We are in the middle of enormous cultural changes within western society which have many observers bewildered and many participants bemused.
God in Public: How the Bible Speaks Truth to Power Today, by N. T. Wright
Wright offers his definitions of modernity and postmodernity. The modern world, broadly speaking, is the Western world from the eighteenth century to the present:
The European Enlightenment at the intellectual level, and the Industrial Revolution at the social level…
This period gave us what Wright calls “the modernist trinity”: the confident individual (‘I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul’); there is certainty of the world, knowledge is objective; a mythology of progress.
…we were no longer bound to traditional religions or ethics…religion and ethics were a matter of private opinion. …We have learned to think for ourselves…to free ourselves from the tyranny of tradition.
This is what is meant – implicitly and explicitly – when we consider the meaning of living in the modern world.
In such a framework, negative consequences are not difficult to predict. For example, the broad sweep of ideas that fall under the framework of Social Darwinism: eugenics, selective breeding, racial purity. Then again, who am I to say that these are “negative” consequences? Without some broadly accepted ethical framework, such a statement is impossible.
Wright uses language with which I am not comfortable, for example, “industrial wage slavery.” I will describe this phrase in a manner with which I can live.
Inflation (via central banking and fiat money) and taxes have ensured that the modern man can live at some level above subsistence, but well short of any independence. Since this was not enough for today’s noble elite, a lifetime yoke was created with student loans – ensuring that a large portion of young people will be paying interest for life. Yes, I understand that this last one is a personal choice; yet it is society and our current ethic that says such a choice is normal – even expected.
And therefore we look around us and find that this modernity is having a hard go of it – we see this in the backlash made manifest in Trump’s election and in what are referred to as alt-right parties in Europe; in reality, all are some version of rejection of “modernity” and demonstrate a desire to return to some version (who knows what version) of “traditional.”
It is something that such as these have in common with the postmodernists: both camps reject the modern due to the failures of the modernists. But instead of returning to some version of traditional, the postmodernists deconstruct everything; instead of looking to some version of the past for foundation, the postmodernist suggests that the only objective foundation is to have no foundation.
If reality is thus being merrily deconstructed, the same is even more true for stories. One of the best known aspects of postmodernity is the so-called ‘death of the metanarrative’, the critique applied to the great stories by which our lives have been ruled.
Wright offers that these stories (metanarratives) that drive man, and not abstract ideological doctrines. It is a point libertarians might take to heart; in fact, one very prominent libertarian has: The Libertarian Quest for a Grand Historical Narrative, by Hans-Hermann Hoppe:
…the general public is not used to or incapable of abstract reasoning, high theory and intellectual consistency, but forms its political views and convictions on the basis of historical narratives, i.e. of prevailing interpretations of past events, and hence it is upon those who want to change things for a better, liberal-libertarian future to challenge and correct such interpretations and propose and promote alternative, revisionist historical narratives.
Libertarians lament the relative lack of attraction for what seems to us a slam-dunk win: the non-aggression principle. Hoppe recognizes that something else is needed. As readers here know, I have also been searching for this “something else.” Regardless of the superficial success of postmodernist philosophy (if you can call it that), human nature will not easily let go of the draw of the metanarrative.
Returning to Wright, he offers how the Bible challenges this postmodern deconstruction. I will not address each point, as some venture into territory that I try to stay away from at this blog (someday I might give up on maintaining this boundary, but not today).
…the biblical metanarrative challenges and subverts the worldview of philosophical Idealism, in which historical events are mere contingent trivia, and reality is to be found in a set of abstractions…
Unknowingly, I guess, it is in this space where I have been spending so much time. We cannot speak of the idea of “libertarianism” outside of recognition of the history – the history of facts and the history of values – that gave birth to this liberty.
We cannot build a foundation for liberty on an abstract idea (the non-aggression principle) without placing that idea in an objective framework – a framework of facts and a framework of values – that gave birth to this liberty.
…the biblical metanarrative challenged all pagan political power structures.
We saw this made manifest in the European Middle Ages – at least to the extent that imperfect man could achieve. There was no “political power structure” outside of the old and good law; there was no sovereign, unless one wanted to consider this old and good law as sovereign.
…the biblical narrative…challenges all rival visions of the future (‘eschatologies’) and how we get there.
Certainly it challenges the visions as offered during the last five-hundred years. As Wright offers: people didn’t sit around in the Middle Ages thinking “it sure is dark in here…I can’t wait to be Enlightened.”
And after all, the grandiose claims of the ‘Renaissance’ and the ‘Enlightenment’ are themselves full of holes… We live in a world where, increasingly, people are clutching at straws, unable to glimpse a story which would lead the way into true peace, freedom and justice.
Hoppe, in the aforementioned lecture, offered a portion of the Decalogue as part of his “Libertarian Quest for a Grand Historical Narrative.” It is the portion covering law. These may be enough of a foundation to build on for liberty.
Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps we might also consider the other commandments – the ones that compel us to piety and humility. After all, there is a reason that the Bible (or 100,000 years of evolution) has emphasized the Golden Rule and not the Silver Rule.