Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Progressive Usurpations of Divine Prerogatives

Continuing with the theme of the previous post, David Solway -- whose posts I always enjoy -- gets to the root of the matter in an essay called Why Socialism Is Doomed To Fail. The title may sound polemical, but it's not; rather, it identifies the principle that explains why socialism never works because it cannot work. And yet, it also explains the ineradicable appeal of socialism, and why it will always be with us.

Solway hints at the principle in the first paragraph, with Boethius' observation that "comparisons can be drawn between finite things, but not between finite and infinite."

Precisely. This is one of those things we cannot not know, at least if we understand the nature and limits of thought. Thus, the principle "is perennially valid, whether with respect to philosophical and theological speculation, mathematical equations involving infinities, or ideological aspects of political thought" (Solway).

So, the inevitable failure of socialism has something to do with the dialectic between finite and infinite; we might also say absolute and relative, one and many, Creator and creation (this latter providing a hint as to the anti-religious religious appeal of socialism, more on which below).

Socialism's "adventures in social perfectibility flow from the refusal to ground a vision of the future in historical and political reality." True, but I would go beyond this, and situate the refusal in metaphysical reality, i.e., the reality than which there can be no realer (on this side of the veil).

"In order to achieve the possible, it is necessary to acknowledge the real, that is, the limits set by the actual parameters of historical existence and the constraints of human nature" (emphases mine). To you this may sound obvious, but it is actually a revolutionary idea, with socialism embodying an atavistic, counter-revolutionary regression to what amounts to Primordial Error -- indeed, all the way down and back to Genesis 3 All Over Again.

You will forgive me if this post takes a while to settle in. The principles we're discussing have so many implications that it's difficult to render them in linear form. Rather, each one is a vertical depth charge with delayed explosions. Also, it's not as if I've thought this through ahead of time. No, this is being worked out as I write and you read. Otherwise it wouldn't be fun.

Humans think. It's what we do. Many if not most experts believe human thinking must resemble "animal thinking," but that's just stupid. No animal -- obviously -- can conceive of the absolute or infinite, and human thinking is rooted in this conception, whether explicitly or (more likely) implicitly.

I first realized this in, oh, around the turn of the millennium, before I even read Schuon (who later confirmed the principle for me in metaphysical granite). Thanks to amazon, I stumbled upon an apparently obscure philosopher named Errol Harris. For example, in his book Revelation through Reason, he writes that "The divine totality is, like its analogue the biological organism, implicit in every one of its parts and phases.... Because of this implicit presence in every finite being, every finite being proclaims the existence of God."

In short, finitude proclaims infinitude. But the converse is also true (and ontologically prior): infinitude proclaims finitude, via none other than the Logos. Creation, you might say, is the proclamation of finitude (by infinitude).

Now, what happens if we remove one of these terms, or collapse one into the other? Well, socialism for one. It is rooted in a complete cosmic inversion whereby the Infinite is denied up front but sneaks back in via its utopian pretensions which could only manifest in a non-finite world, AKA heaven. This really goes back to Voegelin's gag about immanentizing the eschaton. Just stop doing it, okay?

For Voegelin, the "gnostic personality" "seeks to end history in some everlasting realm here on earth in an attempt to perfect man. Whether the gnostic achieves that goal is of no consequence." Rather, "it is the effort and the intention alone to achieve a worthy outcome that is of importance to the gnostic."

Thus, what looks like classic self-defeating behavior on the part of the socialist is actually the whole point -- identical in form to the jihadist who has no realistic hope of destroying western civilization (we're quite capable of achieving that on our own, thank you) but who is nevertheless nourished by the dream of doing so. It is theological hope turned upside down and inside out, thus rendered pathological.

For Voegelin, the immamentization of transcendent hope is a cognitive fallacy: "any attempt to create a utopian heaven on earth through the instrument of some politician and/or political means is an effort in futility." Its very impossibly evokes the totalitarian regime, since total power is required in order to make the impossible possible. Which is of course impossible nonetheless, but they never stop trying.

Back to Solway:

One cannot validly compare the imperfect social and political structures of the past and present with a utopian construction that has never come to pass and which exists only in myth, dream and mere desire.... To strive, for example, to build an ideal society in which “equality of results” or “outcomes” -- what is called “social justice” -- is guaranteed can only produce a levelled-down caricature of human struggle and accomplishment.

Now, all of this reverts back to our original subject, i.e., the Prerogatives of the Human State. For the left, these prerogatives are never enough. Rather, presumptuous progressives prefer the prerogatives of the divine state, which is to say, they wish to be as gods.

Unlike animals, humans can know the Absolute. They just can't be the Absolute. It's like what we frequently hear of the left: all they have to do is not be crazy, and they can't manage that. Likewise, all they have to do is not pretend to be God. But then they wouldn't be socialists.


“The Kingdom of God” is not the Christian name for a futuristic paradise.

Even if he managed to make his most audacious utopias a reality, man would continue to yearn for otherworldly destinies.

An “ideal society” would be the graveyard of human greatness.

In every utopian sleeps a police sergeant (Dávila).


Gagdad Bob said...

Roger Kimball: "the contest between barbarism and civilization is perpetual. There are no permanent victories, only permanent values."

The left has it the other way around: a permanent victory rooted in impermanent values.

ted said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ted said...

Aquinas said “for something to be good it must be good in its totality: object, subject, circumstances”.

I suppose for the left, zero out of 3 is good enough.

