Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Thoroughly Modern Mindlessness

Reader Bonnie has asked me to comment upon Chesterton's view of modernity or the modern man.

I'll do that in three words: absence of thought.

Now in more than three words ...

***

As I wrote recently, in my post The Sacred Heart Sits Atop the Sacred Backbone,

The great hallmark of the modern world is just this: no boundaries - fuzziness, blur, formlessness: no borders in life, no definition or backbone in the Church, no belief in the reality of form, and hence no ability to think.

This, I believe, is the distinguishing characteristic of the modern world, though there are many others, which include (according to Hilaire Belloc) atheism, cruelty, slavery to the state and to private corporations, etc.  But Belloc, too, sees the Irrational as perhaps the most infernal characteristic of the modern mindset.



Chesterton elaborates ...

As a politician, [the modern man] will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. ...  Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.

Now, of course the term "modern" means more than just this.  It can refer to a trend or style or era in politics, art, music, literature, and so forth.

And as I'm very fond of pointing out, Chesterton, who was anything but a modernist in his philosophy, was very much a modernist in his style as a writer of fiction.   He is almost the typical "modern writer", as far as style and structure is concerned, when it comes to, say, The Man who was Thursday.  That book could only have been written in the 20th Century.  No other literary movement, such as Classicism or Romanticism, could have produced it.  It's a very "modern" novel.

And we also know of some of the true blessings of the modern world - scientific advancement, increased comfort, the information revolution, freedom of movement, etc.

But Chesterton's use of "modern" is almost always as an adjective that describes today's man in the confusion of his soul - because the inner life of the modern world is what Chesterton looks at, and that inner life is one that has abandoned faith in reason: not "faith and reason", but having faith IN reason and in reason's ability to comprehend reality at all - indeed the modern world must eventually abandon faith even in reality itself.

The sword that divides is simple and comes early in the history of modern thought - as soon as you doubt the reality of things, you are a modern.  Once you become too squeamish to make the leap of faith from "I think therefore I am" to "It is - and thank God It is!", you are a modern man and you have abandoned all hope of being able to reason further.  For if there are no "things" (separate from you and separate from one another), there are no distinctions and ultimately even the greatest of things, the most distinct of things - being itself - ceases to be.  Doubt being and you will end up denying being, and with it the mind's reason and the heart's hope.

And you will be the Modern Man.

3 comments:

Paul Stilwell said...

Could you please now write about the goodness of being?

St. Thomas Aquinas says that being and goodness are convertible. Being IS goodness. Goodness IS being.

The first principle by which we are to refer to being is in saying it is good - not in first saying it is beautiful or true.

The latter two must of course not be denied, but the good must come first.

If we do not begin with the good we are lost. To declare something good, for something to declare its goodness to our minds...it is like the impact of of an asteroid (without the destruction).

And Jesus said why do you call me good? Only the Father in heaven is good.

And Jesus said, be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

What is this strangeness? This strangeness where even the Son of God defers the application of the title "good" to the Father.

For being to be being, it must seek the source of all goodness, Goodness Himself.

Jesus shows us this in deferring to the Father.

Is modern man distracted from the trauma of realizing the goodness of being? Why? Because it would cause him to take responsibility for his evil, his sins?

Jesus who was and is perfect deferred to the Father. Isn't this like a mercy for us? Jesus the Elder Brother is truly the Way.

Bonnie said...

Thank you, Kevin. I like a related comment from Chesterton: “Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.”

Bonnie

Bonnie said...
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