Christopher Dawson

The Movement of World Revolution by Christopher Dawson (The Catholic University of America Press)

Having witnessed the loss of an idyllic Edwardian world to the deadening trenches of the first world war, the rise of communism and the gulag state in Slavic Europe and China, and the advent of national socialism and the holocaust camps in Germanic Europe, Christopher Dawson found the ideologies that spawned such twentieth-century atrocities profoundly disturbing.[1] Could a more gentle, Christian world ever arise again? Possessing a subtle and acute mind, Dawson never held out any real hope that a true Christendom might reemerge after the vast bloodshed observed in his life time.[2] He did, however, rightly note that past ages had seen horrors as well. We moderns, he thought, might do well to pattern our own behavior after the Christian exemplars of the past.

The only remedy is to be found in that spiritual force by which the humility of God conquers the pride of the evil one. Hence the spiritual reformer cannot expect to have the majority on his side. He must be prepared to stand alone like Ezekiel and Jeremy. He must take as his example St. Augustine besieged by the Vandals at Hippo, or St. Gregory preaching at Rome with the Lombards at the gates. For the true helpers of the world are the poor in spirit, the men who bear the sign of the cross on their foreheads, who refuse to be overcome by the triumph of injustice and put their sole trust in the salvation of God.[3]

By considering such men as role models, Dawson thought, the world might prosper under a new Christian Republic of Letters, transcending the materialist ideologies and spiritually-excessive nationalism of modernity.

One of his last books published during his life time, Dawson’s 1959 Movement of World Revolution, not surprisingly, explored almost all of the themes he had considered most important in his own time: nationalism, ideology, and Christian Humanism. Dawson preferred to write on non-political subjects, but he believed the necessities of the moment required solid political analysis. He wrote extensively on political issues in the 1930s and early 1940s, and he returned to the topic in this 1959 book.  In Movement of World Revolution, Dawson employed the Augustinian concept of two simultaneous histories in this world: a history of the shadow of the City of God, a sojourning group of pilgrims, leavening this world, reaching for the best within man; and a history of the City of Man, a world of pride and vast achievements and falls. The two, as St. Augustine and Dawson understood it, intermingled extensively, the former calling would-be citizens from the latter. Armed with such a theory of history, Dawson believed the world could be redeemed and brought back to right order. But, this seemed unlikely. As always, men and women sought hope, but the world offered them mostly material pleasures and substantial—not trans-substantial—ecstasies. “This is not a metaphysical age, and in the East no less than in the West men are more interested in subsistence and coexistence,” Dawson lamented, “than in essence and existence.”[4] The middle of the twentieth century, Dawson concluded, seemed much more the “age of the plough and the harrow, not the time of harvest.”[5]

Though Dawson pioneered more scholarly techniques—often through the resurrection of ancient and medieval understandings—than he followed those of others, his works of the 1950s very much reflect the post-World War II concern with the meaning of history. From the Enlightenment of the 18th century through most of the liberal 19th century, scholars and men of letters had assumed an almost infinite progress possible. Georg Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx, along with others, had supposed history as a force unto itself, deified to some extent, moving according to its own will toward some end. As Hegel and Marx accepted it, history moved through a series of encounters between the old and the new, synthesized into yet a third thing, that third thing becoming the old and encountering a new thing, with the process beginning all over again. For Hegel, history ended in the all-encompassing State. For Marx, it ended in a utopian paradise of free, infinite, and satisfying labor. As Harvard’s Richard Pipes explains of Communism, in particular: “The emotional appeal of this belief is not much different from the religious faith in the will of God, inspiring those who hold it with an unshakable conviction that no matter how many setbacks their cause may suffer, ultimate victory is assured.”[6]

