The Age of Anxiety, edited by Clarence A. Glasrud
I don’t think it would be any surprise for those who read a lot of my reviews that I am a particularly anxious person . One would think that a book about our age being the age of anxiety would be an obvious book to read for someone who was particularly and painfully anxious to the point where it makes life difficult to deal with. These thoughts would be quite accurate, but what is most impressive about this book is the fact that it is so much larger than simply being about the sort of anxiety I suffer, and yet in its massive scope it manages to present the issue of anxiety in a larger context that makes a lot of sense. Whether or not the editor is intentionally going for an epic and religious scope, he manages to undercut the self-absorption that many people have when they think of our age as uniquely an age of anxiety, as at least a few of the essays point out that the Bible itself gives a firm understanding of anxiety and its roots in our relationship with God and other people and with our world around. This is a powerful book, all the more powerful because the author acts with such restraint, asking questions and giving possible essay subjects at the end, but largely keeping himself out of the texts themselves except through his judicious editing.
So, what kind of materials make up the more than 200 pages that can be find in this surprisingly slim volume? After a short introduction, the core of the book, taking up about 200 pages, consists of 39 primary source documents that range from the excellent (a Time article about anxiety in the Bible and Jacques Barzun looking at the complexity of dealing with anxiety in our society) to the surprisingly sound (Margaret Mead’s positive appraisal of anxiety as being something that is good in small quantities but bad either in there being too much or too little) to the abominable and terrible (the selections from Marx, Laskl, and T.V. Smith qualify here). Overall, the sources here are a mixed bag, to be sure, but they help the reader get a context of anxiety from a religious, political, economic, and artistic sense. Some of the writers come from a perspective that is clearly socialist in nature, others are somewhat naval-gazing literary critics with their own scores to settle, and still others are coming from points of view that bring up the importance of contemporary history. What is perhaps most striking about the collection as a whole is that this collection from 1960 and discussing matters going back into the 19th century is extremely current in its concerns about the declining trust in public institutions, the threat of drugs, the worry about decadence, the corruption that comes from crony capitalism, the inability of the state or science or psychology to serve as a replacement for the foundation of firm biblical religious belief as a stable basis for and source of standards for Western Civilization.
There is a lot that could be said about this book. For one, it is unlikely that a mainstream publisher for educational material would be able to publish a book that encouraged religious belief (even if accidentally) the way that this book does. What this book also does is demonstrate the interconnectedness of various reasons for the prevailing anxiety that existed at the time this book was made, and that continues to exist to this day. Over and over again the authors demonstrate in one way or another that the causes of anxiety are largely subjective, while fear is something that is objective, but the fact that so many of our culture’s corrupt elites have attacked a basis of objective reality and standards that apply to all people at all times, all we are left with to make sense of our lives is the subjective, which means that anxiety will be a pervasive problem. We are out of sorts with ourselves, with our place in the universe, with our creator, and with each other. It is little wonder in that light that anxiety is such a difficult problem, and that coping with that anxiety should be such a universal problem. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in reflecting upon anxiety to such a degree, but it is hardly more comforting to see it as being tied up with our general decadence in politics, culture, and religion as well. Sometimes you have to make a problem bigger in order to solve it, though, by placing it first in its proper context.
 See, for example: