Heroism and Genius

This is my Amazon.com review of Heroism and Genius, by William J. Slattery.  

The days surrounding a winter solstice have traditionally been days of fear, disquiet, and uncertainty.  In the past, such winter days were short, cold, harsh, and mostly dark.  Who knew what stalked about in the wilds?  What kind of mischief and danger awaited men among the icy forests and crossroads?  People huddled inside their homes.  They brought evergreens into their dwellings to remind themselves that there was still life out there.  Lone heroes would be tasked with venturing outside to break pathways through the snowdrifts so that others could get through, thus keeping the village alive.

The entire Western Civilization faced a similar condition.  Only they were challenged with a winter of the Roman empire.  And during this period of societal collapse, as panic and anarchy spread across the land, lone heroes and natural-born leaders would have to arise, take command of the situation, and assure the people that life would go on.  Fr. William Slattery tells us about these men in his recent book, Heroism and Genius: How Catholic Priests Helped Build–And Can Help Rebuild–Western Civilization.

Our forebears in the clergy dug us out of a civilizational winter.

Slattery’s book is about the rescue of the West from the priest’s perspective.  It is an unprecedented way to think about our recovery from such an unimaginable disaster as societal collapse.  Through this work, one can begin to understand, as Slattery describes it, that “certain foundational paradigms, ideals, and institutions of sociocultural life in Western Civilization were derived from Catholicism.”

We can thank the heroes of the Church for planting the seeds of  the West.  It is the priests and bishops who shouldered society through the semianarchy of the first millennium.  Secular historians often leave out this part of our history.  The feats of men such as St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Leo go under the radar of biased historians.  It was “the priesthood that spearheaded the transformation of society,” much to the confusion of today’s unchurched culture.

Often on internet media, the new-and-upcoming Intellectual Alternative Right will sermonize and pine for a solution to the impending collapse of North America and Europe.  Today’s thinkers assume a prescient view of our dark future.  They believe that we are to collapse as a society under the weight of our own corruption.  Traditional assumptions of morality will be upturned.  The material gains and peace of our nations will be eaten away.  We will be washed over by waves of invaders who do not share our patrimony, and our territories will become balkanized.  Yet, the solutions from these same intellectuals on the Right are nebulous and unclear.  In fact, many of these intellectuals believe in reverting into a state of ethnic tribalism, rather than aiming for new levels of national unity.

Those thinkers are wrong.  Tribalism is not the ultimate answer.  The solution for our future’s challenges lie in our own civilization’s past.  And the perspective that Slattery offers, the priestly empathy, is like the perspective of an alpinist who can guide you through the mountains.  What the Right needs is to understand that religion either makes or breaks cultures.  Without this kind of a frame of reference, we remain relegated to “the untruth of the dominant materialistic ideology, in which man is labeled as nothing more than his genetic code, his ‘now’ and ‘here.'”

We will need leaders to break through the dark snowy winter ahead of us.

I suppose it is only here, on the precipice of our own societal collapse, that we can finally appreciate the story that Slattery tells us in Heroism and Genius.  Not only are we treated to tales of how the Catholic clergy fertilized our philosophy and culture, but we are even given glimpses of bishops who not only served as our city administrators, but even as our ambassadors and wartime generals.  Such untold stories are woven throughout the book, and they defy all presumption.

Before, we were only looking at the edge of a piece of paper.  But with Heroism and Genius, we can view all of the writing on the face of the parchment.  By tossing away all of our history, distorted notions, and failed presumptions, we can look back at the valiant men of the Church and become inspired to save the West once more.  It was done before, it can be done again.

Priests, bishops, and laity all would do well to have a copy of Heroism and Genius on their bookshelves.  Perhaps with the considerations and histories that Fr. Slattery provides, Western men can become the saviors of society again.  Without a doubt, laity and potential converts will treasure this book, and in time it will become an important work for social discourse as the West continues to collapse as Rome did.

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