The roadmap

DAVID WARREN

It seems I accidentally wrote an interesting column on Sunday; at least, judging from mail.

(It’s like the monkeys with the typewriters: you never know which monkey is going to write Hamlet.) My piece was a recollection of the moment in my late-1960s adolescence when — as it struck me then, and still strikes me — all the principles and assumptions and certainties upon which I’d been raised, turned upside down around me.

My correspondents have fallen into two broad generational classes.

In the first class are my contemporaries, or older people, many of them indulging nostalgia. They recalled the same “inversion experience,” from around the same time (the late 1960s). I compared it to being aboard a ship that didn’t sink, but capsized. They compared it to many other things. But in common, from all accounts, was this sense that our world had indeed rotated, that the submerged “hippie culture” below us had somehow come out on top. And those in schools, at least those who were reasonably intelligent, further noticed that academic standards, as well as mere dress codes, suddenly collapsed, almost everywhere. Social discipline evaporated. Foul became fair, and fair became foul.

The second class are much younger, often around the age of my children. They are, mostly, discontented students of today, trying to explain to themselves why their parents’ generation was such a dead loss — spineless, empty, hopeless, directionless. They are vaguely aware that something awful happened around the 1960s, but do not know what.

Their instincts, and often their book-reading tells them there once was a robust and self-confident “Western Civilization”; that it ruled the world; and that at its heart, for all its flaws (which their teachers keep stressing) it exalted the good, the true, and the beautiful. That it produced the greatest literature, art, and music; the greatest science, philosophy, and theology the world had known. That this civilization was unambiguously Christian. But now they sense only jackals, circling while it dies; and the fatalism of their elders.


Especially in this Holy Week, we must realize that we are speaking of difficulties beyond our making, and of resolutions beyond our imagining. For those who were the builders of our civilization, as for those who may be the rebuilders, the task was and remains beyond the work of human hands. At the centre of the whole project was redemption in Christ.


I shouldn’t think these two groups — let me call them “the oldies” and “the youffs” respectively — are representative of the general population. They are representative of my readers. And even from those, I am excluding hecklers: the many correspondents who are eager to insult me, but have nothing themselves to say.

The youffs are wiser than the oldies. They are often rather naïve, or poorly educated, but the breath of defeat is not on them.

Almost invariably, the oldies write in complete misunderstanding of what I was saying, even though they think they are agreeing with me. They mention some pet event that happened in the world as if, “That was the end.” But my whole point was, no single event could be named; that outward events were merely symptomatic of a larger inversion of values, that had been coming about for a long time — the dusk of decadence, gathering for decades.

Let me now quote an articulate young reader — from Ottawa, born in 1984 — to speak for the youffs:

“I for one, although young and idealistic, and much desiring to be a gentleman, have less idea than I would like as to how to go about such. And, even if I can do so (which is the main thing, I suppose) is it possible to set our civilization back upright? ... We did not, of course, get into this state suddenly. What comes first if we wish to reverse some of this? Is there any sort of roadmap?”

Now that is worth answering. And I think it can be answered in less than a column.

Especially in this Holy Week, we must realize that we are speaking of difficulties beyond our making, and of resolutions beyond our imagining. For those who were the builders of our civilization, as for those who may be the rebuilders, the task was and remains beyond the work of human hands. At the centre of the whole project was redemption in Christ.

The biggest single thing any individual can do, is to re-embrace that centre. He must endeavour less to change the world, than to change himself. And necessarily, to ask for the grace of God in doing so. For the project is no less than to rebuild Christendom: the foundation of the West. And this can only be done in human souls. The buildings and the clothing, the art and the music, that mysteriously hopeful view of the universe — these things are outward reflections of what is wrought in human souls.

I believe the answer begins in personal conversion; in reading and thinking as deeply as we can about reality, and about our history. This requires courage: for you will be mocked. I would hold that the “roadmap” exists, in the Bible and the teachings of the Church and her saints. And that, while reason is our guide, the road is essentially sacramental.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

David Warren. "The roadmap." Ottawa Citizen (April 4, 2007).

This article reprinted with permission from David Warren.

THE AUTHOR

David Warren, once editor of the Idler Magazine, is widely travelled — especially in the Middle and Far East. He has been writing for the Ottawa Citizen since 1996. His commentaries on international affairs appear Wednesdays & Saturdays; on Sundays he writes a general essay on the editorial page. Read more from David Warren at David Warren Online.

Copyright © 2007 Ottawa Citizen



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