The Quincentennial Revolution is upon us
Rounding off a diverse trio of blogs today on three of my favourite subjects, the railways, geopolitics and now the grand sweep of history.
Looking back at my previous blogs tagged with “history”, they variously look at the inexorably progressive nature (or not) of history, the rise and fall of empires, the gradual diminishing of incidences of war, contests over time between cultures and the reshaping of future society in a reversion to feudalism. Of course, the challenge to me as a non-post-modernist is to weave them all into a coherent meta-narrative, which I will attempt to do some day (I bet I can).
For me the most uber-grand-sweep account of history I’ve read is Why the West Rules – For Now by Ian Morris, whose MacGuffin is a schema of civilisational development indicators that Morris applies across some four millennia to China and to Europe as a means of explaining why, from the fifteenth century onwards, Europe decisively overtook China, even if he notes that more recent trends have rendered the gap much narrower.
Slightly more narrowly drawn but also highly ambitious is a recent entry in a new blog portentously called The Upheaval by N.S. Lyons (https://theupheaval.substack.com/). It sounds much like a dystopian Netflix series based in 2021 United States. In a sense, the article that caught my eye, Are we in a 500 Year Religious Revolution? could be exactly that (the link is https://theupheaval.substack.com/p/are-we-in-a-500-year-religious-revolution).
Lyons’ hypothesis, drawing heavily on American academic and journalist Phyllis Tickle’s theme of The Great Emergence, is that in the current western culture wars we are seeing the fourth in a roughly five-century cycle of revolutions in Christianity. The most recent was the Protestant Reformation of the early 16th century and this largely forms a template for assessing the identity politics/social justice uprising experienced in the last five to ten years. I won’t attempt to paraphrase too much of it because I think the original is so thought provoking, but Lyons cleverly sketches out a convergence and merger of the various sub-Marxist movements and contemporary Christianity. He does though freely admit he doesn’t have all the answers or even much certainty about what is cause and what is effect.
His core conclusion, though, is that this revolution and the prior three all hinged on the fundamental question “where now is authority?” That was the challenge to the Christian Church in ages past – as now – but it is also the wider challenge to everyone alive. In a professedly post-modern world that lacks a narrative, let alone start and end point or guiding hand, it is a wide-open question. What’s for sure, though, is that the deeply human impulse towards truth and ultimate resolution, which in early ages would be described as a religious/mystical sensibility, is as alive as ever.
My hunch is that cold post-modernism will prove no match for people’s yearnings and will eventually be trampled underfoot as the momentum picks up towards a new religious age, which will at least in part approximate to the early years of the Protestant movement: dizzying and disorienting but genuinely feeling towards an authoritative truth that has real substance. Hopefully without too much witch-burning along the way.