Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Price of Success

Notwithstanding some minor grumblings from romantic cultists and other eccentrics and faddists, the modern technological conquest of Nature has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its intellectual founders. The poverty and material deprivations suffered by our ancestors, and by most of Mankind for most of history, are largely eradicated, at least in the West, and, in principle, there is no reason why such benefits could not be extended to the whole of the human family, ushering in a new age of global peace and prosperity. But what was the secret of this remarkable success? Many great minds have applied themselves to this question, and the consensus position appears to be that at some point, the decision was made to abandon contemplation – be it of unchanging Ideas, the One, or of the cosmos - as the highest form of knowledge and activity. There is wide divergence of opinion as to the cause of this decision, but I for one would like to put forward one that seems most probable.
Building somewhat on Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 address at Harvard University, let us agree that the medieval West had, as its highest goal and type, the contemplative life, and that the existing material infrastructure of the day was insufficient to realize this ideal. And, indeed, reading some of the surviving examples of literature from the day, it is obvious that the contemplative ideal had become wedded to a most severe asceticism. The intellectual origins of this particular turn of events is a topic beyond the scope of this present consideration, but can easily be located in the unsuccessful attempt to fuse the Classical contemplative ideal with the ascetic mystical contemplative disciplines of monastics and hermits within Christianity.
But to return to the diagnosis, we note that the establishment of a mystical discipline as the supreme goal and summum bonum of human life is not likely to be popular, nor, indeed, could such a project prove sustainable in the long run. Like the Athenian Stranger, the medieval contemplatives came to value human beings too cheaply because of their dazzling vision of the divine. When the intellectual elite of an age devote themselves so wholly to a misguided, unnatural vision of human perfection, when they so abstract from one aspect of Man’s existence as to deny it its legitimate claims and dignity, folly and worse are sure to follow. Perhaps the medieval ascetic idealism is yet another instance of the incompatibility of certain types of human excellence, or a cautionary tale to encourage future generations to avoid extremes, and to always seek the mean. Solzhenitsyn goes on to observe that the reaction to the excesses of the medieval ideal issued in a sort of inversion of the previous ideal.
By way of elaborating, let us suppose that Solzhenitsyn, given sufficient time and space, would have argued something along these lines: To attempt to establish the extraordinary attainments of a small minority of spiritually-gifted persons as the model and end of all human actions and to so organize the social and political structures of the day as to deny the body its dignity and its rights must issue in failure. The life of the cloister cannot be the life of the world, and this is in no way casting aspersions upon the cloister or the world beyond it, but is rather a frank and mature recognition of the frailty and limits of human beings.
However, the recognition that Man lives in this world and that dwelling here creates the need for certain arrangements so as to accommodate this material nature does not require that these accommodations become the sole purpose of human life, or that Man’s nature is fully satisfied in the security and welfare of physical being. To simplify somewhat: the observation that we have stomachs and must eat does not mean that we are to devote ourselves exclusively to food preparation and eating.
And yet, this was the turn that the West took in the periods referred to as the Renaissance and the Enlightenment (two misleading names if ever there were, for the West was surely not dead in the medieval period, any more than the mind of Man was in darkness before the birth of modern philosophy). In rejecting the asceticism of the medieval ideal, the West unfortunately also rejected the contemplative ideal altogether, thereby throwing out the baby with the bathwater. If we are to measure science on the basis of technological fruits, then hands down, the Moderns win.
Aristotelian science can lead to the timeless contemplation of the Divine, but it cannot make any concrete recommendations for serious improvement to, for example, agriculture, medicine, or weapons technology. Nor, by the way, did Aristotle raise such claims for his science. Indeed, what we have come to call metaphysics was, for Aristotle, the highest science; the investigation of the causes of all Being and beings must necessarily, on Aristotle’s view, be a science higher than the one concerned with doing and making. So, in a sense, the moderns play a rigged game, comparing their sciences to those of the ancients. This is not to deny that there is much truth to their criticism of the ancient sciences, and much in which the moderns can take justifiable pride. The overall quality of human life is significantly improved by the techno-scientific “conquest of nature.” The facts of scarcity, as the ancients saw them, are largely viewed now as a simple failure to apply the appropriate methods to the material problems. But then, achievements such as these were hardly the point of Aristotle’s sciences, as the Aristotelian epistemological schema would have identified what passes as modern science as a sort of techne or the knowledge associated with a doing or a making, and consequently of a necessarily lower order than sciences of Being. If I might be forgiven for waxing Heideggerean, the modern, manipulative sciences (technology) have forsaken Being for the sake of beings, or better, for the sake of becoming. More on this later, though.
The true distinction, however, between the ancient sciences and the modern technological sciences is to be found not so much in the method – for surely even the ancients engaged in some variety of observation and experimentation – but rather in the ends at which these sciences aim. On the classical/medieval model, the end of science, of the highest type of science, is the endless contemplation of the One, the True, of imitation of the Divine “thought thinking itself.” It is for this purpose that the mind of Man came into being, with other purposes being purely adjunctive to this goal. As Aristotle said, the state came into existence for the sake of living (that is, the satisfaction of Man’s material needs) and aims at living well (the support of contemplation and philosophy, the most appropriate and self-sufficient of human actions).
The moderns, however, truncated this vision. They agree that the state (that is, the organization of human beings united by purpose, language, geography, and other factors) came into existence for the sake of living, and agree that it exists for the sake of living well (on their view, the more abundant enjoyment of material goods). This remarkable psychic surgery was effected by the simple expedient of denying the existence of any ends or purposes higher than the satisfaction of Man’s physical needs and desires. That is, they looked away from the Divine toward the purely human, and willfully neglected the former in favor of the latter, a sort of inversion of the Athenian Stranger’s momentary lapse.Whittaker Chambers expresses the thought underlying this change in focus in the words of the serpent of Eden: “Ye shall be as gods.” Mr. Chambers reminds us that this is Man’s second oldest religious faith, and we would do well to remember this in our examination of the modern world.

