One of the key themes of the book I’m just beginning to work on — provisionally titled Christian Humanism and Total War — is that the renewal of Christian humanism during World War II owes less to the war itself than to a crucial development that (inevitably) accompanied the war: a dramatically accelerating transformation of the Western democracies into militarized technocracies.

I recently discovered a 1944 essay by T. S. Eliot called “The Responsibility of the Man of Letters in the Cultural Restoration of Europe” that addresses this transformation and provides a very concise summary of the Christian humanist response to this social transformation. This passage in particular is key:

I have suggested that the cultural health of Europe, including the cultural health of its component parts, is incompatible with extreme forms of both nationalism and internationalism. But the cause of that disease, which destroys the very soil in which culture has its roots, is not so much extreme ideas, and the fanaticism which they stimulate, as the relentless pressure of modern industrialism, setting the problems which the extreme ideas attempt to solve. Not least of the effects of industrialism is that we become mechanized in mind, and consequently attempt to provide solutions in terms of engineering, for problems which are essentially problems of life.

A good word not only for that hour but for our own.

The essay is available various places online, often under somewhat different titles (it was reprinted by several periodicals in the year following its first publication): one version may be found here.