Imagine Cicero in his study writing out his fiercely-reasoned jeremiads against a decaying Republic, which was rapidly abandoning the ancient virtues that built Roman civilization. His was a heroic attempt to stop his nation’s slide into tyranny and to bring renewal to his culture. As an enlightened pagan writing before the coming of Christ, he had only the Greek and Roman classics to fall back on as a way of giving people hope that such renewal was possible. Like Cicero, we too live in an era of degradation and decay, but we have an advantage Cicero didn’t have: twenty centuries of Christian civilization to guide us. We have only to pay attention to it.
That is the essential message of Deal Hudson’s new book called, How to Keep from Losing Your Mind: Educating Yourself Classically to Survive Cultural Indoctrination (TAN Books). He calls for a renewed engagement with our own civilization’s accumulated learning and culture as an antidote to our own culture’s slide into tyranny. I’m sure he would not compare himself to Cicero, yet, if you were to put into the Roman sage’s hands a computer and printing press, you would come up with something very similar to Hudson’s jeremiad for the modern age, a work of greatest precision, eloquence, and depth.
I had the privilege of meeting Deal Hudson in the mid-2000s when he was engaged in the ambitious project of getting principled Catholic lay men and women more involved in politics. I did not know at the time that he had been a philosophy professor for a dozen or so years or that he was so perfectly steeped in the classics. Those facts become evident when you read his book. It all makes sense now. His vast education drives him to try to protect people from the barbarian hordes currently occupying the institutions of persuasion and power in our society. Deal Hudson has been a potent culture warrior for decades, but above all, he has been a consistent voice calling our culture back to its roots. Okay, I’ll say it: he is the Cicero of our time.
Feasts of Western Civilization
Hudson’s masterpiece will keep those who listen to him “from losing their minds” on account of the massive, relentless, distortion and propaganda campaign that is our present culture. The very day I received his book in the mail, I came upon a news report touting a BBC school program indoctrinating kids ages 9-12 with the “obvious fact” that there are over 100 genders. The same news cycle included accounts of transgender drag queens reading stories to kindergarten children and the entire Democrat presidential candidate cohort endorsing the killing of babies up to the moment of birth.
An honest person will step back in astonishment at these blasphemies and ask: What is happening to our culture? How did we get to the point where the levies of decency have all been breached and we are unable to ward off the flood of such insanity? Deal Hudson has answers to these questions. “In a world that has done all it can to erase or obscure the civilizational memory of the West, remembering becomes a moral obligation, and a key to recovering our sanity.” (331)
Hudson treats his readers to feasts of cultural remembering on every page of his book. In fact, the only drawback to the plethora of historical, artistic, and literary references is the sense of smallness that even an educated reader feels when presented with the overflowing wealth of the nations. It is a treasure trove that has been largely hidden from us, heirs of the people who built our great civilization. Hudson has entered all those rich mines in his long career, quarried the gems of Western Civilization, and presented them to us in one amazingly comprehensive book. He has given us a complete resource to show us the way out of cultural anarchy. The selected lists of books, music, and movies that he places at the ends of the chapters in part three are themselves worth price of the book.
The Eternal Triad
An artist is judged by his art. I could not help but be impressed with the creativity of Deal Hudson’s text and the structure of his arguments. He said of Danish filmmaker, Carl Theodore Dreyer, that he “portrays the literal meaning of the miracle story while using his art to tell that story to an audience – that, to me, denotes greatness” (298). Hudson’s greatness shows through in a similar fashion in his art. He has made his text resonate with the eternal triad of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness; in fact, these transcendental qualities are the very structure of his book, divided into three clear parts, each section providing a feast at the table of these eternal values.
But he has done another great thing, which surprised and delighted me. Instead of beginning with “Truth” as all the ancients do, Hudson begins with “Beauty”, calling it “The Irresistible Canon”. Fascinating. While the book is fundamentally about preserving the mind – and truth is the predominant force in that endeavor – Hudson wants to first engage his reader’s entire soul using the deep fonts of grace and charm from our cultural patrimony. That is just artistry in writing.
Before attacking the surplus of bad ideas prevalent in our culture, which he adroitly handles in the second section, he goes about the work of attaching his reader to the best things our civilization has to offer. The Beauty section is a wonderful survey of the Great Books, poetry, music, and film presented in an easy professorial style. The best examples of these, which he highlights and explains in lucid prose, break the reader open to a sense of wonder at the universe, at the marvels of the human spirit who created these masterpieces, and at the Creator who made man in his own image and likeness.
