In A Canticle for Mr. Leibowitz, what is Walter M. Miller's position on progressivism?

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Miller does not ever directly speak of progressivism in this novel. He does critique two strong planks within progressive ideas and movements.

Progressives have long been strong proponents of the inherent good and necessity of public education for all. In A Canticle for Leibowitz , the public has turned against...

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Miller does not ever directly speak of progressivism in this novel. He does critique two strong planks within progressive ideas and movements.

Progressives have long been strong proponents of the inherent good and necessity of public education for all. In A Canticle for Leibowitz, the public has turned against learning after a nuclear war. Books are banned and destroyed. The educated are killed by mobs, and people proudly term themselves Simpletons. The book's central focus is on an order of monks who smuggle, hide, and preserve books and scientific and other knowledge. Miller is agreeing with progressives and others on the need for education.

But progressives also argue that humanity can be rescued and reformed by education, and that most or all problems can be solved by the use of enlightened knowledge. Miller is far more cynical. One of the central themes of the book is recurring cycles of human self destruction, ignorance, and a failure to learn from the past. His book spans thousands of years, through one nuclear war, the fall of humanity into barbarism, and its renewal into civilizations with space flight and colonies—and nuclear weapons. The obvious parallel Miller is drawing is with the fall of the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance, leading eventually to today's nuclear armed world.

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This is a fascinating question, as this novel presents us with a nightmare dystopian future that has already reduced mankind to almost nothing thanks to a nuclear war. In this future, the ignorance and evil of mankind again triggers an even worse holocaust that threatens to wipe humans off of the face of the earth completely. The question that lurks beneath the benign pages of this work is whether we as a race have the necessary wisdom to survive our technological sophistication.

It is interesting however that Miller never once in this work lays the blame for the disaster on technology. He states that tools and the human knowledge that created them are in themselves neutral objects without an innate leaning towards either good or bad ends. However, his key focus is not on progressivism per se, but rather what we as humans do with these tools and how we use them. It is only us and what we do with the immense power and responsibility that new forms of technology give us that can be considered to be "good" or "evil." Miller fears that there is something about mankind that innately suggests we will only use technology in a bad and evil fashion to endanger the existence of mankind. When we think of the historical context of this novel and the way it was written during the Cold War, the parallels become very clear and obvious.

 

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