Most contemporary intellectuals reject Hilaire Belloc’s claim that the West must return to Christianity if it is to survive as a civilization. In their view, we live in an enlightened and disenchanted world that has left behind forever the integral but innocent and uncritical Age of Faith. And as if to lend support to their conviction, several spokesmen of the Church have sought to accommodate that venerable institution to new, secular imperatives. And yet, as Paul Hollander argues so convincingly, the longing for an all-embracing purpose and meaning is as deep as it ever was—and not merely in untutored circles. This unsatisfied hunger, he maintains, “constitutes one of the most often over­looked attributes of intellectuals.” Now, however, most clercs concentrate their hopes on the creation of an earthly paradise, almost always equated with some variety of “socialism.”

Comprised of a series of essays written over the past 20 years, The Many Faces of Socialism enlarges upon several of the themes that Hollander explored in Political Pilgrims, his superb study of Western travelers to the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba. Living in the secular and seemingly meaningless world that they themselves did so much to create, Western intellectuals have projected their personal sense of loss and their discontent onto the societies of which they are members. So common is this occurrence that to be an intellectual is now widely understood to be an adversary of all things Western. The West, our advanced thinkers repeatedly state, is unworthy of our respect because it is individualistic, imperialistic, and materialistic. They single out the United States as a peculiarly unjust and oppressive nation, one, moreover, that has mastered the arts of deception and concealment. The intellectuals view it as their calling to expose the iniquitous System by means of painstaking critical analysis and, if need be, by active provocation.

But, at the same time that these no­nonsense intellectuals subject American society to unsparing criticism and advertise their allegiance to the highest moral standards, they exhibit a remarkable generosity when they turn their attention to societies that proclaim a commitment to socialism. Before our eyes, stern social critics metamorphose into students of history eager to suspend moral judgment. While conceding that the Soviet Union possesses an awesome military arsenal, they recall World War II and maintain that the Russians have every reason to feel threatened. Without denying that the Soviet government is dictatorial, they insist that we consider the long Mongol occupation and the ruthlessness of czars such as Ivan the Terrible. Additionally, they remind us that the Chinese are accustomed to warlords and tyrants and the Cubans to dictators and Yankee imperialists. Naturally, then, any effort to apply to socialist governments and societies the kind of social criticism that has done so much to erode Western self-confidence would be unfair and unfitting; it would betray a shocking disregard for historical circumstances.

Yet it is no accident, as the Marxists are wont to say, that apologists are disinclined to examine tyrannical regimes too closely. As Hollander observes, empirical investigations of self-styled Marxist societies are rare precisely because they serve to undermine the false constructions of reality in which so much personal capital has been invested. Very little effort, for example, has been expended in comparing Soviet and American societies in a detailed and systematic manner. To be sure, most intellectuals have long since stopped praising the U.S.S.R. unreservedly, preferring to speak generally of a growing “convergence” between the world’s two superpowers. By discussing the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. within the context of technological modernization, the former is made to seem no worse, if no better, than the latter: “We have McCarthyism and racism; they have Stalinism and the purges.”

When it comes to Marxist societies that continue to excite the radical imagination, intellectuals do not hesitate to make large, if vague, claims. Almost invariably, their utopias-in-the-making—Cuba, Vietnam, Mozambique—are described as Caring, Authentic, Simple, and Communal. Unlike the individualistic West, these countries are said to be energized by a genuine sense of “community.” Never, of course, do those who advance propositions of this sort subject them to the kind of scrutiny that is reserved for any affirmative depiction, however qualified, of American society. And when the evidence of failure and evil can no longer be disregarded or explained away, intellectuals simply transfer their loyalties; most recently, it is the Sandinistas who are creating a truly human community.

Those who prefer their utopias straight, without so much as a chaser of reality, are more partial to failed revolutions or revolutions in progress. One has only to think of the aura that surrounds “republican” Spain and Allende’s Chile; a similar mystique attaches to the Salvadoran guerrillas, no yet tainted by power. Of course, the most fastidious visionaries refuse to take any chances (or responsibility), choosing instead to construct wholly imaginary alternatives to existing or would-be governments. “Some of us,” Irving Howe wrote recently, “had hoped during the mid-fifties for the emergence of a Vietnamese ‘third force,’ capable of rallying the people through land reform in the countryside and democratization in the cities. This now appears to have been a vain hope: there simply were no political forces strong or coherent enough to move in this direction.”

Because the celebration of regimes that describe themselves as socialist is rooted in religious impulses, enthusiasm tends to wane when the “revolution” begins to discourage turmoil and removes utopia from its immediate agenda. Unlike Lenin and Stalin for example Khrushchev and Brezhnev inspired little excitement in the West and those who enthused over the intellectual Mao and who greeted China’s “Cultural Revolution” as a heartening sign of renewed ideological militancy are bored to distraction by today’s less fevered leaders, unimaginative apparatchiks who do business with the wicked and reactionary Americans.

Hollander is very much aware of this syndrome. Reflecting on a recent visit to Hungary, the land of his birth, he suggests that János Kádár ‘s “goulash communism,” for all its inadequacies, represents a significant improvement over the Stalinism that he knew as a child. Nevertheless,

this is not a model of socialism to gladden the hearts of those Western intellectuals who continue to yearn for a sense of purpose, community, and direction emanating from some infallible belief system or social organization. . . The New Socialist Man has not been born and bred in Hungary, but some attributes of the old, nonsocialist man have certainly survived with many of their redeeming imperfections.

