Milbank (Beyond Secular Order: The Representation of Being and the Representation of the People) points out that the Enlightenment was not simple one thing: “it can bedivided into (a) a Christian and sometimes post -Christian Ciceronian Stoicreaction against the voluntarism of ‘modern Christian’ thought;(b) a perpetuation of Reformation and Counter-Renaissance currentsin a more Unitarian, Arian-Newtonian idiom (most so-called ‘deists’having actually been heterodox Christians) which was often also Masonic;(c) a ‘Radical Enlightenment’ which was Brunonian-Hermetic and Spinozisticand frequently lilcewise Masonic; (d) a fully atheist Enlightenmentwhich broke with immanentist vitalism in favour of cosmic mechanism.Only the final and most minority branch is non-religious” (6-7).

Once we recognize the complexity of the Enlightenment, it becomes impossible to characterize Romanticism as simply a reaction to it or simply as an extension of the Enlightenment. It rejected the Newtonian “disenchanted transcendence” and the Masonic/radical “enchanted immanence” in favor of a more orthodox vision of “enchanted transcendence.” It picked up “medieval gothic and Renaissance currents in new poetic guise” and “its impulse was fundamentally in the direction of orthodox Christianity, showing many intimations of what had been lost since the Renaissance.” Milbank has long stated his sympathy with “the spirit of early Romanticism and its attempt considerably to re-envision Christian orthodoxy,” and this sketch of its relation to modern thought to Romanticism shows that Milbank’s “position cannot be considered simply ‘reactionary’ or ‘nostalgic’” (7).

More on: History, Philosophy

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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