Living Without Faith in the Ultimate Victory of Something

In a powerful part of his excellent book Law and Revolution, Harold Berman notes the importance of eschatology and a faith in the ultimate victory of something to a people.  He writes:

Rosenstock-Huessy has shown how the belief in an end-time, the end of the world, had influenced the great revolutions of Western history.  Each of those revolutions translated the experience of death and regeneration into a different concept of the nation and of the church.  When Christian eschatology was discarded by the Enlightenment and by liberal theology in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a secular eschatology took its place.  “No people,” Rosenstock-Huessy writes, “can live without faith in the ultimate victory of something.  So while theology slept, the laity betook itself to other sources of Last Things”—to the eschatology of Karl Marx, on the one hand, and of Friedrich Nietzsche, on the other.[1]

I wonder, do we in the church have faith in the ultimate victory of something?  Or, rather, is it a faith in ultimate defeat?  Further, as a nation, do we have faith in the ultimate victory of something?  If so, what?

Well, I think some of us do have such a faith.  President Obama and the other liberal elites have faith in the ultimate victory of the European-style Socialist Democratic dream.  And, don’t bother them with the details of where the money is going to come from to pay for it.  Never mind the crisis in Greece, and the brewing crisis in Italy, Spain, Portugal, etc., etc.  We can do it in America, and we can do it even bigger and better!  Yes, they have a faith in the ultimate victory of something.  It is a secular humanist postmillennialism.

Most other Americans, I am afraid, no longer dream such lofty dreams.  We no longer have faith in the ultimate victory of anything, I fear.  Rather, we have faith in a long, slow march to defeat.

Contrast this with the views of our Puritan forbears.  Thomas Case, a nonconformist Devine, in a sermon before the House of Commons in 1641, exemplified the Puritan view.  He said:

Reformation must be universal.  Reform all places, all persons and callings; reform the benches of judgment, the inferior magistrates . . . Reform the universities, reform the cities, reform the countries, reform inferior schools of learning, reform the Sabbath, reform the ordinances, the worship of God.  Every plant which my heavenly father hath not planted shall be rooted up.[2]

Berman notes that this zeal to reform the world included “radical political activity, that is, political progress as a religious goal.”[3]

Would that God might grant to us in our time such a zeal to reform the world, and, if He does, it will necessarily include some radical political activity.


[1] Harold J. Berman, Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition, 27 (1983) (footnotes omitted) (quoting Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, The Christian Future, 70 (1946).

[2] Id. at 564, n.24 (citing the sermon as being quoted in Michael Walzer, The Revolution of the Saints: A Study in the Origins of Radical Politics, 10-11 (1965)).

[3] Id.