Deus Ex Machina

"This is the generation of the great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently of that mortal god, to which we own under the immortal God, our peace and defense." -Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan

‘The only really distinct trait of “modernity” consists in the imagination that there is such a thing’ by Peter Escalante

The following remarks are taking from a series of comments from Peter Escalante in a discussion on the Wedgewords blog concerning Apostolic Succession and Civic Freedom. Entirely worth citing and compiling in full for easy future reference.

On “modern consciousness”, which so preoccupies you, I can show that mechanistic philosophastering existed in antiquity (Lucretius, Chinese Legalists, and Kautilya, at least practically speaking). The only really distinct trait of “modernity” consists in the imagination that there is such a thing- and even that mental move has earlier exemplars. Every age has its own configuration of prudential results from available patrimony; depending on the decrees of Providence and the works of human freedom with its feats and failures, some times are happier than others, though there is no single scale- there are rather myriads. There is no unique historical “fall” in early modernity. But once more, if you want to connect the dots, there is a much stronger case to be made that the present political atheism owes much more to the Popes’ long war against the temporal power, from the Boniface VIII through Bellarmine and up to the present. If the State is to have a distinct existence (and since it would be enormously inconvenient for the clerical hierarchy to directly run everything, it is convenient that the State exist), but if that State cannot directly recognize Christ (being, as Bellarmine and Maritain both say, incompetent to do so- which is simply a way of saying that the people are incompetent to do so, since the magistracy is representative of them), than every commonwealth is by definition blind to the transcendent. That is thoroughgoing modern secularism. But in any case, presupposing a uniquely problematic “modern” generates the search for a fixed and ideal premodern political form, just as skepticism, if it recoils from full nihilism but keeps its skeptical stance, searches for ideal certitude in gnostic illumination. Modernism is marked by the imagination that the chimera of the “modern” is real, and then counter-modernism, that school of shadow-boxing, in reaction to the specter seeks refuge from it in equally chimerical idealized redoubts.

On “modernity”: if you want to have this discussion, then please let’s do. It is a very important topic. The remarks I made get the heart of certain recent spiritual maladies in Christendom, especially restless conversionitis and nostalgia for imaginary ideal authority. Your fixation on the specter of “modernity” as unprecedented evil, and your fixation on metaphysics and oracular illumination as the cure of it, are very redolent of Perennialism, which has both ecumenical (pan-religious) and parochial (traditional*ism* of any given historic religion, as “counter-modern” redoubt) forms. But the only unique Fall, and the only unique exile, was from Eden. Any other narrative is a parody of Biblical religion. As I say, this is an discussion I would welcome. But for now, let me point out that the trait you think is peculiarly modern, so far from being the quirk of a single nutty Roman (Lucretius was, after all, Roman, not Greek) was in fact chosen by God Himself- Who ought to know- to represent the whole ancient world of the time, in confrontation with Christ: “what is Truth”?

Of course, the options available to the mind after the advent of universal Revelation are somewhat different than those available before it (Strauss was right about this much)- there are some novelties of our time, but they are not essential novelties- just accidental ones. In any case, if the bogeyman of “Modernity” isn’t real, we need no metaphysico-political superman in a mitre to save us from it. Most of the Christians I know are adjusted to the time quite well, offering acceptable praise, bringing souls to Christ, and managing to garden their little plots of the world, all without the Pope to supervise them. This fixation on modernity, and this turn to an authoritarian ministerium for utopian salvation from it, is something you and Dr Hart have in common.

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This entry was posted on January 10, 2014 by in Uncategorized.
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