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Home/Rod Dreher/Sorokin & The West’s Future

Sorokin & The West’s Future

Pitirim Sorokin

As readers may recall, I am about to start working on a new book (once I get a contract), one that will complete a trilogy that I didn’t set out to write as a trilogy. I don’t have a title for this book yet, but I intend it to be a look forward to the renewed world that I believe will come into being after the collapse of the current order — a collapse, by the way, that could take a long time, and will be extremely distressing. If The Benedict Option is about how to build kinds of lay monasteries to keep the Christian faith alive through this long winter’s night; and if Live Not By Lies is a more acute version of same, narrowly focused on how to resist and thrive under direct persecution; then this new book is going to be about how to prepare oneself spiritually and holistically for the rebirth of civilization.

That sounds very grandiose, and abstract — but it’s not. The book is going to play around with big ideas, but my goal is to inspire readers to re-awaken themselves to the practice of the presence of God in our world, and to teach them how to re-learn to see the world we live in through spiritual, sacramental eyes, as our forefathers in the first millennium of Christianity did.

The book proposal is at my publisher’s now, so I didn’t get to include in it an idea that I used to think about a lot, but had not in some time: the work of the Russian-born sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, an anti-Bolshevik exile who was the founder of the sociology department at Harvard. The other day I was looking on my bookshelves for something and ran across a copy of his 1941 book The Crisis of Our Age, in which he laid out for a general readership his sociological theory of cultural change. This morning, I looked back on the Wayback Machine and found a 2008 Beliefnet post I did about it, after I first read the book. Here’s what I had to say back then. I’m not going to reformat this, but simply indicate when it begins, and when it ends.

[BEGIN 2008 SOROKIN POST]

I have been meaning for some time to read from the work of Pitirim Sorokin (d. 1968), the great Russian emigre intellectual who was the first head of Harvard’s sociology department, and eventually became the leading sociologist in the country. He was professionally very close to his Harvard departmental colleague Carle C. Zimmerman, whose recently reissued work “Family and Civilization” I’ve blogged about recently. I ran across Sorokin’s name last week, and decided to order his 1941 book “The Crisis of Our Age” from the wondrous used-books seller Alibris.com. I’ve just finished the book. My preliminary judgment is that it’s breathtaking, but I’m going to have to read it again and think through Sorokin’s conclusions before I reach a more definitive conclusion. Nevertheless, as you’ll see in this lengthy post, Sorokin’s ideas are absolutely key to the idea that traditionalist conservatives, religious and otherwise, would be wise to take the “Benedict Option”: to consciously withdraw to some extent from a dying cultural order and, in seeking out a way to live faith and virtue out in community, lay the groundwork for what may succeed the current order.

(Note well: if any of this Sorokin business appeals to you, I encourage you to order today “The Crisis of Our Age,” which is very readable; Alibris only has a very limited supply, and Amazon.com is selling them for $61 each — three times what I paid via Alibris!)

Now, on to the book.

“The Crisis of Our Age” proclaimed Sorokin’s view that the West was in a terminal crisis, but that its resolution, however shocking and traumatic, would not mean the End, as is often thought, but only the transition to a new and very different phase of that civilization. “Crisis” is a summation of Sorokin’s cyclical theory of social development. He believed that civilizations cycle through three basic states, based on the dominant view of the nature of truth within that civilization:

1. The ideational, in which a culture is built around God, or some other transcendental source of truth. Material concerns are secondary to spiritual ones.

2. The idealistic, which synthesizes spiritual and material values through reason.

3. The sensate, in which a culture is built around material concerns, and de-emphasizes the spiritual as the foundation upon which the culture is built.

Sorokin held that both the ideational and sensate were only partial truths, and that true human flourishing would be out of balance if civilization focused too heavily on one over the other. Yet both provide for authentic human needs; as such, neither ideational nor sensate cultures can go on forever, without suffering a correction — possibly traumatic — marking the transition from one state to another. The idealistic model is, well, ideal, but it is also the most unstable, and rarest.

The story of the West since the fall of Rome illustrates his theory. The sensate culture of ancient Rome decayed so much that Roman civilization could neither perpetuate nor protect itself. So the Western empire fell. Out of the chaos emerged the ideational culture of Christianity, propagated chiefly by monks. Christian faith and Christian moral teaching spoke to the needs of post-Roman Europe, which oriented itself around ascetic Christian ideals, and began rebuilding civilization.

