Art, Totalitarianism and Western Culture

Adapted from an article published in the Summer, 1991, issue of Communio, a journal of theology and culture.

As power extends its grasp into wider and wider rings of human life it becomes more hostile to everything outside of itself. As it becomes near absolute it grows increasingly negative, because by its very nature it must oppose what cannot be extinguished in men’s beings. Totalitarian power does not rest content with obedience and a passive populace. It must seek at some point to destroy the inner impulse to creativity which depends for its well-being on freedom from manipulation. It must find and erase all resistance, all spiritual autonomy, all dignity in its subjects.

Art and War

The terrorist attacks of September 11th have shaken the entire Western world, shattering our complacency, revealing to us the state of our unpreparedness, both sociopolitically and spiritually. We must hope that the subsequent turning to God in public and private prayer will continue, and that the present conflict will not spiral out of control into a global conflict. We must pray that Christ’s peace and his true justice will triumph over man’s instinctive desire for vengeance, and his need for security.

Freedom from fear is a good, but it cannot be purchased at any cost. If our highest value is only security, then we may for a time secure the borders of the West against the fanatics who hate us. But the internal life of a people is ultimately its best guarantor of strength. If we do not return to the principles God has written into creation, and live by moral absolutes both in our private lives and in our culture, we will suffer more attacks from violent individuals and groups.

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