I am currently working my way through Henri Daniel-Rops (actually Henri Petiot,1901-1965) a French historian and member of the Academie Francaise. There are about nine volumes in the series and I'm on the third dealing with the Middle Ages.
What strikes me the most is that we may be in a period not unlike that of the fall of the Roman Empire. The Empire did not all of a sudden collapse. There was a slow decay as it became less able to deal with challenges. Its economy stagnated and the Emperors increased taxes. It became more and more bureaucratic and less and less efficient. It depended more and more on barbarian peoples to keep its borders safe, barbarians who were mostly heretical Arian Christians. When these barbarian peoples migrated into the Empire there were nor the troops, nor was the will nor was there the local support to oppose them. The Empire in the West collapsed.
Our Western civilization is collapsing. It has within it problems so fundamental as to bring the whole system down but our leaders and intelligentia seem incapable of grasping the issues. It is as if there were a collective blind-spot as regards both the problem and the solution. Our governments are bureaucratic and unwieldy. People are enduring heavier taxes while the wealth is hogged by a few. Most seriously our fertility rate is below the average replacement rate. We have surrendered our intellectual world to largely barbarian people. That last statement may come as a shock. We have traditionally thought of barbarians as pagans and intellectuals, i.e. civilised people, as being as far from barbarian as possible. In this modern none but a few odd balls can be serious pagans. That worldview simply does not thrive in a world as permeated with Christianity as ours. But barbarism is always with us. By barbarian I do not mean a wood or stone-worshipping heathen. These barbarians, not unlike those of Roman days, are quasi-Christian. Back then they were heretics now they are apostates. Back then they came in vast migrations but now they have grown up amongst us.
By barbarism I mean a mind for whom there is no objective moral law and where, ultimately, might is right. By barbarism I mean a mind that neither recognizes nor respects the Sacred. Such a mind might dabble in a kind of secular pantheism by which I mean not that God and the material world are somehow one but that the only kind of sacredness is the material world. A sacred material world takes precedence over the needs of individuals, communities and the human race. This barbarism allows the killing of babies in the womb and eventually after they are born. It allows the killing of the sick, the weak and the disabled. It does not just allow them it celebrates them. It holds them up as acts of compassion, heroism, good. This barbarism exalts the freedom, the autonomy of the individual. The ruthless individual, the solo hero, is the true star of all its stories, its gore-filled sagas and spectacles.
The barbarians are in control. The West has once again succumbed to them. Back in the days of the Empire though the barbarian people came with families, clans, traditions and a culture. They came from outside, admiring the Empire they occupied and wanting to share in its wealth and security even as they brought it down. Crudely and inconsistently they at least believed in a law that implied some recognition of the Natural Law. These new barbarians, having grown up in the West, despise the very foundations it was built on. To them there is no Natural Law, no truth save that which science can attest to and that only because science, for the moment, has such great cultural standing. Yet the science is always selectively cited. 'Reason' is their banner but it is really rationalisation. To them Christianity in particular, and religion in general, has no future. To them only their hedonistic, amoral, materialist ethos has any validity and any right to allegiance. They are as drunk on their new found power and influence as the ancient barbarians, and the pagan Romans before them, once were.
Evidence of this can be seen in the popularity of people such as Dawkins and Hitchens, in the opprobrium to which the Holy Father is subjected in many places and the indifference to matters of faith and religion even in once Catholic countries such as Ireland. Not only are these barbarians within our society they are within the Church. Wherever the Divine origin of the Church and her Sacraments, or the sacredness of her Tradition, are denied, wherever the authority of her bishops and above all the Holy Father is flouted, wherever, whether explicitly or implicitly, the Divinity of Christ is denied there are the barbarians. The loss of the sense of the sacred is everywhere. Today at a eulogy at the end of a funeral Mass I heard a young man refer to the sanctuary as a 'stage'. If ever that was an argument for the restoration of the altar rails it was that comment. The sanctuary has become a stage, a place for a play that reflects back to the people their own glory and relevance but with no room for the living God. It is a stage hired out, borrowed for a few hours, were rituals happen and words are spoken at important occasions: the naming of babies, marriages of lovers, and the burial of the dead. These are the tame barbarians, generally indifferent if not positive towards the Church. The power though is increasingly in the hands of the untamed, the wild, the true barbarians. They are the people who have abandoned reason in the name of reason. They have made a tool of it to demolish the very foundations of the civilisation that shields them. They do not think of themselves as barbarians. They are civilised, cultured, cultivated and intellectual. They can often speak two or more languages, have degrees, post-doctorates even, and move in the 'best' circles. Yet they are barbarians because only barbarians will kill the innocent or attempt to justify it. Only barbarians deny the ultimate civilisation of love, of reason, of truth that is based on the Natural Law and ultimately on God.
It is as the Mother of God warned at Fatima. If people did not listen Russia would spread her errors throughout the world and she has. It was not Communism or Marxist-Leninism or any of those ideologies. They were but vehicles. Atheistic materialism was the central error, the poison of the snake that is turning people to barbarism.