Most helpful critical review
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
strong theme, needs more hard thinking
on 23 May 2010
Peter Hitchens was pursued by his publisher to deliver this title, likely because it feeds off a brotherly rivalry with Christopher, notorious publicist for dubious ideas. I was attracted to Peter's book because I do feel that the decline of religious faith opens the door to all sorts of utopianism, of which PC is but the leading edge.
Peter divides his book into roughly two parts, one focusing on his personal story and relating it to his move away from, then back to, religion. Then he launches into a broad-horizon attack on the most noxious trends in modern history and society -- most of which he relates to the culture's move away from God.
The Soviet revolution gets most of the attention, mostly because of his experience in Moscow as a reporter. He found a dreadful society, slovenly and irresponsible in the fullest sense. He relates this to the downgrading of individual conscience and morality. He also criticizes his own and others' (hello, Christopher) foolish interest in monsters like Lenin and Trotsky, who set in motion this tragedy. Peter finds atheism at the root of the Soviet disaster and fervently reiterates that link.
Elsewhere, he sees steady moral decline, notably in Britain, whose specific history (WWI losses, decline of Empire, Suez, etc.) is apparently the root of British disaffection with churches. This is not too convincing, as other societies have experienced the effects of secularization, with no similar history.
Peter H. calls himself a graduate of the University of Fleet Street, and it shows. He is good with anecdotes and descriptive bits. But his reasoning and philosophical grounds for some judgements are pretty weak.
When he says that there can be no binding definition of the good or obligatory moral action without God, he cobbles together various arguments. At one point, I looked at the index for references to Immanuel Kant, arguably the greatest modern philosopher; he spent hundreds of pages reasoning this all out. No reference at all. Has this Fleet Street journalist read Kant? In truth, I dunno. No mention of Nietzsche either, and the figures of the Enlightenment only fleetingly.
And even on its own terms, Peter H.'s argument fails to address inconsistencies; for example, he cites Bertrand Russell as an outspoken agnostic/atheist, yet also a man of sturdy common sense. Russell met Lenin and Trotsky in 1920 and quickly sized them up as fanatics, and the latter as a dangerous crackpot with his hands on the secret police. Russell was not at all seduced by their utopianism. Why?
Really, more depth needed for a full discussion of religion and morality, although as a confession of a life gone wrong (Marxism), then redeemed (the Gospels), this book can be quite interesting.