A very short time ago, someone made a comment on our Facebook page to the effect that the decay of modern civilization began in the 1990s, with the abrogation by American politicians of fundamental principles of morality.
While we respect the opinion of the individual who made the comment, we think he was being a trifle optimistic. The situation began earlier — much earlier.
The downslide began (in our opinion) in the 12th century when Jews, Christians and Muslims began to debate seriously shifting the basis of the natural law from God’s Nature, self-realized in His Intellect, and therefore discernible by the force of natural reason alone. The intellectuals began basing things on faith alone, which meant their personal opinions as to what constitutes the Will of God, or whatever they put in the place of God, such as the Totalitarian State.
The change has been gradual, and was made possible by the loss of property by ordinary people. This put most people into a condition of dependency, and forced them to rely on wages and welfare for their subsistence. They were and remain powerless to resist the changes that anybody who stopped to think about it could see were not based on common sense.
The situation is so bad today that many people now take for granted that everything must be based on faith instead of reason. The only question is, whose faith?
Within a framework that rejects reason and relies solely on faith, the answer is, “Whoever has the biggest club.” This is why both Heinrich Rommen and Mortimer Adler could say that moving away from an understanding of the natural law based on Nature and going with the Will leads inevitably to totalitarianism.
This is why “religious” terrorism has taken center stage in political debates, and intellectual bullying, mockery, and ridicule has replaced civil debate and discourse in academia. Those who are unable to support their position(s) with reason necessarily resort to whatever form of violence they believe will allow them to impose their will on others.
Aquinas, Maimonides, and, later, Ibn Khaldûn all worked to counter the shift from the Intellect to the Will. In our day, the popes have struggled valiantly against this Zeitgeist. America’s Founding Fathers very nearly reversed this trend, but insisted on leaving in place an institution that virtually guaranteed that the foundation would begin to crumble again: chattel slavery — persons treated as less than persons, that is, as things, mere blobs of tissue.
William Crosskey (a teacher of Dr. Norman G. Kurland, president of the Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ), analyzed this situation in his book, Politics and the Constitution in the History of the United States (1953). The demand that slavery be preserved undermined the natural law basis of the Constitution. This led to the development of the theory of the “Living Constitution” — which means, ultimately, that the Constitution is meaningless, and human beings have no inalienable rights to life, liberty, or property.
Thus, the government (especially in the person of the Supreme Court) took unto itself the power to determine who or what is a “person,” i.e., has rights. This made all human beings “mere creatures of the State.” Worse, it laid the foundation for today’s State takeover of virtually the whole of human life, from redefining marriage and family, to deciding what constitutes legitimate practice of religion.
Today’s leaders are, in many cases, simply taking as a given these changes that happened in the past, and don’t bother to question the assumptions underlying them. Consequently, because most people who protest specific instances of misused State power make the same assumptions, opposition is futile and in some cases even counterproductive.
What is needed is a return to fundamental principles, especially of justice, not more intensive application of misapplied and misunderstood principles of charity. CESJ calls this reorientation the “Just Third Way,” and is described on the CESJ website: http://www.cesj.org/