The Ontological Divide Within the Liberal West (3.16.10)
Polanyi felt that the contemporary madness of postmodernity began with the idea of a complete and perfect objectivism, which is supposed to be the ideal of science and of all reliable knowledge in general: "All personal and subjective elements came to be regarded as disturbances to the attainment of this perfect objectivity. Every effort therefore had to be made to eliminate them." It was as if Nature spoke directly and unamibuously to us, and that all we had to do was disinterestedly listen to her without any preconceptions.
This ideal, which may at times be appropriate for certain limited, very simple domains, eventually insinuated itself into most fields of knowledge. But this epistemological revolution had anthropological consequences, as it served to undermine traditional authority and create a kind of hyper-individualism operating outside the domain of any legitimate authority.
As Hoarhey mentioned in a comment yesterday, this irrational-rational revolt reached a kind of peak in the late 1960s. In other words, the "rational" rejection of religion in particular and tradition in general facilitated an absurd leap into what amounts to romantic irrationalism. Since there is no legitimate authority, each person become a law unto himself: do your own thing, and all that.
For example, marriage is better then living together? Prove it. A fetus is a human being? Prove it. Beethoven is better than rap? Prove it. Heterosexuality is preferable to homosexuality? Prove it. Men and women are fundamentally different? Prove it. One is obligated to tell the truth? Prove it. Etc., etc. In each case, the moral truth is accessible to human beings, but not through the application of mere reason.
This kind of nihilistic thought eventually overcame continental Europe (e.g., communism, fascism, nazism, deconstruction, multiculturalism, moral relativism, etc.), but not the Anglo-American sphere, where there was "an alogical reluctance to pursue the accepted philosophic premises to their ultimate conclusions." In turn, this reluctance seemed to be rooted in "the distinctive religious character of Anglo-American liberalism" (or what is now confusingly called conservatism).
But on the Continent, there were no such restraints against unalloyed skepticism. Rather, "the movement there was antireligious from the start.... When a feudal society, dominated by religious authority, was attacked by radical skepticism, there emerged a liberalism unprotected by either a religious or civic tradition against destruction by a logical extension of the philosophic skepticism to which it owed its origin." In short, in old Europe, universal standards of reason could not be reconciled with their radical skepticism, whereas Anglo-American liberalism maintained a balance between reason and tradition.
This dichotomy is still present today in the vast differences between conservatism (i.e., real liberalism) and liberalism (i.e., illiberal leftism). Leftism continues to be riddled with contradictions that are rooted in its initial philosophical error. For example, one of their rock-bottom beliefs is that there is no rational or universal way to arbitrate between the values of one culture or nation and another. Therefore, it is wrong to stand in the way of any nation that wishes to realize its powers, say Iran. But when America exercises its power, there is universal condemnation from the left. How can this be?
Once again it has to do with the unhinged morality of the left. Being that their skepticism bars them from the spiritual dimension, they are unable to reliably distinguish between good and evil -- i.e., these are simply arbitrary categories. Reduced to flatland materialism, they instead divide the world into visible, empirical categories such as have and have-nots. As such, they conceive a material explanation onto which they graft their unhinged moral passion. They do the same thing with other material categories, such as race, gender and "sexual orientation." As such, all of the moral energy which, in a spiritually normal person, is reserved for distinguishing between good and evil, decent and indecent, is ruthlessly, even sadistically, applied to these meaningless substitute categories.
This explains the grotesque and perverse moral passion of the left, for example, the condemnation of the Duke lacrosse team by dozens of leftist professors who do not see good and evil, only "white and black" (and they still haven't apologized, since the "narrative" or template they imposed on the situation cannot be falsified). Likewise, in the Arab-Israeli conflict, the left obviously cannot see the moral gulf between Israel and her barbarous enemies. Rather, they only see "whiteness and indigenous-ness," or something along those lines.
In old Europe, "the replacement of moral ideals by philosophically less vulnerable, because more basically animal, objectives was carried out in all seriousness. Human appetites and human passions were actually substituted for reason and for the ideals of man in this framework of thought." "Begun in the name of reason, they ended by reducing reason to a caricature of itself: to a mere rationalization of conclusions predetermined by desire and eventually to be secured and held by force.... If thought and reason are nothing by themselves, if they are only the effects of social causes, then it is meaningless to demand that they be set free."
Slavery is freedom, lies are truth, amorality is morality. Memo to old Europe: a civilization not in contact with the Real will eventually perish. As it should. To put it another way, dying on the vine is a possibility, but dying off of it is a certainty.
*All quotes taken from Michael Polanyi: A Critical Exposition