The year was 1965, the high-water mark of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. The previous year, only six months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the new president had signed into law the Civil Rights Act, surrounded by onlookers including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In January, following his landslide election victory, Johnson was sworn into office at an inauguration drawing a record 1.2 million people. On August 6, he signed into law the Voting Rights Act. And in 1966, he would go on to establish the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities (PCPID).
It was in this context of multi-fronted governmental action for social progress that William F. Lynch, the Jesuit scholar, writer, and editor, published his 1965 book, Images of Hope. In this uplifting inquiry into the psychology and metaphysics of hope, Lynch laid out his vision of the perennial human dilemma in stark contrasts:
We can decide to build a human city, a city of man, in which all men have citizenship, Greek, Jew, and Gentile, the black and the white, the maimed, the halt, and the blind, the mentally well and the mentally ill.... Or we will decide to build various absolute and walled cities from which various pockets of our humanity will always be excluded. They will pose as ideal cities, and will exclude...the Negro, the sick, the different.
A half century later, Lynch’s alternatives echo with uncanny relevance. Indeed, if you substitute the words “Muslim,” “immigrant,” and “transgender”—and keep the wall—he could be writing in the latest issue of Commonweal.
John F. Kane’s Building the Human City, a new study of Lynch’s life and work, reverberates with this sense of contemporary relevance. Such relevance is somewhat ironic since, as Kane notes, Lynch’s disappearance from the intellectual and cultural scene was as thorough as it was regrettable. In May 1960, following the publication of his best-known work, Christ and Apollo: The Dimensions of the Literary Imagination, Time magazine had hailed the Jesuit as “one of the most incisive Catholic intellectuals in the U.S.” One year earlier, Lynch had published a scholarly work, Approach to the Metaphysics of Plato through the Parmenides, along with The Image Industries, his critical analysis of the effect of film and TV on our culture’s moral and spiritual imagination. The Integrating Mind (1962) and Images of Hope (1965) soon followed.