An essay by Nathan Pinkowski at First Things analyzes the resurgence in France of traditionalist Reaction, personified by Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. It gives more, and more explicit, evidence that the formerly exhaustive hegemony over the categories of latter day political discourse of the spectrum from Left liberal to Right liberal has begun to tilt. The appearance of the essay in First Things – a bastion of Right liberalism – would seem to indicate that the classical liberalism of the religious Right by whom and to whom First Things is written has begun to undergo – not to suffer, so much as to enjoy – the radical shift of orientation that arrives with the realization that there is an altogether different axis of political categories, that is orthogonal to the spectrum from communism on the left to libertarianism on the right, prior thereto, and superior.
Ockham comes in for a lot of criticism around these parts, the poor honest earnest man. And not unrightly, perhaps, given his (largely innocent and inadvertent) role in the incipience of the prevalent modern nominalism that has gutted the West (he was not really much of a nominalist, as we think of nominalism these days). But in most things he was on target (this is true of all heretics, scoundrels, sinners, and fools (or else they’d die before they could do much damage, understood by their contemporaries as mere silly kooks)). Most of all, he was right in respect to his famous Razor, which more than any of his other immense contributions to human thought will surely warrant his everlasting renown – his status, shared with only five or six other philosophers, as a household name (at least among those who consider themselves somewhat educated). Even men who know nothing else whatever of epistemology or philosophy of science have some notion of Ockham’s Razor. His Principle of Parsimony is perhaps the most important operational, practical principle of thought (the Principle of Sufficient Reason, e.g., is by contrast ontological; or again e.g., the Principle of Noncontradiction is logical; and so forth). It is the whole basis of American Pragmatism, which is to say, of the philosophy of science universally presupposed in the practice of professional scientists. It is followed in its pragmatic importance – opinions differ about their proper order – by the Principle of Elegance (the more beautiful theory is more likely to be true) and the Principle of Adequacy (theories must adequate to the entirety of their proper domain). I would add also the Principle of Serendipity – as I here now decide to name it, not knowing how other thinkers might have done so: the principle, i.e., that a true theory is likely to explain more things, and they unsuspected things, than we had looked for it to explain – things that, i.e., are outside its (expected) proper domain (huge swathes of mathematics, e.g., turn out to exemplify the Principle of Serendipity).
Ockham, then, God Bless him: All else equal, that theory is best which is simplest – which postulates the fewest types of concrete entities.
So then: what about the Platonic Forms? Ockham’s Razor – a native, chthonic tendency in my thinking from infancy – bugged me about them from the first moment I read of them. What the heck are they? Are they a different sort of thing than the things of this world? What’s the Platonic Realm, for Heaven’s sake? Where is it? How does it interact with our own? If it does interact with our own, then isn’t it really integral with our own? If so, then what sets the Forms apart from their contingent instantiations here below? What does eternity have to do with creaturity?
Why it may be good for the Church to be brittle
Bruce Charlton comments on the “brittleness” of the Catholic Church.
I feel that with the RCC it is all or nothing – to be viable it needs to be authoritarian, heavy-handed, and anti-individual; and any attempt to reform the undesirable aspects will just smash it.
I agree, although I used the word “fragility” instead.
I do think we should be careful in deciding what is and is not “desirable”. Vulnerability is per se bad, of course. Then again, falsifiability is a virtue in a belief system; we don’t want our theories to be “flexible”. That the Catholic Church can hypothetically lose or sabotage its credibility is a testament to its current clarity.
A Catholic apologist could say that Christ wants the Church to have one particular teaching and to operate in one particular way and that He arranged things so that the Church will fall apart if either is modified. An institution with more social capital, more sociological attractiveness, could presumably turn that capital to other purposes and still function. I’ve said before that it is a credit to Christianity that it dies so quickly when it is liberalized. That the universities have–at least on the surface–prospered so well under political correctness says something uncomplimentary about academia’s real driving force, or that of we its denizens.
Lastly, we could entertain the possibility that the truth is not what we humans would prefer it to be, that popular belief systems have been “optimized” to human wishes to such a point that the truth, whose attractiveness is constrained in ways falsehoods’ are not, is quite unpalatable to modern men given the alternatives, and can only be imposed as dogma during our impressionable years. Not that an authoritarian religion is particularly likely to be true, but rather that only an authoritarian religion might be true. After all, Catholicism is predestination without assurance of salvation, moral rigor without the compensating pleasures of self-righteousness, being “deep in history” but always on the losing side, and who wants that?
Back in 2010, I commented to a post at VFR:
Nominalism is satanic, I’m telling you. It’s a device to destroy man. Convicted nominalism has to end in suicide, whether cultural or personal. If there are no transcendent values, but rather only and merely our own personal, private preferences, then our personal private preferences are false to facts. This is a little tricky to see, until we draw the analogy to the schizophrenic. The schizophrenic’s impression that there are black helicopters pursuing him are peculiar to him. The black helicopters are not really there. So we understand that his impressions are illusions. But nominalism says that the values we apprehend in things and people and activities, like the black helicopters, are not objectively real. And this means that our feelings of value are—just like the schizophrenic’s black helicopters — hallucinations. They are false. Nominalism says that there is in reality no value out there to be had.
