Rémi Brague’s Kingdom of Man: Genesis and Failure of the Modern Project (2018) offers a lineage of, and a judgment on, “progress,” which, central to modernity, conceives itself as, precisely, a project. This word project figures importantly in Brague’s exposition. Brague (born 1947) distinguishes on the one hand between a task, a term or family of terms that he traces back to antiquity, and, on the other, a project, a term or family of terms that emerges with the so-called Enlightenment, beginning in the Seventeenth Century. (Brague translates from Greek, Latin, and various medieval and modern languages into French, and his translator, Paul Seaton, from Brague’s French into English, but readers may take for granted a thoroughness of lexical rigor across languages.) Having drawn Adam from the soil and Eve from Adam’s rib, God tasks the newly mated couple, and through them the whole of humanity, with dominion over nature, or stewardship, as some versions put it. Presumably although perhaps awkwardly one might refuse a task. A degree of voluntarism attaches itself to the concept. At the same time, the subject of the task undertakes it out of a sense of reciprocity or mutuality and in the trust that fulfilling the commission will sustain an ongoing relationship that benefits both parties – the tasker and the taskee – in the long run. A task is in the order of things. A project, by contrast, arises from a sense of urgency or panic. The discovery of a lack provokes a sudden resolution that the lack be made good as swiftly as possible. A project addresses a perceived deficiency by invoking a mandate for immediate action. Brague calls attention to the etymological basis of the word: Pro- (“forward”) and jacere (“to throw”), in Latin. Something ballistic and aggressive adheres to a project, which resembles a military campaign. Brague indeed invokes Napoleon’s campaigns, ultimately vain but hugely destructive, as instances of the generic project.
There are two options now before me; before America; before the West; before Christendom, as we all approach what seems to be a cultural crisis hundreds of years in the making: either to panic, or to commend our spirits to God, so renewing our pledge of fealty to him our Captain, and then to keep fighting, and before all else to keep praying.
There must be a demonic aspect to the present crisis. Our adversaries on all sides are too various, distributed and yet spookily coordinated for any merely human agency to have organized them so well. Another clue to their demonic inspiration: they are rather dense, as befits an army dedicated to confusion and disorder. They make stupid, obvious mistakes, such as threatening election officials – a federal offense – and then posting recordings of those threats online.
Synchronistically, I just finished the book Daimonic Reality: a Field Guide to the Otherworld, by Patrick Harpur. I have been reading about demons and angels a lot over the last five years or so. I had not wondered why, until yesterday morning. The topic is interesting, but so are many others. Why had I got on to it? Perhaps, I then thought for the first time, out of the blue: perhaps, it has something to do with our present crisis. Perhaps I have been prepared. Or we: for, I am not special. Lots of people in recent years have begun to take angels and demons rather more seriously than had been the case since 1900 or so.
W. K. C. Guthrie (1906 – 1981), Orpheus and Greek Religion (1952): Guthrie, a Cambridge classicist, regards Orphism – taking its name from the legendary prophet-singer Orpheus – as the first religion to emphasize cosmogony and eschatology. For Guthrie, Orphism counts also as the first thematically moral religion. Guthrie argues that Hesiod adhered to the Orphic faith and he cites details of the Theogony to prove his case. Even more boldly Guthrie presents the thesis that cosmology, as distinct from cosmogony, derives from Orphic lore; he sees Plato’s Timaeus, for example, as an item in the genre of Orphic discourse. Indeed, Guthrie sees Plato as an Orphist. In Plato’s philosophy, after all, the seeker of wisdom wanders like an orphan in this punishing world. By dint of intellectual and moral askesis the wanderer might fulfill his obscure desire to go home. One of the etymologies would have it that the name Orpheus stems from orphanos, which English borrows from Greek via Latin, a derivation fitting itself rather closely with Guthrie’s thesis. Some stories tell that Orpheus hailed from Thrace, but Guthrie affirms his Hellenism. The Thracian connection seems to Guthrie a metaphor. Orphism differed so much from the reigning theologies of the archaic period that it struck people as having a distant provenance – in some accounts, a Hyperborean one. Orphism stands in tension with the Dionysus cult; and in the myth preserved by Ovid in his Metamorphoses, the Maenads murder Orpheus in a classic sparagmos. In the Imperial centuries, however, Orpheus and Dionysus seem to have merged, with the former’s irenic quality overwhelming the whole. Orpheus’ expertise on the lyre affiliates him with Apollo. Through that affiliation, Orpheus maintains his status as the first lyric poet and the first musician.
