lunes, 19 de junio de 2017

A reflection on Solzhenitsyn and what was thought to be the post Marxist world

The World We Think In and the Drama of Existence

by Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.

"This is why we are engaged in a drama of which we are not the source, and we sense the importance of responding rightly to the pull of Being. What is at stake far transcends any immanent good. It is nothing less than the loss of our participation in Being. The soul of man is, as Dostoevsky noted, a battlefield in which God and the devil are contending. Our decisions are of surpassing significance because they carry a dimension that endures beyond the universe itself. This is the drama of existence that is glimpsed by the Greek discovery of Being, but that reaches its full transparence only in Christ." -- David Walsh, The Third Millennium [1]

"Indeed, there is hardly a 'world' or an 'age' at all when we see that each individual exists within an eternal scale of measurement that utterly outweighs any finite calculation." -- David Walsh, The Modern Philosophical Revolution [2]


David Walsh's brilliant new book, The Modern Philosophical Revolution, is the third part of a trilogy of deeply reflective books on the very nature of philosophy and its too often unrecognized and delicate relation to revelation. The first two books were After Ideology: Recovering the Spiritual Foundations[3] and The Growth of the Liberal Soul. [4]

The first book was basically a reflection on Solzhenitsyn and what was thought to be the post Marxist world. It may not be as "post" as at first we thought it was. The book's thesis was simply that the modern intellectual fascination with ideology could only be seen for the aberration it was when someone actually suffered its lies. It was Solzhenitsyn's imprisonment under its total power than made him realize the emptiness of the ideology and its animosity to human life itself.

The second volume on liberalism sought to determine whether there was left any of the initial liberal concern with human dignity that was found in early modernism, itself reminiscent of the great medieval understanding of the scope of human nature. Though modern liberalism has fallen far away from its original concern with what is right everywhere, Walsh found that some glimmer of the tradition was left of a notion of right or rightness. This sense of what is right went back to a standard and not just to a will that could be otherwise. Even though modern liberalism has in most ways become a voluntarism without norms, still its rhetoric reflects a tradition of abiding standards of human good.

Walsh has long been a student of the German philosopher Eric Voegelin. In one sense, though he does not directly address himself to Voegelin in this book, Walsh's trilogy is a completion of and—in some ways—a corrective of Voegelin's project of "order and history." Voegelin's project itself often seemed to drift off into an anti-dogmatic universalism, even though Christian revelation had a key place in Voegelin's thought. With Leo Strauss, Voegelin was largely responsible for re-introducing genuine political philosophy back into academic discourse. Voegelin did think that Christians confused "doctrine" about God with the reality of God. The effort to make true statements of God, however, was never intended to identify God with the statements. But the human being does seek to state what he does know of God without identifying God with the statement.

Walsh's trilogy, I think, is much more obviously sympathetic to the orthodox position. At the same time, Walsh reminds us that we are ourselves within Being. None of us stands outside it in some ideological thought-world. The thinking being already participates in what is. Walsh reminds the reader constantly that he, the reader, is within being as it goes on. He is himself not outside of being, nor is his thought apart from the reality about which it thinks or knows. Knowing is itself a form of being. Walsh does not allow the thinker to assume that he is somehow superior to the being he finds himself already involved in because he already exists. The search for the "ground" of being is in every soul. It arises from within its own experience. It is not apart from what keeps being in being in the first place. If we already are, we do not need to look further for what is.


Walsh is a professor in the Department of Politics at the Catholic University of America. He is an Irishman by birth. Walsh has been a good friend over the years. He is a man whose work I have admired, but it is only with this last work on the "luminosity of existence" that I have fully realized what he has been up to. It proves that we do not always know our friends even when we know them. His project, if I dare use that word, is nothing short of reconfiguring the modern mind towards the existence from which it has, on first glance, so much departed. The mind itself exists in the being that exists. Its activity itself is an activity of being. To know is to be. Indeed in the case of human beings, it is to be more than the bare existence it begins with.

We have long been accustomed to divide intellectual history into classical, medieval, and modern periods, each with its own intelligibility. Modernity was conceived to be a cutting off of all Christian roots within philosophy. And modern philosophy separated itself from existing things. Being was replaced by a consciousness that had, so it thought, no external object. Man replaced God as the object and source of human happiness. This was the "modern project." Man was also the provider of intelligibility to himself and to the cosmos, now conceived to be empty of any internal or transcendent meaning.

Modern man was freed from the legacy of Greek metaphysics and Christian revelation, neither of which had placed man in the position of the cause of things. Walsh has taken another look at modern thought. He has concluded, after much careful and detailed study of the authors, that, in spite of its apparent breaking away from its intellectual past, what modern thought, at its best, was really about is a continued search for the meaning of our existence. This search appeared within the presence of, as he calls it in a happy phrase, the "luminosity of being." This light has its source as a reflection of the divine Being.

Modern thought, both in its socialist and liberal varieties, when translated into the political arena, logically lead to tyranny and totalitarianism. Shrewd modern political ideologues, politicians, and tyrants, most of whom were trained in this very philosophy, thought they were curing the well-known ills of mankind. The first step in this "curing" was to reject virtue and grace and replace them by the universal ideology either forced or elected into political existence. The arena of modern politics has been at bottom eschatological, not political. It was not concerned with man's temporal life but with the ultimate status of his being, a new way to achieve happiness.

Essentially, Walsh argues that this totalitarian turn, whether Marxist or liberal, was an enormous misreading of modern thought, though an understandable one. In one sense, as he traces the lines of argument from Kant on, Walsh considers that these thinkers themselves did not know where their thought led. But they all in the core of their arguments were searching for being, its meaning and reality. Walsh does not much deal with the pre-Kantians in this volume. By beginning with Kant, however, he starts with a philosopher/theologian who recognizes the seriousness of the loss of being and seeks a way to return to it. Kant's noumenon and phenomenon could not be kept separated. Reality had at least to be postulated if it could not be met in any other way.

As I have pointed out before on Ignatius Insight, one of the most important philosophy books of our time was also recently published by Cambridge University Press by a professor at the Catholic University of America. This book was Msgr. Robert Sokolowski's The Phenomenology of the Human Person. Sokolowski's book is simply the best book on what it is to philosophize about reality and its meaning.

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