The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
11.4 (Fall 2011)
the polis vs. progress
courtesy of artrenewal.org
Humanism and Rooted Diversity: Two Major Foci of Resistance to Late Modernity
The theme of this short article is “Humanism and Rooted Diversity.” This ideal of genuine humanism, speaking from a perspective of world history, must be viewed as mainly centered in Western civilization (although certain analogues may be seen, for example, in the Confucian ethic of “the gentleman-scholar”).
At the same time, this article is devoted to looking at the theme of Western decline and decadence. “Humanism and rooted diversity” is a possible counter-ethic to those tendencies which now appear to be overwhelming the West. Simultaneously, these now-regnant tendencies undermine and attenuate many of the more positive aspects of traditional societies outside the West, while intensifying and exacerbating many of their more negative characteristics (such as the extremizing of their religious, ethnic, and tribal passions).
One should begin by saying that today, “humanism” or “secular humanism” is sometimes pejoratively contrasted with “theism.” The author’s sense of humanism does not imply radical atheism, anticlericalism, or irreligion. However, part of the sense of the term’s meaning, which calls for a gentle scepticism about the irrefutable truth-claims of conflicting religions and denominations is retained. Certainly, the humanist scholar could never bring himself or herself to support the raging tide of sectarianism that led, for example, to the Thirty Years’ War in Europe. At the same time, the humanist scholar recognizes that current-day late modernity in the West is probably at the furthest possible remove (keeping to the world-historical perspective, once again) from the dangers of Christian sectarianism. The humanist scholar of Christian background finds no trouble in personally participating in (or at least giving silent tolerance to) public rites and rituals of Christian religious obeisance, regardless of his or her faith or lack of it. A humanist scholar of non-Christian background can offer silent tolerance of such rituals, as they are manifestly part of the history and tradition of a country such as America, and indeed of all Western and European countries. At the same time, the fanatically rigorous “separation of Church and State” which has been imposed on America by judicial fiat is distasteful to the true humanist. Trying to expunge Christianity from the public square in America is as fundamentally unnatural as burning heretics at the stake under the Inquisition. Christianity is the professed religion of an overwhelming majority of Americans, and to try to carry on statecraft, politics, and the education of the young as if it simply did not exist — and had never existed — is, at the very least, a chimerical exercise. To put it in more pointed terms, it amounts to the programmatic devalorization and annihilation of an enormous portion of European, Western and American tradition, history, politics, art, architecture, and culture. The fanatical assault on Christian religion in America today is actually an attack on truly moderate, modus vivendi, “live-and-let-live” politics.
“The humanities” and “the liberal arts” are often seen as co-extensive. It is interesting to look at the etymological roots of the second term. The “liberal” in the term “liberal arts” is contrasted with the term “servile”. “Liberal” arts are those studies befitting (truly) free men and women, and which make them fundamentally capable of exercising freedom responsibly, as patriotic citizens (and possibly, legislators) of the res publica. They fit the person to exercise Aristotle’s definition of equality: i.e., “treating one’s equals equally, and one’s unequals unequally.” The term “liberal” in “liberal arts” clearly implies the teaching and inculcation of character, the necessity for meaningful rank-orderings, and the cultivation of patriotism, civic virtue, and good citizenship.
Although study of the liberal arts at a basic level can potentially be carried out by very many human beings, there arise numerous obstacles — of various types — to carrying such a project to advanced levels of study. First of all, many human beings are far better fitted by temperament or personality to so-called servile or mechanical studies (which in current-day late modernity, include many of the so-called prestige professions). Secondly, many persons become “slaves” of various character defects and predispositions, which means they lack the commitment and outlook suited to intense study. Finally, there is simply the issue of lack of native intelligence. The response of the theorist of the res publica to differences in native attributes is simply this: you can all become good, patriotic citizens, and persons approaching decency and virtue, through a wide variety of paths, few of which necessarily have anything to do with advanced studies at the university level.
It could be argued that European and European-descended societies are today under challenge as never before in their history. There are the crises of economism, scientism, and technology and globalization — i.e., the flooding of the world by the scientific-technological outlook and its attendant artifacts which corrodes traditional societies, whether in the West or non-West. There is the crisis of morality, of the effloresence of an outlook of polymorphous perversity, particularly in the urban centers of the West. This is joined to a manifest unwillingness to punish real criminals for real crimes. Finally, there is the crisis of culture — of the virtual annihilation of the cultures of Western national majorities — and the triumph of minoritarian interests.
At the same time, the soft-totalitarianism or crypto-totalitarianism of so many sectors of those European societies precludes the raising of any kind of defence against the future which appears to be rapidly approaching. The continuation of cultural, intellectual, and academic endeavor in European countries today, insofar as it tries to be free of prevalent strictures, is indeed under severe threat. Without some reflective resistance to prevalent forces, any possible popular counter-tendencies are likely simply to atrophy into nothingness. The life of the mind and spirit in these societies will tend to become a road without an exit, a bleak, barren wasteland, if current trends continue unopposed.
