by andré gushurst-moore
?angelico, 264 pages, $24.95
An ambitious attempt to survey five hundred years of Christian cultural criticism, The Common Mind traces the efforts of twelve Britons and Americans to carry Christendoms vision of an integrated society forward into modernity. André Gushurst-Moore, who teaches English at Downside School in England, quotes some of the greatest English-speaking men of letters to evoke the sense of loss afflicting the West as modernist dogma has disintegrated into the babel of postmodernity. His luminaries”from More, Swift, and Johnson to Chesterton, Eliot, and Lewis”exemplified Christian humanism, concerning themselves with both mans transcendent end and his earthly good.
Gushurst-Moore portrays this tradition as founded on Chestertons notion of the common mind, an intuitive sanity about the human person and the common good known through the natural law. Warning that elites are prone to fixate on one aspect of truth at the expense of the whole, he argues that the thinkers he highlights were humble enough to affirm the common mind and seek to pass on the cultural patrimony of the West. Christian humanism holds that politics is a moral and essentially theological problem.
These common commitments among his chosen thinkers provide unifying themes for the diverse tradition he traces. Thomas More defended the truth of the common mind by subjecting the kings law to the common law”which in turn derives from the divine law. Brownson argued that American democracy could function only while religion gave a moral sanction to human authority.
Each chapter is devoted to the writings of a different author. Gushurst-Moore excellently explicates Burkes Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful and considers Eliots revolt against scientism in the context of his Harvard thesis and his interest in quantum physics. On a down note: The discussions of Brownsons and Swifts critiques of the American and British constitutions are occasionally pedantic.
In the conclusion, Gushurst-Moore considers the prospects for a renewed Christian humanism in our day. He characterizes the Wests secularization as a waning of trust in divine Logos. Yet current Christian humanists have centuries of resources to draw on, including fantasy literature that has kept alive the medieval vision of a holistic cosmos. The Common Mind ends with the resonant words of T. S. Eliot: There is no such thing as a Lost Cause because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause.
” Luke Foster, a student at Columbia University, was a summer intern at First Things.