Friday, December 8, 2006

About Muslim "Reverts"

Have you ever noticed that so-called "reverts" to Islam always seem to do at least one of the following:

1) Change their names to something exotic-sounding like "Abdulla" or "Farouk" when their given names are more like "Jim" or "Pete";

2) Start planning crimes based on their burning desire to avenge some slight or other of which they have only just learned and against a group of people whom they just joined?

Case in point:

Perhaps Islam is the new Communism, the new barracks for the dead-souled, the unattached flotsam and jetsam of our modern age, a way of giving concrete expression of their complete and total rejection of all norms?

Say what you want about the "Born Agains," the "Holy Rollers," or even the Moonies or the Hare Krishnas, but there's no denying that their converts don't include murder and mayhem among their conversion experiences and sacraments of the faith.

Friday, December 1, 2006


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.


Let me make sure I understand what I see here:Western civilization, or the pitiful remnant thereof, is crashing down around our ears under the weight of our accumulated ignorance, greed, and stupidity.We have the better part of one billion fellow inhabitants of our planet committed to a belief system (Islam) that not only defies common sense and good taste, but bears every appearance of being outright demonic.Of these one billion or so doomed and hell-bound souls, an unknown percentage are prepared to drop everything and commit offenses not only against the common weal, but indeed against the life, limb, and property of their fellow humans in support of this belief system, based upon the purported revelations given by a caravan-raiding pedophilic murderer.And, in the face of this simply unprecedented existential struggle, our people concern themselves, not with protecting their inheritance, nor even with preserving what little they still have, but rather with instantly forgettable trivia such as this.It's rather like discussing wallpaper patterns for the kitchen when your g-ddamned roof is on fire.Priorities, people. Priorities.

