Pope Benedict XVI as Cultural Critic

As we begin to take stock of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI’s legacy, we should remember not only his extraordinary stewardship of the Chair of Peter, but also his legacy as a scholar and thinker. “Dictatorship of relativism,” a phrase from a homily delivered by His Holiness before he ascended to the papacy, is one of the most succinct descriptions of the state of Western culture and politics one is likely to find.

Here are links to two essays (one from The American Spectator, the other from The New Criterion) that use His Holiness’ homily as a springboard for discussions of, respectively, the philosophy of John Rawls and Western values in general. I find it worth noting that the Pope’s influence as a cultural critic has not been limited to persons of faith: in 2010, Theodore Dalrymple (whose atheism, though not loudly trumpted, is well-known) wrote an essay about Benedict’s visit to Britain in which he called the pontiff “the George Orwell of our time.”

NB: This essay originally appeared in the Salisbury Review, for my money the best conservative intellectual quarterly in the world. Its founder, Dr. Roger Scruton, is a senior editor at The American Spectator. Past and present contributors to the Review include Dr. Dalrymple, Margaret Thatcher, Enoch Powell, Andrew Roberts, Antony Flew, Lord Dacre of Glanton (i.e., Hugh Trevor-Roper), and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Its name is a reference to Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, the Third Marquess of Salisbury, as far as I am concerned the greatest Tory Prime Minister of all time. (Thus Lord Salisbury on unintended consequences: “Parliament is a potent engine, and its enactments must always do something, but they very seldom do what the originators of these enactments meant.”) A digital subscription to the Review costs only $16; American readers who, like me, prefer the feel and (I know, I know!) the smell of print can recieve the physical magazine by surface mail for only $34 per year.

(Full disclosure: I am an occasional contributor to the Review both in print and online, but my appreciation of it antedates my involvement.)

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