As the years 1914 through 1945 proved “progress” to be not only false, but also little more than an anti-humane nightmare, scholars and men and women of letters wrestled with the possibilities of what “history” might mean.  This was especially true of those coming out of the Germanic lands. German-Austrian Eric Voegelin (1901-1985) believed that western society had embraced a form of Gnosticism through various forms of ideology, thus allowing for a world of seemingly technological improvements along side seemingly degenerate moral regress.[7] German Thomist Josef Pieper (1904-1997), as with Voegelin, feared the destruction of basic symbols of cultural and political existence because of the loss of a belief in the Transcendent.[8] German Leo Strauss (1899-1973), a political philosopher, essentially rejected theories and philosophies of history, claiming that real debate, understanding, and comprehension of the highest things remained impossible until one had rejected the impositions of revealed religion and historical tradition.[9]

The best writing of history, according to Dawson, is poetic: “The mastery of” professional historical methods and “techniques will not produce great history, any more than a mastery of metrical technique will produce great poetry.”  The true historian, or the metahistorian, will recognize that “something more is necessary—intuitive understanding, creative imagination, and finally a universal vision transcending the relative limitation of the particular field of historical study.”[10] Dawson’s vision of history, therefore, is not strictly “history” in the modern, professional sense of the term.

Metahistory is concerned with the nature of history, the meaning of history and the cause and significance of historical change. The historian himself is primarily engaged in the study of the past. He does not ask himself why the past is different from the present or what is the meaning of history as a whole. What he wants to know is what actually happened at a particular time and place and what effect it had on the immediate future.[11]

With The Movement of World Revolution, metahistorian Christopher Dawson asked how the world would fill the spiritual vacuum left by the nearly complete destruction and secularization of Christendom. To what ideologies and false truths would they turn to next? Moving both in cycles and in a linear fashion, at the same time, history seemed to move in a Polybian fashion, from completeness to corruption to reform. As Dawson noted many times in his writings, the world was passing through a nasty stage of corruption, on the edge of some kind of reform. Whether that reform would be toward Truth or “truth” remained to be seen.


While the economy and the various polities of Europe experienced a Dark Age after the fall of Rome, the intellectual trajectory of the classical tradition continued unabated.[12] Devout men such as St. Augustine baptized the work Cicero and Virgil, thus creating a guidebook for the middle ages in The City of God.  Though the classical tradition remained, one very important change occurred with the rise of Christianity.  The most important shift in thought had come with the Incarnation, for, as Dawson described it in a letter, “Christianity and theology occur inside history in a way that they do not with philosophy.”[13]  Additionally, armed with works such as the Bible and The City of God, early medieval man knew that this world was not God’s world.  Still, the mission and the missionary impulse remained the same. All good Christians must promote God’s justice and mercy, no matter what the world offered them. Stoicism and Christianity had fused. No matter what pains the barbarians dealt the Christians, the Christians had the satisfaction of already being citizens of God’s kingdom in the next life.[14]

A further innovation in the classical/Christian intellectual tradition came from the barbarians themselves.  The Germanic tribes contributed a further spirit to the missionary endeavors. Perhaps Dawson’s fellow Christian Humanist Romano Guardini stated it best in The End of the Modern World. “The religious bent of the Nordic myths, the restlessness of the migrating peoples and the armed marches of the Germanic tribes revealed a new spirit which burst everywhere into history like a spear thrust into the infinite,” Guardini had written. “This mobile and nervous soul worked itself into the Christian affirmation,” the  Germano-Italian scholar continued. “There it grew mightily. In its fullness it produced that immense medieval drive which aimed at cracking the boundaries of the world.”[15] Though the Christian eagerly adopted the spirit of the pagan barbarian, especially in terms of courage as found in such profound works as Beowulf, he also knew that the impetus for such spirit importantly came from Grace and not from raw human will.[16] One can find the greatest of such a spirit in a man who confronted and challenged the barbarians most of his life, St. Boniface.[17] “The work of St. Boniface did more than any other fact to lay the foundations of medieval Christendom,” Dawson convincingly wrote.

His mission to Germany was not an isolated spiritual adventure like the achievements of his Celtic predecessors; it was part of a far-sighted programme of construction and reform planned with all the method and statesmanship of the Roman tradition. It involved a triple alliance between the Anglo-Saxon missionaries, the Papacy, and the family of Charles Martel, the de facto rulers of the Frankish kingdom, out of which the Carolingian Empire and the Carolingian culture ultimately emerged.[18]

Thus, because of men like St. Boniface, Christendom came into existence, bringing the Germans into the classical/Christian synthesis. Throughout Germany, St. Boniface spread Anglo-Saxon Catholicism and monastic institutions.

