The Great Barbarism of our Day

imagesIn a world bereft of objective value, nothing is good in itself. People and things are judged valuable only if they are deemed beneficial for something else. The only “real” value is economic. As a result we’re witnessing the systematic degradation of everything. Nothing is sacred. Nothing is good per se.

The temptation to exploit is a great danger in this flattened universe. Those in power, those with money, will be tempted to walk on the backs of others in order to further their own interests and desires—whatever they may be.

Souls no longer conform to reality. Virtue is dead. Anything goes. This is the new reality. But how did we get here? There is a longer story to tell: a story of descent into disenchantment. I want to pick up one thread of this longer story here, noting the effect of the modern industrial revolution and its role in our culture’s descent into barbarism.

Michel Henry describes the great barbarism of our day as follows:

When production became economic and acted for the sake of making money—that is to say, when an economic reality took the place of goods useful for life and designated for it—the entire face of the world changed. . . . Production changes altogether once it is the production of money and no longer of use value.[1]

I’m not arguing that the industrial revolution was all bad. I’m not decrying science and technology. What I am suggesting is that science and technology, money and industry, changed the way we experience the world. They shape how we relate to the world. If we are uncritically pushed and pulled by the forces of economic value, barbarism results.

It seems the barbarians are no longer at the gate. They’ve infiltrated the polis. They now run our schools, our government, our media, our economy. This state of affairs has not ushered in utopia. No, unfortunately, the result is disintegration, alienation, and exploitation. Lest you doubt, just witness the current political climate.

What is the needed antidote to barbarism? I suggest, as a start, a return to reality. The world is not empty of value, spirits, meaning, the sublime. Reality is deeply beautiful. It is enchanted. It is magical. It is, to use the old word, holy. When we begin to see reality in its proper light, we will be led to the Source of reality. With God’s help, our souls will conform to reality. We will become fully human once again.


[1] Michel Henry, Barbarism (New York: Continuum, 2012), 48­–9, quoted in Paul Tyson, Returning to Reality (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2014), 170.

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