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You’ll Want to Get Dan Mahoney’s The Idol of Our Age

Daniel Mahoney’s The Idol of Our Age

Daniel Mahoney, the Assumption College professor, NRI trustee, and occasional NR contributor, is the author of the new book, out tomorrow: The Idol of Our Age: How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity. It’s published by Encounter, and boasts a foreword by the great French political philosopher, Pierre Manent. You can and should order a copy from (Amazon) at that link.

Why read it? Here’s a dead-on take of The Idol of Our Age by Tony Daniels:

In this short book, Daniel Mahoney brilliantly lays bare the shallow and facile but dictatorial modern religion of optimistic humanitarianism: shallow and facile because it does not acknowledge the depth and persistence of human evil, and dictatorial because it will brook no rival.

Here’s another quite-positive assessment by John O’Sullivan:

Following the collapse of the revolutionary projects of the twentieth century, modern governments have generally adopted policies reflecting a gentle and pacifist post-Christian Humanitarianism. This seeming heir to Christianity, however, may be its most subtle enemy. As Daniel Mahoney cogently argues, drawing on European and American thinkers from Orestes Brownson to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, its denial of evil, its hostility to human differences, and its elevation of comfort as the highest good doom it to produce the opposite of what it promises: egalitarian tyranny, coercive bureaucracy in personal relations, the spread of euthanasia and abortion, the collapse of the future, and a growing listlessness in politics, culture, and religion. In matters spiritual, Dr. Mahoney advises, accept no substitutes.”

I’ll share a slice from Chapter 9, which is a lucid, powerful, and persuasive (respectful too!) criticism of Pope Francis, who Dan calls “a pontiff at the intersection of authentic Christianity and a misplaced contemporary humanitarianism.” From that chapter:

I want to say something about the place of the poor in Pope Francis’s reflections. He loves the poor and reminds us of our special duty to be concerned with their fate. At his best, he is a poet and theologian of charity. He can only be admired in that regard. Still, the biblical conception of the poor is not reducible to material poverty. One only has to think about the tension between the “poor” and the “poor in spirit” in the Synoptic Gospels’ accounts of the Sermon on the Mount. The poor are not always victims (Aristotle argues that they can be as rapacious and despotic as the rich), and terrible crimes were committed in the name of the poor or the “proletariat” in the twentieth century. In the summer of 2015, The Economist called Pope Francis a “Peronist,” correcting those who see in his social reflection a softness toward Marxism, although this is sometimes apparent in his utterances, too.

The characterization is apt. But as one observer has noted, Peronist populism created a “rancid political culture in Argentina,” one that emphasized class struggle and redistribution above lawful wealth creation. Argentina went from being the 14th richest country in the world in 1900 to the 63rd today. Sadly, one sees some evidence that Pope Francis is rather indulgent toward despotic regimes that speak in the name of the poor—his recent silence about the persecution of mainly Catholic dissidents in Cuba was deafening (the Cuban-born Catholic scholar Carlos Eire of Yale even wrote on the First Things website about a “preferential option for the oppressors”), and he was remarkably affable both with Cuba’s late tyrant emeritus, Fidel Castro, and with the ever more dictatorial Evo Morales in Bolivia. During the welcoming ceremony at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana on September 19, 2015, Pope Francis spoke of his “sentiments of particular respect” for Fidel Castro, a totalitarian tyrant who subjugated the people of Cuba for 50 years and viciously persecuted the Church. Perhaps the Holy Father needs to read Armando Valladares’s 1982 book Against All Hope, a searing account of life in Castro’s gulags and political prisons. All of this is disappointing, to say the least. The poor need political liberty, too, and the opportunities that come with private property and lawfully regulated markets. Even more disturbing is the claim by an acolyte of the pope, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez of the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences, that “China is the best implementer of Catholic social doctrine” today (Catholic Herald, February 6, 2018). This blindness toward totalitarianism and indulgence toward regimes that actively persecute faithful Catholics are hallmarks of Francis’s papacy. It is striking that Pope Francis rarely reiterates the Church’s defense of private property, a central concern of Catholic social teaching going back to Pope Leo XIII (read the very forceful defense of private property—and trade unions—in Rerum Novarum [Of New Things], as well as that encyclical’s absolute condemnation of socialism). I will put the matter bluntly: A faithful Catholic is not obliged to be a Peronist. We are obliged to live the Gospel and to exercise prudential judgment, rooted in reality and reflecting the best secular and Christian wisdom.

This is an important book that serious conservatives need to consider. Again, you can order The Idol of Our Age here.

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