Alasdair MacIntyre — Secularization and Moral Change, Selections from Demant’s Review

V. A. Demant wrote a review of Alasdair MacIntyre’s Secularization and Moral Change which I list chunks of here, from the April 1968 issue of The Journal of Theological Studies.

Selections from Demant’s review, paragraphed so that they’ll follow the three questions that MacIntyre asks in his book (which we’ve summarized earlier):

Maclntyre […] is concerned with the inter-relation of the mental and social factors in secularization. […] [H]e presents […] a powerful argument to upset the widespread assumption that intellectual unbelief begat secularization and that secularization begat moral deterioration. […] [H]e maintains, on the contrary, that the social disruption of the industrial revolution and the ensuing urbanization made for moral confusion, and out of this confusion came the secularization of English society. Furthermore, scepticism about the Christian faith has been more a result than a cause of this process. […]

[…] It is a very important book, because it throws light on certain questions which have never, in my estimate, been convincingly raised or answered in common Christian apologetic or in common anti-Christian zealotry. One such question is why the working classes have been largely alienated from the churches. Yet, the industrial masses have not been completely secularized as Engels, quoted by Maclntyre at the start, expected them by now to be. Instead, they are shown to have found no generally accepted set of alternative convictions to replace Christianity.

Another question is why the class divisions of industrialized England were more intellectually than socially divisive. The answer given is that each of the three obvious classes produced its own mental and moral vocabulary, and because none could form the total national outlook, the only cross-class norms were what MacIntyre calls “the secondary virtues […]”, with the inevitable decline of positive virtues upheld by each of the class-conscious groups. Because there is no moral community, there is no moral authority. In such a situation no group mores command general assent, let alone religious backing, and the consequent compromise extends to religious loyalties […]. [Further,] the links between members of the same denomination are not the links which bind men together in secular social life. And that is the fundamental religious failure. […]

Demant has criticisms that I hope to raise in another post on a passage from the Book of Sirach.

One thought on “Alasdair MacIntyre — Secularization and Moral Change, Selections from Demant’s Review

  1. Pingback: MacIntyre — Secularization and Moral Change, Some Concluding Thoughts | Into the Clarities

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