Monday, April 15, 2024
HomeNewsRev Julian Mann: Flaubert’s arrogance prefigured the world wars

Rev Julian Mann: Flaubert’s arrogance prefigured the world wars


Dictator, Robert Harris’s latest novel based on the career of the Roman politician and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 to 43 BC), is among his best, but it begins with a vainglorious quotation from Gustave Flaubert. More about that later.

But Harris fans may be interested to compare their own ranking of his novels with this:

Joint 1st – Fatherland and The Ghost

Joint 2nd – Imperium and Dictator

Joint 3rd – Archangel and An Officer and a Spy

Joint 4th – Lustrum and The Fear Index

Joint 5th – Enigma and Pompeii

The Flaubert quote from an 1861 letter asserts: ‘Just when the gods had ceased to be and the Christ had not yet come, there was a unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, when man stood alone. Nowhere else do I find that particular grandeur.’

Unfortunately, that quote sums up what went wrong with the Western mind in the 19th Century. It was the godless arrogance exemplified here, dressed up as grandiose progressive thinking, that led to the two soul-destroying world wars of the 20th Century. When we ‘stand alone’ as sinful mankind, does not history demonstrate that we make a massive mess of the world?

However, whether intentionally or not, Flaubert’s spiritual and moral error is reflected in the novel. If Cicero is the best man standing alone can be, then that shows how much we desperately need the redemption that is only possible through the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Julian Mann
Julian Mann
Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Heysham, Lancashire.

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