The Orthosphere yesterday reached 1,000 posts since we began writing here in early 2012. Meaningless in itself, this passage nevertheless marks a milestone. It is fitting then to reflect on how well we have met our original purpose, of providing a traditional, orthodox Christian perspective on the maelstrom ever in progress here on Earth.
From the beginning, the Orthosphere has seen itself as orthogonal to the Left ↔ Right axis of modern politics. Traditional thinkers, such as we, usually have. The very notions of Left and Right coincident with the Enlightenment presuppose a breakdown of traditional, hierarchically ordered politics, in which the ranks of human social organs took up their proper places in a Great Chain of Being that stretched from the lowliest of entities on up through Animalia, the Planets, and the Choirs of Angels to the central height of the Most high, from whom as Logos they took all their own logics, and derived their essences.
From the steeple of that orthogonal perspective, the back and forth of modern mundane politics looks fundamentally misguided – which is to say, absurd, ergo evil. That’s what makes it a maelstrom: a vortex that sucks man ever downward, debasing and ruining him. To partake of its discourse even a bit is implicitly to accept its terms as both veridical and apt, and so to be soiled. So I am happy to realize that we have resisted engagement with politics, mostly ignoring politicians in favor of the ideas and policies they bruit about, and the submarine cultural, social and spiritual currents of which they are the scum and, alas, index.
So, while we have not talked much about this or that politician or contest, we have talked a lot about what they mean or indicate. Almost all of what modern politics means and indicates about the current state of man is both dire and fell. Our leaders are not even trying to be truly good. They are at most trying to appear to be trying to be good, even as – wink, wink, nod, nod, say no more – they let us know that it is all for show. Modern politics is an exercise in competing mendacities, a studied and methodical refusal to notice what is real, or therefore to mention it. This begins and ends with a refusal to recognize the cosmic and social Kingship of Christ, but since there is no way to fail to notice who is Most Real except by failing to notice all his creaturely handiworks qua his, it involves a determined and comprehensive refusal to see any lesser thing as it truly is, or properly ought to be.
Wickedness in high places and low is not of course uniquely modern. There have always been impious men, who gave only lip service to the Good. What is however new with this our latter day apotheosis of modernism is its insistence that impiety is piety. The leaders of the modern cult insist now that morality is immoral. Not only are they not trying to be good, they argue that trying to be good is in fact evil; that what had always been taken to be good was in fact horribly wicked.
Such impudence cannot have succeeded as it has except under conditions of general, pervasive, and profound moral confusion. But you can’t get that kind of moral confusion unless men cannot see any longer how to reason from metaphysical first principles. Thought per se is essentially rational, so that even a mean intelligence can rightly work its dogged way out from a properly understood First Thing to a pretty good understanding of any others – and, suffering the discomforts that attend moral and intellectual failure, find itself guided toward Truth by its own misadventures in life, and furthermore wanting to get there. So you can’t obtain the pervasive moral confusion of the present day unless you have somehow first obscured First Things, and then shielded men from the consequences of their metaphysical and moral errors.
In short: moral confusion is a sequela and sort of metaphysical confusion. Modernism decapitates reality; and that ruins life. More than anything, then, moderns need metaphysical correction. They need first to be able to see that it is intellectually respectable to treat of First Things as if they really were First, so as then to be able to move on and grapple with the truths of revealed religion as if they might possibly be true, ergo binding.
I am happy then to look back and see that we have talked much about metaphysics, Christian apologetics, and theology.
There is no point however worrying about the meaning and righteousness of proper social order, or its many modern depravations, if no one remembers that there is any other, better way to live. The habitual historical attitude of modern thinkers since the Enlightenment has been to deprecate all that came before them – including all their modernist predecessors and teachers – as hopelessly outmoded, primitive, irrational, indeed wicked. The result has been a profound blindness to the virtues of pre-modern cultures. Moderns don’t know much about history; they do however believe a great deal of balderdash about history. Almost everything they have been taught about history is false, because – not unnaturally – it has been taught them (in good faith!) from the modern rationalist and positivist perspective of the Enlightenment. So “medieval” is to them a term of scorn and derision. Knowing nothing aright about the High Medieval Synthesis, they think it low, chaotic, purblind, stupid.
