Western man for centuries now has lost the key to his own meaning. He has been striving for a long time to break out of the ruins of a City half destroyed at his own hands. Political Liberalism of the old-fashioned Marxian variety grew out of a psychological desire to get away from where man actually found himself. Post-World War II existentialist despair, considered as a socio-historical reality, is a philosophical justification for this urge to break all existing cultural and historical limits. What must be done, at all costs, is to exorcise our common historical heritage, our faith, our corporate memories. A fresh beginning can be the only beginning. This is a presupposition that is operative everywhere, most concretely in the arts, most consciously in philosophy, and most dangerously in religion.
Such is the estrangement modern man has carved for himself. In social and economic life the masses are estranged from their spiritual and cultural past. Politically, techniques forged by Western man himself have alienated him from his ancient freedom. The home, the nation, the Church, the West, the past, roots, origins — these are always wrong, always wicked: only the wilderness of the future promises salvation. The poet has retreated to that uniquely modern place invented in the early nineteenth century — the state of mind called Bohemia. His destiny seems assured when he has pruned away everything reminiscent of the objective order, and when he finds himself alone with his broken soul. Philosophically, the age has had urged on it the clever monstrosity that since consciousness renders to me what is Other than Myself, then my personality is defined by a negation. Theologically, the Barbarian God of the peat bogs has come back with “neo-orthodoxy,” and man is told that he is so utterly other than God that he is in no sense the image of his Creator. The human fabric has been so cut to ribbons that man has been reduced to a nothing that can parade his utter absurdity only by putting on a mask. The clown has come into his own.
(Frederick D. Wilhelmsen, Hilaire Belloc: No Alienated Man. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1953, pp. 44–45).
It is a grave error to place exclusive confidence in old men. The mission of old men is to hinder evil. That of the young is to do good; and this double destination requires the united action of both states of life. Give the helm to a young man, he will upset everything under the pretext of reforms. Give it to an old man, he will let everything become corrupt for fear of innovation. But as all human institutions hold within themselves the germ of decay, and one must continually repair if one would not see the building fall in ruins it follows that public affairs cannot get on without the activity of youth. Old age learns nothing, corrects nothing, establishes nothing.
(Joseph de Maistre; quoted in T.L.L. Teeling, “Joseph de Maistre,” The American Catholic Quarterly Review, Vol. XX, 1895, p. 837).
I must introduce a parenthetical protest against the abuse of the current term ‘social justice’. From meaning ‘justice in relations between groups or classes’ it may slip into meaning a particular assumption as to what these relationships should be; and a course of action might be supported because it represented the aim of ‘social justice’, which from the point of view of ‘justice’ was not just. The term ‘social justice’ is in danger of losing its rational content — which would be replaced by a powerful emotional charge. I believe that I have used the term myself: it should never be employed unless the user is prepared to define clearly what social justice means to him, and why he thinks it just.
(T.S. Eliot, Notes Towards the Definition of Culture. New York: Houghton, Brace and Company, 1949, p. 15).
To try to make men equal by altering social arrangements is like trying to make the cards of equal value by shuffling the pack. Men are fundamentally unequal, and this inequality will show itself arrange society as you like.
(James Fitzjames Stephen, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. New York: Holt & Williams, 1873, p. 235).
A similar pattern is to be observed everywhere: the institutions which make the survival of the pluralist society possible — the legal system, the school, the family, the university, the market — are attacked by totalitarian forces using liberal slogans, in the name of freedom in other words. Freedom appears as the absence of law and responsibility, in the anarchistic sense, and thus promises all the consequences which European social philosophy has pointed to for several hundred years: unlimited freedom for everyone means unlimited rights for the strong or, according to Dostoyevsky, in the end, absolute freedom equals absolute slavery.
(Leszek Kolakowski, Modernity on Endless Trial. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990, p. 172).
War, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. […] A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.
(John Stuart Mill, “The Contest in America,” Fraser’s Magazine, Vol. LXV, 1862, p. 268).
The men whom the people ought to choose to represent them are too busy to take the jobs. But the politician is waiting for it. He’s the pestilence of modern times. What we should try to do is make politics as local as possible. Keep the politicians near enough to kick them. The villagers who met under the village tree could also hang their politicians to the tree. It’s terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged today.
(G.K. Chesterton, Interview to the Cleveland Press, March 1, 1921).