September 8, 2016
Among my regular reading is the blog Marginal Revolution that Tyler Cowen (Professor of Economics at George Mason University) writes with Alex Tabarrok. Cowen often sees things differently than I do, but in a serious, interesting and truthful way. He also reads voraciously and points me to things I would never otherwise have read. This morning he quotes Mark Lilla’s new book The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction:
Michel Houellebecq is not angry. He does not have a program, and he is not shaking his fist at the nation’s traitors…He appears genuinely to believe that France has, regrettably and irretrievably, lost its sense of self, but not because of feminism or immigration or the European Union or globalization. Those are just symptoms of a crisis that was set off two centuries ago when Europeans made a wager on history: that the more they extended human freedom, the happier they would be. For him, that wager has been lost. And so the continent is adrift and susceptible to a much older temptation, to submit to those claiming to speak for God. Who remains as remote and as silent as ever.
Michel Houellebecq is not a writer in whom I take any pleasure at all and so avoid, but Lilla’s insight is on target. Yes, we (all of us) have made a wager that more freedom will make us happier, and this is quite a disputable proposition. And yes, one of the dangers of having gone down this road is that many people feel lost, purposeless, adrift, and thus “submit to those claiming to speak for God.” They grasp at false certainty.
Where I depart from this is in the claim that God “remains as remote and silent as ever.” I believe God will speak to us (and regularly does) if we will still ourselves and listen. But we are surrounded by many, many false prophets.