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?
The modern anti-modern critique of modernity is by no means a recent phenomenon; it begins rather with the responders to Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his Jacobin followers in the late Eighteenth Century. It is sufficient in this regard to mention the names of Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797) and Joseph de Maistre (1753 – 1821) and of their successors, S. T. Coleridge (1772 – 1834) and François-René de Chateaubriand (1768 – 1848), to suggest the range and richness of immediately post-revolutionary conservative-reactionary discourse. In the Twentieth Century, José Ortega y Gassett (1883 – 1955), Oswald Spengler (1886 – 1936), and T. S. Eliot (1888 – 1965), among others, continued in the line established by French réactionisme.In Ortega’s case and in Spengler’s this continuation entailed incorporating the iconoclastic skepticism of Friedrich Nietzsche into the discourse, with numerous qualifications. In Eliot’s case, it meant rejecting Nietzsche’s atheism and taking up from Chateaubriand and Coleridge the apology for Christian revelation and for a theological, as opposed to a secular, view of existence. René Guénon (1886 – 1951) belongs by his dates with the generation of Ortega, Spengler, and Eliot; like Eliot, Guénon is a theist, but despite his favorable treatment of Catholicism he is less identifiable as a Christian than Eliot. Guénon, who late in life converted to a Sufi-like sect of Islam, sees Catholicism as the vessel of Tradition in the West, but elsewhere Tradition has other forms that are valid in their own contexts. Spengler’s Decline of the West undoubtedly made an impression on Guénon, much as it did on Guenon’s younger contemporary Julius Evola (1898 – 1974). Guénon and Evola knew one another and mutually influenced one other. Both Guénon and Evola together exemplify a branch of modern critical anti-modernism affiliated much more than casually with the Twentieth Century occult revival.
Guénon at one time, in the 1920s, edited the chief French-language occult periodical, La Gnose or “Gnosis.” Yet Guénon, a fierce un-masker of religious mountebanks, can hardly be accused of employing mystic obscurantism to push a doctrinaire agenda. Guénon’s interest in occult topics, even more than Evola’s, strikes one as rigorous and objective. As for Guénon’s awareness of ideological deformations of reality, it ran to the acute. The driving force of deformation, in Guénon’s analysis as in Evola’s, is the stultifying massiveness of modern society, with its conformism on an unprecedented scale, and its receptivity to oratorical manipulation.
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.
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.
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.
Having an emotional and intellectual appreciation for the sacred is necessary to live well. Without an appreciation for the sacred a person’s attunement to life is severely damaged.
The sacred can be thought of as the appearance of the transcendent in the midst of the immanent; of a slight rip in the curtain separating the two.
A human being, Nature and Beauty can all be counted as instances of the sacred. Mystics seem to suggest that in fact all reality is divine and describe the sacred as shining through the most mundane of objects. Since mystics face the problem of communicating their rare experiences to the rest of us, they frequently make use of poetry. This has the advantage of potentially engaging the reader emotionally, intellectually and imaginatively. The aesthetic experience can be an instance of when people are most alive and a poem, as an instance of the beautiful, can point beyond itself to the divine realm. A realm for which we have an affinity, claims Plotinus, as being our true home.
Some people exhibit an amazing lack of interest in reality, content to imagine living in a wholly invented world. The notion that much of subjective experience is illusory is strongly connected with the beginnings of “modern” philosophy.
Galileo and Locke claimed that only things which are physical and measurable really exist. Galileo argued that primary qualities; solidity, motion, figure, extension and number were really real – being the objective properties of objects and that secondary qualities; color, sight, sound, small, taste and touch did not actually exist per se. They are merely artifacts; products of the sense organs that really have nothing to do with the objects being perceived. They are merely what our brains do when confronted with sensory input and primary qualities.
The notion of eternity is difficult to reconcile with our experience of time, of change and of happening. This makes it difficult to understand; and that makes it difficult for us to think about eternity without getting it all muddled up with time. The muddles can be so nettlesome that some thinkers try to clear them up by rejecting either the notion of time and change, on the one hand, or of eternity, on the other.
The reason we get into these muddles is that we try to extend our natural ways of thinking about temporal events to thinking about eternity. We naturally take time as basic, and generalize from it to eternity.
Thinking about the Eternal One, for example – for the *only* example, for as there can be only one Ultimate, so there can be but one eternality – it is all too easy to fall into thinking that his life is an infinitely extended series of finite moments, like ours except that it had no beginning. It is easy to think that God went on for quite a while enjoying himself alone, but then eventually decided to create the world, then redeem it, then destroy it, then judge it, and so forth.
With modern egalitarianism, the existence of the rich is regarded as an offense to the poor, the smart to the dumb, and the good looking to the plain. Pure resentment drives this phenomenon – resentment being a combination of admiration, envy and hatred. Wanting to be rich, handsome and smart, and failing to be, these things are then hated.
Many high schools are now apparently doing away with prize-giving ceremonies and the notion of a valedictorian to spare the feelings of other students.
Moral subjectivism, or relativism, reduces morality to feelings and personal opinion. This renders moral knowledge and disputes meaningless. Aesthetic subjectivism likewise insists that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and nothing more. I encountered raised voices and outrage in a class when I recently suggested otherwise. The reaction was stronger than anything I had experienced before and seemed out of proportion to the claim. Far more contentious-seeming moral issues had not inspired any such protests. My essay Aesthetic Knowledge published at the Sydney Traditionalist Forum is my argument for aesthetic objectivism.