It is, in fact, astonishing that many leftists, including some Hungarian émigrés and Budapest dissidents (one thinks of the talented György Konrád) take a dim view of Kádár’s Hungary, in spite of the fact that it is, by any measure, the most free of the Soviet-dominated lands. The principal objection to contemporary Hungarian society seems to be that it is becoming too Western—it lacks any cosmic purpose and is overly concerned with material betterment. One no longer hears much talk about building a new world.

In the light of Hollander’s thoughtful analysis of leftist intellectuals, it should not be surprising that so many of them have made their careers as social critics. Indeed, “being a social critic in the United States has become in some ways the best of all possible worlds, one which can combine idealism with security, idealism with material and status rewards, passion with safety, and political commitment with group support.” Louis Dupré is a case in point. As Professor of the Philosophy of Religion at Yale, he is secure and rewarded, but he is also very much impressed by Marx ‘s social critique of Western culture and eager to hone its cutting edge. He is typical too in his substitution of secular utopianism for Christian hope.

If Dupré were not a member of the Yale faculty, I doubt that this work would have been published by the Yale University Press. Though competent, the study offers little that is original and it borrows uncritically from the work of such insignificant and tiresome ideologues as Berrell Ollman and Ernest Mandel. At a more sophisticated level, Dupré is indebted to Georg Lukács and to the members of the Frankfurt School. And although he may not be aware of it, his ideas concerning the relationship between society and economy replicate those of Karl Polanyi. Nevertheless, he has persuaded himself and his editors that he has uncovered something new by reexamining Marx’s writings.

According to Dupré, Marx’s unique contribution was his analysis of cultural disintegration and his proposal for forging a new unity. The learned revolutionary was not a confused and simpleminded economic determinist but a sophisticated critic and master of the dialectic. True, Marx did say in The German Ideology that high culture—the superstructure—is merely a function of the social-economic base on which it rests, but that, Dupré assures us, should not be taken too seriously. What Marx really meant was that there is a subtle, dialectical relationship between base and superstructure in which each term affects the other. On this reading, Marxism is a probing (organic-dialectic) method of interpretation, not a crude (architectural-causal) ideology.

The problem that the dialectic method was designed to uncover and to solve is, in Dupré’s judgment, the “reification of modern culture.” Just as man is separated from his fellows and from himself by the alienating structures of capitalism, so modern culture is isolated from its socioeconomic base severed from its roots in human labor therefore, culture is ever again to be humane and meaningful, it must be reunited with all of man ‘s productive activity; theory and praxis must become inseparable and correlative aspects of a new whole. Dupré puts it this way: “Each [theory and praxis] presents one aspect of a total, integrally human activity and, as such, remains subordinate to the whole.” It was Marx’s genius to have recognized the crucial importance of this mutual dependence and ultimate reconciliation.

For all his attitude of reverence, however, Dupré is too intelligent and scrupulous to ignore Marx’s manifest lapses and contradictions. Though he would like to acquit the author of Das Kapital of the reductive charge, he concedes—and given his argument it is a major concession—that Marx never “reconciled the architectural-causal interpretation of culture with the more fundamental organic-dialectic one.” Moreover, he points out that Marx, for all his vaunted sense of history, continued to assume the unchanging priority of economic factors. Perhaps most important, he observes that despite Marx’s protestations, the Marxian dialectic is shot through with teleological assumptions—and that it must be if history is to be regarded as anything more than random movement. In the final analysis, then, Dupré does not deny that there exists a utopian element in Marx’s work; on the contrary, he insists that it is precisely this ingredient that “deserves serious consideration.” Thus, what began as a defense of a hermeneutic method, ends, as it often does, with a declaration of faith.

Like that of so many other admirers of Marx, Dupré’s critical vision is blurred by his dizzying encounter with the dialectic. Everywhere he sees things that are transformed into their opposite and influences that are at once mutual and one-directional. Moreover, despite incessant talk of a “reintegrated” culture, he leaves us largely in the dark about its exact nature. What does it mean, for example, to say that in a unified culture no productive activity “is allowed to descend to the low level of ‘merely making a living’ and none, however speculative or artistic, remains detached from economic productivity”? Does this mean, as the Chinese and Cubans seem to think, that writers and artists should labor in the fields several months each year? Or that workers should write novels and be compelled to attend the ballet? Or that society should rank the composition of the Ninth Symphony no higher than the manufacture of shoes? Dupré never essays to answer this question.

Whatever his limitations, however, Dupré is not mistaken about the fragmented character of modern culture. We are in the midst of a profound cultural crisis, the seeds of which were sown in the great era of modernism that is now past. The recognition that “things fall apart” and that “the centre cannot hold” could not long, of itself, sustain our culture, for as Belloc knew, the fate of the West is inseparable from that of historic Christianity. In his reflections on the unity of Western culture, T. S. Eliot argued with his customary force and eloquence that all cultures depend on religion for their vitality and coherence, their sense of significance. He did not say, of course, that all Westerners must be communicants. An individual “may not believe that the Christian Faith is true, and yet what he says, and makes, and does, will all spring out of his heritage of Christian culture and depend upon that culture for its meaning. Only a Christian culture could have produced a Voltaire or a Nietzsche.” Or, I might add, a Marx. Western culture’s present malaise is not, that is to say, the consequence of its alienation from economic production, but of its neglect of its Christian sources. Whether or not we are Christians by personal conviction, we must begin again to draw upon those vast and rich sources if we are not finally to be overtaken by barbarism. No economic organization and no political system can create for us the context of meaning that Christianity has provided for almost two millennia.