We know from history that any successful society must begin with a core commitment to belief and protection of human dignity. Only then will any society achieve a moral order, true freedom, the ability to build a humane economy, and solidarity among its peoples. As the United States gears up for its next presidential election and as world leaders gather for conference after conference to discuss the latest unfolding world crisis, we hear a lot of talk about policy and what is effective and what isn’t. Yet according to the authors of The Race to Save our Century, good policy can only be built by a prior commitment to strong principles.
In an exclusive interview, Jason Scott Jones and John Zmirak recently spoke with tothesource contributor Christopher White on how understanding history can help diagnose our current state of affairs and help heal our deeply divided world.
tothesource: You begin The Race to Save Our Century by going back to the previous century—specifically 1914. Does the twentieth century hold the key to righting our present wrongs?
Jones and Zmirak: History holds the key. It’s our common ground, our shared experience as people. The crimes, tragedies, and thwarted hopes of the twentieth century are what shaped our present world. So we use that history as the starting point for discussing questions that are timeless: How should we treat our neighbor? What rights are basic and non-negotiable? What are our inalienable rights, simply as human beings? How should we organize productive activity, protect the vulnerable, and lay down a hopeful future for our children? We wanted to convey a Christian view of the sanctity and dignity of the human person, without relying on scripture—since our hope is to reach non-believers, starting with the law that St. Paul said is “written on the human heart.”
tts: “Subhumanism” is a term you use to diagnose the current view of mankind. What exactly is subhumanism, what are its symptoms, and where does it lead?
Jones and Zmirak: Subhumanism is a weird hybrid philosophy that underlies the politics and lifestyles of the Western elite—and increasingly, of the common man, who soaks it in through the media. Subhumanism uses quasi-scientific assertions about evolution, biology, and human behavior to reduce people to brainy apes, whose behavior is not so much free as goaded by instincts or determined by electrochemical sparks in our neurons. At the same time, Subhumanism is haunted by nostalgia for the old Christian vision of the person, with rights, dignity, and a unique, irreplaceable value. So it grafts onto that brainy ape a long series of political and economic “rights” to all sorts of things—from gender and racial equality to “reproductive choice.” Of course, none of those rights can be grounded in the quasi-science that tells us we’re just brainy apes. This philosophy is a mish-mash of incompatible assertions about life and its meaning. Instead of agonizing about it, modern people pick and choose the parts that they find useful in any given situation. They use pseudo-science to whack down the rights of others, then the leftover Christian humanism to assert their own rights, as needed.
tts: How might “personalism” be part of the cure?
Jones and Zmirak: We want people to fall in love with the human person, to see the stark reality that each human life is an irrepeatable miracle, which should be cherished. That same sense of wonder a mother feels when she holds her newborn child—it’s not just a meaningless animal impulse, but an epiphany, a window into the love God feels for each one of us. Our goal with this book is to re-awaken that wonder, and encourage political and economic decisions that center on the person as the highest value on earth.
tts: Subsidiarity and Solidarity are two terms that are often thrown around—and sound really great, but how might be give lived out expression today?
Jones and Zmirak: Subsidiarity aims to protect the rights of human persons against the tyranny of the majority, or the whims of political leaders. It demands that the violent, coercive power of the state be held to the bare minimum required for the common good, and even then that this power be decentralized and kept accountable to local communities. Ideally, we would live more like the Swiss, who make most of their decisions about taxes and policy at the level of the city, town, or village.
Solidarity demands that we not retreat into egoism, or group narcissism. It tells us that we can’t hide behind national boundaries, that the universal language is morality and humanism. So we don’t have the right not to care about what happens to “enemy” civilians, or the workers in foreign factories who make our iPads, or refugees in the Middle East. No man is an island, and the ruination of any human life diminishes you and me, here in America.
tts: What are some practical ways in which people of faith can exhibit courage and participate in the campaign to save our century?
Jones and Zmirak: Identify the most vulnerable human beings in your community, and make them your first priority. In America, the most vulnerable are certainly pre-born children—who have no legal rights, and less protection from cruelty than laboratory animals. So make the prolife issue a non-negotiable element in your political decisions. Think also of the most vulnerable people worldwide—among whom today are Christians and other religious minorities, subject to persecution for their faith. Give, work, and pray for the vulnerable. See them as little images of Christ, stumbling under the weight of His heavy cross. If you saw Him right now, enduring that, wouldn’t you offer Him some water, maybe help to shoulder the cross? Well, He gives us the chance to do that every day, by aiding the image of God—the human person.
Learn more about these ideas at: www.saveourcentury.com.