'A serious - and seriously readable - book about the deep issues that our shallow age has foolishly tried to dodge' - Douglas Murray
'A crystal-clear analysis of the multiple failures of "me-first" contemporary liberalism' - Giles Fraser
For millennia, philosophical, ethical and theological reflection was commonplace among the intellectually curious. But the wisdom that some of the greatest minds across the centuries continue to offer us remains routinely ignored in our modern pursuit of self-fulfilment, economic growth and technological advancement.
Sohrab Ahmari, the influential Op-Ed editor at the New York Post, offers a brilliant examination of our postmodern Western culture, and an analysis of the paradox at its heart: that the 'freedoms' we enjoy - to be or do whatever we want, subject only to consent, with everything morally neutral or relative - are at odds with the true freedom that comes from the pursuit of the collective good.
Rather than the insatiable drive to satisfy our individual appetites, this collective good involves self-sacrifice and self-control. It requires us to diminish so that others may grow. What responsibility do we have to our parents? Should we think for ourselves? Are sexual ethics purely a private matter? How do we justify our lives? These, and other questions - explored in the company of a surprising range of ancient and contemporary thinkers - reveal how some of the most ancient moral problems are as fresh and relevant to our age as they were to our ancestors.
By plumbing the depths of each question, the book underscores the poverty of our contemporary narratives around race, gender, privilege (and much else), exposing them as symptoms of a deep cultural crisis in which we claim a false superiority over the past, and helps us work our way back to tradition, to grasp at the thin, bare threads in our hands, while we still can.
New York Post opinion editor Ahmari (From Fire by Water) argues in this sweeping work that the West needs to re-engage more meaningfully with religious traditions in order to flourish. He asks 12 questions about the nature and duties of life that "confident, progressive modernity should readily be able to answer" but cannot (such as "How Do You Justify Your Life?" and "Can You Be Spiritual Without Being Religious?"), and offers his own replies, drawing from a wide range of eras, traditions, and thinkers, including second-century Gnostic Christian Marcion, Confucius, English theologian John Henry Newman, and feminist writer Andrea Dworkin. He pushes the view of God as rational through the work of Thomas Aquinas, and the need for a day of rest with the life and writing of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Ahmari argues being spiritual but not religious lacks "existential seriousness" and fails to bind community the way rituals associated with religion can and should. He uses Alexander Solzhenitsyn to question unchecked freedom of liberalism and Seneca to teach about the good death. While Ahmari's arguments are intriguing, he is more concerned with telling a story than engaging with his points. Secularists will disagree with Ahmari's basic argument, but those who worry about the decline of religion will appreciate this adamant call to return.