During World War II, Karol Wojtyła helped found the underground Rhapsodic Theater, believing that, so long as Polish culture existed, the Polish state could eventually stage a comeback against the Nazis (and subsequently Soviets). But without a culture, there would be no soul left to animate the body politic.
That got me thinking about the defining characteristics of cultures, ours in particular. One of the curious wrinkles is that the most important texts in one sense may not be the most valuable. A work with which people can engage - and I realize that engagement is culturally conditioned; different people interact with texts and one another in different ways, including dramatic performances, poetry readings, morning newspapers, sacred proclamations - may be more important than the intellectual insights of a particularly erudite, but inaccessible, text.
We come then to a thought experiment: If our own country were overrun by tyrants, which works would you preserve for the sake of preserving our particular form of civilization? And why?
A bit Fahrenheit 451, I'll admit. The one parameter I'd place is this: we might as well assume that the tyrants of this little scenario are either foolish enough to permit the Bible and the Declaration of Independence, or so thorough in their thuggery as to prove them untenable for salvaging. There's no point filling our list with obvious choices; I think unusual ones provide far more food for thought.
One problem I have in approaching this question is how to define civilization, our civilization. American civilization? Western civilization? Christendom? Which of these is the most serviceable category? To which do I feel the most connection? Which is most worth saving? After all, I have multiple identities. My Catholic faith does not fit neatly into my American nationality; indeed, for much of American history, many people would have said the two were at odds. My status as an Anglophone (and, yes, Anglophile) links me to a variety of countries around the globe, though America initially defined itself in opposition its Anglophonic cousins.
I have no easy answers to these conundrums, at least not today, though I do have a few texts to offer for discussion:
Wondrous Pilgrim explained, "Hundreds of generations have read this and wept. Who am I to argue with them. (And I've wept as well!)."
before. I think it is worth including here for three reasons: (1) it gives a glimpse of America in the latter half of the 20th century, (2) it draws extensively on the Western intellectual tradition, demonstrating how it can be applied to contemporary issues, and (3) it encourages reflection on how the tools of faith and reason should be applied to political injustice, certainly a worthwhile topic in difficult times.
elsewhere. Although a very different genre, like Letter from Birmingham Jail it invites consideration of how people of faith many carry on in difficult times. This novel of monks in post-apocalyptic America also raises important questions about how the remnants of civilization are preserved, suggesting that the work of preservation should be carried on even in the absence of tangible benefits, though preservation should never be assumed to be complete nor should it become an end in itself.
Suggestions for other inclusions?