The way you hold your head, cursin’ God with every move
Ooh, I can’t stand it, I can’t stand it
What are you tryin’ to prove
Bob Dylan, Dead Man, Dead Man , 1981.
Over at Front Porch Republic , Augustinian scholar James Matthew Wilson provides an important exegesis on “traditional conservatism” that “calls into question nearly everything that modern persons generally take for granted” and reveals the rather bland, indiscernible sameness found in the liberal/conservative paradigm, the spawn of 18th century Classical Liberalism, as humbuggery of the first magnitude. Wilson explains that the phrase “traditional conservative” provides the potential for exploring what it means to be human, rational, and “capable of seeking the Good” while exposing “the superficiality of liberal thought, the totalitarian ambitions of liberal freedom, and the dehumanization at the heart of liberal ‘individualist’ anthropology (for liberal man is always a beast or a god, and usually both).” And, he explicitly argues that this “traditional conservatism,” which is by the way, not an ideology, has the potential to address the age-old problems related to political science, while implicitly suggesting the possibility of recapturing man’s tensional existence in the Platonic Metaxy, thereby restoring the order necessary to illuminate the divine-human encounter.
However, the first order of business that Wilson’s “traditional conservatism” needs to address is that which philosopher/political theorist, Eric Voegelin, referred to as “Western deculturation,” a phenomenon and a process that acts to destroy reason. In his essay, The Gospel and Culture , Voegelin explains that this deculturation doesn’t manifest itself as an ideology, or as a “post-Christian” or “postmodern” age proudly positing a “new” system or a unique differentiation of myth, philosophy, or revelation that will “save” man, but rather it is a psychopathology, a disease of the mind, that reveals itself in second realities, egophanic revolt, and a host of similar disorders. Here, Wilson confronts the philosoher’s dilemma, where even if we can establish the best order of society within his “traditional conservatism” we are still “burdened” with the imperfections of a citizenry beset by sundry diseases of the mind, not to mention the soul.
To muddy the waters even further is something I came across in David Walsh’s new book, The Modern Philosophical Revolution: The Luminosity of Existence (Cambridge, 2008) , in his discussion of the idea that while we love technology and its benefits we steadfastly refuse “to submit to the demands of rigorous efficiency. Nostalgia for the old, monuments of spiritual aspiration, the worldwide revival of ancient religious forms, the power of orgiastic political movements of destruction, and the protest impulse that has driven artistic expression for more that a century all testify to the profound ambivalence with which the success of instrumental rationality has been greeted.”
Walsh adds, “The problem, is that we seem to have struck a Faustian bargain. We have been able to obtain this vast technical prowess only because we have been willing to override all presumptive limits.” So is this failure to define the “order of limits” for technology linked to the psychopathological disorder dominating society today? I think it is but solving the problem of technos is impossible in the face of deculturation.
As we stand knee deep in the wreckage of what T.S. Eliot referred to as the Wasteland, we must recover the reality of the divine-human encounter, the constitutive event of being, and begin the process of establishing a social order that is devoid of the “doctrines of deformed existence.”