Ugliest of All Americans

“Now I will by God show them how ugly the ugly American can be.” - William S. Burroughs, Nova Express
Say what you like about Burroughs, but old Bill did have a gift for expression. I only had to read it once to decide it was golden.
No doubt, Burroughs liked it too, even if he did put these words in the mouth of a villain. There’s a certain disarming crudity to it; one enjoys it not only for the sentiments expressed, but also for the raw power of expression. In short, it’s a gem, regardless of context or authorial intent.
I spend so much time on this one line because it seems especially appropriate and useful in these times of chaos, despair, and clashing civilizations. The West is dying, with Europe having long since degenerated into a geographical region full of aging pensioners, youthful addicts, deviants, and hostile, fecund barbarians. Demographically, politically, and culturally, Europe has collapsed and is drawing its last breath.
America, the last great power in the West, and the sole surviving member of that proud civilization, is itself on the way out. Internal factors nearly identical to those which destroyed Europe have brought us down, too, although we have a little life left in us yet.
That brilliant fraud and crank Spengler described modern Western man as “Faustian.” To summarize the story for any illiterates who somehow found this article: a great scholar, named Faust or Faustus, depending on who tells the tale, sells his soul in exchange for unlimited knowledge and power in this world. Goethe has this fellow being snatched by angels from the demons who came to claim his soul; a sort of last-minute reprieve by the Almighty as a reward for his good works.
Marlowe tells it differently: Faustus, his last hour come at last, is wracked with fear and remorse, realizing, too late, that the Devil must have his due, and that written contracts are difficult to escape. He is dragged, kicking and screaming, into Hell. I have always thought Marlowe’s version was true; somehow, it seems more believable, more honest, than Goethe’s Enlightenment fantasy.
The Classical soul saw in Nature a perfect reflection of order and reason, a model to be imitated and contemplated, a worthy object of admiration. Early Christian thought, and indeed, all serious Western thought through the Medieval period, understood Nature as the work of the Almighty. Our sufferings in this world were to be expected; disasters, both manmade and natural, were not unexpected phenomena -- they came with the territory, with our fall from original innocence. Patience and devotion were the only answers to the human condition.
But somewhere along the line, Western thought came to understand the natural world as neither ideal nor even all that useful; Man’s material poverty and weakness was simply intolerable, and some of the greatest minds in History set about the task of rectifying the situation. No more passive theorizing, no more patient meditation or waiting for the eschaton. If we were to ever get out of the mud and hunger, we would have to do it ourselves.
And get out of it we did. By applying the newly discovered mathematical physics and physical science to the practical problems of human poverty, hunger, and want, we were able to prove that our ancestors lacked both the will and the imagination to improve their condition. Their eyes dazzled by visions of the divine, they were unable to see what was truly needful: not love of wisdom, as the classical world believed, nor fear of the lord, as the Christian world thought, but rather the patient and persistent application of method.
Within a few generations, we were able to prevent famines, we could increase crop yields, we could improve the quality and length of the lives of untold millions of our fellow men. We could do more good with our systems of drainage and sanitation than all the saints combined; could feed more multitudes, and feed them better and more cheaply, than could any man with his loaves and fishes. And in doing this, we made a Faustian bargain; we sold our souls.
The West now enjoys unprecedented and unimaginable power. For this, we have paid the highest of all possible prices, trading eternity for the brief, glittering lie of the present. And there is no backing out now, no last-minute reprieve for us. We do not expect to be saved.
But if our civilization is dying, let our death be a natural one; let the end come quietly, the result of our own shortcomings and folly. If we must die, let it be, if not at our own hands -- as seems likely -- then at the very least as the consummation of, and punishment for, our god-like striving to amend Creation.
Regardless of what happens, however, I do not think that we are under any obligation to submit to the savages currently crusading under the green banner of jihad. Are they more spiritual than we, more sure of their beliefs? Certainly. We Westerners are notorious for our self-doubt; not for nothing do we all know the name “Hamlet”.
But if our entire history has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that right does not make might, and that all problems, at least in this world, are purely material in nature. If we apply the right method, if we think clearly, we can overcome any obstacle.
And that is precisely what modern, jihadist Islam is: an obstacle. If left unchecked, this movement could well metastasize into a serious threat to our very survival; Byzantium bears witness to the folly of appeasing such as these.
With all of this said, I think that the West is compelled, in the interests of its survival, even if only for a few more generations, to remember, not only its honorable traditions of tolerance and universal brotherhood, but also, and more importantly, its blood-stained history of relations with the Islamic world. Our early medieval ancestors were, in truth, little more than barbarians, but they understood that Islam must not be allowed into Europe. It must be stopped, and, where possible, driven out.
As heirs and epigones of the greatest, most powerful civilization hitherto, we have a heavy duty upon us. Where possible, we should extend and preserve our civilization, in hopes of leaving our children a world at least as good as the one we inherited, which our ancestors purchased and defended at so high a price.
If we have the strength of will to undertake this task, what amounts to an atheist-materialist crusade will bequeath to future generations the opportunity to live without the yoke of a benighted, ignorant cult upon their necks. When the civilization become a burden to great to be borne, and our descendants lapse into tribalism and primitivism, tales will be told of a great war fought to free mankind from the followers of an evil god. And in the distant lands of the East, the degenerate survivors of other tribes will repeat tales of the great war in which their god punished their pride with near-extermination at the hands of godless Americans.
Such a result would, I think, in some way redeem and even forgive, even if only in the eyes of Man, the terrible price we have paid for our power.

