I would like to address a few ideas that have been taking form in my mind for some time now. As my viewers will have noticed, I have been speaking at length about various pre-modern ideas both philosophical and theological, and I’m inclined to believe that they contain some fundamental truth that we must find in the mire of modern society. This inclination started as nothing but a feeling or a hunch; but it has since evolved into genuine conviction — although a blurry one. The blurriness of this conviction, that pre-modern ideas contain long-forgotten truth, is made worse by my personal ignorance and insufficiency for the task at hand. Nevertheless, I would like to map out what this task will look like, and why it is our duty to take its course.
The 20th century, that bloodstain on the script of history, screams out to us this truth: “modernity has failed us”. The millions of victims of tyranny weren’t mere historical accidents or casualties of inevitable progress; and the fields of coffins that now pepper our burial sites weren’t placed there by Socrates and Moses. The 20th century was a crisis of modernity and was borne out of decidedly modern philosophies such as marxism and nihilism; that truth cannot be denied any longer.
But the crisis of modernity outlived the 20th century and continues into the 21st. One would hope that we would have learned our lesson what with the aforementioned “fields of coffins”, but the human capacity for self-delusion is quite unrivalled. We didn’t learn, for instance, that identitarianism is wrong or that moral relativism is toxic or that social engineering is corrupt, and so all three of these ideas persist today through our brain-dead intelligentsia.
The solution to this crisis of modernity is not, however, to grovel in ignorance as the post-moderns would suggest. Instead we ought to reconsider our intellectual path, and see where we might have gone wrong. We should retrace our steps and find the crossroads where the devil led us astray. The second option is to continue down the same tired road of those 20th century utopians, and see just how dark the forest really is.
|So, we need to retrace our steps, or at least it couldn’t hurt. This job would be made easier if someone had laid bread crumbs along the road, but evidently we’ve even forgotten the wisdom of fairy tales.
Nevertheless, the job can still be done and the first step is to define our surroundings. We must get our bearings and understand the position that we find ourselves in. This means that we must generate a plausible definition of modernity and understand both its evident weaknesses and its evident strengths. Because we like to think that modernity was always the way of things; as though there was never a form of government before liberal democracy or a standard for truth before science. But the truth is that both science and liberal democracy are new concepts, incredibly new concepts, and glorious ones at that.
But it is worth noting that the intellectual culture which generated liberal democracy and science also spawned marxism and nihilism. Which points to one property of modernity: it is always effective, but never moderate. Modernity seems to be inclined towards drastic change in very short periods of time, which has sometimes created great benefits, but also our worst nightmares. This has happened in the intellectual realm but I think the point is made more poignant when we look at the political revolutions of America and Russia. One led to the most prosperous and freest nation every conceived, and the other led to the aforementioned mass-murder.
A second property of modernity is its fascination with the physical world. This has always been the case: it’s not like the pre-moderns were less interested in the physical world, but the moderns think of it in a markedly different way. For many modern people, the objective and the physical and the corporeal IS the truth, so that only things which can be discovered through our senses can be called “real”. Science, therefore, is the highest resolution image of reality because it is the most accurate description of the physical world. In contrast, pre-moderns saw the physical world with somewhat less starry eyed enthusiasm. Archaic peoples saw reality as a dialectic between their psyche and the physical world (not that they would have put it in such terms), but that’s why their myths are so filled with unfeasible heroes and terrible monsters. Even the more sophisticated religions such as Judaism and Christianity both shared the central notion that there is a divine presence which resides above our physical existence. By assuming that the physical world is the real world, modernity has expelled the human actor, and therefore disenchanted the world.
I think the final property of modernity is its relationship with truth. For the pre-moderns, the truth is something that is discovered and it simply is. Plato and Aristotle both thought that the world has a WAY about it that points it towards certain teleological outcomes. The way of the oak tree, for example, is to grow big and tall. So that the ancient philosophical understanding, and I think this is largely in congruence with religious understanding, was that the cosmos was directed in a certain way and that man need only discover this underlying structure. Knowledge was a process of discovery or re-discovery whereas the modern man thinks that the truth needs to be effective and ultimately it needs to be created by humans FOR humans.
So the three aspects of modernity are as follows: it lacks prudence and is therefore prone to drastic change; it is fascinated by the base physical world; and it believes that truth is effective and ultimately, when taken to its final conclusion, human invented.
All of this helps to explain why the modern world has been the birthplace of nihilism and moral relativity. The early moderns still believed in truth, but they did so upon a series of presuppositions that later moderns re-used to destroy the notion of truth.The moderns tried to avoid nihilism by suggesting that man can create morality through reason, but in doing so they have ushered in an age of profound unreason in the guise of post-modernism. Thus modernity has revealed itself to be a Uroboros eating its own tail and undermining its own structure.
Now I can hear my critics already. They will agree that modernity was the birthplace of nihilism and ideology, but they will make note of the fact that modernity has created many benefits such as technological improvement and the freedoms of the western world. I don’t disagree with either of those facts; but I would like to stress a point that I made earlier: it is true that modernity birthed liberal democracy, but it also birthed North Korea. And just because modernity birthed liberal democracy doesn’t mean that it can sustain it. We already see liberal democracy collapsing under the boot of the radical left.. This does not mean that I’m against liberal democracy or science, or any of the other advances made during modern times, I just think that they will be better sustained in a pre-modern future.
So all of that is very depressing. Basically, we’re done for. Modernity has led us into a black pit of nihilism and now the best we can do is claw our way out.
But one of the things I’ve found so interesting through my studies of the ancient past is how our ancestors simply assumed that there was right and wrong, truth and falsehood. To them it was merely self-evident that the world had a way about it and that all men had a covenant with the GOOD. Nihilism didn’t exist in the ancient past because there was no reason for it. If you were religious, then your moral principles were justified by God, and if you were philosophically inclined you had to discover the good and act it out in the world. Either way, right and wrong was very real in ancient times.
So I think that’s the road to recovery here. We need to recognize that truth exists and that it cannot be subsumed by science or freedom. And even more importantly, we need to take it upon ourselves to behave in concordance with truth and serve as a light unto our brethren.