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Logos [01-04-10]

“It is obvious that the new planned society should be more and not less culturally creative than the societies of the past which accomplished such great things in spite of their poverty and weakness.  The reason it has not been so hitherto has been due to our intense and one-sided preoccupation with the economic issue, which led to the starvation of all the non-economic functions and which also created the unemployment problem in the form in which we know it.  But a planned culture which is the necessary complement to a planned economy would restore the balance of society, since it would devote no less a degree of organized social effort and thought to the development of the noneconomic functions.  In this respect it would mark a return to the traditions of the pre-industrial age, which put a much higher social value on the non-economic functions than we have done in the West for the last century and more.

“But if we admit the creative powers of reason and the primacy of the spirit, we shall have to leave room in our planned world for the intervention of a power which transcends planning.  And the only place for this power in a planned society as at the summit as the source of spiritual energy and the guiding principle of the whole development.  For as economic planning is impossible unless a society possesses a certain amount of physical vitality–a will to live which provides the motive power for work–so cultural planning requires an analogous principle of spiritual life without which ‘culture’ becomes a pale abstraction.

“The only way to desecularize culture is by giving a spiritual aim to the whole system of organization, so that the machine becomes the servant of the spirit and not its enemy or its master.  Obviously this is a tremendous task, but it is one that we cannot avoid facing in the near future.  And while the present situation in many respects seems more difficult than any in past history, it is at the same time also more unstable, less fixed in custom and less emotionally attached.  In fact the mechanization of human life renders it more sensitive to spiritual influence, in some respects, than the old unorganized type of culture: at the present time this response is most evident where the forces in questions are most evil, but clearly this cannot be the only possibility, and the great problem that we have to face is how to discover the means that are necessary to open this new world of apparently soulless and soul-destroying mechanism to the spiritual world which stands so near to it.”
-Christopher Dawson, “Vitality or Standardization in Culture,” Dynamics of World History

It is an interesting hypothesis which Dawson puts forward here–that man’s life is made more spiritually sensitive “in some respects” by mechanization.  It is certain that such sensitivity was dominant in the first half of the 20th century, but not in a positive way; man, given more opportunity to think, to feel, to reflect, by the increased leisure time that modernity supplies with its principles of efficiency and productivity, unfortunately lacks and has lacked the moral fiber necessary to resist his, as Neil Postman puts it, almost infinite capacity for distraction.  Man is more spiritually sensitive, but without a spiritual, ordered, elevating culture to nourish man’s spirit, man is all the more exposed to negative, evil forces.

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