Friday, November 5, 2010

"Thinkers Who Didn't Buy IT in the First Place"

Millinerd's latest in full, & well worth it ~

Rather than bashing on the Enlightenment with a worn-out club, David Ritchie, in The Fullness of Knowing, surveys thinkers who didn't buy it in the first place (hat tip to Mars Hill audio). Ritchie's book came from his "growing recognition as a student of the eighteenth century that many of today's criticisms of the Enlightenment are really not all that original." Among his insights are that Edmund Burke anticipated the criticisms of Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, and that Isaac Watts deconstructed John Locke in verse.

Ritchie examines Jonathan Swift, the poets Christopher Smart and William Cowper, and more familiar, recent figures such as Polanyi and Gadamer. Of course, his is no exhaustive treatment, and Ritchie admits as much. Diogenes Allen was up to something similar when he examined Simone Weil, Kierkegaard, and Pascal in Three Outsiders, as, I imagine, were the contributors to Bakhtin and Religion, Alan Jacobs among them. Likewise, it has been suggested that C.H. Plotkine's study of Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Tenth Muse, shows that 19th century philology was far more complex that Foucault suggests in Les Mots et les Choses. We should make it a collective ambition to somehow extend this unenlightenment project further by discovering similar figures, if only to more fully inhabit our post-postmodern times. (Dibs on Jonathan Edwards and Pavel Florensky.)

At any rate, after his survey of the happily unenlightened , Ritchie concludes: "Somewhat to my surprise, nearly all of them emphasize an aesthetic element to knowledge, whether in the form of beauty or good taste, as opposed to the more narrowly rationalistic or empirical boundaries to Enlightenment epistemology."

I'm not so surprised.
Frankly, the reigning narrative is on its way out, as it had had to remain dependent on the suppression of such talk or subjects for generations now. Quodlibeta blog addressed some of this in his debunking of the myth of the "Flat Earthers" of the "Dark Ages", who (factually) never existed. What this spunky debunking of Heckular Sub-Mannism lacks is a vantage point. All it can do is dig in the "refuse heap" and pull out vintage brilliance.

Conservatism is still looking for its "missing link". Edwards is a place to start, at least for Americans. But not a place to end up. Fabius Maximus is dead on:
Despite that, many are hysterical about prospect of inflation or even hyperinflation. This confusion is typical of the confusion brought about by transitions. People run about with fire extinguishers while their house floods.
More speculation on Christianity's role in the collapse of Rome~

Nonetheless, when Roman central authority faltered in the fifth century it did so as never before. Earlier, in the third century, Rome had faced a similar crisis: civil war, foreign invasion, return of brigandage, and steep economic decline. Yet the Empire fought its way back and reasserted central authority. There was no such response in the fifth century. Instead, the crisis was met with a strange mixture of complacency and willful naiveté. We cannot understand this change without considering the ideology that now shaped the Roman worldview, i.e., all humans share the same potential for peaceful and submissive behavior. This was largely true among the pacified populations inside the Roman Empire. Outside, it was largely false. Tragically so.
More and more the Western nations are looking like a national suicide cult. Jonestown on a massive scale. Policies which can't possibly work (immigration, etc.) are being touted as "the answer). Policies that WOULD work (to stave off absolute disaster) aren't even considered (discrimination & "retrenchment"). Imagine if someone took a 60ml syringe, filled it with garbage, and offered to inject you first, assuring you that there "faith in human rights" would prevent anything going wrong with the dose. They'll take it later, after they've injected your children, also. Would you take the bet? This is what liberal civil religion is all about.
"The future will MAGICALLY be better, despite all appearances. Anything else proposed is pure nostalgia". Which, ironically, is their only category for the "past" & is projected on to political opponents.

So it's always impressive to read antique thinkers who prophesied exactly what would transpire, should "the modern Zeitgeist" be embraced in a nuptial hug. Where can we find more of these thinkers today? Are there any left alive? There may be a few...

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