On June 17, 2015, Bradley Birzer taught a course at Acton University entitled “Christopher Dawson and the Dynamics of History” in which he outlined the life and thought of the great historian. Describing Dawson as “an academic’s academic,” Birzer explained that although many people have never heard of Dawson, he nevertheless influenced many popular Christian intellectuals, such as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Flannery O’Connor.
And what was that influence? Christopher Dawson believed his life’s calling was to record the history of the world, but he refused to reduce the task history to the narrow specialization of the archivist. Rather, true history is a poetic endeavor that must take place from within a culture, as opposed to objectifying and deconstructing it from the outside. All cultures contain some aspect of truth that may be missed by others, so the goal of the Church is not to destroy pagan culture but to baptize it and put the truths of that culture in their proper relation to the Truth. Modern ideologies pose such a danger because they single out a truth and pluck it from its broader context in the world over which God reigns. Dawson shows us that we cannot defeat ideology by creating a counter-ideology but only by reconnecting its true foundation to the entirety of truth in a loving manner.
For those interested in reading Dawson’s work for themselves, Birzer suggested The Age of the Gods (the inspiration for C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man), Progress and Religion (a response to Woodrow Wilson), and The Judgement of the Nations. See also, Religion & Liberty‘s interview with Birzer about Russell Kirk and the Conservative Mind.