(CC) Peter Boumgarden–Christian humanism in a technocratic world: Alan Jacobs’s biography of T.S. Eliot, Simone Weil, W.H. Auden, Jacques Maritain, and C.S. Lewis

What unites these thinkers is a burning desire to build an alternative to the demonic powers made manifest within the war and to house that vision within the university. The protagonists of 1943 worried that a technocratic ideology fails to see individuals as moral persons whose vocation extends far beyond that of a citizen or worker. In his Terry Lectures, Maritain offered one of the most direct explanations of the alternative model, arguing that “the prime goal of education is the conquest of internal and spiritual freedom to be achieved by the individual person, or, in other words, his liberation through knowledge and wisdom, goodwill, and love.”

For these individuals, even the secular humanist project had its problems. Though also suspicious of technocracy, secular humanism too easily elevated the human to an almost cult-like status. A Christian humanism must decenter this anthropocentric model with an equally deep understanding of human evil.

Jacobs’s narrative is not one of social change. However ambitious, each of these reformers moved away from institutional reform. Lewis, after a time, migrated into fiction. Auden and Eliot renewed their focus on poetry. Only Maritain ended the war in something close to a political posture, working to build his personalist views into laws and institutions. Jacobs concludes:

Their diagnostic powers were great indeed: they saw with uncanny clarity and exposed with incisive intelligence the means by which technocracy has arisen and the damage it had inflicted and would continue to inflict, on human persons. Few subsequent critiques of “the technological society” rival theirs in imagination or moral seriousness. But their prescriptions were never implemented, and could never have been: they came perhaps a century too late, after the reign of technocracy had become so complete that none can force the end of it while this world lasts.

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