Saturday, November 24, 2012

Winning the Battle and Losing the War

Yesterday we saw the movie Lincoln, which is very good.

It's all about Lincoln's struggle, during the final months of his life, to get the Thirteenth Amendment passed - to abolish slavery.  Without the abolition of slavery, the Civil War would have been a great exercise in futility.  And despite what the revisionists have tried to say; and despite what some of my Southern friends are reluctant to admit - that war was fought primarily over slavery.

In many ways, a war that was fought about fifty years after that, World War I, was seen by many to be what the Civil War could have been - a savage exercise in futility, with no discernible moral high ground.  As the men were in the trenches, so was the cause behind their fighting - buried behind barbed wire and confusion and entangling alliances, no one holding the high ground.  But if you step outside the German-friendly textbooks of U.S. public schools, however, and if you get beyond the fact that disenchantment became chic around then, and especially if you read Chesterton's articles written during the "Great War", it's quite clear that World War I was indeed a moral war, a war over a moral crisis - the worldview of the Prussians (power and cynicism) vs. the remnants of the worldview of Christendom (love and self-sacrifice).

The Prussians, if you haven't noticed, have won.

They didn't win the Great War, and they didn't win World War II, and their brethren-in-spirit, the Soviets, lost the Cold War.  But they've won.  They've taken the hearts and minds of Iowa and Nebraska and teen-aged kids at the mall.

Nietzsche looms large as the Prophet of Nothingness for the boys.  Ayn Rand and her despicable but sexy supermen loom large as the Mavericks of Selfishness for the girls.  Our kids are all nihilists these days - but they're "good nihilists" (if there is such a thing) - and they get that crap from the decay of Protestantism, in other words, from the spirit of old Prussia. 

So, really, we kind of lost these great wars, since we are more Prussian now than we ever would have been even under the Reich, and we're rapidly becoming as Atheistic Totalitarian as we ever would have been even under the Kremlin.

But at least we've abolished slavery - haven't we?

***

There is a moment in the film where Lincoln completes an analogy offered by another character - the analogy of the Moral Compass.  Yes, he says, a compass can point north - but it won't tell us where the swamps are, where the rivers are, where the mountains are.  In other words, we can keep our eyes on God - but without some worldly prudence, we can't avoid the pitfalls that keep us from our goal.

Thus politics.

And yet today do we even have that Moral Compass?  Enough people knew the wrongs of slavery to oppose it and even die to abolish it.  But how many of us really recognize the wrong of abortion?  Yes, the baby is out of sight, but is he or she also out of mind?  If a pregnant woman is assaulted and her unborn baby dies, the criminal can be charged with that baby's death.  But if a pregnant woman walks into a Planned Parenthood clinic and has the baby sucked out with a vacuum, she is hailed as having performed a positive good.  My pro-abortion friends still use that tired canard that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare".  Well, it's certainly not "rare"; it's not "legal" in actual fact (only in positive law); and it's never "safe" as it always results in at least one death. 

Abortion is the slavery of the 21st Century. 

It may take prudence to navigate through the minefield before us, if we hope to achieve a political victory; but if we don't know where north is, we're lost.  If we've lost our compass, the dark will soon encompass us.

***

Meanwhile, it is good to see that films are still about the things we claim we no longer believe in - such as the three I've seen this weekend, from the nobility of the disadvantaged kids of Brooklyn Castle to the bravery of the heroes of Argo to the wisdom and even righteousness of Abraham Lincoln - there are still signs that we're not really the "good nihilists" we pretend to be.

We may not have lost these wars after all.

2 comments:

Harry said...

I'm reading a very good history of the Civil War at the moment- "Battle Cry of Freedom." Spoiler alert- it was about slavery, no matter what the confederate apologists say.
There are some parallels with abortion. Most obviously, how a great evil can by fact of long-term toleration become something so firmly embedded in society that to remove it seems becomes unthinkable.
Glad to hear Lincoln was a good film. Looking forward to getting it on DVD.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I am writing about this so long after you posted, but this is a really insightful piece. I will have to think again about World War I - which has long been given less popular attention and analysis than it deserved. (I'm a boomer and the WWII vets cast a huge shadow over America after the war.) The framework you offer here is intriguing.

I just recently discovered your blog; your work is amazing. I am very much enjoying reading your earlier posts.

Thank you for sharing your insights and God bless you.