miércoles, 16 de septiembre de 2015

Ideology is dangerous, rationalist, technocratic, demanding heaven on earth

Thinking in Slogans Means Thinking in Bullets

by R. J. Snell

While some books deserve their obscurity, others are unjustly forgotten; Russell Kirk’s early text, The American Cause, should be remembered. Not as developed and mature as his later work, still this little book reminds us of human nature and its limitations, thereby warning us against ideology and its violent tendencies. For Kirk, prudent acceptance of limitation—what he terms “resignation,” a willingness to enjoy an imperfect but decent society and state—is the genius of the republic.

Do Not Expect Perfection

While he knows American pluralism well, Kirk claims that “it is possible to write about a body of religious and ethical principle shared by the majority of Americans,” which he identifies as Christianity. Hardly a theocrat, he affirms toleration of “all religious convictions, and toleration even of disbelief in any religion.” Rather than religious rule, Kirk asks us to note that “[c]ivilization grows out of religion: the morals, the politics, the economics, the literature, and the arts of any people all have a religious origin.”Consequently, cultural renewal requires cultic renewal, Kirk believes, even though “the modern mind has been secularized so thoroughly that ‘culture’ is assumed by most people to have no connection with the love of God.” And while he warns that “our society’s affliction is the decay of religious belief,” it remains that the moral, political, and economic ideas founded upon our religious-cultural background are still the principles “to which most American’s are attached.” We benefit from a religious haunting of the public square, in other words. But ghosts can be exorcized, and civilizations without religion “have ended in slime.”

Kirk’s summary of Christianity is somewhat surprising. One expects, and finds, a Creator-God grounding a brotherhood of man spared the fate of “bitterly competing little organisms, with no moral obligations to one another.” Rather than fierce rivalry, we share familial relations, each “entitled to be treated as a son of God,” each entitled to “respect for his personality.” Yet Kirk spills more ink on sin, trial, and imperfection than fatherhood, brotherhood, and dignity. Do not forget, he stresses, that the human being is “an obstinate and perverse creature,” one who “repeatedly refuses or fails to follow in the steps of God.” Every nation and person does evil, “some people spend most of their lives in doing” so, and unless God redeems we are doomed to deny our kinship with God and sink into a subhuman state, even into slime.

No mere Deism, this.

Kirk sharply distinguishes the condition of this fallen world from the domain of grace. While “any person may attain…a peace beyond all understanding, an immortality…purged of the sins and flaws of the world,” such an attainment is not of this world, which is “a place of moral suffering, a place of trial.” It is “our Christian duty in this world always to fight for the right,” but it takes “all our energies merely to keep evil in check, or to make modest progress in human affairs from time to time.” A remarkable statement: it takes all our energies merely to control evil and occasionally advance a small degree—“on earth, we crucify perfect things.” Happiness “never can be attained upon this earth.”

Kirk concludes that “Christianity teaches resignation: not to expect perfection in this world. But it also teaches hope…in another realm.” Hope for heaven, but resign yourself to keeping evil in check on earth. Nothing more.

Resignation and the Grounds of Freedom

It seems odd to grounds liberty in resignation. We equate resignation with passivity, with an obsequiousness bordering on the inhuman, a bowing and scraping and licking of the boots of Fate. Instead, we take arms against a sea of troubles, we change the world, we liberate, emancipate, empower, critique, dissent—these are the images of freedom we’ve come to expect. Protest, not resignation; action, not acceptance of inherited limits. To us, Kirk’s guardedness seems like quietism, despair, even a willingness to collude with injustice.

And yet it is not so. While apparently counter-intuitive, resignation preserves ordered liberty. To explain why, I’m going to leave Kirk for a recent essay by Wilfred McClay on the ideal of mastery, the optimistic vision and belief “that the infirmities of the human condition were no longer a permanent given, but lay within the ability of human agency to alter…granting human beings an ever-expanding power to control their circumstances.” This seems more familiar to us, a sense that fortune is in our hands.

But mastery has shadows.

Anxiety accompanies mastery; now that one is capable of altering human infirmities and frailties, one is always responsible to do so. If frailty overtakes you, or an infirmity stubbornly resists alteration, it is your fault, you should have been able to do something about it—you are to blame. How are we to live in a world where suffering becomes “understood as something entirely accidental, and largely preventable”? McClay suggests that such a world will “contain little joy or exuberance,” but is a “tightly wound world, permeated with bitterness and anxiety and moral suspicion, in which human life will be at one and the same time deeply devalued and fiercely guarded.” The man of the future will not be the Ubermensch, but rather “an obsessive-compulsive handwasher who lives in constant fear of other people’s germs,” always scouting about for lurking dangers, always ready for a technical solution to what our ancestors squarely faced as an act of God. One could, he concludes, scarcely imagine a world more enervating to the “dignity and vigor” of human life.

Sound familiar?


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