stayed that way. The Methodists quickly became middle and upper class, and had great influence on their communities.
18th Century conclusions; there was a major war between world views. The Scottish Enlightenment: Bernard Mandeville and Adam Smith; Christianity: Daniel Defoe, John and Charles Wesley; Anglicanism with Jonathan Swift; the French Enlightenment: Voltaire. It basically boiled down to Christianity vs. Humanism; Humanism dominated the elite of society, and resulted in the French Revolution; and Christianity predominately had power among the people, and led to the advancement of human liberty in the American Revolution. Christianity ceased to shape politics as a separate force; the church and state relationship was broken, as is shown by William Pitt and Edmund Burke’s defense of the American Revolution. Their defense was rationalistic, not based on Christianity.
We then enter the 19th century. Here, we see a rise of Deism as a replacement of Christianity. God exists, but he does not interfere in history or with mankind. On the continent, we see a reaction against Roman Catholicism by secular forces. We also see the gradual introduction of Protestant Liberalism; no more preaching on hell, no more eternal judgment, prevalent among the educated classes.
Philosophy becomes more and more humanistic. We see the rise of pre-Darwinian Evolution; there is a purpose and God does exist, we just don’t know what the purpose is or where God is to be found; a sort of Deistic Creationism. Darwinian Evolution in its full form arose in 1860. God did not create the world, there is no Providence, things and life came from nowhere. This idea spread rapidly amongst scientists, despite the fact that it attempts to refute science.
Classical liberalism also begins to take the scene. This philosophy of limited government, free trade, and freedom, begins to be upheld by may of the educated. In contrast, Socialism also arose during the same time, and was upheld by the elite who pretended to identify with the masses.
Politically, the French Revolution is replaced with the Napoleonic Empire; Napoleon takes back France. This begins an era of fierce nationalism, a philosophy where the people identify with their State and people, and their sovereignty is to be upheld above all else. This idea became a dominant political force, especially in Great Britain, as the great powers took down Napoleon, and this idea has been a dominant political force all the way through the World Wars.
Economically, the British Empire upheld free trade, and the Industrial Revolution forever altered the European culture; mass production made goods cheaper, people got richer, and people became more educated. Technological innovations became commonplace; gadgets that made life better on a scale never before imagined. The belief that society could be constantly improving became popular, and slavery was abolished by the end of the century.
Now we review the literature of the 19th century. Charles and Mary Lambs Tales from Shakespeare, target audience being young educated men, became popular; the plot lines were simple, the stories were readable. The stories, however, don’t have the power of Shakespeare’s language, but you could still understand the stories. They were like a fleshed out summary. This represented the dumbing down of the culture; you didn’t have to have the self-discipline to read actual Shakespeare, but you could get a smattering of his stories.
We also see short stories, like Grimm’s Tales and Hans Christian Anderson’s collections of stories. Those of Anderson have been extremely popular; Disney now makes millions creating feature films from these classic tales. They were stories for children, but were also popular with adults. The stories main theme is optimism; everything turns out the best at least for somebody. The winner may not deserve it, but at least there is hope. The reader leaves the book inspired. The God featured in these tales is benevolent, always kind, and there is no hell. A kind of heaven is always there. Things will get better, and there is no final judgment. The stories promote a kind of moralism; do the right thing, and things will work out for you. God is not a final judge, work your way into a final resting place.
We also still see Utopian works, such as Samuel Butler’s Erewhon. The spelling of the name is backwards for “nowhere”, so it is hard to believe that this isn’t satire; in fact, the story is at many times obviously making fun of itself. We tend to laugh at some of the pathetic cases presented to us, as he criticized English society: courts, ethics and education.
The religious background of the Utopia is a Protestant Liberalism; Butler has no interest in Evangelism or foreign missions. He doesn’t reject all god, but he rejects the Christian’s God. There is modified Darwinism; he didn’t fully hold to natural selection or inherited traits. He criticizes the churches, calling them “musical banks”. He claims that these churches don’t have any purpose, that people only have a shallow Christianity, and don’t really like the “musical banks.”
He accepts the free market:
“It is idle to say that men are not responsible for their misfortunes. What is responsibility? Surely to be responsible means to be liable to have to give an answer should it be demanded, and all things which live are responsible for their lives and actions should society see fit to question them through the mouth of its authorized agent.”
Men are responsible to society, not the State. God is not in this picture. He warns us not to turn to socialism.
“This is true philanthropy. He who makes a colossal fortune in the hosiery trade, and by his energy has succeeded in reducing the price of woolen goods by the thousandth part of a penny in the pound – this man is worth ten professional philanthropists.”
We also see the beginning of literature on the future of machinery, and a fear that one day the machines will be complicated enough to turn on their creators.