Until we learn that there is a way to be good, right and happy that is not also modern, we will stay moderns, and stuck with all the modern discontents, as if they were simply given along with life itself. So one of the main tasks that lies before us is a rediscovery of the forms of traditional societies, and of their meanings, operations, and significances. I am therefore pleased to see that one of our preoccupations at the Orthosphere has been with history and its proper interpretation. We have worked toward a sympathetic understanding of pre-modern social life.
Finally, and perhaps most fundamentally, the essential and completely enervating defect of modernity is the curious horrible flattening, emptying, and deadening of life that must eventually follow upon a loss of faith in the Most High. If there is no God, then nor is there anywhere any spirit, and the whole hierarchy of meanings perennially delivered to man by the Great Chain of Being collapses to nothing; so moderns are a terrifically dispirited bunch. This accounts for their desperation; for their frantic search for what is authentic and real. It is that search for an irreducible basic Fact, in virtue of which all other facts can take their meanings – can have and so take their proper places (so that life is worth living after all) – that motivates all the disparate obsessions and panics, fads and fans of the present day. Moderns temporarily dispel their basic gloom by absorption in this or that enthusiasm – motorbikes, or sadomasochism, or cigars, or tattoos, or politics, or what have you. But none of these evanescences can rescue them from their fundamental despair. Their collections of stuff or of experiences or of ideas might indeed be interesting, cool, or beautiful, each in their way, but cannot suffice to redeem the whole lot of all collections, reality as such, throughout. And nothing less than such a cosmic redemption can quite do. If all is lost in the end, then whatever our passing excitements, all is lost right now.
If we are to recover our senses as a species, we must learn again that all the world is enchanted, and how. We must see again how each trivial quotidian act has meaning and consequence in a cosmic adventure. And to see that sort of connection, we must recover an apprehension that the cosmos is indeed engaged in an adventure, of which all even of the humblest acts of each of our lives is an episode, fraught with peril, pregnant with beauty, and an occasion either of great virtue and courage and fortitude, or of base cowardice, failure, wickedness. We must see that our lives matter. Modernism insists that nothing does.
The result has been aesthetic devastation. When nothing matters, nothing can be, or therefore ought to be, really good, or true, or beautiful. It can, rather, merely stimulate, excite, provoke. And the surest way to do that is to injure. Modern art, music, and architecture is simply and aggressively ugly. It kills us all every day with a million tiny cuts.
So have we at the Orthosphere tried to climb back up into the enchanted world that all traditional peoples inhabited before the Enlightenment. Not that we would reject what we learned from that particular catastrophic little episode of intellectual hubris, or somehow per impossibile undo it, but rather that we would take and learn from it, and use what it has delivered to us (by no means all bad) to transcend it. You can’t walk out of a swamp except by walking upon it.
There is much of course to be done under all four of these topics: the orthogonal critique of modern politics, the recollection of an adequate metaphysics and thus of the True Religion, the recovery of historical perspective, and the reenchantment of life, of its arts and technics. It is difficult for moderns such as we to imagine our way out of our predicaments to a vision of a whole and hale and organic and, God send, holy social order that is anything more than a thinly veiled version of our native modernism. But I hope, and sometimes think, that we have at least made a start.
The overall aim is at some quite new High Synthesis, as noble we may hope as our last, in which all that has yet happened to man, and all that he has done, is again reintegrated. The journey ahead is immense, its character and end quite uncertain and hard to discern. Fortunately, the going is good, and interesting, and fun. We’ve essayed a thousand steps; God grant us heart, and head, and legs to finish our portion and part.