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An age of unbelief Print E-mail
By Michael Novak   
Tuesday, 08 July 2014
 
Three great lessons have been learned from our [20th] century, then, even if the cost of learning them was fearful beyond measure. First, truth matters. Second, for all its manifest faults, even absurdities, democracy is better for the protection of individuals and minorities than dictatorship. Third, for all its deficiencies, even gaping inadequacies, capitalism is better for the poor than either of its two great rivals, socialism and the traditional Third World economy. Just watch in which direction the poor of the world invariably migrate. The poor-of whom my family in living memory was one-know better than the intellectuals. They seek opportunity and liberty. They seek systems that allow them to be economically creative, as God made them to be.

From these three lessons, one might derive reasons for hope: Quite possibly-if along that great plain that runs like an arrow eastward from Germany through Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and the Russian steppes, the new experiments in democracy and capitalism succeed-the twenty-first century could be the most prosperous and free in the history of the world. Perhaps China, too, if it becomes a democracy under the rule of law as it is already becoming capitalist, will bring to its more than one billion citizens unprecedented liberty. And throughout Latin America, there is a chance that the fertile soil of liberty will yield new fruits of education, creative energy, and prosperity for all.

Indeed, the twenty-first century could be the single most creative century in history, bringing virtually all the peoples of the world under the cool and healthful shade of liberty. It could be lovely.
 
Far likelier, however, is the prospect that the twenty-first century will be like the twentieth: tormented, sanguinary, barbarous. For there is still, alas, a fourth lesson.
 
During the twentieth century, the free society was fighting for its life. The urgent need to secure the free polity and the free economy blinded most to the cultural peril into which liberty has rapidly been falling.
 
Many sophisticated people love to say that they are cynical, that ours is a cynical age. They flatter themselves: They do not believe nothing; they believe anything. Ours is not an age of unbelief. It is an age of arrogant gullibility. Think how many actually believed the romances of fascism and communism. Think how many, today, believe in Global Warming; think how many believe in a coming Ice Age-and think how many believe in both! One thing our intellectual betters never lack is passionate belief.

 
 

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