As order developed and wealth began to spread, the ideational culture of the early Middle Ages, gave way to the idealistic culture of the High Middle Ages, perfected intellectually in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastics. But then, in the 14th century, the Scholastics lost the great medieval debate to the Nominalists, who taught that the only truths we can know for sure are those revealed to us through our senses. That was the critical moment, the first cause of the transition between idealistic and sensate culture. Richard Weaver, in “Ideas Have Consequences,” writes:

It was William of Occam who propounded the fateful doctrine of nominalism, which denies that universals have a real existence His triumph tended to leave universal terms mere names serving our convenience. The issue ultimately involved is whether there is a source of truth higher than, and independent of, man; and the answer to the question is decisive for one’s view of the nature and destiny of humankind. The practical result of nominalist philosophy is to banish the reality which is perceived by the intellect and to posit as reality that which is perceived by the senses. With this change in the affirmation of what is real, the whole orientation of culture takes a turn, and we are on the road to modern empiricism.It is easy to be blind to the significance of a change because it is remote in time and abstract in character. Those who have not discovered that worldview is the most important thing about a man, as about the men composing a culture, should consider the train of circumstances which have with perfect logic proceeded from this. The denial of universals carries with it the denial of everything transcending experience. The denial of everything transcending experience means inevitably — though ways are found to hedge on this — the denial of truth. With the denial of objective truth there is no escape from the relativism of “man the measure of all things. ” The witches [on the heath in “Macbeth” — RD] spoke with the habitual equivocation of oracles when they told man that by this easy choice he might realize himself more fully, for they were actually initiating a course which cuts one off from reality. Thus began the “abomination of desolation” appearing today as a feeling of alienation from all fixed truth.

 

Sorokin’s analysis agrees with this. But as Sorokin makes clear, this was by no means an unambiguously bad thing. Sensate culture brought about the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, astonishing scientific discoveries and technological developments, democracy, capitalism — in short, the modern world. The entire history of the West since the 14th century has been about the progressive liberation of the individual from all constraint. No one can deny that this has brought about enormous benefits. Certainly Sorokin doesn’t deny this.

But there’s a hitch, and it’s a fatal one. Here’s Sorokin:

A further consequence of such a system of truth [sensate] is the development of a temporalistic, relativistic, and nihilistic mentality. The sensory world is in a state of incessant flux and becoming. There is nothing unchangeable in it — not even an eternal Supreme Being. Mind dominated by the truth of the senses simply cannot perceive any permanency, but apprehends all values in terms of shift and transformation Sensate mentality views everything from the standpoint of evolution and progress. This leads to an increasing neglect of the eternal values, which come to be replaced by temporary, or short-time, considerations. Sensate society lives in, and appreciates mainly, the present. Since the past is irretrievable and no longer exists, while the future is not yet here and is uncertain, only the present moment is real and desirable.

And, elsewhere:

We have seen that modern sensate culture emerged with a major belief that true reality and true value were mainly and exclusively sensory. Anything that was supersensory was either doubtful as a reality or fictitious as a value. It either did not exists or, being unperceivable by the senses, amounted to the nonexistent. Respectively, the organs of senses, with the secondary help of human reason, were made the main arbiter of the true and false, of the real and unreal, and of the valuable and valueless. Any charismatic-supersensory and superrational revelation, any mystic experience, ay truth of faith, began to be denied, as a valid experience, a valid truth, and a genuine value. The major premise of the sensory nature of the true reality and value is the root from which developed the tree of our sensate culture with its splendid as well as its poisonous fruit. Its first positive fruit is an unprecedented development of the natural sciences and technological inventions. The first poisonous fruit is a fatal narrowing of the realm of true [absolute] reality and true value.

One thinks of Philip Rieff’s insight that our world today has become therapeutic, in the sense that we have relinquished the solidity and psychological comfort of God and all the concept of God entails, and devote our time to therapeutic means of coping with the pain of nihilism. Here’s a bit from my first post on the reissued version of Rieff’s “The Triumph of the Therapeutic”:

In the introductory chapter of “Triumph,” Rieff says that the overturning of Christian civilization has given rise to a civilization in which people wish to retain inherited morality without “the hard external crust of institutional discipline.” But this isn’t possible, according to Rieff, because any culture survives by the strength of its institutions, and their ability to “bind and loose men in the conduct of their affairs” in ways that are “commonly and implicitly understood.” When a culture stops to think about why we do things this way and not that way, and there are no institutions powerful enough to say, in effect, “Because that’s the way we do it” — then you have a culture in decline.

