Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 71(1) February 2021

Book Review

Sex and The Unreal City:
The Demolition of the Western Mind

by Anthony Esolen, Ignatius Press

Reviewed by Dr Pravin Thevasathan

Book CoverAs I was reading this brilliant book, two quotations came constantly to mind. The first from T S Eliot:

"Unreal city, Under the brown fog of a Winter dawn,"

The unreal city is what we create in order to escape from reality, from objective truth. Eliot was right: humankind cannot bear very much reality. Nietzsche was also right: in our mad desire to kill God, we have ended up denying objective truth and reality. The creation of the unreal city was summed up so well by the very peculiar judgment of Justice Anthony Kennedy:

"At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of life."

Welcome to the unreal city where meaning is magically changed by a wave of our subjective hands. Esolen masterfully dissects the philosophy known as rationalism, a philosophy whose purpose is to destroy reason. If there is no such thing as objective truth, there can be no place for moral discourse. What is good for you is not good for me. What you call an unborn child, I call an unwanted pregnancy. What you refer to as a man, I refer to as a woman. What you claim to be a marriage, I claim to be an impossibility.

There is something quite mystifying about being told that there are no real differences between men and women but differences do arise when men start feeling that they are women.

But surely, it is argued, is it not wonderful to have so many different choices now in our brave new world? Alas, as we know by now, some choices are more equal than others. That is why Dr Esolen was unjustly forced out of Providence College. To even question political correctness is wholly unacceptable to the liberal establishment.

While those great singers of the Blues "woke up this morning", we are commanded to stay "woke" morning, noon and night. The unreal city is a cesspit of irrationality and nihilism. What was at one time regarded as common sense is now attacked as bigotry. How long will this fantasy world last? As Pope Benedict warned us in his Regensburg Lecture, while faith without reason risks superstition, reason without faith risks being irrational. That is why the only real city is the City of God. As one might expect from such a superb teacher, Esolen draws on Shakespeare, Milton and Dante, among others, to argue his point: the Catholic Church has the answer. The greatness of Western civilization is rooted in Christianity.

Is this book too pessimistic? I think that it gives us such an appalling depiction of the unreal city that we will eventually turn back to the real one. Sooner, we hope, rather than later. I also believe that it is an eloquent plea for the restoration of Christian culture.