Getting to the Root of Things
Moving from the sublime to the mundane, How to Keep from Losing Your Mind provides much insightful critique of the many bad ideas floating in the polluted ocean of our culture. Hudson takes them all on: the culture of death, gender confusion, multiculturalism, radical feminism, the lowering of moral and intellectual standards, the current addictive relationship we have to electronic media, and more. “Mass culture is the school we go to every day,” he says.
Colleges and universities continue to offer degrees in humanities, liberal arts, and sciences, but these traditional brands have been turned inside out by postmodern identity politics – multiculturalism, gender theory, and ethnocentrism. Take a look at the list of publications found on a professor’s personal page, especially you who are paying for your child or grandchild’s education. (160)
His point is not to refute each bad idea or trend on its own terms or to provide talking points for the culture warrior. He has a much more radical agenda (“radical” meaning “getting to the root of things”).
Deal Hudson shows how many of the bad ideas that get attention in our society are really distortions of our best ideas and values. The current fascination with multiculturalism is a perfect example. Whereas multiculturalism is presented in modern media and education as a type of new openness to others who have been “oppressed” by the dominant Judeo-Christian value system of the West, Hudson responds with the simplest of all truths: that “Western learning has always been multicultural” (though no one used that ideological term to describe it.)
Then, beginning with the Greek historian Herodotus, he traces the contributions of Western thought through the vast array of cultures of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance up to the modern age, which is the heir to that immense wealth of learning. He gives a nod to his own high school and college education where he studied the literature and cultures of Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America in addition to his schooling in the Western classics.
This kind of cultural exposure used to be the substance of a standard education and a prerequisite for forming gentlemen in Western society. He notes the implausibility of an educator in any of today’s schools proposing the notion that the purpose of education is to make young men into gentlemen and young women into ladies. Such a teacher would be laughed out of the classroom or – more likely – driven out of the school entirely.
A Potent Counter-Attack
Hudson repeats this getting-to-the-root-of-things pattern through the entire book. He exposes the modern problem or deficit, then traces its pathway back to a defect in education, or formation in classical learning, values, or virtue. He leaves no stone of the Western patrimony of learning unturned. His breadth of knowledge of these monuments of civilization, both past and present, is truly amazing.
He often makes his points through storytelling, or rather re-telling, of the great classics and even modern artistic masterpieces for the many readers who were denied access to these works in their own schooling. The overall effect of so much shared learning is like launching a counter-attack on cultural anarchy, like an invasion onto a toxic beachhead, but without the moralizing tone of a self-appointed reformer. He persuades his reader, as all great teachers do, through inspiration, precision, and the affable style of an educated mind and heart.
The Greatest of all Things
“Goodness: Love is the Crux” is the third and culminating section of the book, as it is with the Christian life. Hudson’s treatise here is like taking an incredible journey through the classical “four loves” (family, romance, friendship, and charity) which all the greats of literature, art, music, and culture have articulated in their own media and times. Again, the breadth of his presentation astounds the reader, who is treated to every gracious love story from Homer’s Illiad to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and, in our time, from Twain’s Huckleberry Finn to Hitchcock’s Vertigo. By these lessons, he show us what virtues to emulate and what shocking defects of love to avoid. The section celebrates the greatest expressions of love our civilization has to offer and warns us about what happens when virtue is absent.
A Gift for Our Age
If the entire moral message of religion can be summarized in the maxim, Do good and avoid evil, the whole message of Deal Hudson’s book – the moral of Western Civilization as it were – is this: Pursue these eternal values at all cost or embrace the nuclear fallout of their absence. Hudson makes the case that the nuclear bomb has long ago been detonated on western shores in the form of the ideological takeover of education, the targeted destruction of family life, and the persistence of failed, destructive socialist policies. How to Keep From Losing Your Mind’s subtitle is about how to “Survive Cultural Indoctrination,” which is the nuclear fallout that has pervaded the very air we breathe in the West.
The book has an excellent bibliography of resources for further education, which has the effect of highlighting the only real defect in the book: the lack of an index to refer back to the enormous number of masterpieces he cites in the text. This was likely a practical concession, as the book runs to over 300 pages, and an index would have perhaps made it unwieldy for a general audience. Be that as it may, Deal Hudson’s book is a gem that has found its place in the Top Ten on my reading list. Even old Cicero didn’t make it that high.
This article was originally published at Catholic Stand.