The barbarians, against and for whom St. Boniface worked, contributed much that was dangerous to the classical/Christian synthesis and antithetical to the very heart of Christendom, the church universal. Their most important contribution, which the Church had to combat repeatedly in the middle ages, was the tendency toward nationalism. Roman Catholic historian Lord Acton stressed that the end of Christendom and the western ideals would mean the rise of nationalism. “Christianity rejoices at the mixture of races,” he wrote in his famed essay, “Nationalism.” Paganism, however, “identifies itself with their differences, because truth is universal, errors various and particular.”[19]  For Dawson, ideologies served as the glue that kept modern nations together, for each nation needed something to overcome and, more often than not, overwhelm, those who would be different. And, when Christendom could no longer contain the inherent nationalisms of the Germanic elements of medieval society, Christendom disintegrated.

Before that, though, the Middle Ages were sui generis for six centuries. Culturally, the church unified Christendom through a common language, Latin, and a common liturgy, tying men together with other men of their own time, but also to the whole communion of saints. Politically, nearly every type of entity imaginable existed: free cities, abbeys, fiefs, bishoprics, counties, duchies, and those lands controlled by the various Orders, military or religious.[20] In other words, Christendom embraced a cultural unity and beheld a polycentric political system. It was the Christiana Res Publica. “I saw monarchy without tyranny, aristocracy without factions, democracy without tumult, wealth without luxury,” Dawson quoted Erasmus approvingly. “Would that it had been your lot, divine Plato, to come upon such a republic.”[21] Perhaps most important, medieval man believed that he knew his place in the Economy of Grace, in God’s universe.  He had, Dawson wrote, “an intuition of the eternal verities which is itself an emanation from the Divine Intellect.”[22]

The Rise of Nationalism

Dawson found nationalism emerging in a number of different ways in the western tradition.  As noted, it was already inherent within German barbarianism.[23] It was latent, ready to emerge at any time it found opportune, especially if Christendom was divided against itself. Christendom disintegrated because of the barbarian propensity for nationalism, but not all at once. And, it was certainly not unique to the Germans in the western tradition, as Hellas may have been a proto-type of nationalism. The process began in earnest in the early fourteenth century and continues through the present day. The French first experienced a budding nationalism in 1302 and then again in the French Revolution.[24]

The rise of a nation-state in any western area by necessity must witness the corresponding decline of religious influence and thought.[25] Christianity, through Grace and mercy, especially embraces the universal rather than the particular, as Lord Acton correctly stated. The nation, though, demands a unity of thought, culture, and politics. “And in each case what we find is a substitute religion or counter religion which transcends the juridical limits of the political State and creates a kind of secular Church.”[26] It unifies its disparate peoples and cultures through ideology, which takes “the place of theology as the creator of social ideals and the guide of public opinion.”[27]

Though the process of nationalism began long before the sixteenth century, Dawson viewed the Reformation as disastrous in terms of precipitating the latent nationalism of Europe.  One should not be surprised, Dawson argued, that Martin Luther came from northern Germany where the “spirit of the old gods was imperfectly exorcised by the sword and . . . has continued to haunt the background of the German mind.”[28]  Following other nationalists of the previous centuries such as Wycliffe and Hus, Luther “embodies the revolt of the awakening German national spirit.”[29] Like all nationalisms, Luther’s rejected the complexity of Christendom–its culture and polycentric political system–and de-intellectualized “the Catholic tradition,” Dawson wrote. “He took St. Paul without his Hellenism, and St. Augustine without his Platonism.”[30] The Reformation also habituated the populations of Europe to think in ideological terms, thus preparing them for the Enlightenment world.[31]

