Two Theories of the Renaissance – Berdyaev’s and Spengler’s

Rafael 01 School of Athens

Raphael (1483 – 1520): The School of Athens (Completed 1511)

In the Eighteenth Century, self-congratulatory pamphleteers and encyclopédistes, wanting to effectuate a break with tradition, extol their autonomy, and celebrate what they themselves named the Enlightenment, invented the tripartite historical construction of Antiquity – the Medieval Period – and Modernity.  Edward Gibbon and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel assume this sequence, as do Voltaire and Auguste Comte.  Modernity, the third term, functions for such thinkers as the designation of their own intellectual super-clarity, which they see as the goal and consummation of history.  Hegel, like his successor Francis Fukuyama, believed that the progress of the human spirit had indeed found its goal in his very cogitations and insights, after which further speculation would be otiose.  The Russian philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev (1874 – 1948), writing in his essay on “The End of the Renaissance” (1922), and in the aftermath both of the Great War and the October Revolution, rejects the construction.  Berdyaev offers a prediction: “The school delineations of history into the ancient, the medieval and the modern, are becoming quickly outmoded and will be discarded from the textbooks.”  Whereas the tripartite construction of history has proven itself quite stubborn despite Berdyaev’s conviction at the time, stubbornness nevertheless validates nothing.  Berdyaev gives his reasons.  Modern history, a term that Berdyaev puts in quotation marks, “is now ending,” he writes, “and there is beginning something unknowable, an historical epoch not yet named with a name.”  An epoch is a break in continuity.  If a new unprecedented phase had broken away from modernity such that “we depart from all the customary historical shores,” then that development would necessarily disqualify modernity from its claim of being the end and validation of all historical processes.  “The world is passing over,” Berdyaev claims, “into a state of flux.”

Berdyaev by 1922 already knew the work of his slightly younger contemporary Oswald Spengler (1880 – 1936), the second volume of whose Decline of the West appeared in that year.  Spengler, like Berdyaev, dismissed the tripartite construction of history as a petty conceit of limited minds.  “In fact,” Spengler writes in the Introduction to the first volume of the Decline (1919), “the lay-out of world history is an unproved and subjective notion that has been handed down from generation to generation… and stands badly in need of a little of that skepticism which from Galileo onward has regulated and deepened our inborn ideas of nature.”  Spengler characterizes the tripartite construction of history as “an incredibly jejune and meaningless scheme, which has, however, entirely dominated our historical thinking.”  Spengler, like Berdyaev, foresees the abandonment of the construction.  “The Cultures that are to come,” he writes, “will find it difficult to believe that the validity of such a scheme with its simple rectilinear progression and its meaningless proportions… was, in spite of all, never whole-heartedly attacked.”  Positing itself as the third-stage goal of a three-stage development, the cynically self-naming modernity “rigs the game.”  Spengler detects in the construction the traces of a displaced apocalypse; it is “Magian,” he writes, owing its essentially religious character to Persian and Jewish apocalypse and to the later offshoots of these, “the Gnostic systems.”  The construction designs to justify “one’s own religious, political or social convictions” by the method of “endowing the sacrosanct three-phase system with tendencies that will bring it exactly to one’s own standpoint.”

Neither Berdyaev nor Spengler denies the existence of a modern phase in the temporal continuity of the West.  On the contrary, both Berdyaev and Spengler acknowledge modernity as something like a total and commanding presence, inveigling itself dictatorially into every corner of life, but they never assent to modernity’s notion of itself.  Whereas modernity sees itself as Reason or Enlightenment, Berdyaev and Spengler see it as occlusion – as a radical diminution of consciousness far from liberating in any true sense, but rather as oppressive and destructive.  Berdyaev and Spengler view modernity in negative terms, as the cause of violent upheavals.  The two writers also agree on the origins of modernity, the earliest glowering of which they assign, perhaps surprisingly, to the Twelfth Century.  Both Berdyaev and Spengler, mention the work of the monk Joachim of Fiore as a foreshadowing of the modern tendency to close down history by calling it to a halt in the consummative present moment.  Both Berdyaev and Spengler see again in Joachim’s hermetic vision the initial glimmerings of what they commonly regard as the first distinctive phase of modernity – the so-called Renaissance of the Italian city-states beginning in the Fourteenth Century.  Naturally, neither Berdyaev nor Spengler interprets the Renaissance as modernity interprets it.  What then is the real character of the Renaissance? And what is the real relation of the Renaissance to the prevailing cultural dissolution of the modern centuries, according to the two thinkers?

