The sickness is, of course, leftism, but we need to dig a little deeper in order to understand its ultimate origins or principle.
When we say "modern man," we have a specific definition in mind. That is to say, for the vast majority of human history, cultures were organized around a spiritual ground -- what Schuon calls "the idea of Center and the idea of Origin":
In the spatial world where we live, every value is related in some way to a sacred Center, which is the place where Heaven has touched the earth; in every human world there is a place where God has manifested himself in order to pour forth His grace. And it is the same of the Origin, which is the quasi-timeless moment when Heaven was near and terrestrial things were still half-celestial.
Thus, "To conform to tradition is to remain faithful to the Origin, and for this very same reason it is also to place oneself at the Center..." (Light on the Ancient Worlds).
Now, one needn't be a believer to acknowledge the truth of Schuon's observation: that this is how civilizations arise, orient themselves to the wider cosmos, establish meaning, and provide an excuse to go on being. And we all recognize that something unprecedented has occurred in world history over the past 300 years, resulting in man being ousted from the center and cut off from his origin.
"Atheist" is just another name for someone who pretends to be fully exterior to the Center and Origin. While he retains an attenuated interior, it floats meaninglessly over the surface of nature, untethered to anything but a dying carcass. In the groundless and dis-oriented mind of the atheist, this is only proper and fitting, since there are no such things as Ground and Center, or their common source in Being. We'll come back to him later.
In any event, we can all agree that ideas have consequences, including the dominant metaphysic of the day, which pretends to do without the Origin and Center. This is no abstract discussion, for it very much defines the essential difference between left and right.
For example, conservatives regard the Constitution as embodying the origin and center of our political life; as such, it has a timeless and quasi-sacred penumbra, especially since it is by no means free-standing, but is in turn rooted in the cosmic Origin and Center, AKA God: its very purpose is to preserve and protect the human rights that flow directly from our deiformity to the Center, i.e., those rights endowed to us by the Creator.
If there is no Creator then our so-called rights are anchored in the convenience of the state, and are no longer rights at all -- any more than truth can exist in the absence of the absolute, whether explicit or implicit.
Alternatively, the left, in rejecting the Origin and Center, reduces our founding document to a man-made, time-bound, relativistic, and conventional contract between state and man; that being the case, we can read into or out of it anything we wish. Which is why we find ourselves once again arguing over things that were settled over two hundred years ago, such as free speech, the presumption of innocence, equality under the law, the right to self-defense, etc.
You could say that there are these two schools of thought on constitutional law, but it would be more accurate to say that there is one school of thought and one playground overrun with bullies.
Voegelin promulgates what was then a unique take on the Hitler phenomenon, in that he turns the question around and asks what it was about the German people that made such a stupid, vicious, and spiritually bereft assoul possible?
I do not intend to invoke Godwin's law this early in the morning, because this is not my point. But unless we can get away from the uniqueness of Hitler, we won't be able to learn anything from what happened, because it will be too particular, and the essence of wisdom involves the discovery of universals.
This is why I say that Obama is not our problem. You will note that the "birthers" seem obsessed with the idea that if we can only rid ourselves of Obama, then our problems will be solved. This is silly, for it leaves untouched the spiritual rot of a people who could elect such a half-educated and nasty but (so they say) charismatic demagogue.
From the beginning of my graduate studies, I had a particular interest in psychopathology, or one might say the "philosophy of psychopathology," or perhaps "meta-psychopathology." I've discussed this in the past, but before one can identify psychopathology, one must begin by defining health.
And health is completely tied in with teleology -- with final causes -- in that it essentially means that an organ is doing what it was designed to do. For example, the heart is designed to pump blood. Anything that interferes with that function -- atherosclerosis, hypertension, arrhythmias, etc. -- is pathological.
Therefore, before we address psychopathology, we must first understand what the mind is designed to do. The problem here is that modernity, in rejecting final causes, is powerless to define human health (unless you hold objective standards of human flourishing -- then you are sick!). Add to this the malignant sophistry of relativism, and mental health comes down to feeling satisfied with oneself, irrespective of whether one deserves to.
--Self-satisfaction is pathetic proof of lowliness.
--The left is made up of individuals who are dissatisfied with what they have and are satisfied with who they are.
--Today the individual rebels against inalterable human nature in order to refrain from amending his own correctable nature.
Let's take an obvious case just to illustrate the nature of the problem. Al Sharpton, from all outward appearances, seems to feel pretty good about himself. Therefore, as far as the mental health community is concerned, he gets a clean bill of health.
But why on earth should such a foul human being feel good about himself, much less be given a national platform to spew his toxins? By all rights he should detest himself as much as others -- i.e., spiritually normal people -- do. One cannot address this issue in a meaningful way unless there is some purpose Sharpton has failed to fulfill as a person. But again, he is only the symptom of a much wider problem, i.e., the type of people who would hire him and seek his political imprimatur (including Obama and the entire crop of Democrat presidential candidates).
--The conservative is a simple pathologist. He defines sickness and health. But God is the only therapist.