Indeed, for Dawson, the Enlightenment and the French Revolution completed the work of the Reformation.  The Enlightenment, after all, witnessed more neglect of Christian ideals and more selling of church property than any other time.  The Enlightenment, in essence, extended the desires of the Reformers even into cultural and geopolitical areas that had resisted the Reformation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[32]  It should not surprise the modern mind, Dawson claimed, that the philosophy of the Enlightenment spawned both liberalism and communism. Each rejected the intellectual contributions of Christendom and instead embraced materialist understandings of the world. Each also developed propaganda as a means of undermining the “social order and traditional morality.”[33] Both the Liberals and the Communists understood the spiritual underpinnings of Europe even better than do present-day European Christians. Hence, each ideological group attempted to undermine the Christian understanding of spirituality, and, instead, have Christians embrace Christ as a political revolutionary. Finally, each destroyed without rebuilding.[34]

But it is Christianity which is at once the original bond of European unity, and the source of the spiritual ideals and the attitude to life which inspired our civilization. The enemies of Europe recognize this fact more clearly than we do ourselves, and that is why Christianity is everywhere the first object of Communist attacks, and why the creation of a materialist ideology and a new moral attitude is regarded by the Russian government as essential to the success of the Communist experiment.[35]

The undermining of the spiritual bond of Europe and its substitution with ideologies has had numerous profound affects on European culture, in addition to the loss of religious fervor and the destruction of Europe itself.[36]  First, it has led to substitute religions. God created us to find religion, to find Him. Man without true religion is empty.  He finds himself devoid of something, but that something remains elusive.  He will seek until he finds either true religion or a substitute that temporarily fills the void. “The ordinary man will never stand for nihilism: it is against all his healthier instincts,” Dawson wrote in 1955.[37] To find his substitute, man turns in many directions: utopianism, drugs, and cults, “leaving the enemy in possession of the field.”[38]

Second, the substitute of ideology for true religion has yielded to the unwieldiness and ultimate tyranny of science and technology.  If Christianity cannot delimit the growth of technology, providing the scientists with an ethical understanding of the world, technology soon masters man. “He becomes a subordinate part of the great mechanical system that his scientific genius has created,” Dawson lamented. “In the same way, the economic process, which led to the exploitation of the world by man and the vast increase of his material resources, ends in the subjection of man to the rule of the machine and the mechanisation of human life.”[39]  Romano Guardini stated the problem equally well.  Man could work with nature, or he could seek to dominate it.  Of the first type of technology, “the aim is to penetrate, to move within, to live with,” Guardini argued. “The other, however, unpacks, tears apart, arranges in compartments, takes over and rules.”[40]  The dominating kind of technology, though, soon takes on a life of its own, and man loses his control over it and becomes subsumed by it. “It is destructive because it is not under human control,” Guardini concluded. “It is surging ahead of unleashed forces that have not yet been mastered, raw material that has not yet been put together, given a living and spiritual form, and related to humanity.”[41]

Unrestrained science and technology has resulted in mechanized man and the mechanized government. Bureaucratic states–whether democratic or tyrannical–are the “coldest of cold monsters.”[42] In 1942, Dawson argued that Soviet Communism, German National Socialism, and America’s New Deal were all variants of a theme.[43]  The Soviets “may have deified mechanism in theory,” Dawson argued, “but it is the Americans who raised it in practice.”[44]  Ultimately, Dawson claimed, the alliance of science and political power was forcing humanity “helplessly towards the abyss.”[45]

A Return to Christendom

In Britain’s darkest days of the second World War, Dawson proposed a radical and unlikely solution to the problems of the world.  The only real solution to the hydra-headed monster—of ideology, nationalism, social engineering, and domineering science—was a return to Christendom. The Catholic Church, after all, had always upheld the Christiana Res Publica as the highest form of government and civilization. Simply because it had not openly advocated it recently, did not mean that it had given up the ideal.  Instead, as Pope Leo XIII had said, the Church’s position at the end of the nineteenth century was not to promote the return to Christendom, but instead to “set itself as a wall and a bulwark to save human society from falling back into barbarism.” In other words, the Church had gone into a defensive mode.[46] It needed to prevent too much decay before advocating a return to true civilization. The Church, Dawson argued, had two great advantages in the modern world. First, it concerned itself with human salvation, not with worldly things. Second, its entire history had been based on rise, corruption, fall, and reform. Institutionally, it understood the need to “redeem the time.” Indeed, it is the very decay of Christendom, at least its ostensible decay, that can lead to its restoration.

