What moves the world? Ideas

Amidst the hurly burly of society, it is easy to overlook the fundamental fact that ideas rule the world. This will seem to be an odd claim to make, given the overwhelming role that the continuing hubbub invariably plays in any society. But the world has always been governed by ideas, the only question being which ones and for how long. Of course, force and deception in the form of military conquest and the propagation of questionable doctrines and ideologies, are not to be underestimated. But the first is either an attempt to suppress ideas or to enforce them, and the second plays upon human gullibility, which depends on truth to rescue it.

That is, the counter to or the justification for the use of force is always an idea, and false ideas obtain currency because they appear plausible, whether from frequent or widespread dissemination, or both.

At the heart of the United States of America is the idea that all men are created equal in their natural rights. This is grounded in human nature, meaning the capacity for reasoning and living in political community. But this idea has always had been opposed by those who believe they have a natural right to rule others without their consent.

While America has survived every assault from without, from British imperialism to Soviet expansionism, the greatest danger lies within. That is the serpentine charm of moral relativism, whether of individuals, societies or historical periods, which undermines commitment to all ideas, particularly true ones. For once one has abandoned the possibility of truth, false doctrines invariably prevail.

But these challenges have not gone unanswered. Thanks to the unswerving and comprehensive intellectual inquiries of the philosopher Leo Strauss, thousands of persons have repaired to the study of classics of human thought, not to mention the appreciation of European civilization and American republicanism. Persons in our universities, in the government and elsewhere have taken on the mission to pursue the truth and encourage others to do so, energized by the hope that our civilization and our liberty can be saved from moral and political confusion.

Modern republicanism began as an attempt to solve the centuries-old problem of the relationship between religion and politics, each vying for dominance and corrupting each other in the process. The victory of free government in the United States engendered the sovereignty of politics and the moral foundation of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. But the success of moral relativism in undermining the remarkable marriage of limited government and freedom of religion has reopened questions once thought closed.

Both the American government and the Christian religion have come under attack from those calling themselves progressives, leading to a counterattack by political philosophers which has so far borne only limited fruit. But I can testify from my own experience that there are no more dynamic discussions, investigations, arguments and debates occurring than those among political philosophers.

Equally vital to our future as a civilization and a free nation is the revival of religious sentiment and apologetics (defense of the faith) among persons learned in the scriptures and theology, certainly, but also in the philosophic tradition that existed alongside Christianity for centuries and within the political system that secured its freedom in the modern age.

Besides studying political philosophy in graduate school, and drawing upon it over three decades of teaching, I have participated in numerous conferences that have delved deeply into the fundamental ideas of the Western world, keeping alive an understanding of our precious heritage. More recently, I have attended lectures on the contrast between Christianity, modern scientism, atheism and "post modernism," as well as debates on the divergent views of Christians and Muslims on their holy books, founders and teachings.

In these philosophic and theological realms ideas are examined with utmost seriousness. Participants reject the temptation to find convergence among ideas that are fundamentally opposed to each other. Constitutional government cannot be saved and Biblical teachings cannot benefit us if we imagine "we can all just get along."

The future of the world is being determined right now among seemingly obscure academics and theologians. They know and appreciate the fact that chatter is no substitute for serious thought. We must defeat evil not just on the battlefield, which Americans have admirably done over their history. We must also discredit evil at its source. Jesus once said that "in this world there will be tribulation," doubtless both in action and in thought, but that is no reason for us to resign to the enemy what is good and true and beautiful.