Book Review: The Crisis of Western Education, by Christopher Dawson

One cannot read Christopher Dawson’s The Crisis of Western Education without feeling a tremendous sense of loss – the loss of purpose, the loss of a full life, the loss of the future. I’ll quote Dawson at length here, because his ideas are so fundamentally important.

“For modern society, like all societies, needs some higher spiritual principle of co-ordination to overcome the conflicts between power and morality, between reason and appetite, between technology and humanity and between self-interest and the common good.

“This co-ordinating principle was supplied in the past, in all societies and civilizations, by religion, which was the ultimate guarantee of the moral order and the witness to a realm of spiritual values which transcended the world of human passions and interests. Even if we reject the traditional religions and deny the truth of any particular theological system or doctrine as the modern world has done, we have not escaped from the need of some higher principle of co-ordination if our society is to survive.

“This is what Comte saw so clearly in the nineteenth century. But his attempt to provide a scientific substitute for religion was a dismal failure, as all similar attempts have been. The fact is that the problem is insoluble by purely rational means, since it involves the principle of transcendence which is essentially theological.”

Dawson, writing in 1961, feared humanity would be absorbed into the machinery of the technological age, fully dependent on the state in terms of mind and body, and nowhere to turn for fulfillment of the soul. The state would prefer we forget we have a soul, and who are we to argue without any understanding of our cultural and religious history?