The impact collapse of Christianity as a binding civilizational force in the West cannot be overestimated. We now live in a world where any appeal to idealism is immediately suspect. Writes Rieff: “The question is no longer as Dostoevski put it: ‘Can civilized men believe?’ Rather: Can unbelieving men be civilized?” That is, can people who do not believe in the existence of objective truth, and the possibility that it can be authoritatively expressed, ever form a durable civilization?

 

Sorokin says it cannot happen. The tragedy (in the classical sense) of the West is that the same idea, or ideas, that made the West’s rise possible by releasing the creative energies of the individual contained within them the seeds of the West’s decline through dissipation, disunity and fragmentation. This insight is echoed in Alasdair MacIntyre’s “After Virtue.”

Sorokin says that “sensate thinkers” of the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries understood the risk to social stability and cohesion from the abandonment of God and binding transcendental values, and tried to shore up the system by preaching a rational God in whom it was necessary to believe for the sake of social order. Sorokin:

Unfortunately, they appear to have forgotten that if religion and ideational norms were a mere artificial mythology invented as a useful adjunct to the policeman and the gallows, such an illusion could not last long without being exposed. With this fraud exposed, sensate values themselves could not help losing their “saltiness,” and hence their prestige and controlling power.

There is a clear line of causation between William of Ockham and Friedrich Nietzsche, who saw far more clearly than most.

I don’t have the time to go into much more detail about Sorokin’s historical analysis here, but I found it fascinating how he showed from the historical record how wars, and the destructiveness of wars, spiked as cultures were transitioning from one system to another. Sorokin appears to believe that the wars were not so much catalysts for the destruction of the old and the coming of the new as they were symptoms of mass social restlessness, the externalization of internal disorder. Writing as he did in 1941, his prose is at times overheated, but he predicted that the 20th century would be by far the bloodiest in human history. This is before World War II played itself out, and before we knew anything of the Holocaust. The exposure of the full range of communism’s mass murder lay in the future.

What of the future? Sorokin believed that we were living through the “twilight” of sensate culture, and that a transition either into a idealistic or ideational successor was inevitable — though he did not predict how that was likely to come about (it seems that writing in 1941, he believed that a succession of cataclysmic wars were going to do it in; to the extent he believed that, he was wrong, obviously). Yet Sorokin did not believe that the Western population would disappear (though one wonders what he would have made of the West’s depopulation today), nor did he believe that all our material wealth and knowledge would disappear (as it did when Rome fell). Instead, Sorokin said that of necessity people would, to use Nietzsche’s phrase, undergo a “transvaluation of all values” (though Nietzsche, of course, sought the final overthrow of Christian values in favor of sensate ones). We are seeing and will continue to see a split in society:

Extreme hedonists and cynicists, on the one hand, and extreme ascetics and mystics on the other, whose kingdom is not of this world, will increasingly appear. The chasm between these will grow and society in its soul and members will be split more and more into these two extreme types, until the transition is over and the extreme hedonism of the Carpe diem dies out.On a small or large scale such a split has uniformly occurred in small and great transitions; and especially in the period of the great transitions from one culture to another. Bocaccio’s Decameron with its hedonistic company, and the medieval flagellants, mystics, and ascetics are the concrete examples of such a split in the transitions of the fourteenth century. Vulgar Roman Epicureans and Petroniuses on the one hand, and Stoics, ascetics, and Christians on the other, are another example of such a split in the transition of the first centuries of our era. A similar split is already appearing and will undoubtedly grow in the future in Western society.

He doesn’t elaborate on that point here, and I have to say I don’t see many signs of it from the 1940s on. But I see the logic here, and I think that increased prosperity has masked and ameliorated many of the crises predicted by Sorokin. A permanent energy crisis, in which cheap oil ends but no replacement is found, would radically change our entire way of life, and expose our atomization and the values that led to it for the debilitating things they are.

Sorokin, (inadvertently) on the Whig Theory of History:

[T]he tragic character of the decline and of the transitional period, before the new phase is reached, does not permit our theory to share in any way the shallow optimism of the salesmen of “progress,” of the philistine “boosters” of the commercialized “bigger and better.” If the Cassandras crying “the death of civlization” are mistaken, they at least do not turn the great tragedy of this historical process into a musical comedy. As for the “salesmen of progress,” be they “science managers,” scholars, presidents of this or that, journalists, or chamber of commerce speakers, they are not only mistaken but they do not have even the virtue of the misguided Cassandras. They are so deaf that they can never distinguish a tragic “dies irae, dies illa” from something “fine and dandy.” Whatever happens in the course of time they welcome as a later and therefore bigger and better manifestation of progress.

