A Culture in Transition

Here are the opening paragraphs of a book written by a thoughtful American philosopher and cultural observer. I won’t give you his name or the date of the book. Your job as you read these words is to guess when the book was published.


“Human conduct and belief are now undergoing transformations profounder and more disturbing than any since the appearance of wealth and philosophy put an end to the traditional religion of the Greeks. It is the age of Socrates again: our moral life is threatened, and our intellectual life is quickened and enlarged, by the disintegration of ancient customs and beliefs. Everything is new and experimental in our ideas and our actions; nothing is established or certain any more. The rate, complexity, and variety of change in our time are without precedent, even in Periclean days; all forms about us are altered, from the tools that complicate our toil, and the wheels that whirl us restlessly about the earth, to the innovations in our sexual relationships, and the hard disillusionment of our souls. The passage from agriculture to industry, from the village to the town, and from the town to the city, has elevated science, debased art, liberated thought, ended monarchy and aristocracy, generated democracy and socialism, emancipated woman, disrupted marriage, broken down the old moral code, destroyed asceticism and luxuries, replaced Puritanism with Epicureanism, exalted excitement above content, made war less frequent and more terrible, taken from us many of our most cherished religious beliefs, and given us in exchange a mechanical and fatalistic philosophy of life. All things flow, and we are at a loss to find some mooring and stability in the flux.
    “In every developing civilization a period comes when old instincts and habits prove inadequate to altered stimuli, and ancient institutions and moralities crack like hampering shells under the obstinate growth of life. In one sphere after another, now that we have left the farm and the home for the factory, the office and the world, spontaneous and ‘natural’ modes of order and response break down, and intellect chaotically experiments to replace with conscious guidance the ancestral readiness and simplicity of impulse and wonted ways. Everything must be thought out, from the artificial ‘formula’ with which we feed our children, and the ‘calories’ and ‘vitamins’ of our muddled dietitians, to the bewildered efforts of a revolutionary government to direct and coordinate all the haphazard processes of trade. We are like a man who cannot walk without thinking of his legs, or like a player who must analyze every move and stroke as he plays. The happy unity of instinct is gone from us, and we flounder in a sea of reasoning and doubt; in the midst of unprecedented knowledge and power we are uncertain of our purposes, our values, and our goals.”


Written by Will Durant, the book is called “The Mansions of Philosophy,” published in 1929. We are still floundering in the very major transition he addresses. And our tomorrow is still quite uncertain.

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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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