Thus the apparent apostasy of Christendom and the social and political catastrophes that have followed do not destroy the possibility of restoration. They may even prepare the way for it by bringing down the walls and towers that man has constructed as refuges of his selfishness and the fortresses of his pride.  Amongst the wreckage the foundations of a Christian order still remain.[47]

Because the Christian order rests on the Natural Law–unalterable by man–the foundation exists, no matter how deeply buried or covered with man’s works and sins.

Dawson provided a fierce call to arms with his 1942, The Judgment of the Nations. Guided by the Holy Spirit and being the continuation of the Incarnation of the Body of Christ, the Church must become militant. With the world collapsing around him, Dawson believed western civilization had no other choice.  The defeat of totalitarianism, Dawson wrote, “depends in the last resort, not on the force of arms but on the power of the Spirit, the mysterious influence which alone can change human nature and renew the face of the earth.”[48]  Therefore, the fight will not be one of guns, but of all things spiritual, Dawson concluded, quoting St. Paul’s discussion of “powers and principalities.”

Dawson also cautioned that the Church militant must not become the Church tyrannical. The ideological forces have demonstrated the effectiveness of propaganda and mass control. The Church, tempted with such power to do good, must not succumb to the temptation and delusion.

But this is an impossible solution for the Christian, since it would be a sin against the Holy Ghost in the most absolute sense. Therefore the Church must once more take up her prophetic office and bear witness to the Word even if it means the judgment of nations and an open war with the powers of the world.[49]

Citing Edmund Burke as his authority, Dawson contended that some wars are necessary, especially if they are waged for kin, country, and God.[50] The best solution for the true Christian, is to deny almost all power over others, trusting to the Spirit. The real purpose of society and community is to allow the individual human person, made in the image of God, to use the gifts that the Spirit has distributed to each person uniquely. Being singular in time and space, each person has a God-given and God-willed purpose.  In the mystery of freedom, human will accepts God’s Grace, using his gifts for the betterment of the community, and, ultimately, for the entire Communion of Saints, Christ’s Army. To succumb to the temptation of power, to embrace the tools of the enemy, would mean the willful desecration and adulteration of God’s profound Economy of Grace.[51]

For what we must look for is not the alliance of the temporal power, as in the old Christendom, and an external conformity to Christian standards, but a re-ordering of all the elements of human life and civilization by the power of the Spirit: the birth of a true community which is neither an inorganic mass of individuals nor a mechanized organization of power, but a living spiritual order.[52]

Western civilization must again accept the mystery of Grace rather than nominal security and surety of human will.

A return to a Christendom along spiritual lines, Dawson hastened, meant that religious and ethnic differences would not be erased. Instead, a Protestant would remain a Protestant, and an Irish Catholic would not become a German Catholic.[53]  Indeed, through the organic nature of history and culture, such theological and ethnic differences should be celebrated rather than condemned and destroyed. Past differences should be forgotten and forgiven, recognizing that they merely served as wounds in the Body of Christ as well as exceedingly poor witnesses and examples to non- and marginal-Christians.[54]  Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox alike would ally in the basics of Christianity, the three Christian virtues, a belief in the Natural Law, and a reliance on the Holy Spirit to take such ecumenism further. If the Church had originally created Europe, could it possibly recreate Europe? Dawson concluded The Judgment of the Nations by arguing that all manifestations of evil could be overcome only by one source: The Holy Spirit, “who is the Lord and Giver of Life.”[55]

The Christian Republic of Letters

With the defeat of Fascism in 1945 and a growing appreciation of American culture after World War II, Dawson backed off from his 1942 proposals.  He had not abandoned his ideals and solutions discussed in the darkest days of the war, but, instead, turned to a practical means to achieve a new Christendom.  Through a series of articles and books, Dawson became enamored with the idea of a new liberal arts education to create a Christian Republic of Letters, transcending nationalisms and ideologies.

