The Year of Our Lord 1943
BY ALAN JACOBS
Oxford Press University 2018, Hardcover 280 pp.
At the beginning of 1943 just over two years before the Second World War ended, the western world leaders most notably from the United States and Britain convened to work out an action plan to combat the final years of what would become the most fatal global war in human history. The unknown result and aftermath of the Second World War was also salient on the minds of concerned leading Christian thinkers, during this ominous era of history. These prominent Christian thinkers through their literary and intellectual work contributed to the shaping of not only Christendom but also towards the broader mainstream society.
Alan Jacobs is a humanities professor and notable scholar in the areas of English literature and Christian literature. He is a prolific Christian intellectual in this modern age and has written for various journal publications in the United States regarding Christian humanism and cultural history. Hence, he is more than qualified to share with the reader his analysis and commentary regarding, the influential Christian intellectuals during the Second World War era.
Jacobs has clearly indicated the purpose and motives of his book. He has chosen to focus on five intellectuals that consists of a novelist, theologian, philosophers, thinker and poets, who shared their thoughts on how the post war era would greatly hinder civilisation and the education of individuals in the Western world. Of particular concern for the Christian intellectuals of this time period, was that although the West had eventually won the Second World War, they now had to contend with the “new enemy” of technocracy, viewed as another form of totalitarianism that had no Christian values or even a strong moral basis. Jacobs has indicated that these Christian intellectuals believed that mass education left no room to acknowledge human dignity and in particular, ignored the tenets of Christian humanism.
The author has constructed the narrative of his book in the form of what could loosely be described as five mini biographies on the thoughts and literary works of Jacques Maritain. T.S Eliot, C.S Lewis, W.H Auden and Simone Weil. Although, full biographies have been written about these five Christian figures, there has never been a book that showed how their work was synchronistic to the honourable case for Christian humanism. Jacob’s shares the mostly chronological narrative of events weaving interchangeably the main figure of the story.
The main characters of Jacob’s book did not meet each other, varied in age from their early thirties to their early fifties, lived on different continents, were at different stages of their Christian faith and were not fully agreeable on their approach to managing the consequences of the post war era. The five intellectuals also had varying thoughts on technology, Lewis for instance believed that science had some value in society. Whereas, Simone Weil strongly asserted that science was meaningless, if there was an absence of God. They also varied on particular details regarding their perspective of humanism, however, despite these differences they still believed that humanism should be based on Christianity and that technocracy was the main enemy of education.
Jacobs ends his book with a small discourse on the thoughts and written works of the French intellectual, Jacque Ellul who was a contemporary counterpart to these five central characters. Ellul provided a similar but more modern analysis in his book “The Technological Society” on how the contemporary world was saturated with technique, that resulted in an automated and impersonal society that unfortunately affected Christendom and cultural history.
The Year of Our Lord 1943 is not recommended for an individual who is seeking “light weight” reading, it is very academic in nature, hence sometimes making it harder for the reader to stay focused and digest the scholarly prose. Adding to this difficulty is that readers may feel discombobulated at times, due to the weaving in and out of different characters, akin to watching a movie that has intermittent flashbacks to the past.
However, readers who have a basic knowledge and acquaintance to the five central characters would have more ease following the narrative and the events discussed in the book. It is suited for readers who want to be intellectually engaged and is thought provoking with Jacob’s sophisticated way of writing prose. Jacob’s book shows glimpses of another great Christian intellectual and theologian Francis Schaeffer, who wrote how Christendom and in particular, Christian humanism had gradually eroded due to the changing developments of morals and values in modern society.