What to do? The first thing, says Sorokin, is for people to understand the nature of the crisis:

It is high time to realize that this is not one of the ordinary crises which happen almost every decade, but one of the greatest transitions in human history from one of its main forms of culture to another. An adequate realization of the immense magnitude of the change now upon us is a necessary condition for determining the adequacy of measures and means to alleviate the magnitude of the pending catastrophe.

Second, we have to recognize that sensate culture is “not the only great form of culture.” Ideational and idealistic cultures are “in their own way as great.”

Third, we must accept that in the course of time, each of these cultures exhausts itself creatively, necessitating a shift to another basic form if the people of that culture want to continue their “creative life.”

Fourth, if we’re convinced that the shift is necessary and inevitable, we should prepare for it through deeply understanding the main premises and values of sensate culture, and rejecting them because they are only a partial accounting of reality. (Sorokin believed the idealistic/integralist form was the highest, and most truthful, form). Though Sorokin doesn’t say this outright, he cannot possibly mean anything other than a return to traditional religion, whether a revived Christianity of something else.

We will know that the transition is well underway, Sorokin says, when the most creative minds turn from engagement with the fields of endeavor that serve sensate ends, and are instead attracted to ideational/idealistic pursuits. We will know the transition is well underway when we see among us new St. Pauls, new St. Augustines — and new St. Benedicts.

Fifth, there must be a “transformation of social relationships and forms of social organization” to correspond with ideational ideals — which is to say, reality. This means that it is possible, for example, that the nation-state will disappear, as irreconcilable with absolute values that society needs. Being faithful to God may — may — require the withering away of certain forms of social organization.

Sixth, there must be an organic (that is, non-coerced, freely chosen) restoration of the traditional nuclear family, and the construction of social forms that favor its flourishing (versus the flourishing of the autonomous individual, or the state, or some other collective).

Sorokin did not believe that this transition could take place without real trauma. Man cannot seem to learn from history. He behaves

as if there were no causal relationships and consequences; as if there were no such thing as socio-cultural sickness, and hence no need to sacrifice momentary pleasures and other sensate utilities and values in order to avoid an infinitely greater catastrophe. In this field of experience he remains virtually unteachable.

Here are the final lines of the book:

The more unteachable we are, and the less freely and willingly we choose the sole course of salvation open to us, the more inexorable will be the coercion, the more pitiless the ordeal, the more terrible the dies irae of the transition. Let us hope that the grace of understanding may be vouchsafed us and that we may choose, before it is too late, the right road — the road that leads not to death but to the further realization of man’s unique creative mission on this planet! Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini!

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Or, you might read it as, “Benedict, who comes in the name of the Lord!” Compare this to MacIntyre’s final lines in “After Virtue”:

A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead . . . was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. . . . This time, however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another — doubtless quite different — St. Benedict.

I’m not presenting Sorokin’s analysis here as fact. Obviously I’m highly sympathetic to it, but it raises some difficult questions, as does any philosophy that requires historical determinism. As I often do, I share it here with you to help me think through it. And I’ll ask here the same questions I posed recently in a post about Wendell Berry:

At what point to you conclude that the way we’re living now is not going to be sustainable in the future that’s rapidly coming upon us, and that it’s time to make prudent, though perhaps somewhat radical, changes, given the consequences of failing to prepare for the economic end of the Modern era?

At what point do you — do any of us — accept that we can’t keep living like we do, because the old order will not survive the shocks to come? And to really accept that, as opposed to endlessly contemplating it on blogs and in bar conversation, is to act on it. All of which is a roundabout way of asking the question: at what point do you yourself become a new, and doubtless very different, Benedictine?

[END 2008 SOROKIN POST]

This post appeared nine years before The Benedict Option did. I chuckled at the very 2008 concern in it about Peak Oil, but otherwise it holds up well.

Re-reading about Sorokin, I realized that his thought is the link between this forthcoming book project and both of its immediate predecessors. I am primarily interested in re-spiritualizing the West because I believe that God is real, that Christianity is true, and that we will not be able to reclaim its transformative power until and unless we re-learn to experience the world sacramentally, as medievals did. What Sorokin does is to place that aspiration into a dynamic historical context, and make it out to be the prep work for renewing the world through re-spiritualization. Sorokin believed it was inevitable, because mankind cannot live in the sensate world permanently.