And as the unity of the ancient world was finally broken in two by the sin of Islam, so the modern world is being broken in two by the sin of communism….so the only serious rivals to Christianity at the present day are not the old religions of the East, but the new political substitute-religions, like communism, nationalism, and so forth….Above all one must do all one can to bring the study of Christian culture into modern education. So long as that is neglected, as it is, at present, especially in the English speaking world,–no progress is possible.[56]

Religion, Dawson argued, should not be a way among many possibilities, but The Way.[57] Though he did not develop his ideals until the 1950s, Dawson had planted the seed of a Christian Republic of Letters as early as 1931, prior to the rise of National Socialism in Germany:

It is necessary for all of us to do what is in our power to restore the intellectual community of European culture–and for Catholics before all, since they stand almost alone to-day as the representatives of a universal spiritual order in the midst of the material and external uniformity of a cosmopolitan machine-made civilization. We must not, of course, exaggerate the importance of the intellectual element in the Catholic revival. It would be a great mistake on the part of Catholics to claim for themselves a monopoly of intelligence. Catholicism makes its appeal, not to those who demand the latest intellectual novelty nor to those who always want to be on the winning side, but to those who seek spiritual reality. Our advantages lies not in the excellence of our brains, but in the strength of our principles. Like the proverbial conies, we may be a feeble folk but we make our dwelling in the rocks. Our thought is not ‘free’ in the sense that it is at liberty to create its own principles and to make gods in its own image. But it is just this ‘freedom’ which is the cause of the discredit and anarchy into which modern thought has fallen.[58]

Dawson here, though, is only presenting an undeveloped wish, rather than a specific understanding of the problem or a solution. Still, it would remain a potent thought in the back of his mind for nearly two decades.

By the early 1950s, Dawson decided that only a proper education in Church history, theology, literature, and philosophy would allow rising generations to understand that. For Dawson, culture and civilization developed organically and, often, painfully, over time and through a mysterious mixture of Divine Grace and Human Will. “Culture, as its name denotes, is an artificial product. It is like a city that has been built up laboriously by the work of successive generations, not a jungle which has grown up spontaneously by the blind pressure of natural forces,” Dawson wrote in the early 1960s. “It is the essence of culture that it is communicated and acquired, and although it is inherited by one generation from another, it is a social not a biological inheritance, a tradition of learning, an accumulated capital of knowledge and a community of ‘folkways’ into which the individual has to be initiated.”[59] In other words, no human person can be abstracted from history. Each is born into layers of authority and cultural baggage. Education, then, Dawson argued, remains the best means for providing the continuity for what Edmund Burke called the Eternal Contract between the dead, the living, and the yet unborn.

Dawson usually refrained from decreeing the specifics for such a program. Historically, he noted, a classical liberal arts education had served as the foundation for not only the best of the pre-Christian period but for the formation of Christendom as well.[60]  Such an education unified all of Europe during the middle ages. The liberal arts vision served an even greater purpose during the Reformation, as it provided the only glue that prevented northern Protestant Europe from completely separating from Catholic Central and Southern Europe. Dawson offered a chilling possibility, had not the classical liberal arts vision prevailed: “There would have been two completely separate cultures in the Protestant North and Catholic South, divided by an iron curtain of persecution and repression which would have made the two parts of Europe as alien and incomprehensible from one another as Christendom was from Islam.”[61] If the liberal arts vision could prevent the complete balkanization of Reformation Europe, it can unify western society in the Age of Ideologies as well.

Unlike other members of the so-called Catholic Renaissance of the twentieth century such as Jacques Maritain, Dawson privileged the study of history over the other disciplines as “Christianity and theology occur inside history in a way that they do not with philosophy.”[62] Dawson was specifically referring to the Incarnation as the penultimate event of history, as well as the continuation of the Incarnation through the historical church. Dawson seems to have favored literature over philosophy as well. “Of course the obvious remedy for this situation is to find a Catholic writer of the calibre of Tolstoy who will reassert the validity of Christian values in such a way that the world is forced to take notice,” Dawson wrote in 1956. “Unfortunately such writers are not immediately available.”[63]