The covid pandemic is mostly a Boomer thing. The Chinese Flu kills a tiny percentage of people younger than the Boomers. Like every other medical difficulty, it kills rather more of their parents than it does of Boomers. Only the Boomers and their parents then are much at risk from the disease. Their parents are no longer much able to sway either public discourse or public policy. The Boomers are in charge. So the panic about covid, and the policies implemented in respect thereto, are mostly the result of Boomers worried about themselves. They have shown themselves – in the person of such governors as Cuomo – totally willing to throw the generation of their parents under the bus. Because, hey, those guys were going to die soon anyway. They have also shown themselves utterly indifferent to the manifold catastrophe their disastrous policy responses to the disease have inflicted upon all younger generations.
As with every other thing they have touched, the Boomers have ruined public health by ruining civil society.
Genric Ippolitovich Semiradsky (1843 – 1902): Julian the Apostate (1889)
Part I of “Ibsen’s Unknown Masterpiece” explores the relevance of Caesar and Galilean (also called Emperor and Galilean – completed in 1873) to the critique of modernity. The fact that Ibsen belongs to the modern dispensation complicates the interpretation, but, like his contemporary Friedrich Nietzsche, Ibsen, despite his modernity, could also conduct a critique of the age that he inhabited. Ibsen is something of an anti-modern modern, a not infrequent phenomenon. Ibsen’s Julian, the noteworthy Apostate Emperor of the late Fourth Century, behaves like a modern ideologue: He pursues his conviction fanatically, so much so, that he constructs around himself an impermeable barrier to exclude the actual consequences of his action. Julian, in both Ibsen’s drama and the historical account, from which Ibsen drew, was a religio-political idealist who became increasingly convinced that he could transform the world so that it corresponded to his utopian vision. Julian’s reaction against Christianity had mainly to do with the murderous corruption of his cousin, Constantius II. The homicidal Cesar became identified in Julian’s mind with the God of Peace whom the Emperor hypocritically worshipped, but Ibsen sees something more profound than that. Julian’s rebellion is a rebellion against reality. He dislikes the constitution of the world as though it were his enemy, and deludes himself into thinking that he can annul it by ritual conjuration. He deludes himself again into thinking that he is the superman promised by the hucksters of mysticism. Like the play itself, “Ibsen’s Unknown Masterpiece” falls into two parts: Part I expounds the notions listed above; Part II, Julian’s descent into a type of Gnostic madness that, in its manifestation as imperial policy, wreaks havoc on early Byzantine society.
Edward Armitage (1817 – 1896): Julian the Apostate Presiding at the Conference of Sectarians (1879)
The same God [who] gave the throne to Constantine the Christian [gave it also] to Julian the Apostate. Julian had exceptional endowments, perverted by sacrilegious and abominable superstition working through a love of domination… Confident of… victory, he burnt his ships carrying essential food supplies. Then, pressing on feverishly with his inordinate designs he paid the just price for his rashness when he was slain, leaving his army destitute, in enemy territory. (Augustine, City of God, V.21)[i]
I work every day at Julianus Apostata, and hope to have the whole book finished by the end of the present year… It is part of my own spiritual life which I am putting into this book; what I depict, I have, under different conditions, gone through myself; and the historical subject chosen has a much more intimate connection with the movements of our own time than one might first imagine. (Henrik Ibsen to Edmund Gosse, Dresden, 14 October 1872)[ii]
Augustine’s City of God would have been one of the sources – along with the works of Libanius, Eunapius, Ammianus, and of the Emperor Julian himself, all likely in German translation – on which drew the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828 – 1906) in the composition of his epic drama in two parts Emperor and Galilean (1873), begun in Dresden during the year of the Franco-Prussian War.[iii] The sources are important to an understanding of Emperor because of the historical parallelism that Ibsen assumes between his own time and Julian’s epochal Fourth Century. The religious apocalypse of Julian’s age Ibsen sees as prefiguring the political apocalypse of the strife-ridden Nineteenth Century. Ibsen understands both the Gnosticism of Julian’s abortive pagan revival and the Left Hegelianism of the post-Hegelian decades as episodes of an on-going ideological distortion of reality. Against every prejudice that one harbors about him (that he is “liberal,” “progressive”), Ibsen writes into his play, not Julian’s assessment of Christian orthodoxy, but Augustine’s orthodox assessment of Julian. Ibsen rejects all revolutionary millennialism as inimical to life and to happiness. Not that Ibsen has a formula for happiness. Happiness goes missing in Ibsen’s authorship with one exception, The Lady from the Sea (1888). It is important, then, in order to come to grips with Ibsen’s epic drama, first to grasp Augustine’s canny view of the Apostate Emperor – a most unhappy man or so the historical record would lead one to believe.
