Four centuries and more of modern thought have been, from one point of view, an experiment in the possibilities of knowledge open to man, assuming that there is no Revealed Truth.
Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age, by Eugene (Fr. Seraphim) Rose
We are living in the conclusion of this experiment. As Fr. Rose puts it, “if there is no Revealed Truth, there is no truth at all….” It can’t be, you say. Well, when a man can choose to be a woman, and vice versa, when a flu can cause the world to panic, when box cutters can lead to the greatest (at least until then) power grab in human history, when the right to choose overcomes the right to life…. there is no truth.
But there are those who continue to seek truth from the bottom, unaccepting of revealed truth. This is the path of modern philosophy. “Common sense” and the current opinions of the “in crowd” – whether that in crowd is made up of fellow academicians or cocktail party companions.
In fact, no one lives but by the light of some revelation, be it a true or a false one, whether it serve to enlighten or obscure.
And false revelations lead to the abyss. It is not logic that stands as an obstacle to this Revealed Truth – logic tells us that men are men, and women are women, after all. It is, instead, an opposed faith – call it an alternative narrative. Man lives in a story.
As one who embraces the non-aggression principle, I once believed that factual and logical arguments would win the day for this proper, Christian, method by which to determine when violence is justified. Yet, if all it takes are facts and logic, libertarian political theory would win in a landslide. But this is insufficient – we live in a story.
We see this even in the Christian Church, divided on the social justice warrior and critical theory lines of today. Facts and logical arguments make clear the situation, but these don’t win the day. Instead, there are distortions of truth offered in the various causes promoted by those claiming to seek racial reconciliation, affirmation of alternative choices, etc. But there is not complete Truth.
Fr. Rose continues with an examination of the stages of the nihilist dialectic. He offers the French Revolution, Communism, and National Socialism as episodes that exemplified the successes of nihilism, but these examples have not dissuaded men from continuing on the path. But, how did we get here? For this, he considers four steps.
Fr. Rose sees the first step in Liberalism. This will be tough sledding, but it is ground previously covered at this blog – ground that suggests that libertarianism (or liberalism) without a proper cultural grounding in Christian ethics and Natural Law leads us away from, not toward, liberty.
The Liberalism we shall describe in the following pages is not – let us state at the outset – an overt Nihilism; it is rather a passive Nihilism, or, better yet, the neutral breeding-ground of the more advanced stages of Nihilism.
I offer the following, from Murray Rothbard:
What I have been trying to say is that Mises’s utilitarian, relativist approach to ethics is not nearly enough to establish a full case for liberty. It must be supplemented by an absolutist ethic – an ethic of liberty, as well as of other values needed for the health and development of the individual – grounded on natural law, i.e., discovery of the laws of man’s nature.
Liberalism, without this objective ethic, has no defense against nihilism – it is, as Fr. Rose writes, a neutral breeding ground. This is the point made by Rothbard, and it is the point made by Fr. Rose (although Fr. Rose will not use the term “natural law”).
Yet we see many defenders of this Liberal order – free markets and trade, travel, free speech, property rights – fighting to hold on to these values while ignoring the foundation on which these were built. Returning to Fr. Rose:
The incompetent defense by Liberalism of a heritage in which it has never fully believed, has been one of the most potent causes of overt Nihilism.
We have seen the results of this in the liberal Bret Weinstein and Evergreen State College, or the liberal Jordan Peterson at the University of Toronto, attempting to defend the liberal order they rightly cherish without leaning on the foundations upon which it was built.
Defenders such as these have a genuine regard for truth. However, they remain stuck in a framework that can only accept truth built from the bottom up – they are precluded, by their training and social circles – from claiming a reliance on absolute, revealed truth. Unfortunately, it is on this same bottom-up foundation that the enemies of truth also build their structures. And the enemies of truth don’t play by the liberal’s ground rules.
The blindness of the Liberal is the direct antecedent of Nihilist, and more specifically, of Bolshevist, morality; for the latter is only a consistent and systematic application of Liberal unbelief.
I return, as always, to Antonio Gramsci. While the liberals, at most, ignore Christian truth in order to achieve their desired form of liberty, Gramsci knew that it was Christian truth that must be destroyed to achieve his desired communism. Once Christianity is removed, they both can’t be right – and we see which one is right, as it certainly isn’t our liberty that is blossoming.
The radical attacks the Liberal doctrine at every point, and the veil of rhetoric is no protection against the strong thrust of his sharp blade.
Fr. Rose then moves through three more stages – Realism, Vitalism, and the Nihilism of Destruction. I will only briefly touch on these. It should be noted: while it is clear that there is little left of the best of the Liberal order, these remaining three phases overlap, each contributing in various forms to our current calamities.
As opposed to Liberal vagueness, the Realist world-view seems perfectly clear and straightforward.
Agnosticism is replaced by atheism; instead of “higher values,” materialism and self-interest. Where the Liberal is vague about ultimate things, the Realist does not even consider such things. Realism gives birth to scientism – attempts to take science beyond its proper bounds. The Liberal is indifferent to absolute truth; the realist is hostile to it. For the Liberal, everything is gray; for the Realist, only black and white.
Well-meaning realists hope to forestall the next Hitler by appeals to reason and science, but they merely open the door to the next “terrible simplifier” (for example, all white people are racist).