Rambling, old post

A great thinker observed that a curious thing happened shortly before the First World War. The West -- the Continental and Anglo-American heirs to the culture and history of Christian Europe -- was sufficiently powerful, from a purely material perspective, to impose its will on the whole of Mankind almost without firing a shot. For a comparatively minor exertion, these nations might have brought order and peace to the planet on a scale never before seen or even imagined.
And yet, at the very height of the West’s power, something happened, and the promised Augustinian peace dissolved into the rational-technical fury of death and destruction on a continental scale -- World War I -- followed by a repeat on a nearly global scale -- World War II -- a few years later. And the Cold War, notwithstanding its name, was sufficiently hot at certain times and in certain places to arouse genuine concern for the continued survival of Mankind itself.
So puzzling was this phenomenon that some thoughtful men were tempted to consider these wars as part of a much larger war within the West. In examining the beliefs of the combatants, they observed unanimity of ends but diversity of means. The three great wars of the twentieth century, which involved, concerned, or threatened the whole of Mankind, appeared to be little more than violent disputes within the West over how to implement their civilization’s particular vision of humanity’s future. They were, in short, spectacular battles within the context of a civil war.
By no means as terrible as these wars, but troubling nonetheless, was what came to be called the “Crisis of the West,” the evident loss of will and clarity of purpose first diagnosed and discussed shortly after the First World War, but discussed down to the present day. Many suspected, and a few even proclaimed, that our whole civilization was in danger, and this precisely because of certain factors within itself and its history. The West had somehow become a threat to itself.
Which seems odd. The West has grown into the first universal civilization; there is no people, no nation, no corner of the Earth, which we have not touched or affected. Our present civilization, unlike its predecessors, is open to all of Mankind; in principle, there are no strangers, no foreigners. We are, or are well on our way to becoming, the universal and homogenous state, to borrow from Hegel, with universal mutual recognition of the unique dignity and value of all men as moral and political equals. With all of Mankind’s eggs in this one basket, the prospect of the fall of the West threatens to precipitate the decline of all of humanity. The crisis of the West is nothing less than the crisis of Man.
Civilization is, in a sense, the last growth and final fruit of a culture or group of cultures, differing from its constituent cultures in its breadth of perspective and depth of understanding. A culture is constituted by things which “everybody knows”; a civilization is open, at least in principle, to the possibility of questioning these generally-accepted principles and beliefs. To employ a Platonic image, a culture lives entirely within the Cave, while a civilization, or at least some within it, can suspect that there might be things other than, or outside of, the Cave.
But whatever the theoretical value of insights gained from outside the Cave, we do well to remember that Man was born in the Cave, and has spent much of his history there. The cave appears to be our natural habitat, and we are confirmed in suspecting as much by observing that there are no self-sustaining communities of philosophers or contemplatives which are not attached to, and dependent upon, cultures or civilizations of one sort or another.
But to return, for a moment, from these theoretical considerations to more practical ones: Civilizations, whatever their level of power, whatever their level of complexity, are fragile things. One example from Western history will suffice: The Goths, Gauls, and Vandals all outlasted the Romans, who were far and away more civilized than their enemies. This was then, and is now, one of the most shocking events in the history of the West: an urbane, technically proficient, cosmopolitan civilization was over-run and defeated by a collection of fairly primitive tribal cultures.
If we share the fate of Rome, it will not be for want of means -- the West is a colossus, its nations the only real powers in the world -- but rather for want of direction. More and more, one hears thoughtful, educated Westerners welcoming the prospect of the decline of their civilization. Like a seriously ill or depressed patient, they seem to welcome the end, and even appear to contribute to efforts to hasten its arrival.
Notwithstanding that their diagnosis may be correct -- the West does appear to be a terminal case, and in any event, no one can seriously deny that something is very wrong -- their prescriptions are mistaken. Indeed, it might not be much of an exaggeration to say that these suggestions are themselves symptoms of the underlying disorder they seek to address.
Acknowledging that the West is ill, and admitting that it might well be a terminal case, let us

