Americans Don’t Believe in Evil

Ralph_Waldo_Emerson_ca1857_retouchedOn his fifty-eighth birthday, Emerson remarked, “I never could give much reality to evil and pain.” Now evil and pain are the tremendous problems of Christian thought, and a man who cannot ‘give much reality’ to those terrible and inexorable facts is no trustworthy guide for the modern mind. The whole social tendency of Emersonianism has been either to advocate some radical and summary measure, a Solomon’s judgment without its saving cunning, or (if this will not suffice) to pretend that the problem does not exist. Few peoples have been so complacent about evil in their midst as have the Americans since the Civil War, and no people have been so ready to deny the existence of evil. Twentieth-century America presents the spectacle of a nation tormented by crime, urban vice, political corruption, family decay, and increasing proletarianization; and amid this scene the commanding voice is not Savonarola’s, but the chorus of sociologists and psychologists and neo-positivists in pulpits, proclaiming that sin does not exist and ‘adjustment’ will heal every social cancer. Now Emerson did not invent this ostrich-tendency of the American public, but he was its most powerful apologist. If an evil is geographically remote, or peculiar to a section or class (like slavery), solve it by surgery without anesthetic; if it is close to home, in one’s heart–why, we must be mistaken.

Russell KirkThe Conservative Mindpage 244


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