Much of the art before World War I can be seen as moral in nature, says Bruce Edward Walker in this week’s Acton Commentary, while post-Armistice art commonly celebrates materialism if not outright hedonism:

After the Great War, however, the genie was out of the bottle, leading to works meant only to shock, dismay or anger would-be censors and art consumers in general. These works lacked what Irish philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke were essential for a “moral imagination” of which he wrote in his classic Reflections on the French Revolution: “Nothing is more certain than that our manners, our civilization, and all the good things which are connected with manners, and with civilization, have, in this European world of ours, depended for ages upon two principles; I mean the spirit of a gentleman, and the spirit of religion.”

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

While you’re at it, download lectures on culture, economics and faith from Acton University 2014 at the online store. Of particular relevance to today’s commentary are the Day Three lectures by Vigen Guroian on “Our Cultural Crisis: Restoring a Vision of the Permanent Things” and Michael Matheson Miller on “The Moral Imagination.” The Miller talk is in production and will be posted to the store soon. Lectures from AU 2014 are now available for 99 cents.


  • Phil Spomer

    “An accomplished historian described a moment as an undergraduate. His teacher started a lesson on WW1. The proffessor only spoke a few words before interrupted by his own tears. Despite an effort of self-control, the tears grew into a paralizing sob. This continued untill the embarrassed students slowly left the room. ‘In all of my years as an historian, that was the most accurate lesson I recieved of the Great War.'”

    • hamlet

      Thanks, thank you….how well put..