You will have noticed that Sorokin talks about “integralism,” which of late has been a controversial topic in these parts. He believed that some kind of social order that better integrates religious values to laws and policies is optimal for human flourishing. I suspect he’s right about that, but notice too that he speaks of the need to restore the family organically (that is, through a non-coerced way). I’m going to go back and re-read The Crisis Of Our Age to be sure, but I am confident that he would say that an integralist society has to be the result of spiritual and cultural conditions within the society, not something imposed from the outside by an authoritarian minority which doesn’t share the religious convictions of the majority. In other words, if you want integralism in the future, start evangelizing and discipling people now.

I’m so happy I rediscovered Sorokin, who seems to have been lying dormant on my bookshelf waiting for this moment in my career as a writer. I recall too that around the same time I read Nikolai Berdyaev, one of Sorokin’s contemporaries, though what I learned from him I have forgotten. Time to rediscover it. What excites me about the Sorokin connection is that his thought gives me a way to ground the spiritual transformation I seek — the re-Christianization of the West — to a hopeful theory of cultural change. Mind you, there is no reason to be fully confident that the West’s long-term future will be Christian. But if you read Sorokin, then there is reason to believe that it will be much more spiritually focused than it has been for centuries.

By the way, in doing research this morning, I came across this 2012 blog post from the left-wing cultural critic Morris Berman, who enthusiastically cites Sorokin’s take on the decline of our civilization. Here’s part of what Berman saw in him:

Sorokin’s predictions for this end-game scenario (remember, he’s writing this nearly seventy-five years ago) were as follows:

  1. The boundary between true and false, and beautiful and ugly, will erode. Conscience will disappear in favor of special interest groups. Force and fraud will become the norm; might will become right, and brutality rampant. It will be a bellum omnium contra omnes, and the family will disintegrate as well. “The home will become a mere overnight parking place.”
  1. Sensate values “will be progressively destructive rather than constructive, representing in their totality a museum of sociocultural pathology….The Sensate mentality will increasingly interpret man and all values ‘physicochemically,’ ‘biologically,’ ‘reflexologically,’ ‘endocrinologically,’ ‘behavioristically,’ ‘economically’…[etc.].”
  1. Real creativity will die out. Instead, we shall get a multitude of mediocre pseudo-thinkers and vulgar groups and organizations. Our belief systems will turn into a strange chaotic stew of science, philosophy, and magical beliefs.“Quantitative colossalism will substitute for qualitative refinement.” What is biggest will be regarded as best. Instead of classics, we shall have best-sellers. Instead of genius, technique. Instead of real thought, Information. Instead of inner value, glittering externality.  Instead of sages, smart alecs. The great cultural values of the past will be degraded; “Michelangelos and Rembrandts will be decorating soap and razor blades, washing machines and whiskey bottles.”
  1. Freedom will become a myth. “Inalienable rights will be alienated; Declarations of Rights either abolished or used only as beautiful screens for an unadulterated coercion. Governments will become more and more hoary, fraudulent, and tyrannical, giving bombs instead of bread; death instead of freedom; violence instead of law.” Security will fade; the population will become weary and scared.“Suicide, mental disease, and crime will grow.”
  1. The dies irae of transition will not be fun to live through, but the only way out of this mess, he wrote, is precisely through it. Under the conditions outlined above, the “population will not be able to help opening its eyes [this will be a very delayed phase in the U.S., I’m guessing] to the hollowness of the declining Sensate culture…. As a result, it will increasingly forsake it and shift its allegiance to either Ideational or Idealistic values.” Finally, we shall see the release of new creative forces, which “will usher in a culture and a noble society built not upon the withered Sensate root but upon a healthier and more vigorous root of integralistic principle.” In other words, we can expect “the emergence and slow growth of the first components of a new sociocultural order.”

And I returned just now to this literary essay by my friend Evgeny Vodolazkin, author of the great novel Laurus and an academic expert on the medieval period. He believes we are on the cusp of a new Middle Ages. Excerpt:

To examine the similarity between contemporary life and the Middle Ages, I turned to literary material, since that’s what’s closest to me. Yet literature is only a partial manifestation of a nation’s or culture’s spiritual state. Nikolai Berdyaev divides epochs into days and nights. Days include antiquity and the modern age. They’re colorful and magnificent, and they go down in history as moments of explosive display. The night epochs—such as the Middle Ages—are outwardly muted but profounder than those of the day. It is during the sleep of night that what has been perceived during the day can be assimilated. A night epoch allows for insight into the essence of things and for concentrating strength. We are now entering such a time.

