Saturday, May 02, 2009

The "grimmest of ironies"

“It is the grimmest of ironies that one of the most savage, barbaric acts of evil in history began in one of the most modernized societies of its time, where so many markers of human progress became tools of human depravity: science that can heal used to kill; education that can enlighten used to rationalize away basic moral impulses; the bureaucracy that sustains modern life used as the machinery of mass death — a ruthless, chillingly efficient system where many were responsible for the killing, but few got actual blood on their hands.”

— United States President Barack Obama, April 23rd, 2009, Holocaust Days of Remembrance Ceremony, Washington D.C.
What the President said is true and well-said, despite the irony of his own policies. But the President's observation that this evil came from one of the most modernized societies of its time is not ironic, but rather follows logically.

The evils of genocide, slavery, abortion, hatred, and euthanasia have existed throughout history, but contemporary society and ideology makes these evils more prevalent, and on a much greater scale.

The holocaust memorialized by the President — when nearly all of my Polish Catholic relatives were also killed — was started by a regime that was democratically elected. As these maps show, it was the modern parts of the country that brought the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei to power, while the backward Catholic regions resisted. The Communists also resisted, and were also killed, but they later gained power and caused their own vast atrocities.

The false notion that man can save himself, the centralization of power, and a disregard for the natural moral law — all characteristics of contemporary society of whatever political persuasion — lead necessarily to atrocity.

Two classic books on this topic are worth reading:  The Abolition of Man by the British Anglican scholar C.S. Lewis, and Lost in the Cosmos, by the American Catholic writer Walker Percy.


  1. Yikes! I hadn't heard that quote from Obama yet. until I saw his name, I thought it was someone speaking about abortion. How terribly distressing!

  2. Mark, I would like you to consider some different perspectives.

    (1) In the past, the "evils of genocide, slavery, abortion, hatred, and euthanasia" in fact were more prevalent than today; indeed, they were the rule. What is different is first the tremendous increase in population density, and secondly, the efficiency of the mass media.

    (2) I am a German-American old lady, and can speak of the thirties from direct experience. At that time, Catholic Bavaria and Austria were not "backward"; neither were protestant Mecklenberg and Prussia comparatively advanced, progressive, or modern" (whatever that means). But the south is where the Nazi's did get their start -- Hitler himself was an Austrian -- and the "Beer Hall Putsch" in Munich their first attempt to grab power.

    (3) The Nazi's were equal-opportunity exterminators, and killed everyone who opposed Hitler: Jews, Slavs, communists, monarchists, parliamentarians, and all religious persons who placed loyalty to God above loyalty to der Fuehrer -- irrespective of their denomination. However, they did not have to kill many Christians because most (to their everlasting shame) clergy and laity of whatever denomination supported Hitler. Of course, your Polish-Catholic relatives were doomed on two accounts: they were slavs, and they opposed Hitler.

    These details aside, you are right on target in your summation: atrocity is the inevitable result of any notion that man can save himself, that centralization is a virtue, or that man may disregard moral law with impunity.

  3. Those ideas got their popularity in the urban areas, and Hitler was an apostate. By modern ideas, I mean of course Protestantism and the ideas that almost inevitably lead from that religious viewpoint.

    Abortion is certainly more prevalent now than previously. Slavery has only been eliminated relatively lately historically, and it gained popularity in the wake of the Reformation. There is a certain type of slavery to the State, especially regarding excessive taxation, regulation, and conscription.