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The Acid Eating at Tradition is Not Capitalism, But Cheap Information

Reactionaries often blame capitalism for eviscerating tradition and reducing everything to the lowest common denominator. But capitalism – i.e., free exchange – is not a recent phenomenon. It was not invented by the Franciscans, forsooth, but rather discovered by them as a subject amenable to moral, theological and philosophical analysis, and so to discourse, development and elaboration. Capitalism has been around since the beginning of human society. It is no more than a fancy word for exchange that develops surplus, after all; for mere trade, and commerce. For almost all of human history, capitalism supported and indeed mediated local tradition – or, at least, did not vitiate it.

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The Corollary of the Golden Rule

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So then likewise: as you do unto others, so would you have them do unto you.

Social Justice Warriors always project (hat tip: Vox Day). They insist that we foment violence and hatred, e.g., when it is of course they who mostly do so. They accuse us of being antiscientific, when of course they are the ones who reject the plain data and revolutionary discoveries of climatology and of genetics, which radically undermine their most precious most romantic notions of how humans really are and how life might be, if only it were not for our deplorable sort. They accuse us of being intolerant and close-minded, when of course they are the ones who are most intolerant and close-minded. They accuse us of irrational barbarity, when of course they are the ones who rage and foam inarticulately – who tear their clothes off in their madness (this is what the OT called “rending one’s garments”) – would be maenads, hapless, hopeless, who have no longer even the art of dismemberment, who know nothing of butchery, or even of sharpening, and a fortiori do not remember how to eat raw bloody male flesh.

There is no point here in rehearsing the myriad instances of such projections on their part. All of us on the Right are quite familiar with the phenomenon.

So here’s the thing that struck me the other day. Our adversaries project upon us their own emotional and intellectual defects and inadequacies. They propose radical policies in response to those defects.

The question then is this: given that they diagnose us as suffering from the defects that in fact bedevil them, may we not infer that the way they propose to treat us is the way that they think – at some deep, unconscious level of their psychic economies – they themselves ought to be treated?

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Our Present Crisis: Daddy Issues Writ Large

The Social Justice Warriors project their own Daddy issues onto politics, because that is safer than confronting Daddy. It is also safer than confronting their anger at Daddy. And it is easier and safer than doing the hard, scary psychotherapeutic work, and indeed spiritual work – the work of growing up, at last – that is needed if they are to understand their Daddy issues the way that adults understand things, and so lay them at last to rest.

So is it that the Left are stuck in childhood. They cannot reason, but can only emote. Their essential complaint is that of the four year old, disappointed at the exigencies of family life: “It’s not fair!”

We can tell it is Daddy issues that bedevil and urge the Left, because they tell us so: they blame all the defects of life upon old white Christian men, like their fathers, and hate such men.

I wonder if there was something about the men of the Greatest Generation that particularly inclined them to failure as fathers, and so fostered the rebellion and resentment of the Boomers – especially Boomer daughters. Was it WWII? How?

My earliest memories are of a time when the horrors of WWII were only 12 years past. Literally everything of my earliest childhood was colored by that war. Its memory loomed over every tiny mundane thing. Was it that Great War – really only a codicil to WWI, despite its much greater extent, so that the two were one gigantic catastrophe in the history of civilization – that queered the West?

I hope not. I so do.

Sovereigns Lose the Mandate of Heaven When They Promulgate Bad Laws

A sovereign who has lost the Mandate of Heaven is no longer legitimate, and is sooner or later doomed.

“Legitimate” stems from the Latin legitimus, which meant originally “fixed by law, in line with the law.” Sovereigns lose their legitimacy and so – with their domains – become weak when they promulgate law that is at variance with the Law of GNON – laws that are perverse, and that are therefore at war with Heaven, and so with Earth. Such laws are themselves illegitimate. As perverse, and so ill fitted to things as they truly are, they cannot work too well – indeed, prevent things from working as well as they might otherwise have done in the absence of their interference – and force all those who obey them to enact by that obedience an ontological falsehood; to behave falsely, to lie by their acts. Everything then starts to go wrong, as acts informed by bad law work out badly in practice.

As deformed by ill-formed law, and so less properly coordinated to reality, acts grow more and more corrupted by noise and error, and so tend further to corrupt their successors. Confidence in acts deteriorates, uncertainty increases; legal, compliance and due diligence costs rise; regulation by the sovereign cannot but increase; so commerce is ever harder, riskier, and more anxious. Counterparties then become more and more dubious. Social trust degrades. Things fall apart; the center no longer holds. The people then no longer credit the sovereign viscerally, or believe in him. Their guts tell them that the sovereign is lying to them about what is real, and about how they ought therefore to act. They grow cynical and bitter – not to mention poor, so restless and irritable.