H. P. Lovecraft wrote his famous story, The Call of Cthulhu, in 1926 and saw it published in Weird Tales in the February 1928 number of that pulp periodical. The story pieces itself together through the gimmick of having its narrator, the nephew of a mysteriously deceased scholar of ancient Semitic languages, sort through his uncle’s papers – among which figure prominently a cache of documents under the label of “CTHULHU CULT.” In the last few years of his life Professor Angell had fixed his interest on this esoteric topic. Evidence indicates that the cult, traces of which appear worldwide, dates back to prehistory; it also manifests its existence in the archaeology of historical religions, particularly those that center on human sacrifice. The deceased scholar had concluded that the cult’s reality extends into the present and that, after a dormant period, it had resumed its activity. As the reader makes his way through Lovecraft’s deliberately fragmented story line, he learns that Cthulhu, the entity whom the cultists worship as a deity, belongs not to the category of the supernatural (nothing in Lovecraft does) but rather to that of the superhuman in an implacably materialistic and Darwinian version of the cosmos. In the immensely distant past, Cthulhu, one of the “Great Old Ones,” descended to Earth from a distant star and enslaved the primitive humanity through his faculty of telepathic manipulation. A rival power, indifferent to humanity, checked Cthulhu and condemned him to hibernation in the sunken city of R’lyeh in the South Pacific. In the final paragraphs of the story’s first section, the executor describes a sheaf of newspaper clippings that Professor Angell had collected. These items, the narrator avers, “touched on cases of panic, mania, and eccentricity,” which betoken Cthulhu’s return to potency. As the nephew records: “A fanatic [from South Africa] deduces a dire future from visions he has seen; and “a dispatch from California describes a theosophist colony as donning white robes en masse for some ‘glorious fulfillment’ which never arrives, whilst items from India speak guardedly of serious native unrest toward the end of March.”
UCU’s Mehar Shandruff-Danpoo Multicultural Center and Cafetorium
The Academic Senate of Upstate Consolation University has recently passed several new and exciting policies that will go into effect at the beginning of the fall semester. Among these dynamic and progressive measures are a ban on friendship and a plan to make the campus library entirely bookless. Minky Winceapple, formerly Chair of the Studies Studies Program, now serving as Under-Dean for Oversight of Policy Sensitivity, explains that the new regulations “are based off of grounded theory so as – intersectionally, of course – to promote the cross movement mobilization of marginalized people who have been disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression.” Winceapple continues, “These policies will raise awareness by subverting structures of privilege through an extra-categorical strategy derived from critical thinking – such as the type of thinking I am using right now.” Measly Prudence, formerly Lead Vice-Coordinator of the Office of Dining Relations, now serving as Associate Provost for the Task Force on Inter-Varsity Diversity, seconded Winceapple’s enthusiasm: “We are implementing practices,” he said, “that will recognize and honor our multiple identities, co-facilitate an interconnective learning experience, and enable us to visualize how better to ventilate the bathrooms in the administration building – perhaps with the type of ventilation I am using right now.”
Not a word of the creeds is superfluous. Whatever the creeds say was thought by the Fathers of the Church to be crucially important, and essential to the Faith. Whatever the creeds say, they say emphatically.
Why does the Nicene Creed emphasize that Jesus suffered death? Whatever the reason, how are we to reconcile the fact of his suffering with his eternity, which entails his impassibility?
For the Russian philosopher Berdyaev, freedom is absolutely fundamental. And freedom is connected with subjectivity and Spirit, rather than the objective (measurable) external world.
All attempts to locate meaning and value in things outside the human soul are doomed to fail. Thinking of the universe as an organism, for instance, seems like an improvement over thinking of it as a dead mechanism. It turns the cosmos into a living entity with a purpose, but it also means thinking of people as mere cells in this organism to be subordinated to the larger whole. Nationalism turns the nation into a false idol to be worshipped. Neither “history,” nor “progress,” nor “the human race,” nor Platonic Forms are particularly significant or even real. They are hypostatizations and abstractions. For Berdyaev, the concrete individual personality is the full locus of reality and value. Anything else renders the personality a meaningless nothing to be used as a means to some other end.
Kant, who also saw human beings as ends in themselves, pointed out that freedom must be a fundamental aspect of human subjectivity because morality exists.  This is known directly from experience. We know that we are morally responsible for our actions and we have experienced the guilt of failing in our moral duty. Conversely, other people have let us down and behaved unjustly towards us. Morality cannot exist without freedom. We should let the datum of morality determine our theories and speculations about ultimate existence. If morality is possible, and we know it is, then freedom exists.