Over the past few centuries, there has been a veritable explosion of necessary, wonderful, and long-overdue examples of social betterment. But as Max Weber noted, we have chosen to stake our lives on solid but low ground. A society dedicated to self-preservation and egalitarianism does not provide fertile soil for beauty, nobility, or greatness of soul. Such things have little place in our world – and if anyone suggests otherwise, the Press will quickly come swarming, looking for titillating bits of dirt to help squelch such notions.
So the effect of the Enlightenment has been to raise mankind economically while lowering us intellectually and spiritually. As a consequence, we have learned to live with coarseness and vulgarity. This is what many people around the world see when they look at America – a veritable circus of consumerism and obscenity, a godless criminal system of unbridled greed, theft, exploitation and vulgarity, a society that is materially strong but morally and intellectually weak.
Must this be the inevitable outcome of our modern experiment in individualization? Is the apex of the American endeavor merely the bleak realization that the individual is alone in a senseless, violent and absurd universe? Or is it possible to remain a free and rational ‘self’, and still be connected to a living web of mutuality and authentic spiritual meaning? This is the core issue: can we unite material life with spiritual life, in such a way that neither domain overwhelms or erodes the other?