Ultimately, Dawson concluded, the Christian may fail in his task to reclaim the culture through education, the best of all possible solutions. Unlike the ideologue, the Christian can present no multifaceted plan for ultimate success, but “it has eternity before it, and it can afford to take its time.”[64]

Still, there are four reasons to fight to reclaim the culture. One, it is God’s will. And, even if we fail, we must act as though we will succeed, as hope is one of the three theological virtues. Second, the Christian is particularly equipped to retake the culture, as the whole development of Christendom was based on sanctifying the pagan. Third, if nothing else, a vehement and rigorous defense of Christianity will make the advocates of ideology and modernity unsure of their own success. Finally, we must play our roles as members of the Communion of Saints, passing on our understanding and example, serving as a remnant and inspiration for a future generation, which may be better equipped to fight. In the words of Dawson, “We may not be able to build cathedrals like the Catholics of the thirteenth century, or write epics like Dante, but we can all do something to make man conscious of the existence of religious truth and the relevance of Catholic thought, and to let the light into the dark world of a closed secularist culture.”[65]

Written on the Feast of St. John of the Cross, 2011

A version of this essay was published as the introduction to The Movement of World Revolution, and is published here with permission of The Catholic University of America Press. Don J. Briel is the editor of the series for CUAP.


1. On Dawson’s formative views of the pre-1914 world, see Christopher Dawson, Tradition and Inheritance (St. Paul, Minn.: The Wanderer Press, n.d.).

2. On the complexity of civilizations, see Christopher Dawson, “Toynbee’s Study of History: The Place of Civilizations in History,” International Affairs 31 (1955): 149-58.

3. Christopher Dawson, Religion and the Rise of Western Culture (1950; New York: Image Books, 1991), 124.

4. Dawson, Movement of World Revolution, 175.

5. Dawson, Movement of World Revolution, 179.

6. Richard Pipes, Communism: A History (CITY???: Modern Library, 2003), 10.

7. See especially, Eric Voegelin’s prologue to his five-volume “Order and History,” The New Science of Politics: An Introduction (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 1952), 131.

8. Josef Pieper, The End of Time: A Meditation on the Philosophy of History (1954; San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1999).

9. Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1953), 84-85.

10. Dawson, Dynamics of World History (1956; ISI Books: Wilmington, DE, 2002), 309-10.

11. Dawson, Dynamics of World History, 303.

12. Dawson, Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, 18.

13. Christopher Dawson to J. Mulloy, 22 August 1953, Folder 2, Christopher Dawson Papers, Dawson/Mulloy Collection, University of Notre Dame Archives, Notre Dame, Indiana.

14. Dawson, Christianity and the Rise of Western Culture, 37.

15. Romano Guardini, The End of the Modern World (1956; Wilmington, Dela.: ISI Books, 1998), 9.

16. See, for example, Dawson, Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, 51-2; and J.R.R. Tolkien, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” In An Anthology of Beowulf Criticism, ed. Lewis E. Nicholson (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1963), 51-103.

17. On St. Boniface’s miracles among the Pagan Barbarians, see Joan Carroll Cruz, Mysteries, Marvels, and Miracles in the Lives of the Saints (Rockford, Ill.: TAN Books, 1997), 420.

18. Dawson, Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, 62.  For more on St. Boniface from Dawson, see Christopher Dawson, The Making of Europe: An Introduction to the History of European Unity (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1934), 210-11.  See also, Letters of St. Boniface (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000); and Thomas F.X. Noble, ed., Soldiers of Christ: Saints and Saints’ Lives from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995).

19. John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, Essays in the History of Liberty (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 1986), 409-33.  On the various views of Dawson’s debt to Lord Acton see Pearce, Literary Converts, 333; and Christina Scott, A Historian and His World: A Life of Christopher Dawson (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Press, 1992).  Dawson, at least in private, claimed that Acton had little effect on him.  See Mulloy, “Record of Conversation with Dawson, August 24, 1953,” in Dawson Papers, Notre Dame.

