How Should We Then Live? Chapter 11: Our Society
Supreme Court Building in D.C.
Chapter 11 picks up right where chapter 10 left off. Schaeffer doesn't move to a different era in history or subject matter. Instead he continues the story of how our society changed as the world view of our political and intellectual leaders became dominated by existential modern philosophy.
Remember the story so far. Reason and logic were abandoned by philosophers in their search for universals: meaning, values, and morals. Scientists retained their reliance on objectivity and reason, but reduced all of life to molecules and machinery within a materialist world view. So for some time in the West there was this dichotomy between philosophy and science. Philosophy meandered in the realm of the illogical and absurd. Science analyzed the mechanical nature of human biology while denying the spiritual aspects of humanity.
Existential modern philosophy spread through society by popular culture. Then in the twentieth century this movement caught up to science and consumed it. Science was now seen as governed by the subjective concerns of the scientist rather than discovering objective reality. Schaeffer describes it as sociological science where societal elites use scientific justification to push an ideological agenda. Today we call that Scientism.
It also took control of political thought. "Our society" is defined by the dominance of existential philosophy over all aspects of society. Schaeffer describes here what exactly that means.
The Easy Life
With no objective universals accepted by societal elites, people no longer had a set of transcendent values on which to base their lives. Therefore, they drifted toward new values of personal peace and affluence. I call it pursuit of the Easy Life.
The whole point of life was to get a college degree, make as much money as possible, and ride out life until its over. There was no moral or logical basis for these values, no guiding principles by which to decide why pursuing a job was good in itself or how to spend your money. The previous generation of intellectuals preached that life was meaningless but often lived like there was meaning. Then, Schaeffer marks the 1964 Berkley Free Speech Movement as the start where the next generation lived out this meaninglessness completely.
Drug Culture Fails
As described before drug culture arose with the hope that narcotics could be used to discover meaning in the realm of non-reason. This new ideology was initiated by Timothy Leary, Gary Snyder, Alan Watts, and Allen Ginsberg.
"Timothy Leary, for example, said that drugs were the sacraments
for the new religion."
These men taught that drugs were the answer to the problems of modern civilization. The hippies attempted to live this out starting in 1964. With Leary's quote below, it is obvious this hope was built on sand looking at it objectively and biblically.
"Death to the mind, that is the goal you must have. Nothing else will do."
The drug culture hit a high point (pun intended) at Woodstock in 1969. The organizer proclaimed his zeal for the new gospel.
"This is the beginning of a new era. It works!"
But drugs soon proved that they didn't "work". The Altamont rock festival ended with death in December 1969. A festival on the Isle of Wight turned into chaos in August 1970. Then Jimmy Hendrix died in September 1970.
These events more or less killed drug culture but not drug taking. Using drugs simply became an escape from painful reality, much like alcohol for past generations. More and more people take drugs now in pursuit of the Easy Life.
The New Left (Neo-Marxism) Fails
Starting again with the 1964 Berkley Free Speech Movement another supposed answer for discovering meaning and values in life was the rise of the New Left. Schaeffer traces how the movement switched from Free Speech to Dirty Speech to the New Left. The New Left took its ideas from Neo-Marxists from the Frankfurt School. It consisted of people like Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Jurgen Habermas. These were all Marxists who fled fascism in Europe and became professors in US universities. They also drifted from Marxist orthodoxy. They weren't concerned with the proletariat and bourgeoisie anymore. They instead divided society by race, sex, sexual preference, and religion. We call them Cultural Marxists now. The youth who gravitated to the New Left were rightly dissenting from the shallowness of the Easy Life, but does this solution really work?
The New Left movement stopped in its tracks by 1970 due to the violence of groups like the Weather Underground. That generation was turned off by violence. They also saw the obvious oppression around the world that was done in the name of Communism. Schaeffer also notes how it eroded these cultures' value of justice and morality. See the quote about Russia by Alexander Solzhenitsyn below.
"Young people are acquiring the conviction that foul deeds are
never punished on earth, that they always bring prosperity."
Seeing all this the New Left's influence dissipated in the US, even though it took hold politically in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, this isn't the end of the New Left's story.
Drugs and Communism failed to provide meaning to the Baby Boomer generation. As a result they retreated back to the Easy Life. The hippie's in the 60s turned into the yuppies of the 80's. Rather than solve the problems they saw in their parents' generation they instead added more options for debauched sex and drugs, a more debased version of the Easy Life.
"as the young people revolted against their parents, they came around
in a big circle - and often ended an inch lower - with only the same two
impoverished values: their own kind of personal peace and their own
kind of affluence."
Communism Is A Christian Heresy
Even though the New Left failed to provide meaning to the culture at large, it found a foothold in American universities. In this incubator, the ideology has developed greatly over the last 40 years. Now we are seeing a reblooming of the New Left in the US. Since at least the mid-2010s the ideology has made a come back in the form of cultural Marxism, Critical Theory, "wokeism", and the pursuit of social justice. A concerning feature of today's Leftist movement is that today's young generation isn't as turned off by violence as seen in the acceptance of the riots by Antifa and Black Lives Matter groups.
