Published Humanitas, Volume XXII, Nos. 1 and 2, 2009
The Catholic University of America
Civilization stands or falls with those who set the tone in society. Are they proper models for emulation? Do they inspire others to realize their better selves, or are they schemers manipulating others for their own benefit? Increasingly, those who set the longterm direction of America and the Western world exhibit personality traits and goals that were once scorned as incompatible with a humane existence. They are creating a society very different from that previously understood as civilized. Many of them are politicians, but for the most part politicians act out the predispositions of the larger culture, which are created by those who capture the mind and the imagination and give people their sense of what life is like and what it ought to become. For a very long time the general trends in Western society have been away from the notion of what makes life worth living that emerged from the classical and Christian heritage and gave shape to Western civilization. Those trends have moved into positions of great influence people whom the elites of an earlier society would have resisted and sought to refute. The purpose of this article is to examine an important part of this change and explain how and why it occurred.
“Civilization” is a term of many meanings. It refers here to all of those activities—religious, moral, intellectual, artistic, and political—through which human life is made better, more deeply satisfying, than it might otherwise be. Civilization ennobles human beings, refines their sensibilities and conduct. It fosters the kind of orientation of will, imagination and reason that realizes man’s higher humanity. One of the most important fruits of civilization can be summed up in the word “civility.” Civilized human beings treat each other as respected partners in a life that matters.
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