As far as naming the coming epoch, it might be called, with a dose of humor, the Epoch of Renaissance, since it is reviving some qualities of the Middle Ages. Alas, it seems that the name is taken. In my view, the coming epoch’s intent attention to metaphysics, its intent attention not just to the surface reality but to what might lie beyond it, gives cause for calling it the Epoch of Concentration.

Each epoch resolves certain problems. What issues stand before the Epoch of Concentration? I’ll name two, though they’re actually one twofold issue: excessive individualization and the secularization of life. In the modern age, the individual required recognition. Faith required lack of faith so that the believer would have a choice and so that faith wouldn’t be a mere everyday habit. This train gathered speed but didn’t stop. It kept moving even after reaching its station. It now seems to have gone pretty far beyond its destination. The cult of the individual now places us outside divine and human community. The harmony in which a person once found himself with God during the Middle Ages has been destroyed, and God no longer stands at the center of the human consciousness.

The humanism of the modern age takes that the human being is the measure of all things. The same could be said of the Middle Ages, with one correction: The person is the measure of all things, if it is understood that the measure was given by God. Humanism becomes inhuman without that correction. As the rights set down for the individual multiply, a turn is inevitably coming for a right to cross the street against a red light. Because our concept of rights is anti-humane at its core, it activates the mechanism for self-destruction. The right to suicide turns out to be our most exemplary liberty.

If the West is able to move beyond its geopolitical disagreements with Russia and take a good look at the conservative project that’s taking shape in Russia now, it will see one possible future for our common European civilization. Today as ever—contrary to progressive conceits—it is possible for a society to recognize a place for religion and uphold traditional notions of marriage and family. Yet Russia’s attempt to do this will fail if a harsh dictatorship of the majority arises. This would destabilize society no less than, say, the dictatorship of the minority that we can observe at times in the West. If it becomes clear that this is a dynamic, self-regulating system capable of reacting to shifts as they arise, the project can be considered successful.

I completely missed at the time this follow-up essay by Vodolazkin, explaining his idea about the “Epoch of Concentration”. Excerpt:

Of course, pronouncements about the future must be tentative. But they are permissible when the future is to some degree already evident in the present. That is our situation. The modern age is giving way to the age of concentration. And so I believe that I am within my rights to formulate a number of suppositions:

• The history of European civilizations is at present living through one of its epochal shifts. Using the terminology of Nicholas Berdyaev, one can say that a “nocturnal” period is in store, a time of concentration during which we internalize the experiences received during the “daytime” of the modern age.

• The most recent “nocturnal” period was the ­Middle Ages. The coming age will probably bring to the fore a medieval emphasis on metaphysics. One should keep in mind that a change of epochs often does not proceed in a single step, but does so in jolts or pulses, with tide-like ebbs and flows.

• The main level of concentration will be personal, since the subject of moral and metaphysical ­experience is the human person himself. The national leader will also come into concert with the metaphysical demands of the epoch.

• This age of concentration will also have a social dimension and expression. It will consist of the restoration of nation-states as the form for the existence of peoples. In comparison to the global frame of reference that was emphasized in the last half century, the national level will have priority.

• One of the manifestations of the age of concentration will be the final rejection of any attempts to realize utopias such as communism in Russia and globalism in the West.

• With the demise of utopian conceptions, the ­futuristic mindset will probably also depart. ­Postmodernism foreshadows this. Its heightened, often ironic ­attention to the past has served to impress upon society the ­importance of having a retrospective view of things. As it develops, ­postmodernism laughs less and less. At a certain point, it begins to sound a lot like the ­Middle Ages. We are entering an epoch when the phrase “­social progress” will sound unconvincing, and the words “past” and “present” will outweigh the word “­future.”

A metaphysical future? This is at the core of the new book project. I can hardly wait to get started! I predict that it will do me a world of good to focus fully on a project filled with hope.

I would just add that the “nocturnal” period in the West was the Age of Benedict, in which the monks regathered the spiritual energies that had been spent when Roman civilization fell. The culmination of this was the Age of Francis & Dominic, who scattered what Benedict had gathered. (This idea is not mine; it came from G.K. Chesterton.) My Benedict Option idea is an exhortation to gathering in. Only by gathering in can we preserve and start replenishing the spiritual energies that have been wasted over the last two or three centuries.

UPDATE: Reader D.W. sends this link to the text of The Crisis of Our Age online, which is free to read.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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