Critique of Modern Liberal Philosophy

16Nov07

In The Idea of a Christian Society, published nearly 60 years ago, T. S. Eliot assesses with startling prescience our present condition–and he lays the blame firmly on the liberal philosophy:

We are living at present in a kind of doldrums between opposing winds of doctrine, in a period in which one political philosophy [liberalism] has lost its cogency for behavior, though it is still the only one in which public speech can be framed. This is very bad for the English language: it is this disorder (for which we are to blame) and not individual insincerity, which is responsible for the hollowness of many political and ecclesiastical utterances.

Eliot argues that modern liberalism vacates the societies it husbands of the very beliefs that made liberalism such a viable and powerful force in history. Liberalism discards “as superfluous or obsolete” vital “elements in historical Christianity” upon which it based its anthropology and doctrine of liberty. It confounds these vital elements “with practices and abuses which are legitimate objects of attack.”

The outcome is that our deepest convictions about the dignity of the human person and the transcendental nature of freedom are ripped from their religious sources and lose legitimization. An empty and fruitless shell is left that may be filled with whatever dogma or ideology is favored at the moment.

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