Thursday, June 3, 2010

"The World Turned Upside Down" by Melanie Phillips: A Review

I came to The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle over God, Truth and Power by Melanie Phillips (NY: Encounter Books, 2010) after having read a number of the author's columns in London's Daily Mail that I respected for independent thinking and clear analysis of current events. Educated at Oxford, Phillips is a journalist who won the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996 and this book is one that continues in the iconoclastic tradition of George Orwell in its search for truth amid the posturing, insincerity and manipulative machinations of those who wish to destroy freedom but cannot come right out and say so lest they be made pariahs immediately.

Phillips is no conspiracy theorist, but she is attempting to reach a rational explanation for otherwise difficult to comprehend trends in contemporary thought among the Western political class and she offers an original thesis. Her contribution is to seek out what connections there may be between four seemingly disparate trends among left-leaning intellectuals, politicians, bureaucrats and members of the media (the political class). She discusses the "myth of environmental Armageddon," (i.e. global warming), "the misrepresentation of the Iraq war," "the misrepresentation of Israel," and the "scientific triumphalism" of Dawkins and company. How are these four disparate movements connected?

Phillips' answer is that they all embody a serious and worrisome irrationality and abuse of science and reason. Each of these movements turn truth upside down and degrade science and reason into a caricature of themselves in order to promote an irrational, leftist agenda. How can the alliance of Western leftists with Islamic jihadists be explained rationally? One is libertarian and the other is theocratic. What could anti-Jewish hatred, weak-kneed appeasement of Islamic terrorism, Marxism and anti-Christian hatred possibly have in common?

Phillips' answer is that they have almost nothing in common in terms of their positive vision of what they hope to accomplish once they gain power. But all have a common enemy: Western civilization, which is built on the foundations of Jewish law, Greek philosophy and the Christian revelation centered on Jesus Christ. Marxists, Islamofascists, and their left-leaning sympathizers, apologists and fellow-travelers share a pathological hatred of Western civilization and are therefore united in their desire to destroy Israel, America and the historical religious and philosophical foundations of the West. Science is a fruit of the Jewish-Christian worldview and grows out of Western civilization and this explains the anti-rational attitude and the willingness to descend into irrationality.

An implication of Phillips' thesis, which is by no means unique to her, is that anti-Westernism (as defined above) is essentially irrational. So it is irrationality that binds together movements that have nothing in common except a hatred of God and the West. The discredited Marxist Utopia is irrational, suicide bombing and endless war against the entire non-Muslim world by the Jihadists is irrational and the eagerness to tear down institutions like the family, democracy, a natural law-based legal system and so on is simply irrational.

Reason, when it is separated from a Trinitarian metaphysics in which God is integrally related to the world, which is His creation and has the Logos as its animating principle and is therefore rational, simply withers and dies. This is the story of Modernity starting with the unraveling of the participatory metaphysics of the Fathers and Scholastics in the dark 14th century. The story of Modernity is the reverse of what the propaganda in the leftist textbooks tell you; it is not the story of the rise of Reason and Science triumphing over Medieval darkness and superstition, but rather the decline of Reason and Science and a new descent into irrationality and darkness. What begins in Nominalism and the Cartesian revolution that places man in the place of God ends in Nazism and Stalinism. The rise of the autonomous self in Modernity is fully revealed in Nietzsche's Overman.

Phillips' book could not be written as a book to get tenure in most Western universities today because it challenges too many of the lazy assumptions of the cultural Marxism that dominates the academy. That there is more academic freedom today outside the academy is a sad commentary on the health of our culture. But whatever it source, we should be thankful that creative, tough-minded thinking can be published and this book deserves a wide readership.

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