We are sliding toward a post-political mode of governance, in which expert administration replaces democratic contest, and political sovereignty is relocated from representative bodies to a permanent bureaucracy that is largely unaccountable. Common sense is disqualified as a guide to reality. How did we reach this point?
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Certain developments in the realm of ideas provide the tacit picture of the human being that guides our institutions. One feature that the currently ascendant schools share in common is a low regard for human beings, whether on the premise of their fragility, their cognitive limitations, their latent tendency to “hate,” or their imminent obsolescence with the arrival of imagined technological possibilities. Each of these premises carries an important but partial truth, and each provides the master supposition for some project of social control. Each tends inexorably toward a further concentration of wealth and power, and the further erosion of the concept of the citizen: the wide-awake, imperfect but responsible human being on whom the ideal of self-government rests.
That older ideal has its roots in the long arc of Western civilization. In the Christian centuries, man was conceived to be fallen, yet created in the image of God. This doubleness—this consciousness of imperfection and orientation toward perfection—provided a picture of the human being with political effects that were likewise double. It moderated utopian hopes for a radically New Man, and the political savagery that often accompanies such hopes. It also energized a standard of judgment in political matters—the common good—that put limits on manipulation of the population for private gain. The Christian anthropology had this doubly moderating effect because it grounded our aspiration to perfection, not in willful self-creation, but in obedience to the most perfect man, the Son of God. You don't need to be a Christian to recognize the utility of the Christian anthropology for clarifying the effects of our current anti-humanisms, criticizing their presuppositions, and looking for an exit from the uncanny new forms of tyranny that are quickly developing.
Photo by Yane Casouf via Creative Commons. Image edited and cropped.