Indeed, the central problem of the West could be seen as how to preserve a truly humanitarian and compassionate outlook, maintaining a proper level of concern for all human beings, without engendering the destruction of the cultures of European national majorities and the consequent triumph of minoritarian outlooks and power-centers.
It may be argued that the profound “mega-crisis” or “emergency-situation” of late modernity indeed imposes on serious social and political thought the necessity of embracing a defined polarization which, in earlier times, might have looked or seemed superfluous and unnecessary, self-consciously axiological, or even somewhat overwrought. And it has been pointed out that, no matter how chaotic or near-dystopic the situation already appears, the problems of late modernity may well be just beginning.
One may indeed question whether any spiritual and intellectual resources can actually be summoned up and marshaled in defence of European societies today. A few decades hence, if some kind of “major shake-up” does not occur — if current trends and directions continue unopposed — one may well expect cultural, intellectual and academic life in the West to have become unbearably stifling (except among a handful of powerless dissidents), consisting of little more than continuous repetition of catchwords and emotive sloganeering (rather similar in some ways to what George Orwell had suggested would be the nature of “Newspeak” in his classic dystopia, Nineteen Eighty-Four). As far as the social and economic situation, one can probably expect a devolution to “Brazilification” — extreme contrasts of wealth and poverty; extreme environmental degradation; endemic violence and corruption; the virtual disappearance of the white middle and working classes as well as of heartland America (even as a super-rich, hyper-decadent, ultra-liberal “white tip” remains in place). Perhaps the real hope of Europeans may eventually come to reside in East-Central Europe and Russia, that great enigma.
Whatever the future becomes, the persistence of true humanism and true humanistic study will always be a potentially redemptory focus for Western civilization. The unreflective instincts of the European majority populations and the remnants of Christian religious orthodoxy will probably never be enough to mount a sustained counter-offensive against the various intellectual theories and concepts that threaten the West.
Science in itself cannot tell us very much about how to live. The history of the so-called social sciences has perennially been to produce a scientific gloss for what were the opinions of the given social scientist about better and worse ways for human beings to live.
True philosophy does not shirk from saying precisely that it is examining better and worse ways to live, nor from exploring openly the complex relations between the commitment to universal truth and particularity. In our post-Rousseauian, post-Herderian, post-Nietzschean, post-Heideggerean age, the idea of “rooted diversity” appears as the likeliest solution to the tangled problem of the universal vs. the particular, and of Enlightenment vs. Romanticism. Rooted diversity understands that given nations and religions must be cherished, that it is entirely normal to love our own more than another, and that such feelings of identification with nation and religion cannot be entirely formal and cool.
The humanist thinker stands as both a strong defender of his or her nation or religion and a warder against intemperate fanaticisms and extremisms on the part of his or her nation or religion. To paraphrase the Canadian philosopher George Parkin Grant, it is ONLY “by loving our own” that we can come to the understanding of any more universal good. A politics based on unremitting self-loathing by Western, Christian, heterosexual males does not lead to any honest relationship with “the Other.” It merely inverts the dominant and subordinate roles instead of moving to a more human dialectic, relationship, and interplay.
The politics of humanism is invariably that of the patria and res publica, a highly flexible concept which can accommodate, for example, the monarchical patriotism of Britain, the republican nationalism of Poland (heavily admixed with Roman Catholicism), or the republicanism of the United States based on American citizenship and some elements of Christianity.
Despite its recognition of the importance of Christian traditions in the European countries, humanism maintains a healthy scepticism towards religious matters, and sees itself on guard against possible sectarianisms and intellectual simplifications of the respective Christian denominations. Humanistic scholars may see themselves as guarding against sectarianism where it departs from a healthy sense of national self-identity — whether by viciously attacking other denominations or religions, or by weakening the nation by too eagerly adopting the outlooks of other denominations or religions.
The proper nourishing of sizeable, effective, nationally minded, humanistic elites to represent the majority populations of the European and European-descended nations is probably the most important civilizational goal the West could set for itself. Scientific, technological, and economic successes will matter for very little if these majority groups lack any sort of serious intellectual defenders. The reluctance of the business classes to bring support to these kinds of humanistic endeavor is the general norm today. There appears to be a real confounding of ends in current-day society, when vast amounts of money are found for the most trivial or, sometimes, rather socially harmful things, while genuine humanistic endeavor is being starved into oblivion for lack of resources.
One can only wonder where the future defenders of the West will come from, considering their highly attenuated existence today. It is a grim, unhappy picture, and alongside the ecological and demographic (overpopulation) crises of the planet which are acknowledged by most commentators, one can also see political, moral, social, and cultural crises. If these crises are ever to be surmounted, it will be in no small part because of the very important contribution of true humanism, humanistic scholars, and the paradigm of humanism and rooted diversity.
Mark Wegierski, a regular contributor to this quarterly, especially on subjects involving politics and technology, is a freelance journalist based in Toronto.