Beauty Will Save the World

Beauty Will Save the World

Recovering the Human in An Ideological Age

Book - 2011
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Culture, Not Politics

We live in a politicized time. Culture wars and increasingly partisan conflicts have reduced public discourse to shouting matches between ideologues. But rather than merely bemoaning the vulgarity and sloganeering of this era, says acclaimed author and editor Gregory Wolfe, we should seek to enrich the language of civil discourse. And the best way to do that, Wolfe believes, is to draw nourishment from the deepest sources of culture: art and religious faith.

Wolfe has been called “one of the most incisive and persuasive voices of our generation,” and this penetrating and wide-ranging book makes a powerful case for the importance of beauty and imagination to cultural renewal. He begins by tracing his own journey from a young culture warrior bent on attacking the modern world to a career devoted to nurturing the creation of culture through contemporary literature and art that renew the Western tradition. Along the way, Wolfe finds in Renaissance Christian humanists like Erasmus and Thomas More—and their belief that imagination and the arts are needed to offset the danger of ideological abstractions— a “distant mirror” in which to see our own times.

Beauty Will Save the World offers a revealing introduction to the artists and thinkers who are the Christian humanists of the modern era, from well-known figures like Evelyn Waugh and Wendell Berry to lesser-known authors like Shusaku Endo, Andrew Lytle, and Geoffrey Hill. A section on visual artists Mary McCleary, Fred Folsom, and Makoto Fujimura (accompanied by reproductions of their works) demonstrates that there are artists who can reimagine the Western tradition in strikingly contemporary terms. Finally, Wolfe pays tribute to the conservative thinkers who served as his mentors: Russell Kirk, Gerhart Niemeyer, Marion Montgomery, and Malcolm Muggeridge— all of whom rejected rigid ideology and embraced culture and tradition.

At a time when our public discourse has come to be dominated by warring factions with little regard for truth, Wolfe’s affirmation of beauty as a redemptive force is both refreshing and encouraging.

Book News
A writer in residence at Seattle Pacific University, Wolfe founded and edits the literature and arts journal Image. Here he shares his thoughts about how Christian humanism can improve the world. His sections cover from ideology to humanism; Christianity, literature, and modernity; six writers; three artists; and four men of letters. Among his topics are a portrait of the editor as a young man, the writer of faith in a fractured culture, Evelyn Waugh, Wendell Barry, Mary McCleary, and Malcolm Muggeridge. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Publisher: Wilmington, Del. : ISI Books Intercollegiate Studies, c2011
ISBN: 1933859881
Branch Call Number: 111.85 WOL
Characteristics: xv, 278 p. : ill. ; 24 cm


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Mar 03, 2018

In this collection of essays, Gregory Wolfe confronts two interconnected cultural problems. The first is political - most modern art is nihilistic, which is both a cause and a consequence of the fact that most conservatives reject modern art wholesale. The second is religious - serious Christian artists are likely to find their faith derided by the secular establishment, while, at the same time, their work will not be accepted by the "Christian" counterculture unless it is trite and simplistic. Advocating for an imaginative traditionalist conservatism that traces its genealogy back to Burke, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Eliot, Wolfe seeks both to encourage artists and convince conservatives and Christians to expand their understanding of modern art.

The early chapters of Beauty Will Save the World are unfortunately repetitive, as the reader is treated to similar arguments and litanies of creative worthies in the different essays. As the book moves into considerations of the works of individual artists, however, it becomes more interesting, and the final essays are the best in the collection. It is no accident that these are studies of the thinkers who have had the most immediate impact on Wolfe himself - the entire collection is strikingly personal in a way that is somewhat surprising but entirely fitting.


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