Post-Modernism in America .... Bob Moore

In 1927 Arnold Toynbee, a British historian, began his 12-volume work, A Study of History, completing it in 1961. He had noticed that all civilizations followed similar patterns. Examining the 21 cultures of the world of which we still have recorded histories, he deduced the laws that govern the rise and fall of nations.

Toynbee discovered that every civilization began with a vision. The vision was a creative solution to a particular challenge facing the emerging culture. When announced, it inspired the people to successfully respond and overcome the challenge facing them. As time unfolded, new challenges appeared, which were often met with other creative solutions that both advanced the civilization and refined its initial vision. Toynbee maintained that the goal of any civilization is to rise above mere humanity to a higher spiritual life and reach "a communion of saints on the earth." Since no civilization has reached this goal, every one of them has come to a time when its people realize that its vision, no matter how well refined, cannot produce the desired goal. Once citizens suspect their culture cannot produce a perfect society, they lose faith in the initial vision that inspired their progenitors. Their leaders can no longer gain their confidence, nor inspire them to respond to their present challenges.

Lost Faith in the Initial Vision

When the people of a given culture lose faith in their initial vision, they begin examining other opinions in an attempt to discover a solution to their dilemma. Their search fragments the culture. The initial vision once universally held as absolutely true throughout the society yields to a variety of competing visions, each of which gains supporters, until the civilization is divided by a multitude of different, sometimes, contradictory opinions. Meanwhile, the problems facing the culture mount, partly because the new visions offered do not meet the challenge, and partly because the fragmented society cannot agree on what a solution is. The philosophical debate distracts the culture from their present challenge until the problem overcomes the civilization. Essentially, the culture decays from within through neglect and commits a kind of mass suicide. As Solomon warned, "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (Pr 29:18)

The reason why the competing visions offered when the culture loses faith in its initial vision cannot rescue that civilization, is because none of them are creative. The competing visions are really opinions already known to the culture. They may have been suggested and certainly were discarded in the past, but now that the society has concluded their initial vision is inadequate, they are reconsidered. They cannot solve the present challenge because they are even less adequate than the initial vision. After all, the culture has already judged them deficient. Therefore, they cannot inspire the entire culture. Creative solutions come from a better adaption of the initial vision, not the application of dismissed visions.

The philosophical debate in a declining culture over which of the competing visions it should embrace includes the call to return to the initial vision. Since the reconsideration of dismissed visions cannot inspire all of the society, some, generally the more conservative portion, argue that the only practical solution lies in the initial vision. They maintain that the failure of their culture to produce the desired condition began when it departed from its vision. Pointing to a specific time when the culturally-accepted vision was wrongly revised, they invite the society to return to that point and proceed in a better direction. If their invitation includes a creative application of the initial vision so that the people are sufficiently inspired to overcome the challenge facing them, the civilization can be revived. Toynbee argued that the decline of an empire can be reversed by a religious revival. The Bible agrees, saying, "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" (2 Chr 7:14).

Implications for America

In 1944 Toynbee concluded, based on his studies, that Western Civilization was about to decline. He said that our culture was losing faith in our foundational vision. He went on to predict the multiplication of competing and contradictory opinions that would gradually be introduced into the public consciousness. Calling it "Post-modernism," he described a period of de-construction, as he termed it, of our religious and philosophical values and a period of re-construction in which new opinions would emerge. He even accurately identified many of the opinions that have subsequently been introduced. Consequently, some of his admirers consider him almost a prophet.

Americans have lost faith in the vision that our progenitors universally held. We no longer believe that our republic is the application of the golden rule, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." The American dream seems inaccessible to increasing numbers of people. President Jimmy Carter once described our condition as a malaise. As our society has lost hope in its vision, it has considered humanism, socialism, communism, atheism, promiscuity, narcism, materialism and globalism. We debate abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia. Our families are divided, extended, and dysfunctional. Once we invited the illiterate and superstitious tribes of the earth to the light of Christ and the knowledge of Western Civilization. We even supported missionaries with tax dollars. Now, we try to preserve their cultures, because we no longer believe ours superior and condemn missionaries who westernize foreign converts. As we consider and debate all the different opinions now considered in our society, alienating and fragmenting it, we fail to overcome the challenges it faces. If they remain unmet, America will eventually fall from within.