But the servant glides by imperceptible approaches into the master; and we have come to such a pass that, even now, man must suffer terribly on ceasing to benefit the machines. If all machines were to be annihilated at one moment, so that not a knife nor lever nor rag of clothing nor anything whatsoever were left to man but his bare body alone that he was born with, and if all knowledge of mechanical laws were taken from him so that he could make no more machines, and all machine-made food destroyed so that the race of man should be left as it were naked upon a desert island, we should become extinct in six weeks. A few miserable individuals might linger, but even these in a year or two would become worse than monkeys.”
Here, he is obviously referring to the fact that machines are vitally important to society. If they were to be removed, it would be the end; there would be no more humanity. So, what do we do when the machines rule us?
So, then trend of the 19th century was a transition from the old order: Christendom. We are told there is no salvation in reform; Darwinism is not going to save humanity, no permanent salvation, only a better world. Technology cannot redeem us, and biology ends with us becoming a race of crabs (Wells, The Time Machine). The world is without a final judgment, and there are no limits on the state.
Through all of this, the classical liberals have the answer, but nobody will listen. If God doesn’t limit the state, if the church doesn’t, if the family doesn’t, then what limits the state?
As we move into the 20th century, we notice the decline of written literature. It is still a force, but not nearly as much as its replacement: movies. Movies are a revolutionary form of literature: they are different, fundamentally different, the market for them is different. They have a mass audience, and they get millions of views if successful. Movies are short, at most three hours, and stories must therefore be condensed, the message must be condensed to fit within this constrained time period.
Little imagination is required: moving images, dialogue, sound effects, music, and eye focus in a movie theater. They are expensive to produce: limited selection verses the massive selection of books. There is also a centralized control over distribution. The lowest common denominator is taken into consideration, so deep themes are not often to occur in a typical Hollywood movie, and before cable or DVD, movies had a very short life expectancy. Movies, unlike books, are strictly entertainment, and utilize the star system to generate more views.
Hollywood, as the largest source of movies, has the greatest effect on our culture, and so deserves some attention to its history. It was an escape from Edison’s patents on movie cameras. So, the pioneers of movies moved far away from the Eastern seaboard, to California, far enough away so that the patent on the cameras could not be enforced. After 1913, however, this patent was no longer enforced, and Hollywood was on its own. The early pioneers were reformed Jews, and they were good marketers and businessmen. They also understood their market. They didn’t try to force a Jewish message, they just wanted to make money. The Hays Code (1934-1968) put common morality as a restriction on what could be produced as a movie, but then in 1968 the MPAA Code was passed. It introduced the G, [M] PG, R, and X ratings.
Competition to movies include the music industry (radio etc), Network TV, Cable TV, and video games, video games being the largest competitor to Hollywood. Lastly came the World Wide Web, which is also an enormous competitor. Movie makers responded with new markets; releasing movies in videotape, then DVD and Blu-ray , and airing on Cable TV. Printed literature must compete with movies, and it is not easy competition. Books must compete amongst people with weak imaginations, whereas movies provide the viewer with an imagination for them.
Cultural change can be enormously affected by movies, especially R rated films. The power of visual images, especially to men, with the introduction of the MPAA Code, was no longer limited, and the movies rapidly change the culture. The pornography was designed to motivate men to change. It has been tremendously effective. This has affected how men see women, how women see men, has destroyed the family, undermined the church, and supported the State. In a few short years, the progress of a few hundred has been almost undone. This has caused cultural fragmentation. There is no longer a common understanding of what is beautiful or good, there are no common aesthetics. There is no more common morality. There is an immense decline in literacy. There is a proliferation of entertainment options. The value of people’s time beings to rise because there are so many things trying to get your time, and mass markets are now beginning to fragment into mini markets.
So, what has been the evolution of Western Civilization since the 14th century? We began in the post dark ages, and the Bubonic Plague; along with the rise of the Protestant Reformation arose skepticism, notably the Decameron and the Canterbury Tales. We asked five questions Western Civilization has been trying to answer:
Sovereignty: “Who’s in charge here?”
Authority: “To whom do I report?”
Law: “What are the rules?”
Sanctions: “What do I get if I obey?”
Succession: “Does this outfit have a future?”
We have found that two major world views have arisen: Christianity and Humanism. Christianity itself has been divided, Protestants struggling to undo Roman Catholic heresy; Puritanism, Pietism, and Separatism against the established Anglican Church; and the Methodists rising after the Great Awakenings. We have seen Humanism arise as the Scottish and French Enlightenment, Socialism, Keynesian Economics, Communism and Nationalism. We have seen the satirical Utopias arise as people pointed out the confusion all around them. But, more importantly, we have seen that through it all, the principles of truth, liberty, and the worship of the one true God has always made it through the test of time.