Roy Lofquist said...

"Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. Because of human restlessness, mankind would grow rebellious under any utopian domination and would break out once more in violent discontent—or else expire of boredom." ~ Russell Kirk

julie said...

For Voegelin, the "gnostic personality" "seeks to end history in some everlasting realm here on earth in an attempt to perfect man.

One of the sites I read pretty regularly is the amygdala guy, Anonymous Conservative. He has a lot of interesting ideas, but one thing about him which always gives great pause is that he seems to think that if only there is enough trouble and tribulation, the world will shift to predominantly K civilizations, characterized by traditional families, industriousness and conscientiousness, rule of law, etc. Basically a conservative's dream world. Somehow, after all the pixels he's spilled writing about history, human nature, brain chemistry, etc. etc., he still thinks it possible - and therefore, of course, desirable - for humanity to make such a shift and do so permanently. It's baffling. Absent the second coming, there will never be such a place. We are living in the closest possible approximation, right here and now; as insane as things often are, it has literally never been better than this in the history of the world, though as we see in Venezuela (and soon, Mexico!), it can certainly be much, much worse.

This past weekend, I had occasion to consider and be profoundly grateful for the gifts of even the simplest forms of modern medicine. My little one came down with a horrible stomach bug, probably a rota virus of some kind. Any other time in history - and many other places, even today - she might well have died from dehydration. One trip to the pediatrician, a dose of an anti-emetic, and a ready supply of liquids later, she's just about back to herself again, none the worse for wear. A treatment both simple and utterly miraculous.

The world can't be perfected by man; there is no cure for human nature. But it can certainly be made better, under the right circumstances. Only a fool thinks it can made to stay that way, short of the Lord's coming.

Anonymous said...

One aspect of Utopian dreaming and planning, is only some have any time or aptitude for working with it.

People break down into the four Varnas: Brahmans (wise elders, priests, educators), KShatriyas (politicians, police, military), Vaishyas (artisans, merchants, tradespersons, farmers), and Shudras (laborers).

Presumably the whole leftist leadership are Kshatriya, and so on the right as well. The question is, why are non-Kshatriyas so focused and interested in this Varna's back and forth dealings? Government is their problem, not everyone's. Let them work it out, that's what they're for.

As Julie pointed out, advances in Medicine, a Vaishya accomplishment, are very awesome.

So everyone get into your Varna and concentrate your energies there.

Gagdad Bob said...

Speaking of utopia and the return of socialism, has anyone out there read Oscar Wilde's essay The Soul of Man under Socialism? What a loon! Here is a guy who is intelligent, witty, and ironical, and yet, his mint turns to mush when he thinks about socialism. He could a speech writer for Cortez:

"The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible."

Under socialism "There will be no people living in fetid dens and fetid rags, and bringing up unhealthy, hunger-pinched children in the midst of impossible and absolutely repulsive surroundings."

Good! No more Venezuelas...

Gagdad Bob said...

Man himself will be perfected. His personality will

"will grow naturally and simply, flowerlike, or as a tree grows. It will not be at discord. It will never argue or dispute. It will not prove things. It will know everything. And yet it will not busy itself about knowledge. It will have wisdom. Its value will not be measured by material things. It will have nothing. And yet it will have everything, and whatever one takes from it, it will still have, so rich will it be. It will not be always meddling with others, or asking them to be like itself. It will love them because they will be different. And yet while it will not meddle with others, it will help all, as a beautiful thing helps us, by being what it is. The personality of man will be very wonderful. It will be as wonderful as the personality of a child."

Gagdad Bob said...

Of course, the family will have to go:

"Socialism annihilates family life, for instance. With the abolition of private property, marriage in its present form must disappear. This is part of the programme. Individualism accepts this and makes it fine. It converts the abolition of legal restraint into a form of freedom that will help the full development of personality, and make the love of man and woman more wonderful, more beautiful, and more ennobling. Jesus knew this. He rejected the claims of family life, although they existed in his day and community in a very marked form. ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ he said, when he was told that they wished to speak to him."

Gagdad Bob said...

And of course, there will be no crime:

"With authority, punishment will pass away. This will be a great gain -- a gain, in fact, of incalculable value.... It obviously follows that the more punishment is inflicted the more crime is produced.... The less punishment, the less crime. When there is no punishment at all, crime will either cease to exist, or, if it occurs, will be treated by physicians as a very distressing form of dementia, to be cured by care and kindness. For what are called criminals nowadays are not criminals at all. Starvation, and not sin, is the parent of modern crime.... When private property is abolished there will be no necessity for crime, no demand for it; it will cease to exist."

Gagdad Bob said...


"A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias."

julie said...

Good grief, had he ever met any actual people?

It would be hilarious if the reality weren't so horrific.

Tony said...

And yet Wilde wrote some of the most insightful fairy tales. Perhaps fairy tales (and theatre) was the only mode of thinking in which he could really excel.

Great post, Bob. I sent Solway's article to my oldest son, who just turned 18. Time for the little raccoons to start fishing in bigger ponds.

Gagdad Bob said...

Shows once again that there is no correlation whatsoever between artistry and prudence.

Van Harvey said...

"... To you this may sound obvious, but it is actually a revolutionary idea, with socialism embodying an atavistic, counter-revolutionary regression to what amounts to Primordial Error -- indeed, all the way down and back to Genesis 3 All Over Again."

Pro-Regressive, all the way.