sábado, 4 de julio de 2015

“There was a dictator hidden in Descartes”

Truth or Consequences:
History, Science, and Utopia

by Mark Malvasi

I have a recurrent nightmare. I dream that I never had the opportunity to teach the history of the West. I invariably awaken drenched in a cold sweat, wondering how my own intellectual development would have been stunted had I not been compelled to explain to undergraduates the accomplishments and failures, the complexities and tensions, the incongruity and dissonance, which have forged Western Civilization. The prospect is unthinkable and, after such an ordeal, a return to sleep is impossible.

When I began my teaching career at Randolph-Macon College nearly a quarter century ago, all members of the history department taught at least one section of Western Civ. every semester. We called it “The Foundations of the Modern World.” We are now reduced to two, both taught by the American historians. The Europeanists want nothing to do with such an old-fashioned, out-dated, apparently irrelevant course.

Before congratulating me on my resolute vindication of the West, readers ought to know that my interpretation would hardly please those who seek a coherent narrative of superiority, triumph, and heroism. In their attempt to eliminate the political biases that have made an ideological plaything of the past, many conservatives have done more harm than good. Disregarding evidence that challenges their own views, they diminish or reject the intricacy of the past. As a result, their conclusions are too facile. They explain nothing, or next to nothing, and fail to illuminate reality, even as they reveal the pinched and haggard condition of our minds and souls.

Despite my objections to their approach, I have some sympathy for those who exalt the West, even if they do so by distorting its past. They sense—sense more fully than they understand—that Western Civilization is deadlocked. It has lost its way. It seems incapable of moving forward or backward. The West remains active and dynamic, though it neither advances with a clear, unitary purpose nor seems capable of turning inward to face itself. Most of all, it lacks the sense of possibility that dominated the Modern Age. It may have been such a predicament that Jacques Barzun had in mind when he wrote:
Our culture is in that recurrent phase when, for good reasons, many feel the urge to build a wall against the past. It is a revulsion from things in the present that seem a curse from our forebears . . . . This passion to break away explains also why many feel that the West has to be denounced. But we are not told what should or could replace it as a whole. Anyhow, the notion of western culture as a solid block having but one meaning is contrary to fact. The West has been an endless series of opposites—in religion, politics, art, mores, and manners, most of them persistent beyond their time of first conflict.[1]

Falsifying the past to accommodate present attitudes and sensibilities is not the answer.


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