In my humble opinion, anyone who wants to participate in the conversation about the state of contemporary culture with any usefulness needs to have read and reckoned with the book After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre, the third edition of which was published in 2007.
MacIntyre (an emeritus professor at Notre Dame University) ends the book thusly:
What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are not waiting for a Godot, but for another – doubtless very different – St. Benedict.
This closing passages gives sound voice to the situation as I see it. Let no one think that this blog is for depressives or apocolyptics. I do not believe the world is about to end – that is in God’s providence, not my own. However, it seems clear that the foundations stones of what was known as Western Civilization are gone and are not coming back.
Some compare our time with the time of the Christians of the first and second centuries. I disagree – as does MacIntyre – for it seems much more akin to the time of the fifth century. The first Christians were dealing with a wholly pagan empire and civilization that had heard of virtue but not of Christ. Those of the 400’s, men like St. Benedict, were living in a culture that had known virtue and had heard of Christ but rejected Him in favor of materialism and hedonistic pleasures.
This is like unto our age. The Roman Empire fell into disarray after 476 and fall of the last Emperor. This lead the the wider political, social, economic and educational fall-out popularly referred to as the Dark Ages. I submit that we are wandering towards that day in our own time. Certainly there is enough political, social, economic and educational strength left in the contemporary West. However, the communal virtue, ethic, the transcendent upon which these things were founded is utterly gone from the public square. As MacIntyre argues so forcefully and so well, there is no virtue left governing the social order. What will happen when that political, social, economic and educational strength are challenged?
But we are not without hope. We who have hoped in Christ and have put our will into ordering our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor to the mind of Christ have the power to undertake, “the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained. . .” This is the temporal goal of my life and indeed the worldly end of the Church. Our eternal goal is God Himself and these goals on earth push us towards that end.
MacIntyre points out rightly that the only real threat is, “our lack of consciousness of this. . .” We must not fall further into this lack, for we have been granted the tradition and the power to rise up and build a civiliation, a culture that will endure unto eternity.
More to come – I hope this has been a not-too-long introduction.