Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Secularism Destroys True Individuality

It would be hard to offer a better description of secularism than “religious emotion divorced from religious belief.” Nor are we likely to find a more accurate account of the spiritual vanity characteristic of the contemporary world. There is, perhaps, only one serious difference between Dawson’s day and our own. When he wrote, half a century ago, he complained of a secularism that was essentially collective. Democracy, nationalism and socialism are movements larger than the individual. This is their point. Nowadays, the secular mind fixates on the purely personal, shrinking from the social. Its preoccupations are curiously private: the cult of the body, authenticity, sexual license, the New Age in all its mystic vapidity. Secularism has become the numinosity of the narcissist. Postmodern man elevates a monstrance and sees at its center a mirror.

There is an obvious irony here. This self-worship is ignorant of the sources of the self. It prizes a rootless individualism, undifferentiated from place to place. In the name of local truths—my right, my body, my opinion—it banishes localism, replacing it with compulsory cosmopolitanism, the standard self-absorptions of Everyman. In the name of distinctive identity it produces identical “individuals.” Yet it is in the local and regional where a person is formed and made. Dawson, the most urbane of thinkers, was unsettled by this derogation of the provincial and the parochial. He knew that cosmopolitanism—the same citified culture the world over—produced homogenous [sic] [xx] cities, homogenous citizens. Urban man, deracinated and despiritualized, forgot the sources of his moral vitality: family, region, local clay. As with early civilizations, so with late: the closer to the land the better.


Dermot Quinn, “Introduction,” in Dynamics of World History, ed. John J. Mulloy (Washington, DE: ISI Books, 2002), xix–xx.

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