Friday, December 1, 2006
PHYSICAL MANIFESTATION OF A SPIRITUAL CRISIS
If you're like me, and trust me, there is help available if you are, you must find yourself wondering from time to time about the current health of the West.And I'm not just referring to the appalling obesity statistics, either.No, I am thinking more of the question of how the cultural heirs of the classical and medieval traditions, filtered and modified by the Enlightenment, could end up as such shallow, self-destructive beasts. In short, how the hell did we get into this mess?And by "this mess" I refer of course to the fact that there exists now a whole genre of academic and intellectual literature devoted to arguing that perhaps our civilization ought to be scrapped, or better, much better, ought to be dismantled by the backward, benighted souls who people so much of the rest of the world. Indeed, these sentiments find not only an academic reception, but, more troubling, can be found in their derivative forms among the vast lumpen prole, some of the more unbalanced bourgeoisie, and, worst of all, even among would-be and has-been members of the managerial, educational, and ruling class.Now, better minds than mine have applied themselves to this problem, and have come up with a variety of answers, most of them incomplete, as it seems to me, because they chalk this whole mess up to "the Enlightenment" or the dialectic thereof.I suppose one could lay the blame ultimately with Machiavelli and Hobbes, his English advocate. These two, it seems, were the first and most successful of the rebels against the previous teleological schema.Their success, of course, was based on the fact that Nature can be better manipulated, can be made to serve human needs more efficiently, once it is understood as fundamentally irrational in its organization. As an unorganized field of action, susceptible of prediction and manipulation according to mathematical and material principles, Nature provides no normative standards for human conduct.The upshot of all this is that science went from being, as Aristotle and the medievals understood it, the contemplation of the eternal, to the serious work of organizing Nature so as better to conform to human desires. This new science would have been understood as a sort of mathematical techne issuing in poesis, and would not, in consequence, be viewed as a true science, as it is not an enquiry into the fundamental nature of the objects of its study.Hobbes is the best exemplar of this new thinking, arguing that what Nature has provided for Man to live is so little, and of such poor quality, that men are compelled into war one with another for simple survival. Only the rational self-interest of each in ending this war could result in the union of mankind and the better security of the means of life. This was certainly not the perspective of the preceding generations of thinkers, and represented a true break with the whole teleological/theistic tradition.The best proof of this is to be found in Aristotle's definition of democracy as "the rule of the poor". The poor, it is clear, make up the majority in any society organized along the lines of those he had observed or of which he could conceive, and so majority rule necessarily meant "rule of the poor" over the rest.And the classical and even medieval objection to democracy was that the poor, because of their poverty, might be tempted to acts of injustice by expropriating the property of the numerically inferior in their society. Further, the poor are necessarily uneducated, as they must devote themselves exclusively to earning and working so as to sustain themselves. Only the educated, that is, the wealthy few, trained to virtue and mindful of the human things, have legitimate title to authority.Their leadership imposes an obligation on them; as they do not lack in the needful for a full life, and as they have devoted themselves to leisure, they are responsible to the whole they direct to ensure that justice and security prevail. Noblesse oblige.By contrast, the moderns attributed material poverty to a fundamental injustice in the natural world, or to a simple lack of will. Indeed, some came to view poverty itself not as a natural condition, but rather as a symptom and sign of the inequitable arrangement of societies.This is because the moderns came to view Man as a wholly material being, constituted by hiss appetites and needs, and not, as had previously been the case, as the rational, political animal, which by nature desires to know. Once the contemplative life was revealed as fundamentally unjust, as it did nothing to address the real problems of human life, science on the contemplative model was simply out of the question as a serious pursuit.Which was a radical over-turning of the previous order, in which theoria was the highest science, and was indeed the only genuinely self-sufficient human act, and was in fact that for the sake of which all political societies ought to be ordered. (Political societies come into being for the sake of living, and for the sake of living well, i.e., in the most full human way possible, contemplation of the divine.)Once men turned their eyes away from the heavens, it became obvious to them that contemplation of the divine was a noble, albeit useless enterprise, and that our attention should be focused on addressing Man's material poverty. If, after all, virtue was the preserve of a small, wealthy elite, then all that would be required for maximum virtue and perfect justice would be for all men to have the means with which to sustain and educate themselves. This would prevent the rule of minorities, and would more equitably distribute the goods of every society to all of its members.By turning away from the divine, men's eyes became fixed on Man as the sum and measure of all things, laying the foundation, as it seems to me, of the materialistic atheism which came to typify the later Enlightenment in its more radical forms, e.g., Bolshevism.And so, here we are, virtual masters of the material world, with no standards or criteria other than our own comfort and security, with no guiding vision of the fully human life, of the life in accordance with Nature and the Divine, to redeem our daily lives.This, I think, is the ultimate source of the modern and post-modern crisis; men sense that they are more than mere bodies and consumers, and on some level they understand that the human condition is fundamentally flawed and incomplete. Hence, the radical, not to say religious, fervor of so many who would overturn the modern West.And this is the origin of the Western Moonbat.