Next, Vitalism was an attempt to derail the Realist train – a reaction against the eclipse of higher realities in the Realist’s simplification of the world. It was an attempt to stop the momentum toward “an inhuman technological system wherein all worldly problems would be solved at the cost of the enslavement of men’s souls.”
Obviously, Vitalism has failed at this task. Accepting the idea that there is no absolute truth (in fact, not considering truth at all), on what basis could Vitalism succeed?
There is no form of Vitalism that is not naturalistic, none whose entire program does not begin and end in this world….
As if to prove that any attempt to regain Liberal ends without the foundation of the means necessary to gain these is futile, consider the most successful liberal countries on earth – the descendants of the British Empire. The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and, most certainly, the United States, have grown into the most destructive police states – they have become that which they claimed to have defeated in the wars of the twentieth century.
Finally, Fr. Rose comes to the Nihilism of Destruction:
Here at last we find an almost “pure” Nihilism, a rage against creation and against civilization that will not be appeased until it has reduced them to absolute nothingness.
Keeping in mind that Fr. Rose wrote this work in the early 1960s, his foresight and perceptiveness regarding our day is remarkable:
…but never until our own time have there been a doctrine and a plan of destruction, never before has the mind of man so contorted itself to find an apology for this most obvious work of Satan, and to set up a program for its accomplishment.
As I have previously written, regarding events of the last two years:
…never before in the recorded history of humanity has the entire population of the world been under siege simultaneously and placed in a medical experiment, forced to face the risk of early death regardless of the path chosen. All of humanity; one-hundred percent. More than seven billion people.
Every institution destroyed, every “science” manipulated, every authority – political or religious – compromised. Fr. Rose writes of many examples in the former Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. I read these and consider that these examples are more applicable, yet more subtly applied, today.
Not to give Fr. Rose too much credit for his foresight:
Such phenomena, of course, are extreme, and they must be viewed in proper perspective. Only a few have been capable of such pure Nihilism….
Well, perhaps it is time for an updated edition to this book….
Rothbard’s quote: “ What I have been trying to say is that Mises’s utilitarian, relativist approach to ethics is not nearly enough to establish a full case for liberty. It must be supplemented by an absolutist ethic – an ethic of liberty, as well as of other values needed for the health and development of the individual – grounded on natural law, i.e., discovery of the laws of man’s nature.”ReplyDelete
The only absolute law is God’s law, not laws of man’s nature. Man’s nature is not absolute. Man is a created being. Calling God’s law “natural law” was a compromise with the liberals. It was a large step down the path to where we are today. We should give God the glory for his law and call it God’s law.
I know I have said this before but Fr. Rose's path is similar to Francis Schaeffer's. One from a Catholic perspective and another from a Reformed Presbyterian. Something truly did turn in the 1960s. Today our culture looks at that cultural revolution as a great thing that brought more freedom to our society. But as you say:ReplyDelete
"As if to prove that any attempt to regain Liberal ends without the foundation of the means necessary to gain these is futile, consider the most successful liberal countries on earth – the descendants of the British Empire. The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and, most certainly, the United States, have grown into the most destructive police states – they have become that which they claimed to have defeated in the wars of the twentieth century."
In rejecting revealed truth, the world rejected true meaning and purpose. In their failed attempts to find purpose working from the bottom up they ultimately rejected reason itself. I think Realism maybe represents that time when philosophers still thought reason could give answers to life. Nihilism represents that rejection.
What came out of Nihilism was Existentialism. Nihilism taught there is no meaning and lashed out at the world. Most people can't live like that. Existentialism taught that there is no absolute meaning so pick your meaning for yourself. Live out your own life with no one else dictating any rules by which you may live your life. Have you heard anyone bringing that idea forward lately?
Come to find out it is just as destructive.
Regarding the 1960s, I am reminded of something Tom Holland has said: the 1960s might be remembered in Western history as meaningful and impactful a period as was the Reformation.Delete
We should recall the devastation that followed the Reformation.
"Agnosticism is replaced by atheism;"ReplyDelete
As an agnostic, one of the things that bothers me about militant atheists is their tendency to look down upon those who believe in a god (or God). I love George Carlin's humor with the exception of some of the vitriol he carried towards believers, as an example of such an atheist.
The giant irony that most of them miss is that it takes just as much faith to believe in no god or higher being/power as it does to believe in one. Neither position can be definitively "proven" or unproven by the scientific method.
However using logic and simply being aware of Aquinas's "Prime Mover" argument, one can at least take a crack at trying to reason their way in or out....and I've yet to see a convincing argument by an atheist against the Prime Mover...in fact, the very idea of the "big bang", which is the currently "science majority" accepted "explanation" of the start of the universe seems to reinforce as a "proof" that very notion.
One big bit of evidence for the God of the Bible for me is all the fulfilled prophecies about Messiah. The most exact and amazing is the prediction Daniel 9 regarding the timing when Messiah will enter Jerusalem.Delete
Scholars have calculated the timeline in Daniel 9 and found that it gives an exact date of when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey for His final time, just before His crucifiction.
That level of detail has to be supernatural in nature and points to Jesus.
Jordan Peterson came out with a new video discussion today, mentioning telos and touching on Aquinas and his Prime Mover argument among many other interesting things. They also discuss the issues surrounding the issues of life meaning and the relationship between science and religion and it's relation to "truth":Delete
Thanks, Nick. This goes on my watch list!Delete