In between these two Leftist movements, Communist ideology appealed to academics and young idealists through flowery rhetoric.
"Materialism, the philosophic base for Marxist-Leninism, gives no basis
for the dignity or rights of man. Where Marxist-Leninism is not in
power it attracts and converts by talking much of dignity and rights,
but its materialistic base gives no basis for the dignity or rights of man.
Yet it attracts by its constant talk of idealism."
I happened upon a good example of this with a short quote and a link to the article if you are interested.
"Of course, Piketty shares this “popularity” trait with many other hugely
influential and regularly praised economists of the Left, like Keynes,
Krugman and, of course, Marx. But perhaps the admiration for these
economists makes sense: they talk about things like poverty, inequality,
peace, and injustice—issues people care about."
Schaeffer then describes Communism as a Christian heresy because of it coopts Christian language.
"Not having the Christian base, until it comes to power it uses the words
for which Christianity does give a base."
The Left preaches justice and compassion in order to gain power. But of course as soon as they have gained power these words prove themselves hollow. Gone is the talk of dignity and rights.
"With no base for the dignity of the individual, only arbitrary
expediency gives whatever dignity is given. And being only
arbitrary, expediency can twist and turn at will."
This is the epitome of "might makes right". The party elite decides what is good for society even if it changes moment by moment the definition of what is good. There is no overarching law or God which provides universal, objective truth to act as guard rails.
"To forget this in regard to a system which consciously rests on the
philosophic base of materialism will be to lose not only two eyes,
but also one's head."
Schaeffer does not write about it, but the end goal of Communism is paradise on earth. Marx describes a return to the Garden of Eden specifically in his works. But he claims that in order for that to occur mankind must reject God and His design of human nature to create a new kind of man, a type of super-man. It is truly a deceptive, destructive heresy which wraps itself in a form of godliness.
"To accept Marxist-Leninism is indeed a leap into non-reason. It is
its own kind of Nietzsche game plan, a setting of limits as to what
one will observe, and a refusal to look outside of these boundaries
lest the system be brought down like a house of cards."
Development Of Arbitrary Law
Speaking of arbitrary expediency, have you noticed any appearances of it around you? Executive orders calling for wearing masks in response to a respiratory virus don't follow any scientific studies or medical industry guidelines from 2019 or before. The same can be said for 6 foot social distancing requirements and shutting down schools and private businesses without as much as a debate in a legislature. In the year 2020 there was an explosion of arbitrary expediency and calls for complete uniformity. In order to accomplish this goal, powerful organizations have also censored those trying to present an alternative view point.
In the US, we lost our philosophical base for freedom and rights when we rejected the Christian worldview described throughout this book. The system is running on fumes at this point.
"Sociologically, 'law is king' (Samuel Rutherford's Lex Rex) was no longer
the base whereby one could be ruled by law rather than the arbitrary
judgments of men and whereby there could be wide freedoms without chaos."
In place of a legal system based on God's revelation and humans reasoning up from it, leaders must find another basis. Previously, Schaeffer explained that science turned into Scientism, which he called sociological science. In chapter 11, Schaeffer states that law has now become sociological law, , where the law is arbitrary and based on what leaders think is good in the moment. This sociological law doesn't need to be based on tradition or precedent or any philosophical basis, but merely on what political leaders want to do. This viewpoint about law started in the twentieth century. Oliver Wendell Holmes thought truth itself was based on a mixture of popular opinion and "might makes right".
"Truth is the majority vote of that nation that could lick all others."
"So when it comes to the development of a corpus juris the ultimate
question is what do the dominant forces of the community want
and do they want it hard enough to disregard whatever inhibitions
may stand in the way."
A philosophical basis for a "might makes right" legal system is moral relativism, which has been the dominant value system of American elites for some time now. Before, moral relativism, the Greeks and others tried to use observations of nature as the basis of law, called Natural Law or the Law-of-Nature School of Jurisprudence. But Schaeffer has already exposed the inadequacy of nature for discovering meaning and morals (nature is cruel, fallen into sin). The same principle applies to law, which was made clear to a friend of his while watching the Nuremburg trials.
"I knew then that no moral law was written on a blade of grass, in
a drop of water, or even in the stars. I realized the necessity of the
Divine Immutable Law as set forth in the Sacred Torah, consisting
of definite commandments, statutes, ordinances, and judgments."
That leaves us in the US today in a complicated legal mess. We have existing laws which were established on legal traditions from the Bible. But those who rule over us reject these traditions and the legal system in our country. We see this whenever our rulers twist the Constitution or other laws in order to get the sociological outcome that they want.
"As arbitrary absolutes characterize communistic rule, so there is a drift
in this direction on our side of the Iron Curtain as well. This means
that tremendous changes of direction can be made and the majority of
the people tend to accept them without question - no matter how
arbitrary the changes are or how big a break they make with past law
or past consensus."
