Saving the 21st century?
The title screams but the book is pretty good. I’m referring to The Race to Save our Century by Jason Scott Jones and John Zmirak. Recently published by Crossroad, this book explores (as the subtitle puts it) “five core principles to promote peace, freedom, and a culture of life.” I am happy to report that it is not just another ideological rant.
What Jones and Zmirak have managed to do is clearly explain the mess we’re in and then outline the principles we need to get out of it. The mess grew out of "subhumanism" (the modern tendency to think of men and women in purely functional and utilitarian ways, without understanding what it means to be a human person). The consequences of subhumanism, as catastrophically exhibited throughout the 20th century, are total war, racism and nationalism, utopian collectivism, radical individualism, and utilitarian hedonism.
The five principles the authors outline as solutions are personalism (stressing the unique and absolute value of every human being), the acceptance of a transcendent moral order, the duty of government to defend society, the moral unity of the human family, and a humane economy. These are called “whole-life principles”. A final chapter traces how we actually got to where we are today, “The Road to Subhumanism”.
The principles of this book are essentially drawn from the natural law, but not in a strict philosophical framework. Rather, the moral and social fundamentals of what it means to be human are distilled from human experience in ways which make them seem fairly obvious. In each case, the consequences of ignoring the five principles are explained with terrifying clarity, drawn not from theory but from the great disasters of recent history which have done so much to destroy both human understanding and human confidence.
It is a significant achievement, at least in America, for the authors to discuss these issues without falling into simplistic liberal or conservative traps. Throughout, they use a non-ideological, common sense approach. This actually owes much to Catholic social teaching in its ability to transcend the left-right dialectic, which typically stymies authentic human development today. Rooted firmly in history, the discussion avoids dull abstractions without once losing sight of the principles the authors wish to illuminate.
Now, Jones and Zmirak could have written an explicitly Christian book on this same subject, situating it squarely within the New Evangelization. Instead, they have taken a natural approach to recognizing our problems and their solutions, in the hope of speaking to everyone. It may be, of course, that without the grace of Christ, these principles can no longer be “heard” in our time. My own suspicion that this is so has been steadily growing, and this is the only thing which prevents me from placing great hope in the scope of the book’s influence. On the other hand, the book can also provide Christians with the sound natural principles they need for social, political and economic life.
Still, the authors have strong track records in appealing to modern sensibilities for a good cause. Jones is a filmmaker whose credits include Bella. Zmirak is the author of the popular Bad Catholic’s Guides. Thus by appealing to experience rather than philosophy, and by writing with an urgency supported by historical trends, the authors have made their thesis far more interesting. One might say they have made it tangible. It is just this that gives The Race to Save our Century a fighting chance.
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