“After Buddha was dead people showed his shadow for centuries afterwards in a cave, an immense frightful shadow. God is dead—but as the human race is constituted there will perhaps be caves for millenniums yet, in which people will show his shadow. And we—we have still to overcome his shadow!”
So said Friedrich Nietzsche, insisting that although God is dead to European man, there remains a new task of overcoming. How we escape God’s long shadow—whether we can escape it—is the subject of Mark T. Mitchell’s compact and compelling new book, Power and Purity. Mitchell, a longtime professor of government and now academic dean at Patrick Henry College, locates the source of our current woes—both in the academy and on the streets—in what he calls the “unholy marriage” of Nietzscheanism and Puritanism. He captures the reader’s attention by noting the extent to which we are beset by what he calls “Puritan warriors,” who occasionally go so far as to wish miserable deaths on their enemies (mostly “entitled white men”), not to mention mutilation of their corpses. Far from the margins of society, the people who utter such profanities often hold prestigious academic appointments. If a similarly-situated “entitled white man” had the audacity to say something half as offensive, the personal and professional consequences would be grim. Political theorist Harvey Mansfield has said that you can tell who has power in a society by who’s allowed to get angry. Right now, cultural and intellectual power in our society is skewed radically toward the moralist-warriors of the social justice movement.