In “The Proletarian Weapon” (Principalities & Powers, May), Samuel Francis has restated his theory that we are living “in a society that is between civilizations,” the old one being “bourgeois, Western, and generally Christian” and the new one “managerial, non-Western . . . egalitarian.” When he first said this, I thought he was being ironic, but apparently he wants us to take him seriously. I must demur.

As Pitirim Sorokin pointed out in The Crisis of Our Age, great civilizations cannot survive without a considerable measure of “ideational” content—widely shared religious beliefs that strike deep into the soul of man. To use C.S. Lewis’s terms, the spiritual underpinnings of society must be “thick,” not “clear”—they must acknowledge blood ties, the power of the numinous, a dark mystery at the core of human life, and so on. I’m not sure whom Dr. Francis would count as members of the managerial elite, but I dare say that they look with scorn on anything thick. Those who are “rationalist” and “secularist” would probably like to do without religion altogether, but if they must have it, let it be clear, rational, even scientific—something modern people can believe in. But such an effort is doomed to fail. Aristotle’s Ethics, being clear, did not work like leaven to transform a whole civilization; the Gospel, being thick, did.

        —Geoffrey Rommel
Berwyn, IL

Dr. Francis Replies:

It is always bracing to be criticized for not saying that which you have actually said, but which the critic has contrived to miss entirely. In the first place, Mr. Rommel might care to consult more than the one or two columns of mine that he appears to have seen. If he does, he will find that the discussion of “managerial society” in “The Proletarian Weapon” was not merely the second time I have brought up the subject. As readers of Chronicles and other publications for which I have written know, I have been discussing the implications of James Burnham’s theory of the managerial revolution for some 20 years now, and it is clear that Mr. Rommel would profit from more exposure to the larger body of my work.

Moreover, one of the more recent occasions on which I discussed the subject was in my Principalities & Powers column in the November 2000 issue, entitled “Are We Decadent?” There, I noted that “managerial civilization” exhibits the very flaws that Mr. Rommel accuses me of ignoring and that it is problematic whether it can ever overcome these flaws. “A civilization that can think of no better justification of itself than dishwashers and higher living standards can hardly be called a civilization at all,” I wrote, in commenting on the very lack of “thickness” that Mr. Rommel is so breathless to tell us about.