Schaeffer then goes on at some length describing the Supreme Court ruling which legalized abortion on January 22, 1973 as the prime example of arbitrary law. He contends that the ruling was arbitrary both medically and legally. Medically because there was no scientific distinction between a fetus and a baby. An arbitrary line was drawn to make the unborn baby a non-person. Legally because there were already laws in many states outlawing abortion and the Court twisted the meaning of the 13th and 14th amendments of the Constitution to justify their ruling.
Now fast forward to 2020 and analyze government reaction to the COVID-19 epidemic in the US. Every response they enacted was arbitrary. The CDC's epidemic guidelines which were published in November 2019 explicitly stated that healthy people should not be quarantined, that masks were of little to no use for stoping the spread of a respiratory virus, and warned of serious that mobility restrictions and business closures would cause serious societal problems. However, in March 2020 the CDC went against the knowledge they had accumulated over decades. Six foot social distancing was enacted with no basis in science. Masks were required inside and out despite data showing they have no affect. Governments closed schools despite children being at virtually no risk of serious illness, They also closed businesses they deemed "unessential".
These arbitrary rules have done nothing to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. But they immediately caused significant rises in murder, suicide, domestic abuse, depression, and drug overdose. I have read that some health experts expect an extra 5-10 million cancer deaths in the next 10 years due to missed or delayed cancer screenings. Low and working class families have been harmed economically through job loss. Their children are falling behind in school due to the school closures and forced remote learning. Yet very few people in our society say anything about it. No one has protested this complete reversal by the medical community and government in any meaningful way. In fact most people shame and scold those of us who question the clear problems these policies have caused.
Foundations For Arbitrary Law
In the next section Schaeffer discusses what options there are for the basis of laws once the Christian consensus is gone. He already mentioned we are governed by arbitrary expediency but he digs a little deeper into how we arrived there and in what situation we find ourselves. Schaeffer gives three options: hedonism, majority vote, and political elites.
By hedonism, Schaeffer means that everyone does what they want with no rules. It's societal chaos. In the Bible the book of Judges is an example where "every man did what was right in his own eyes". The result was depravity. Majority vote is self explanatory. Law and morals are based on voting or statistical averages.
"If there are no absolutes by which to judge society, then society
The political example given is Hitler, who could do whatever he wanted as long as he had majority support from Germans. The great weakness of thin democracy is that 51% of voters can use law as cover to steal from and kill the 49%. This idea also shows up in sociology where Alfred Charles Kinsey determined sexual morality based on what the average male and female were already doing.
But inevitably with no governing principles or objective morality those in power will make the rules based on their own desires for society. I think we have a mix of all three of these influences in our laws today. Schaeffer then distinguishes between two types of political elites. I think today we are seeing the types converging together in the US political class. The first type of elite comes from the New Left, who had lost influence when Schaeffer was writing this book. But forty years later, Cultural Marxist-Leftist political elites are making a comeback. The second type of elite he describes is a technocracy where government officials work with intellectuals and scientists to craft policy. "Futurists" in 1975 were already bringing this about.
"It's naïve to deny the necessity for some kind of competent elite."
Dare I say, the future has arrived. In Schaeffer's future he describes our daily life.
"the crucial decisions will come from government, but more and more
the decisions of both business and government will be predicated
on government-sponsored research, and 'because of the intricately
linked nature of their consequences, [the decisions] will have an
increasingly technical character.' "
"the whole state - its business, its education, its government, even
the daily pattern of the ordinary man's life - becomes a matter of
control by the technocratic elite."
Take note, when the government funds the research, they get the conclusions they have paid for. Then you must comply or suffer the consequences.
Society In The New Rome
We have been living in a world devoid of a reasonable basis for meaning and morality for many years. As discussed multiple times, there is no universal, no overarching truth that holds all the particulars together. Whether we talk about science, philosophy, or politics we are left with only material, molecules and machines, with nothing to give them meaning or purpose. It was the Christian worldview and the culture that came out of it that produced a free and prosperous society. With it not serving a leading role in our society, we are back to the worldview of Rome. We see evidence all around us.
"The marks of Rome scar us: degeneracy, decadence, depravity, a
love of violence for violence's sake."
"In the pagan Roman Empire, abortion was freely practiced, but
Christians took a stand against it. In 314 the Council of Ancyra
barred from the taking of the Lord's Supper for ten years all who
procured abortion... Previously the Synod of Elvira (305-306) had
specified excommunication till the deathbed for these offenses."
With the return of arbitrary law came the return of abortion. Will the acceptance of things like slavery come back too? Maybe not like in the past, but what else do you call the appearance of an authoritarian elite class and the subsequent deteriorating of freedoms?
"will men stand for their liberties? Will they not give up their liberties
step by step, inch by inch, as long as their own personal peace and
prosperity is sustained?"
Within the last year I have seen most people actively give up freedoms for the promise of security. If you still doubt that the US is now a type of New Rome reflect on five attributes found in Roman society: a love of luxury, large differences between rich and poor, sex fanaticism, freakish art, and a large desire to live off the state.
Now that we Christians once again live in "Rome", how should we then live?