The path to authoritarianism?

Francis Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto is a lot to take in but for this post I want to just elaborate on one short paragraph. Before we get there, though, we need to understand Schaeffer’s broader point and his use of language. His thesis is that there are two competing worldviews in America and Northern Europe, an older Judea-Christian worldview which places God at the center of all reality, and a “humanist” worldview which denies the presence of God and places material, energy, and chance as the only basis for all reality. “Humanism” for Schaeffer, doesn’t mean having a high regard for human life – or being “humanitarian” – but rather subverting God’s place in the universe with Man. Ironically, when God is removed and only material, energy, and chance remain, the dignity of human life is undermined. It is this great clash of worldviews which for Schaeffer stands at the root of great societal shifts, particularly in America. A Christian Manifesto, written in 1981, the year before I was born, is a call to cultural and political action to turn the course back toward a Judea-Christian worldview.

Humanism leads to chaos by undermining the basis of law

Now to the paragraph in question:

“The humanists push for “freedom,” but having no Christian consensus to contain it, that “freedom” leads to chaos or to slavery under the state (or under an elite). Humanism, with its lack of any final base for law, always leads to chaos. It then naturally leads to some form of authoritarianism to control the chaos. Having produced the sickness, humanism gives more of the same kind of medicine for a cure. With its mistaken concept of final reality, it has no intrinsic reason to be interested in the individual, the human being. Its natural interest is the two collectives; the state and society.” (A Christian Manifesto, p. 29-30)

There are two important points here. First, that the “freedom” offered by humanism always leads to chaos. This is a bold statement but it flows logically. A materialistic worldview leaves no ultimate basis for moral or political law. Instead, laws become arbitrary, or at least becomes based on some sort of arbitrary set of standards. Schaeffer makes a strong case elsewhere the constitution is also undermined and provides no final defense of law either. For an historical illustration, Schaeffer compares the American revolution with the French revolution. The American revaluation, strongly influenced by Reformation ideals, led to a balance of form-freedom in government. The French revolution, based on humanist ideals, led to chaos.

Authoritarianism steps in to reign in the chaos

Schaeffer’s second point is that humanism then leads to authoritarianism. The chaos must be reined in and the most convenient way is through force – which is the basis of all governments based purely on a materialistic worldview. In a Judeo-Christian worldview, the government is still subject to a higher authority. But in the humanist worldview, there is simply no higher authority to which we can appeal. So the state – or as Schaeffer understands it, some sort of intellectual or technocratic elite – steps in to control the chaos through authoritarian control. How this authoritarianism takes hold is a question he leaves open but he guesses that it could easily be done through the promise of better economic conditions.

Conclusion – Modern equivalence?

This paragraph struck me because I immediately drew a connection to our present political situation, though whether this connection is warranted is another discussion. Regardless, we have been on the steady slope of humanism in every area of culture and government since Schaeffer wrote this book. And, this steady “progress” has led to greater levels of social chaos (at least perceived). One of the reactions against this “chaos” was the election of Donald Trump, seen by many as having authoritarian tendencies. He rose to prominence primarily by promising to rein in chaos and by promising an economic resurgence.

If that interpretation of Trump is correct, then America is not heading “back” to a better time (if one really existed) where a humanistic liberalism is held back, but is simply on the next leg of the humanist journey. I hope that this interpretation is wrong. Time will tell. Meanwhile, we are still wise to heed Schaeffer’s warning.

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