domingo, 6 de septiembre de 2015

With all his rights and expectations, modern man must still live in the existing, historical world, and that world stubbornly remains the kind of place it has always tended to be

Imaginative Origins of Modernity:
Life as Daydream and Nightmare
by Claes Ryn

Intellectuals of very different persuasions relate many of society’s present troubles to so-called “modernity.” In that respect, traditionalists and postmodernists are in broad agreement. A problem with both groups is that they typically define “modernity” in a reductionistic manner, as if the modern world were moving in a single general direction. They exclude from the definition whatever is appealing to them. Modernity actually contains opposing potentialities, encompassing, among other things, lingering and evolving ancient beliefs and practices. Sometimes modernity is arbitrarily assumed to be ending or to have been superseded, yet what is called postmodernism is easily shown to share important elements with what it is believed to be supplanting. It has much in common, for example, with a seminal figure like Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

If the complexity of historical reality ultimately defies convenient classifications, one may still, for certain analytical purposes, usefully isolate currents of thought, imagination, and morality that bear a marked family resemblance and that can be described as distinctively modern, as distinguished from “classical” or “medieval.” Indeed, it is the purpose here to identify and examine a certain cultural dynamic within the modern world. That dynamic has been a powerful source of change in the last two centuries and is an important origin of present difficulties, but it has not received the close attention that it merits. The aim in analyzing this cultural force is to arrive at a better understanding of our predicament and of what remedies correspond to our problems.

The cultural dynamic in question has profoundly changed the way in which Western man sees himself and the opportunities of human existence. It had gained sufficient power more than two centuries ago to begin transforming societies. It has manifested itself somewhat differently according to time and place, but its basic characteristic pattern has remained the same, and it continues strongly to affect Western society. Examining this cultural force is a key to understanding the history of the last two hundred years and the social crisis in which we find ourselves today. The following analysis will suggest the great importance of this force, but it is not intended to deny the significance of other influences.

In current academic debates modernity is most especially associated with the Enlightenment and rationalism. That these have profoundly affected the modern world is beyond dispute. What needs to be better understood is that we move closer to the heartbeat of modernity if we look behind its ideas to the kind of imagination that they express. What is replacing the classical and Christian outlook in the West is certainly a new Weltanschauung, one often rationalistic in appearance, but we miss its main source of influence and inspiration if we focus narrowly on abstract ideas. What most deeply shapes typically modern man and guides even his more strictly philosophical efforts is a new way of imagining the world.


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