15 September 2015

Not So Fast: The "Right Side of History" May Be Wrong

Much of the cultural subtext of the contemporary move toward radical (i.e., the root) autonomy, especially sexual, is the faith of the secular cultural elites in detecting and riding history toward its polyamorous future. In other words, the goal of law and the state should be to enhance self-defining individuals in their pursuit of whatever pleases them free from the constraints of the laws of nature or nature's God. Because, after all, there is no "nature" and certainly there's no God. And what gives the elites their evangelistic confidence? "We're winning!"

By ways of examples, I have posted about the travails of the Canadian Trinity Western University here and here and about the shortcoming of libertarianism as a social philosophy here. For the elites and those who have learned from them, the alternative of a common-law conservatism--rooted in the wisdom of the historical past to which the constituents of the immediate present owe their very lives--is rejected as a form of aggression.

To say the least, secularists' childlike faith in the march of history toward democracy, autonomy, welfare-capitalism, and ever-increasing satisfaction of subjective wants is tendentious. As Charles Taylor has observed, secularism--understood as a presuppositional commitment to an entirely immanent and material understanding of reality, including human nature--is unsustainable. Look here and here for some posts about Taylor's magnum opus. Metaphysics or some ersatz religion will pop up no matter how often we're taught that there's nothing to see behind the curtain of experience.

Perhaps reality is beginning to reveal some gaps in the "march of history" argument. Go here to read a short piece from Sunday's New York Times by Steven Erlanger: "Are Western Values Losing Their Sway?" Pointing to capitalist but totalitarian China, revanchist Russia, and the concerns of Eastern European members of the EU about the massive influx of refugees from the Middle East, Erlanger wonders about the fture of the current faith that the future will be better and better in every way. According to Ivan Kratev as quoted by Erlanger:
[1998] seemed to many in Asia and Africa to be the end of Western ideological supremacy, given that liberalism and Communism are both Western creations with universal ambitions. After all, Mr. Krastev noted, “both liberalism and Communism were dominated and shaped by the West — but who is the legitimate son of the Enlightenment and who is the bastard one?”
Erlanger goes on to lump "Judeo-Christian" values together with the Enlightenment and thus wonders aloud about the continued viability of their universal claims. As I argued in Looking for Bedrock: Accounting for Human Rights in Classical Liberalism, Modern Secularism, and the Christian Tradition (download here), contemporary purely secular accounts of human rights  have no foundation and thus cannot be expected to carry the day when confronted by ideologies or religions that reject the contemporary Western insistence on sexual autonomy uber alles.

Erlanger misses the mark when he identifies the Christian tradition with Enlightenment. One preceded the other and certainly the theological and metaphysical conclusions of Medieval and early-modern Western Christianity permeated Enlightenment "reason"-generated values but rejection of the latter doesn't entail rejection of the former. Even though many Western Christians have tried to take credit for the "march of history," the relationship between Christianity and Enlightenment universal reason is not one of identity. Thus, we should not be surprised that secularized Western values lack traction outside the Western context. Thus, contemporary Christians Western should not feel despair at the current triumphs of the secular elites but should work, however, to increase the penetration of modest Christian principles across the globe.

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