We are only 14 years into this century, and things are grim…but not hopeless. That’s the message of the book, The Race to Save Our Century: Five Principles to Promote Peace, Freedom and a Culture of Life. The book is a collaboration between Jason Scott Jones and John Zmirak. Jones is a human-rights activist and filmmaker (his works include Bella and Crescendo.) Zmirak is a prolific author, known best for his theologically accurate but tongue-in-cheek books on Catholicism, such as The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Catechism: A Faithful, Fun-Loving Look at Catholic Dogmas, Doctrines, and Schmoctrines.
The Race to Save Our Century is a slim volume, but not a quick read. There is much to mull over here. With chapters like “Total War” and “Utopian Collectivism,” it’s best to take this book slowly. You don’t want to miss any of the good stuff.
The 20th century, by any account, was a bloody mess, and the authors of this book don’t want us to repeat the terrible mistakes humanity visited upon itself in that 100 years. What do they propose?
Part of their prescription for what ails us is to closely examine our mistakes. That is: look at evil from the inside. They point to the likes of Solzhenitsyn and C. S. Lewis as guides. “Like an autopsy,” the authors say, “it’s an ugly but sometimes necessary work.” Therefore, they dig into the dirt of racism, collectivism, distributism, hedonism. What makes these ideologies evil? Why must we reject them? And even more important, are we humans capable of sustaining goodness?
Can we be good? When we are faced with the grave temptation to cooperate with evil, to “go along to get along,” rather than speak out and take a risk, how will subhumanism help us?…The only effective answer to the banality of evil is a thriving, vigorous, spirited sense of what is good. Mankind is good, and it is good that he flourishes in freedom and dignity, even if sometimes he suffers.
The second part of the book then takes up what we must do in order to bolster this good. We must base all that we do on the radical ideal that each human being is precious, unique, valuable and made in God’s image and likeness. To proceed without this basis is foolhardy at best, deadly at worst. We must recognize a transcendent moral order, a law etched in the heart of man, that gives us a “firm anchor” rather than warm fuzzy platitudes.
Only such a code, carved in stone with the chisel of rigorous reasoning, will serve to restrain selfish interests and ideological passions and preserve the dignity of the human person.
The authors go on to explain both the essence and the need for subsidiarity and solidarity, ideas familiar to those who know Catholic social teaching. Subsidiarity is the remedy for totalitarianism, which is government run amok, invading all aspects of an individual’s life. Truth is trampled and “rights” are granted and taken away by government, not by God. Subsidiarity allows for the people to form their own associations of their own free will, solve issues on a personal and local level, and not be restricted by the “blunt force of the state.”
Solidarity, say the authors, is the simple and timeless act of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is the “debt of respect” we owe each person, because we recognize their unique nature, made in the image and likeness of God.
Finally, the authors state that we need a “humane economy,” as envisioned by Wilhelm Röpke:
The word “humane” conveys what we mean, both in its literal meaning and in the connotations of kindness that it carries: man’s dignity demands an economic system that provides for his needs, enables his efforts, and takes account of both his self-centered drives and his fundamentally social nature.
In the book’s final chapter, Jones and Zmirak ask, “How did we get here?” That is, how did we find ourselves mired in this subhuman, post-Christian, hostile and often deadly world? Bluntly: we created it. We humans have spent much of the past 100 years telling ourselves the age-old lie that we know better than God, we have a better plan for humanity, faith is archaic and unnecessary and reliance on God passé. We ate the apple.
Again, this is a short book, but heavy on both ideas and ideals. The authors kindly add suggested reading at the end of each chapter; a necessary feature, as they tackle big issues in a short space. However, the book stands on its own as both history lesson and sound warning: we are in danger of repeating the bloody century that preceded this one. We are both at fault and in control. Jones and Zmirak make sense of chaos, “cruelty and smallness of soul” and raise the call for loyalty, decency and courage.