Ideas Truly Have Consequences

“What marks the movements in the history of societies and peoples is not the accumulation of capital.  It is the accumulation of opinions. (And such accumulations can be promoted and for some time, even produced by manipulations of publicity, confected for the majority by hard small minorities–though not always, and not forever.)”

The quote above comes from historian John Lukacs in the book History and the Human Condition: A Historian’s Pursuit of Knowledge.    As a history teacher, student, and reader, I have spent much of my life dealing with the movements of societies and people.  As an American citizen, I have experienced such movements personally.

Lukacs is right in my view.  It is the opinions, the ideas, the worldviews, philosophies, and cultural assumptions that shape the world past and present.  In politics, the phrase recurs “It’s the economy, stupid.”  But beliefs about the economy, the pocketbook issues, the charts and graphs, latest economic reports and projections, and the like are not stand alone facts.  The economic issues are built upon cultural assumptions.

The person who votes for a Democrat based on the expectation of government programs and the person who votes for a Republican hoping that it might lead to less government are voting from the same basic presupposition.  Even people who congregated around Jesus wanted more economic applications.  “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar?”  “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Political strategies and slogans aside, it is not the economy, stupid.  It’s the culture.  It’s the opinions and ideas that are floating around.  It is the presuppositions that people are catching in the same way they catch the measles, as Francis Schaeffer said a generation ago.

Granted, as Lukacs said, many of these opinions are promoted and publicized by “hard small minorities.”  R. J. Rushdoony emphasized repeatedly that majorities don’t rule history; rather, it is dedicated minorities who live in terms of their faith.

I am in the opinion-forming business.  Right now, I am working to inform the opinions of my students on the French Revolution, Charles Dickens’ worldview, early civilizations in Asia, Ayn Rand’s flawed individualism, and above all, of God’s providential rule over history and His Kingdom rule over all areas of life.  (I wish I could be experiencing a bit more accumulation of capital in the process.)

“Ideas have consequences” was the title of a book by Richard Weaver.  The title gets touted more than the book gets read.  It is a brilliant point.

I don’t see Christians using the language of “a Christian worldview” as much as I used to.  I recognize that we often spoke of having a Christian worldview, but didn’t have much depth or understanding of what that meant.  And, it has been too often used or equated with extreme rightwing political positions (most of which I hold to).  The problems that led Harry Blamires to say, “There is no longer a Christian mind” in the 1960s and Mark Noll to say, “There is not much of an evangelical Christian mind” in the 1990s is a like a returning and unwanted visitor.

Certainly Christians need to master economics and economic theories.  Certainly Christians need to see how economic wants, needs, and perceptions affect the social and political order.  But it is in the area of opinions, ideas, thinking, and worldviews that we have our best battleplans.  As James Orr said many years ago, “He who with his whole heart believes in Jesus as the Son of God is thereby committed to much else besides. He is committed to a view of God, to a view of man, to a view of sin, to a view of redemption, to a view of human destiny, found only in Christianity.”

A larger and earlier collection of John Lukacs’ essays on history.






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s