Monday, April 22, 2019

A Canticle for Leibowitz

Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s fascinating novel A Canticle for Leibowitz has profound philosophical and psychological insights, and it offers a bitter description of the ultimate fate of mankind.

The novels opens 600 years after the civilization as we know it has been destroyed in a global thermonuclear war. The few survivors have very little knowledge of the cause of the conflict, or its history. They are not even sure who started it. The worse thing is that they don’t have the knowledge of the scientific advancements that civilization had made before the great war destroyed everything—theirs is a world of candles, horses and mules. There are no computers and all record keeping is through quill pens, and their wars are fought with arrows, knives, and swords.

As the centuries go by, new philosophical, political, and scientific knowledge is discovered—once again there is progress. Eventually thermonuclear weapons are discovered and then there is another great thermonuclear war, and once again all the gains that mankind has made is wiped out. Here’s an excerpt from Page 245 (chapter 25):
Listen, are we helpless? Are we doomed to do it again and again and again? Have we no choice but to play the Phoenix in an unending sequence of rise and fall? Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Carthage, Rome, the Empires of Charlemagne and the Turk. Ground to dust and plowed with salt. Spain, France, Britain, America—burned into the oblivion of the centuries. And again and again and again. 
Are we doomed to it, Lord, chained to the pendulum of our own mad clockwork, helpless to halt its swing? 
This time, it will swing us to oblivion, he thought.
However, the novel ends on a bright note. Mankind does not give up after the devastation. Hope rides among the survivors. They once again make an attempt to develop knowledge and improve the condition of life on earth.

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