Solzhenitsyn places the origin of the crisis in the middle ages (Harvard 1978); the spiritual flourished at the expense of the physical and material sides of Man. The demands of the contemplative life were too great for the mass of men -- always had been - but the ideal had never before (or since) come to dominate a whole civilization, as was case in middle ages. Goal of universal contemplative society unattainable, too expensive; the ideal ends up impoverishing all.
“The Middle Ages had come to a natural end by exhaustion, becoming an intolerable despotic repression of man's physical nature in favor of the spiritual one. Then, however, we turned our backs upon the Spirit and embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal. This new way of thinking, which had imposed on us its guidance, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man nor did it see any higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth. It based modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend to worship man and his material needs. Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense.” (Harvard, 1978)
Crisis rooted in the triumph of the practical and productive sciences over the theoretical; identification of the highest science with that which has as its object nature viewed as material subject to manipulation (Heidegger The Question Concerning Technology), as opposed to the disinterested contemplation of Nature (Aristotle).
The moderns assume that the greatest good is the life of abundance, of ease of procurement of the necessities of life, and, where possible, a smattering of the luxuries as well. (Plato’s Republic, “city of pigs” )That is, there are no problems which are not ultimately reducible to problems of production and distribution of material goods. There are no non-material goods, even as there are no non-material arts or sciences.
To the extent that the lesser arts and sciences can provide us with true creature comforts, comforts enjoyable by, and with modern production, accessible to, all, they are more popular, more useful, than theoria, which must necessarily be the preserve and the pleasure of a few, a few whose existence is not manifestly beneficial or even necessary to the many, who must labor to maintain these few. Modern science is, in a way, subject to the rule of the many.
But, as Aristotle points out, rule of the many is rule of the ignorant (Pol.); they cannot be sufficiently educated, cannot be wise men; their sole claim to rule is their numerical supremacy. Rule of the many can be ameliorated by either educating the many, or else by so constituting the state as to not require education and virtue from the many.
And rule of the many need not be direct or even indirect rule of some democratic assembly. One may rule without lifting a finger, so long as such ruling and deciding as does occur occurs for his benefit. In point of fact, the many might very well be incapable even of recognizing their own interests -- hence the modern multiplication of specialists for every field of human life and endeavor.
Clearly, rule of the many has taken on a rather attenuated form in modernity; rule in the name of, and for the benefit of, the many. Even in the modern democratic -- because utilitarian -- sciences, the fruits and flowers are the preserve of a few. That is, modern technological society increasingly becomes technocracy; there is always a ruling elite.
The question is therefore what is to be the character of this ruling class? What are its ends, what its means?
(The imitation of nature ceases to be the summum bonum of human activity, contemplation as the supreme form of this imitation, if nature is understood to be somehow defective or deficient. (the idea of this might come from Biblical notion of the curse.) To the extent that nature is understood to be not only the highest, but also the best, of the normative standards, the classical paradigm can hold, theoria is still choice worthy and self-sufficient. Human limitation is understood to be natural, hence normative, hence both necessary and good.
But modern technical science -- the union of mathematical physics and experimental science -- shows man’s potential power to be far greater; economy of scarcity merely the result of a lack of intelligent, directed action, a weakness of will; false humility. Liberation of human productivity, the emancipation from what Marx called the “realm of necessity” is viewed as a self-evident goal. Man is to be progressively liberated from his environment, until such time as Man is understood in contradistinction to nature, which is seen to be defective, disorganized, and chaotic. The natural order, far from being the model, is viewed as that which is to be overcome, that which necessarily impedes human thriving, but which contains the raw material from which man can forge the instruments of his dominating liberation.
And yet, Aristotle teaches that we are busy - -that is, we have and practice the practical and productive sciences -- in order to have leisure - -that is, for the sake of the imitative and creative arts, and in the highest cases, to engage in theoria. (Nich. Eth., Meta.) The city comes into being first for the sake of living, and ultimately for living well. (Pol.) Yet another difference is here: the elevation of theoria versus the denial of its desirability, possibility, or necessity.
Fundamentally, modernity the attempt to overcome natural limitations to human action and freedom, the expansion of Man’s power and dominion, the liberation of desire; attempt to overcome the economy of scarcity (and the cyclical nature of history) taken for granted (and, if not normative, at least insuperable) by the ancients.
Moderns, then understand nature as fundamentally defective (denial of Providence, or of ancients’ goodness and sufficiency of nature) with regard to its provision for man. Rather than attempting to synchronize man to nature, there is the attempt to synchronize nature to Man. Moderns also believe that necessity’s power over Man is more limited than many believe (Machiavelli’s Fortuna and chance can both be overcome), and that even this power over us can, to some extent, be reduced through our own intelligent action.