But to say that there is no value really to be found in the world is nihilism. And the consistent nihilist, who has the courage of his convictions, cannot believe that his own life, or anyone else’s life, or the life of his nation, are worth a hill of beans. So he cannot find any way to defend them—none at all. And this will result in death, one way or another, even if only through the sheer lassitude of utter ennui.
I thought at the time I sent that comment to Lawrence, God rest his soul, that in characterizing a school of epistemology as satanic I was perhaps engaging in a bit of rhetorical hyperbole. Firing for effect, as it were.
But then, the other night, I was reading An Exorcist Explains the Demonic: the Antics of Satan and His Army of Fallen Angels, by Father Gabriele Amorth, SSP. Father Amorth was for many years the exorcist of the Diocese of Rome. I read the following passage from his explanation of Satanism (beginning on page 30):
One of the oddities I have noticed in my time as a dour dire Orthospherean is that we seem to get quite a few followers who are into self-actualization, somehow or other.
It’s odd. Self-actualization is so very *modern,* after all, and we are … not. It is, we might then say, somewhat heterospherean.
I argued in a recent post that, because of its militant, totalitarian presumptions, Islam must sooner or later be destroyed if any other cult – including the cult of the Living God, YHWH our Lord Jesus – is to survive. Because God in Jesus assured us (Matthew 16:18) that his cult simply *cannot* be destroyed (which would only make sense, it being the cult of the Omnipotent One), we may be sure that, sooner or later, Islam certainly *will* be destroyed, or else by some mass apostasy of Muslims simply wither and vanish, as insane cults are wont eventually to do.
Insanity, after all, is autophagic. Like all error, it works its own destruction.
The post garnered more page views than any other we had published since our first few days of existence. Thanks, Western Rifle Shooters!
It also engendered a lively discussion.
A nation is specified by a set of genetic similarities. A culture is specified by a set of practical, technical and moral similarities; of customary rules for living. The two coevolve, and are inextricably linked. They intersect at the cult of the nation. It is the cult that is first. Nation and culture depend upon cult.
No cult, no nation, howsoever similar the genes; for then, no matter how similar the men may be corporeally, they go each ideologically their own idiosyncratic way, unconstrained by each other.
Which never happens.
Likewise, no common cult, then no culture, howsoever similar the preponderant memes. When no memes are understood as holy, and so sacrosanct, no meme whatever may be evaluated by any reliable standard. Then anything goes, whatever. In that unconstrained libertinism is the death of true society.
One reason you pick out and blame a scapegoat for the sins of the whole people is so that you can be sure you yourself are not among the number of the evil ones who pollute the City, and thus yourself in no danger of ostracism or banishment. This you can do without ever troubling with the beam in your own eye, provided you go along with the mob’s condemnation of the chosen scapegoat. It’s an easy “fix” for your own anxiety about your wickedness.
But it’s not a true fix; it doesn’t remove your inward knowledge of your own impurity, or your awareness that your impurity might be soon found out, so that you were then yourself ostracized. It doesn’t permanently salve your anxiety. All it does is ensure that you are not going to be singled out for punishment this time. It is a temporary reprieve, and no more: so that you remain as it were a condemned man, whose sentence of death has been deferred for one more day.
Holiness spirals are not first a search for status, although once they have got going, they do result in an arms race to see who is holiest among the Pharisees, thus of the highest moral and political rank, and thus least suitable as a scapegoat.
They are, first, a search for the proper constraints of true holiness upon conduct. Men are Fallen, and live in a Fallen, corrupt world; and they know it. They want to get holy; they want desperately to get ritually pure. Until they can honestly feel that they have done so, they will feel terrific anxiety, and thrash about in their predicaments like a bear in a trap.
Trapped bears are very dangerous.
When there is no established sacerdotal hierarchy that can authoritatively define the unquestionable constraints of holiness, and then offer men a way to get back within those constraints when they have strayed beyond their pale – that can give them a way to know that they have reached safe harbor – then men are going to push and push toward holiness however they can discern it according to their own best lights, without let or correction, and without possibility of any satisfactory completion of the search (because a forecondition of success for any search is a clear definition of success – such as can be authoritatively furnished to the searcher only by an incontrovertible authority). Anyone who disagrees with the notions of those who find that as a result of their personal quest for holiness they themselves are of the holiest sort then becomes a legitimate scapegoat in their eyes, and so a social enemy. There is then mutual repudiation and scapegoating of adversarial sectarians; mutual excommunication; schism; and, with the ensuing conflict of irreconcilable cults, civil war either hot or cold.
When we forget, and begin to think that this world is all that there is, it is easy to wax now and then discouraged – which is, to wane in spirit, in vim and vigor, and so to disappoint our mundane debts, that could have been satisfied by steadfast courageous virtue, of the worldly, merely manly sort, had we but kept our guts. Forgetting that there is more than the current petty defeats we all daily suffer at the hands of our deluded purblind incompetent adversaries, so numerous and so dull and so stupid to life as it plainly is and to things as they obviously are, it is all too easy to say, “forget it, never mind, sorry, going away now.”
And, “to Hell with you.” And, then … to go away. To leave the fight. To simply down arms and walk away.
Fortunately, thanks be to God, there is Christmas.