Fundamental Cultural Transitions

For many people, perhaps most, transitions are hard. Change is challenging and, when it seems especially large, it seems threatening. That explains much of today’s political turmoil in the West.

In the period after WW II, change began happening quickly. The War, we can now say with hindsight, was the climax and the death knell of some of the most fundamental pillars of Western society.

The War was won in large part because the Allies could produce unlimited weapons at an incredible rate. The American steel industry provided a constant flow of materiel but began to crumble not long after. It seems, though, that the managerial mindset which had made the mass production possible flourished. The greatest single tool of the manager’s work is data and before long silicon mattered more than steel. We might observe, therefore, that in a sense WW II marked the end of the Iron Age.

World War II followed the Great War, the one that was fought to end all war. And it preceded the Cold War, which threatened to use nuclear power to destroy all civilization. Everyone since 1945 has loved in the penumbra of the Bomb.

We could also say the last half-century has been the end of the Enlightenment or even the Renaissance. It has seen the collapse of modernity, that world view which provided a set of commonly held beliefs that united the West to one degree or another from the Renaissance era until our own day.

I’ve just read an interesting sentence that sheds a still different light on how great the transition has been. In the introductory booklet to the Great Courses lectures on the First Amendment, delivered by Dr. John Finn, I found this comment: “There are hundred of Supreme Court cases on the First Amendment, and the vast majority of those have been decided since the 1970s.” It seems that before the War we had few questions about the First Amendment, probably because we all agreed on the general tenor of its message. Now, in contrast, we have hundreds of questions.

Yesterday’s certainties are today’s questions. And the questions will remain until we again reach a time when we all agree on the fundamentals, the stoicheia, to use the term chosen by St. Paul to describe the basic elements of a world view. (See Galatians 4:3 and 4:9, Colossians 2:8 and 2:20, Hebrews 5:12, 2 Peter 3:10 and 3:12.)

Trump and the Tea Party type conservatives do not represent the future. They are simply our culture’s last flailing and futile effort to keep yesterday’s world view in place. Already in place and ready to step into influential positions is the generation that has no interest in the values that conquered the western frontier. John Wayne, Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone may once have seemed to be proto-typical Americans but now they belong only to our yesterday.

The winner of tomorrow’s version of a street fight will not be the fastest finger on the trigger but the fastest thumb on the Smart phone.


About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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