Religious Revival Needed

Toynbee understood that our civilization can be rejuvenated by a religious revival. That is the only way to lift our culture out of its self-defeating debate. Although he was a Christian, he offered no religious solution. Perhaps he could see no way to inspire the necessary revival. In its absence, he proposed another alternative.

The laws regulating declining empires predict that opposing opinions will fight each other until only one remains. The victor governs what Toynbee called a "Universal State." At the time he concluded that Western Civilization was in its decline, the two competing opinions Capitalism and Communism had pitted the United States with the Soviet Union. In earlier times competing powers had ultimately settled their disputes by war, but because of the nuclear arsenals each had, a war between East and West would not only end Western Civilization. It threatened to end civilization altogether. Toynbee concluded that for the sake of the planet the inevitable universal state must be established without a military confrontation. Seeing no revival for Western Civilization, he believed the most expedient course was to admit that our culture was irrevocably declining and discover a way for its peaceful transition into a universal state. The alternative was to wait for social pressures to force it there and endanger mankind with nuclear war. Retiring in 1954, he worked the rest of his life to create this universal state. He died in 1975.

Toynbee explained his feelings when he wrote, "By A.D. 1955 the abolition of War had, in fact, become the imperative; but it could not be abolished unless the control of the atomic energy could be concentrated in the hands of some single political authority. This monopoly of the command of the master weapon of the age would enable, and indeed compel, the authority to assume the role of a World government. The effective seat of this government must either be Washington or Moscow; but neither the United States or the Soviet Union is prepared to place itself at the mercy of the other. In this awkward pass the traditional line of least psychological resistance would, no doubt, have been to resort to the old-fashioned expedient of ordeal by battle. But on this occasion the knock-out blow might knock out not only the antagonist but also the victor, the referee, the boxing ring, and all the spectators."

The universal state for which Toynbee worked cannot be a solution to a culture's challenge. Instead, it effectively ends any hope for a creative solution. This is because it places all authority in the hands of those men governing the universal state. They are only interested in defending their authority. This cannot inspire the society. Anyone presenting a creative solution is viewed by them as a threat to their leadership, a menace to the universal state. Either the creative solutions are dismissed or their advocates eliminated. Since the dismissal of the creative solutions allows the challenge facing the culture to remain unmet, the civilization in time gradually decays. Out of its demise a new vision and a better culture emerge. Toynbee preferred the establishment of a universal state, not because it could preserve Western Civilization, but because it eliminated the threat of nuclear annihilation.

Two Possible Futures for America

The world of 1994 is far different from that of 1954. The competition between East and West has apparently subsided. We do not know what effect Toynbee's efforts had on this development, but the threat of nuclear war is far less menacing today. America seems to be the world's superpower and able to control the nuclear stockpile, but it is gradually giving over command to the United Nations. Some have suggested that prior to the collapse of Communism, the Soviets agreed to yield to the United States if they, in turn, yielded to the United Nations. Regardless, the world seems headed toward a universal government of some sort, perhaps headed by the United States, perhaps by another power, but most likely by the United Nations. If achieved, Western Civilization, including Christianity, will be irrevocably entombed.

The only hope for Christianity and our values is a religious revival that can turn Americans back to the vision shared by our founders. America must repent and re-embrace the purposes for which our great country was established. John Quincy Adams said, "The highest glory of the Revolution was this: it connected in one indivisible bond the principles of civil government and the principles of Christianity." Americans must come to Christ, not just one by one, but as a society, and implement the Savior's teachings in every aspect of their work, play and government. Without this revival America will continue to decline.

If America does not repent and return to Christ, it must endure great judgments. Eventually, our fractured society will crumble into anarchy. As Ezra saw, "One shall undertake to fight against another, one city against another, one people against another, one realm against another" (2 Esdras 4:31). Riots will mar our land. A universal state will not prevent divine judgment from consuming the earth. Babylon will fall. Out of its ashes will rise a better culture, the kingdom of God. Daniel prophesied, "In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to another people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (Dan 2:44).

America has a choice. It can continue to drift from its Christian foundation. If it does, it will fail. Divine judgments will devour it as they consume the nations of the world. On the other hand, it can repent, return to Christ, and reunite the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity. Then, it will become God's kingdom on earth, fulfilling our founding fathers' vision. God will restore His richest blessings to our land and exalt it until all nations worship the Savior and bow to the King of Kings. Pray that America returns to Christ and the foundation laid by our founders.