Modernity regards Man as little more than a clever, calculating animal; denial of spiritual or divine component to even the lowest human nature. And the conditions of modernity merely exacerbate these problems, for human wants and needs are, in principle, without end. The many become progressively empowered, impoverished.
Modernity denies the very possibility of contemplative sciences.
Enlightenment merely the political expression of this inversion of the western mind, this “contraction of the horizon” (Strauss), the triumph of the project of rationalizing, first nature, then Man’s place within nature; ultimately culminating in the effort to rationalize Man himself. But is this project itself rational? (Dialectic of Enlightenment)
And the other side of it: is man so constituted (assuming, as the moderns deny, that man has an immutable core nature) as to thrive under such conditions? Is a perfectly rational, technical society a just one, or even a possibility? And, what if the conquest of nature results, not in universal human freedom, but rather in the conditions for universal human enslavement, an enslavement made all the more vile in that it would appear to be universal and perpetual (Thoughts on Machiavelli, On Tyranny)?
Also, see “The City and Man”, esp. first chapter.
Man is in a permanent state of crisis:
individually, mortal;
collectively, mortal
“In the long run, we’re all dead” -- John Maynard Keyes??
Political orders are mortal:
Polybius, Histories, 6.6 - 6.9
The conditions of civilization and of human life are not assured:
Plato, Timaeus 22a- 23d, Statesman ??, Critias ??
Aristotle, 1269 a5-a8 (Politics)
Machiavelli, Discourses, II, 5
Conservatives are notorious for their tendency to praise the past, to damn the present, and to regard the future with concern. According to a commonplace, and hence, nearly universal, opinion, this habit of the right is little more than a conscious or unconscious exercise in intellectualized nostalgia. And yet, might this instinct not be correct? Was the past not, measure for measure, superior to the present? And is not our modern triumphalism and easy dismissal of the past little more than vulgar worship of success, i.e. the most craven sycophancy? ==========================================================================
Machiavelli, Hobbes, Bacon.
See- Leviathan, ch. 13
“20. To conclude, the light of human minds is perspicuous words, but by exact definitions first snuffed, and purged from ambiguity; reason is the pace; increase of science, the way; and the benefit of mankind, the end.” Leviathan, 5; 20
“The nutrition of a commonwealth consisteth, in plenty, and distribution of materials conducing to life: in concoction, or preparation; and (when concocted) in the conveyance of it, by convenient conduits, to the public use.
2. As for the plenty of matter, it is a thing limited by nature, to those commodities, which (from the two breasts of our common mother), land, and sea, God usually either freely giveth, or for labour selleth to mankind.
3. For the matter of this nutriment, consisting in animals, vegetals, and minerals, God hath freely laid them before us, in or near to the face of the earth; so as there needeth no more but the labour, and industry of receiving them. Insomuch as plenty dependeth (next to God’s favour) merely on the labour and industry of men.“ Leviathan, 24, 1-3
“ The right of nature, whereby God reigneth over men, and punisheth those that break his laws, is to be derived, not from his creating them, as if he required obedience as of gratitude for his benefits; but from his irresistible power.” Leviathan, 31, 5
Discourses I,2
Discourses III, 31
Prince, 8
Prince, chs. 15, 17, & 18; Discourses I, 3, 9, 26-27, 29, 35, 37, 40, 42, 47-48, 57, 58; II, pr., III, 12 & 29
Discourses II, 5/
(Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1094a 26-b 7; Politics 1268b 22ff; Politics 1331a 1-18)
Nicomachean Ethics: 1095 b14 - b22: “Let us, however, resume our discussion from the point at which we digressed. To judge from the lives that men lead, most men, and men of the most vulgar type, seem (not without some reason) to identify the good, or happiness, with pleasure; which is the reason why they love the life of enjoyment. For there are, we may say, three prominent types of life -- that just mentioned, the political, and thirdly the contemplative life. Now the mass of mankind are evidently quite slavish in their tastes, preferring a life suitable to beasts….”