The Christmas season frequently includes comments on the rise of materialism, the decline of religion, and their effects on the meaning of life in our postmodern world. As Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, it is a celebration of life itself, and the promise of eternal life in the Christian tradition. For many, it should be a divinely solemn occasion with minimal earthly manifestations. Yet the giving of gifts to loved ones and charitable organizations, symbolic of God’s gift of his Son, is widely practiced. Naturally, this leads to gift buying, retail promotion, and the mass production and distribution of earthly presentations that drive the economic viability of entire industries.
So what is this materialism that infects our celebration of Christ’s birth? At its core, materialism is the scientifically derived absolute that matter is the stuff of existence. As Christianity is monotheistic (there is only one God), materialism is philosophical monism (the universe is all that exists). It is matter and its energy that are the root cause of our natural environment. For human survival, knowledge is required to perceive nature and transform a dangerous world for the production of food and shelter.
The creation of physical values is not only necessary, but essential to the sparkling decorations and gift giving that is symbolic of benevolence, peace and the celebration of life that is the Christmas spirit. The integration of the mind and body are essential to achieve these values, they are not separate things. Ideas turned into reality on a mass scale are central to the Western celebration of Christmas because they also require empathy, peaceful exchange, and life-enhancing productivity. They are the integration of mind and matter as captured in the video lecture series The Birth of the Modern Mind, created by our singularly accomplished Poetic Justice Warrior Alan Charles Kors.
F. I. R. E.
As co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Kors recalled the genesis of his career fighting for free expression on college campuses,
The book was Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. It changed my own intellectual and moral life. I cannot imagine my colleagues doing the same in American academic life today.
Founded in 1999, the foundation was their response to outcries for help after the publication of their book The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses. From the book’s introduction:
The result has been an emerging tyranny over all aspects of student life. It is a tyranny that seeks to assert absolute control over the souls, the consciences, and the individuality of our students. In short, a tyranny over the essence of liberty itself.
Saving the souls of college students is no exaggeration. As philosopher Allan Bloom declares in the conclusion to his 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind,
By the late 60s, students no longer turn to the printed word for counsel, inspiration, or joy. Deprived of literary guidance, they no longer have any image of a perfect soul, and hence do not long to have one. They do not even imagine there is such a thing.
An Ivy League professor since the age of 24, Kors is a leading historian of Europe’s Enlightenment. To thrive as he does in the milieu of postmodern America’s university system, Kors must be a man of extraordinary courage and integrity.
As a prolific leader and teacher of young minds herself, Lisa VanDamme talks about the epiphany she had while listening to a Kors seminar titled Socialism’s Legacy, Lest We Forget, and she summarizes Kors message as follows:
Intellectuals continue to disavow the connection between socialism in theory and the unimaginably evil communist regimes in practice. At the same time, they loudly decry the fault of our society. One that in practice, has “raised human beings to a dignified free life protected as never before from hopelessness before nature and men.”
The dignified free life Kors refers to, the one we celebrate at Christmas, reached critical mass during the 19th century. The birth of the modern mind led to the stunning victory of personal liberty, free markets, and romantic art over 6000 years of anarchy and despotism. However, 19th century philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, Georg Hegel, and Karl Marx degraded these achievements. Their anti-Enlightenment ideas separated logic from reality and people from each other, thereby promoting irreconcilable differences among groups. Their repudiation of human reason, universal truth, and existence itself gave 20th century totalitarians their academic cover. Kors explains,
Hayek’s Road to Serfdom was a sustained argument that even democratic socialism could only be an ineluctable transition for the total abolition of economic, intellectual and moral liberty. At the heart of his argument laid Hayek’s chilling, historically correct, and prescient chapter, Why the Worst Get On Top.
Instead of demonizing World War I and the communist holocausts of Josef Stalin, Chairman Mao, and Pol Pot that followed in its wake, “progressive” Western intellectuals used Hitler’s crimes as a distraction. The fall of the Berlin Wall should have been the event that ripped open Western academia’s tyrannical cover-up. VanDamme asserts it “should have triggered a flood of Western romantic art and compassion.”
It didn’t happen. As Kors observes, “our society is guilty of a scandal of ignorance. Our children do not know about the bodies. They do not know.” Yet as Bloom confirms, “they have powerful images for what a perfect body is, and pursue it incessantly.” Instead, America’s students are taught the easy floating concepts of collectivism’s social justice (woke), not the challenging principles of individualism’s self-creation (classical liberalism).
The Birth of the Modern Mind
In this lecture series, Kors examines the awakening of the modern mind, “The 18th century sought to take the models of Newton and Locke and apply them to the fullest possible range of human inquiry and endeavor. By the end of the 18th century, the prestige of ancient thought and of the inherited system was a thing of the past.” The materialism of the universe was becoming understood and applied to values.
He also teaches the behaviors motivated by the revolutionary mind: “Educated Europeans believed that they had a new understanding of the human mind, of method, of nature, and of the uses of knowledge. They could come to know the world correctly for the first time in human history. They could rewrite the possibilities of human life. Soon, under the weight of these new ideas, all over the globe, monarchs fell.” Valid propositions, those supported by evidence and logic, were integrated into the Declaration of Independence.
As poetic justice would have it, the author of the book America’s Revolutionary Mind, C. Bradley Thompson, was invited to give the toast introducing Poetic Justice Warrior Alan Charles Kors at a recent banquet celebrating his career and achievements, and witnessed –
Alan is a moral force of nature. He is one of our great intellectuals. He is a warrior. Alan’s warrior spirit is not driven entirely by what the Greeks called thymos or spiritedness. To me, it is driven by something much rarer: common decency and his respect for the notion that all men and women should be given the freedom to fulfill their highest purposes, dreams, and aspirations.
This is the joyful time of year to wish friend and stranger alike the greeting that originated during humanity’s Renaissance in 16th century England, Merry Christmas!