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An Hypothesis about the Origins of the Modern Sacrificial Cult

Rhetocrates commented:

I had an unoriginal thought worked out this morning that I wanted to share. Mostly it’s already well-established, but it does go in a slightly novel direction in explaining the ‘holiness’ spiral of modern society.

Modern progressive liberalism (viz. WW2 and after) is a specific negative type of Christianity. That much is obvious. Where our once-for-all and yet repeated-daily Eucharist (Malachi) is the navel and foundation of our religion, the Holocaust is the navel and foundation of modern progressive liberalism (hereafter MPL to save keystrokes).

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Christian Soteriology Proper Forestalls Specious Holiness Spirals

We can’t work our way into Heaven, for finity is incapable of infinity. Indeed, we cannot achieve anything greater than ourselves, whatever; but only, rather, what is lesser than we. So, Heaven is given to us gratuitously. Our work consists only in accepting its invitation; in wu wei.

So then, there is a difference between interior holiness spirals and exterior holiness spirals. The former are done in secret, and in service of true spiritual ends, so as to accept the invitation of the Logos; whereas the latter are done publicly, and for purposes of social advantage. As essentially worldly, exterior holiness spirals partake the Arms Race to the Degenerate Bottom. They are motivated by the urge to be accepted and approved by the mob. So do they accept the conditions of the mob, and instantiate it.

The Pharisee is an agent of the mob.

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The Indispensable Political Primacy of Sacerdotal Hierarchy

Authoritative sacerdotal hierarchy controls for competitive holiness spirals which, unconstrained, are vicious positive feedback cycles that cannot but end in schism and war – in cultural disaster.

Holiness spirals are not first a search for social status, but rather for ontological safety. Nevertheless, once they have got going, they do result in an arms race to see who is holiest, thus of the highest moral and political rank, and thus least suitable as a scapegoat.

They are driven not by the nisus toward excellence, but by fear. Nor – apart from the minds of the spiritually ingenious – is the fear that drives them fundamentally supernatural – which is to say, in sane minds, sane and proper – but rather mundane, social, profane, and as such – not being ordered to the Truth himself, but to a Fallen social milieu – fundamentally disordered.

Holiness spirals are, first, a search for the proper constraints of true sanctity and righteousness upon conduct. When there is no established sacerdotal hierarchy that can authoritatively define the unquestionable constraints of holiness and righteousness, and then offer people 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 – people 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 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 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.

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Identity — The Future of a Paradox

Identity 16 Masked Antifas

Those Highly Individuated Champions of the Oppressed Bravely Hiding their Faces

When Publius Virgilius Maro, more familiarly Virgil, accepted the commission from Augustus, formerly Gaius Octavius, to create a national identity for the Roman people by matching the epic precocity of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey in Latin verse, the imperial presumption can only have been that such an identity did not yet exist or, at least, did not adequately exist, but required to be conjured into a useful state of being.  Virgil’s famous ambiguity about his manuscript of the Aeneid – his having composed a note during his fatal illness asking his friends to burn its pages on his death – has been ascribed by one faction of scholarship to his worry about metrical imperfections in some verses of the poem’s second half.  As only a few such technical flaws make themselves evident, however, some other explanation must be sought.  The German novelist Hermann Broch, in his Death of Virgil (1945), suggests a crisis of conscience, reflecting the poet’s qualm that in synthesizing a myth of Latin and Roman origins so as to settle legitimacy on the adoptive heir of Julius Caesar, and thus also on the newly constituted monarchy into which the Republic had been absorbed, he had falsified tradition and served propaganda, whereas his highest calling was to honor the muse by cultivating her art.  The crisis of identity appears as a theme in the Aeneid, the first six books of which narrate the exile and homelessness of the refugees from Troy, whose buildings the besieging Greeks have toppled and burned, whose men they have slaughtered, and whose women and children they have impressed into slavery.  Troy is no more and no more is the Trojan people.  There is only a desperate remnant in the urgency of its flight. Continue reading

A Concrete Exemplification of the Inexorable Internal Logic of the Fall

To my recent post on the internal logic of the Fall, in which I argued that under that logic the Fall was liberation from a cruel delusion that YHWH is anyone special, and so a turn toward hard good solid real truth, in which its advocates, both human and demonic, as basically nice guys, could not but do their best to convince us to follow them in their rebellion against YHWH and his Father El Elyon, our loyal leftist atheist commenter and friend a.morphous had this to say, God bless and keep and save the poor man:

Maybe we differ [about the Fall] because you think it would be better for it not to have happened. I disagree that this is desirable, but I don’t really have an argument, it’s more a matter of esthetics. Sinless and perfect humans would not be very interesting, and would be less than fully human.

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