One of the keys to understanding the left is Voegelin's concept of "second reality" or "orientation toward the unreal." It is one obvious reason why leftism always fails and always must fail, because one can banish reality -- both human and material -- with a pitchfork, but it always comes roaring back.
But what is the deeper principle by virtue of which this process of unrealization takes place? And why is it that, alone among the animals, man has this capacity to inhabit his own abstractions and relax in the comfort and safety of his own delusions?
It isn't only leftists who do this, of course. Rather, it is the essence of any ideology -- of ideology as such -- to create an inverted world of which the real world then becomes mere shadow. This is quintessentially true of Marxism, but one can say the same of Islamism, scientism, positivism, evolutionism, "climate change," and vulgar atheism.
The first and last step of unrealization involves reducing the world to a single level and pretending the other levels and dimensions don't exist. Again, think of a neo-Marxist such as Obama, for whom the world is always seen through the simplifying lenses of racial grievance, class envy, or an omnipotent and tyrannical "social justice" that justifies the exercise of raw power.
When the world becomes wholly immanent, it loses all sense, precisely. This is the metaphysical irony of the left -- that it robs the world of its intrinsic meaning in order to impose a faux substitute. They pretend to have reduced reality to a single world, oblivious to the fact that this ideological switch has taken place, and that they are living in a world of phony transcendence. Hence their counterfeit spiritual virtues such as sanctimony over sanctity, state appropriation over charity, scientism over wisdom, and idiot compassion over spiritual love and discernment.
The plain fact of the matter is that we live -- on pain of not living at all -- in certain irreducible mysteries, which include existence, life, consciousness, and history. To pretend these mysteries don't exist, or that any ideology satisfactorily "explains" them, is to inhabit an unreal world. Any unambiguous explaining-away of the Mystery leads to tragic falls, for the answer is the disease that kills curiosity. What is really real is God, in the absence of whom we have no reality at all.
All spiritually normal -- which is to say, adequate -- men know that "the end of all human action does not lie within this world but beyond it," and that the fulfillment of time is beyond time. There is simply no way to get around this formulation and remain "man." "Man, while existing in time, experiences himself as participating in the timeless." Again: ideologues only pretend to violate this principle, for no one is more beholden to a transcendent fantasy than the ideologue (for there is a "transcendence from below," and this is the lure of the diabolical).
Speaking of what took place in pre-Hitler Germany, Voegelin writes of a specific type of spiritual decline resulting in "radical stupidity," which is the "radical refusal to actualize one's participation in the transcendent." (I remember reading somewhere of another definition of fascism, the violent rejection of transcendence; since the Jews are responsible for bringing this awful transcendence into the world, it makes perverse sense that they should be the prime targets of these primitive immamental cases. The more things change....)
To turn it around, as we were saying last week, our most quintessentially human capacity involves "the quest for the truth of the right order of existence and for living justly in accord with that truth." In short, we bow before reality, not try to dominate it with some simplified scheme, for reality is always more complex -- and real! -- than any such scheme.
Note that when the world is collapsed to a single level, the possibility of (real) transcendent truth is denied in favor of its faux substitute, whether leftism, scientism, evolutionism, etc. Perhaps without even knowing it, the ideologue replaces truth with will, which is for Voegelin the "fundamental stupidity," for the de-divinization of man "leads all too quickly to a dehumanization."
I hope this isn't overly abstract, for it happens every time. Indeed, the "big story" of the 20th century was this de-divinization and therefore dehumanization of man, resulting in millions of bodies stacked like cordwood in common graves. In fact, ideologies have consequences, usually grave upon grave ones.
Please note that (proper) Christianity cannot be an ideology, because it isn't fundamentally an idea at all. Rather, it is a person, and a person is a rational being intersubjectively linked to others via transcendent love. A person is trimorphic logophilia incarnate; realizing this is the cure for ideology, and for pneumopathology more generally.
The ideologue replaces this ontological fact with a Lie, such as that man is merely another animal, or that religion is an opiate, or that race or class or gender determines consciousness. This Lie, because it is tied up with Will, becomes a real power, and assenting to it becomes a way to partake of worldly power. To become an "elite" generally means to assimilate the Lie and reap its worldly rewards.
Thus, the Lie "is a social power which heavily burdens each of us and threatens each with lasting spiritual deformation." Resistance to it "demands a corresponding measure of spiritual passion, intellectual discipline, and hard study," but this is only a "first step" in extricating ourselves, for "it must be followed by the passionate work of daily resistance against the lie of existence -- the work is lifelong."
In a letter to Thomas Mann, Voegelin wrote that "Resistance to a not merely ethically bad but religiously evil satanic* substance can be performed only by a similarly powerful, religiously good force. One cannot combat a satanic force with ethics and humanity alone."
And Satan said to him: All these things I will give to you if you will fall down and worship me.
(*Voegelin has a specific definition of satanic in mind, which has to do with the creature essentially claiming ownership of transcendental goods that can only come from the Creator (think of Adam "becoming as God"). Again, it is the radical stupidity of collapsing the world hierarchy and reducing truth to power.)