The Common Mind: Politics, society and Christian
humanism from Thomas More to Russell Kirk
Angelico Press £10.95
IN THIS engaging study, which combines history, philosophy,
theology, and literary criticism, the splendidly named André
Gushurst-Moore, a senior member of staff at Downside School,
examines in successive chapters the work of Thomas More, Swift,
Samuel Johnson, Burke, Coleridge, Newman, Orestes Brownson,
Disraeli, Chesterton, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, and Russell Kirk.
Gushurst-Moore's refreshingly anti-post-modern thesis is that
underlying these authors' diverse concerns sounds a steady,
insistent drumbeat, which is the common-sense view of "what is
generally believed, admitted and held to be true".
Such common sense is reflected in, among other things, an
understanding of language which seesit as the means to elucidate
rather than obscure the truth; a view of law that understands that
it must reflect a deeper, underlying natural order rather than
arbitrary diktats; and a view of the human person which honours his
or her God-given dignity and potential for virtue.
An explicitly Catholic writer, Gushurst-Moore rescues human-ism
from its modern association with the Polly Toynbee tendency: "once
religion goes, all things are doubted, including man." Religion and
not science, he argues, controversially, is the true guarantor of
humanistic values and of common sense.
The father of such thinking is St Thomas Aquinas, and the
tradition of natural law and virtue of which he is the classic
exponent. "Thomism", the author writes, "is the philosophy of
sanity since it is integrative, universal, sensible, and
reiterative of the common understanding of experience rooted in the
senses and refined by reason." When the drumbeat of the mainstream,
common-sense Thomistic tradition is lost, as it often is,
disintegration and disaster soon follow. When philosophy loses
touch with common sense, thinkers come to insane conclusions, such
as that morality, justice, and, indeed, all objective reality are
just insubstantial projections of the thinking human mind. And when
political authority unyokes itself from common sense, terrors
ensue, such as the reign of Henry VIII, the French Revolution,
modern totalitarianism, and experiments in eugenics.
Gushurst-Moore has mixed feelings about Anglicanism: on the one
hand, many of the writers he admires were convinced and devout
members of the Church of England. On the other, Anglicanism's
tendency to conform to "the secular spirit" makes it an uncertain
bulwark against the disintegration that comes with the loss of
Anglicans will also have mixed feelings about Gushurst-Moore.
Although the natural-law tradition has an honoured place in classic
Anglicanism, it often elicits not very well-informed disapproval
from Evangelicals - because of Barthian scruples about the primacy
of revelation; and from liberals - because they associate it with a
particular view of the nature and purpose of human sexuality.
Gushurst-Moore's book reminds us that it is slightly
embarrassing to write it off on either of these grounds, and that
we should look again at the enormous resources that this tradition
of thought can bring to our current cultural, moral, and
The Revd Dr Edward Dowler is the Vicar of Clay Hill,
Enfield, in the diocese of London.