20. Dawson, The Dividing of Christendom (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1965), 20.

21. Quoted in Dawson, Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, 173-74.

22. Dawson, “Christianity and the New Age,” in Dawson, ed., Essays in Order (New York: Macmillan, 1931), 161.

23. Dawson, “On Nationalism,” The Tablet (13 April 1940), 349.

24. Dawson, The Dividing of Christendom, 21; and Dawson, “On Nationalism,” 349.

25. Perhaps the most insightful examination and microhistory of this process is a book often regarded as superficial by many scholars, though published in the same year as Dawson’s Movement of World Revolution.  This author, however, found it to be one of the most insightful and artfully written books he’s ever read: William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (1959; New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990).

26. Dawson, “Education and the State,” Commonweal (25 January 1957), 425.

[27] Dawson, “Christianity and Ideologies,” 139.

[28] Dawson, The Judgment of Nations (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1942), 30.

[29] Dawson, Progress and Religion: An Historical Inquiry (1929; Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Press, 2001), 142.

[30] Dawson, Progress and Religion, 142.

[31] Dawson, “Christianity and Ideologies,” 140.

[32] Dawson, “Christianity and Ideologies,” 140.

[33] Dawson, “The New Decline and Fall,” Commonweal (1932), 320.

[34] Dawson, “Birth of Democracy,” 50.

[35] Dawson, “The New Decline and Fall,” 322.

[36] Dawson, “The New Decline and Fall,” 322.

[37] Dawson, Devon, ENG, to Father Leo Ward, Notre Dame, Ind., 20 February 1955, Dawson Papers, Notre Dame.

[38] Dawson, “Christianity and the New Age,” 158.

[39] Dawson, “Christianity and the New Age,” 162.

[40] Guardini, Letters from Lake Como, 43.

[41] Guardini, Letters from Lake Como, 79.

[42] Quoted in Dawson, “Christianity and the New Age,” 162.

[43] Dawson, The Judgment of Nations, 114.

[44] Dawson, “Christianity and the New Age,” 167.  See also, Dawson, “Revolution and the Modern World,” in The Gods of Revolution (New York: New York University, 1972), 163-64.

[45] Dawson, The Judgment of Nations, 6.

[46] Quoted in Dawson, The Judgment of Nations, 144.

[47] Dawson, The Judgment of Nations, 145.

[48] Dawson, The Judgment of Nations, 147.

[49] Dawson, The Judgment of Nations, 155.

[50] Dawson, The Judgment of Nations, 155-6.  For Burke’s influence on Dawson, see Mulloy, “Record of Conversation with Dawson, August 24, 1953,” Folder 2, Dawson Papers, Notre Dame.

[51] Dawson, The Judgment of Nations, 158-9.

[52] Dawson, The Judgment of Nations, 160.

[53] Dawson, The Judgment of Nations, 170-78.

[54] Dawson, The Judgment of Nations, 162-3.

[55] Dawson, The Judgment of Nations, 222.

[56] Christopher Dawson, Malaya, to Mulloy, 5 March 1952, Dawson Papers, Notre Dame, Folder 1.

[57] Mulloy, “Record of Conversation with Christopher Dawson on August 20, 1953,” Dawson Papers, Notre Dame, Folder 2.

[58] Dawson, “Introduction,” in Essays in Order, xix-xx.

[59] Christopher Dawson, The Crisis of Western Education (1961; Steubenville, Ohio: Franciscan University of Steubenville, 1989), 3.

[60] Dawson, The Crisis of Western Education, 9-12.

[62] Dawson, The Crisis of Western Education, 36.

[62] Dawson to Mulloy, “Theology and the Study of Christian Culture,” 22 August 1953; Folder 2, Dawson Papers, Notre Dame. On Maritain, Dawson and the Catholic Renaissance of the twentieth century, see James Hitchcock’s excellent, “Postmortem on a Rebirth: The Catholic Intellectual Renaissance,” The American Scholar 49 (1980), especially pp. 219-22.

[63] Dawson, Devon, ENG, to Father Leo Ward, 10 January 1956, Folder 8, Dawson Papers, Notre Dame.

[64] Dawson, The Crisis of Western Education, 179.

[65] Dawson, The Crisis of Western Education, 180.

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