Kreeft’s “The Pillars of Unbelief”

Peter Kreeft discusses six modern thinkers who have had an enormous impact on everyday life, with great harm to the Christian mind in The Pillars of Unbelief. You have to wonder how much their ideas, especially Machiavelli’s, have influenced/corrupted Catholics and led to a wholehearted embrace of militarism as an American way of life.

[Machiavelli] saw his life as a spiritual warfare against the Church and its propaganda. He believed that every religion was a piece of propaganda whose influence lasted between 1,666 and 3,000 years. And he thought Christianity would end long before the world did, probably around the year 1666, destroyed either by barbarian invasions from the East (what is now Russia) or by a softening and weakening of the Christian West from within, or both. His allies were all lukewarm Christians who loved their earthly fatherland more than heaven, Caesar more than Christ, social success more than virtue. To them he addressed his propaganda. Total candor about his ends would have been unworkable, and confessed atheism fatal, so he was careful to avoid explicit heresy. But his was the destruction of “the Catholic fake” and his means was aggressive secularist propaganda. (One might argue, perhaps peevishly, that he was the father of the modern media establishment.)

He discovered that two tools were needed to command men’s behavior and thus to control human history: the pen and the sword, propaganda and arms. Thus both minds and bodies could be dominated, and domination was his goal. He saw all of human life and history as determined by only two forces: virtu (force) and fortuna (chance). The simple formula for success was the maximization of virtu and the minimization of fortuna. He ends “The Prince” with this shocking image: ‘Fortune is a woman, and if she is to be submissive it is necessary to beat and coerce her’ (ch. 25). In other words, the secret of success is a kind of rape.

For the goal of control, arms are needed as well as propaganda, and Machiavelli is a hawk. He believed that ‘you cannot have good laws without good arms, and where there are good arms, good laws inevitably follow’ (ch. 12). In other words justice ‘comes out of a barrel of a gun,’ to adapt Mao Tse-tung’s phrase. Machiavelli believed that ‘all armed prophets have conquered and unarmed prophets have come to grief’ (ch. 6). Moses, then, must have used arms which, the Bible failed to report; Jesus, the supreme unarmed prophet, came to grief; He was crucified and not resurrected. But His message conquered the world through propaganda, through intellectual arms. This was the war Machiavelli set out to fight.


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