Prophets of Davos


Secularists reject the religious, but try to wrap themselves in prophetic robes – while failing at prediction.

Bad parodies of the Bible have been with us for several centuries now, and my reader should not need me to discover that, for instance, Marxism was an elaborate, and really bad, parody of Christian and Jewish teachings. (To say nothing of idolatrous.)

That was a theme of writers nearly a century ago. But Marxism remained fashionable, and the Berlin Wall did not come down until 1989. Moreover, the Utopian dream behind Marxism is still with us, in the latest permutations – "green" ideologies have been replacing "red" – and they remain bad parodies of Biblical religion, in which the transcendent is crudely translated into purely material terms.

Marxism itself was a mutation of older socialist ideas, begotten within religious traditions. Read so wonderful a book as Owen Chadwick's The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century, if you are curious about what they were. It is amusing to find old Friedrich Engels tramping about Europe, finding socialist parties under every rock, but frustrated to discover that they were all quite religious. And when he insisted that socialism went better with atheism, than with any sort of "reformed" Christian cult, the reaction was invariably: "You have your religion and we have ours."

We cannot hope to ride the Zeitgeist, but we keep trying.

Since the 18th century, and arguably long before, what we now call "the left" has been in the ascendant – "scientific materialism" in some form – and with it the notion that men can be as gods. But the "Enlightenment" way of thinking was not a clean break with Christian teaching. It was instead a mutation of it, in which "reason" (which had always been a Christian virtue) dispensed with one after another of the props of sanity. A new heaven was postulated, dispensing with hell; discarding, moreover, the profound Christian insight into the operation of the demonic in human affairs.

The Christian "obsession" with futurity was retained, transmuted into the idea of "progress" towards some "heaven" of this world. Marx, Engels, and all the other luminaries of the left, have persistently cast themselves as prophets, pointing the way to this radiant future. Replace "the meek" with "the workers," and they shall inherit the Earth.

I used that tasteless German word, "Zeitgeist," and I meant it, just in the way Wikipedia defines it, as "spirit of the age." We use the German "geist" because it is untranslatable. It is a spirit that is somehow not a spirit, a ghost that is somehow not a ghost – invented by essentially atheist German Romantics to translate the Latin "genius saeculi," with which they could not dispense.

The craving for prophecy persists, even when the possibility of prophecy is denied.

The old Hebrew prophets were not in the business of predicting the future, in any squalid material way. Where they do in fact startlingly predict some unimaginable future event – see for example the precise description of a Roman crucifixion in the incomparably more ancient Psalm 22 – they are not even trying. They are instead recording some revelation – "from God," as it were. And as the Bible everywhere makes clear, the Lord does not tell us what the breaking news will be on Friday. That is not in the nature of the apocalyptic.

It is, however, in the nature of the strange, persistently failing, predictive efforts of economics – that bastard "science" of the secular left.

There are more things in heaven and Earth, than economists can dream of, and there is no model that can begin to incorporate all the "geists."

At Davos, Switzerland, this week, where the world's most self-regarding prophets were assembled for their annual Pentecostal parody, which they call the World Economic Forum, a session was devoted to discussing why economic forecasts always turn out wrong.

Five of the world's most prominent economists were there to defend their profession, and the best argument I heard is that "the forecasts are right, but the timing is wrong." Since the whole point of forecasts is timing, this is not a good argument.

"We always failed to predict the turning point," said Raghuram Rajan (according to BBC), of his days as director of research at the International Monetary Fund. Something would always happen "outside the model" – a revolution, for instance, in a country assumed to be stable – to throw all the numbers off.

They never dared to predict what I will now: that this will always happen. And I make this prediction on solid Biblical grounds.

For the Messianic prophecy, that "no man can know the day or the hour" – nor even the angels – is not a prediction, but a statement of deep fact. It is the way things are. There are more things in heaven and Earth, than economists can dream of, and there is no model that can begin to incorporate all the "geists."

And yet we have constructed vast bureaucracies, that work on the premise that these forecasts will come true. The sheer idiocy of it, takes one's breath away. Centuries of "the triumph of reason," and it comes to this.




David Warren. "Prophets of Davos." Ottawa Citizen (January 30, 2011).

This article reprinted with permission from David Warren.


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.

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