The twentieth century was dominated by three political systems, communism, fascism and liberal democracy. There had been a fourth, monarchy, at the century’s beginning, but it was undone by World War I, at least as a form of government in which monarchs ruled as well as merely reigned. That its undoing was engineered by ambitious politicians and short-sighted generals is its own story but does not concern us here. However, it must be noted that the fall of monarchy also marked the end of most government of a Christian character, most notably the government of the last Catholic world power, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, whose last ruler is a beatus of the Church, Karl I of the House of Austria.
Of the three systems that went on to dominate the century communism formally denied the existence of God, fascism sought to replace Him with a Leader, and liberal democracy, asserting that it acts according to “the will of the people” (instead of His Will as would Christian government) simply operates as if He does not exist. It amounts to practical atheism.
After the collapse of communism thirty years ago, liberal democracy became the only one of the last century’s dominant systems to survive into the twenty-first. The sway of it and its congruent capitalism also became global. There were those at the time who described this development as “the end of history.” Progress had reached its apogee, they said.
They were wrong because as practical atheists the liberals had a distorted view of reality. It was grounded in the scientific rationalism of the Enlightenment according to which nothing is real that cannot be quantified — measured and weighed. The trouble with this view is that it is limited to the material dimension of Creation. It does not see (or denies) that human beings have souls as well as bodies. We are spiritual as well as physical beings. We all know this from times when the beauty of poetry, the sound of music, the sight of a sunset, or smile of a beloved moves us so deeply we approach the threshold of pain. This is why art and the religion were at the heart of Christian political and social order, the religion because it knows about the soul, art because it manifests its movements. Now we have economics at the heart of the life of society, put there by secular liberals who are directly descended from the original revolutionaries, the Frenchmen of 1789, who ceremonially enthroned a Goddess of Reason in the person of a prostitute on the altar of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris even as they cut off the head of Louis XVI for the crime of being a Christian ruler.
Two or three generations from now, when memories of our era will have dimmed, the entire past couple of centuries since 1789 will be seen for what the time was: a historical aberration, a temporary departure from the Christian millennia that began to unfold when the Second Person of the Holy Trinity came into the world as a man, Jesus of Nazareth. The remaining memory of our era will chiefly be as the time when fallen humanity began to reawaken to the reality of His advent. The reawakening is happening now with a Western Hemispheric and Europe-wide revolt against liberal democracy manifested by the rise of nationalist populism — Christian peoples repudiating modernity.
It doesn’t mean the end of problems, strife, war, selfishness, sin in all its forms. That end would be utopia and utopia can never exist because our humanity is fallen. It does mean men reawakening to that very truth and, in doing so, to the truth that our humanity was redeemed two thousand years ago. It makes this a wonderful time to be alive.