October 4, 2009

"An entirely new kind of barbarism"

Thaddeus J. Kozinski:

...One of the most astute "sign readers" of today is the reigning Pope. Here is one of Benedict XVI's most startling yet accurate readings: "We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goals one's own ego and one's own desires." If I might put it into less philosophical terms, what the Holy Father is telling us is that Western culture is descending into barbarism.

We tend to associate barbarism with images of primitive savages looting and pillaging villages, razing the walls of cities, and enslaving women and children. However, the Holy Father is suggesting here an entirely new kind of barbarism, one with a distinctly spiritual character. Civility is the quality of soul and society by which we recognize not only that other people exist, but also that they have the right to our courtesy, dignity, and respect. Civilization, then, as the opposite of barbarism, is founded upon the recognition of the dignity and rights of the other. Thus, a culture in which "the highest goals [are] one's ego and one's own desires" is the very definition of barbaric.

G.K. Chesterton notes, "The simple sense of wonder at the shapes of things, and at their exuberant independence of our intellectual standards and our trivial definitions, is the basis of spirituality." Today's barbarism is of a distinctly spiritual nature. It is not so much a physical as a philosophical barbarism that has overtaken Western culture, a barbarism of the soul that is camouflaged by a quite "civilized" bodily façade. Fr John Courtney Murray observed:
The barbarian need not appear in bearskins with a club in hand. He may wear a Brooks Brothers suit and carry a ball-point pen with which to write his advertising copy. In fact, even beneath the academic gown there may lurk a child of the wilderness, untutored in the high tradition of civility, who goes busily and happily about his work, a domesticated and law-abiding man, engaged in the construction of a philosophy to put an end to all philosophy, and thus put an end to the possibility of a vital consensus and to civility itself.
The most dangerous philosophical barbarians today are not the relatively few fanatical atheists and dogmatic relativists in academe, the courts, the government, and the media, but the much more prevalent "practically minded" sort. These do not deny the existence of other people, but live as if they didn't exist or had no worth compared to their own; they are not certain that God does not exist, or that the true, the good and the beautiful are illusions; yet if He did happen to exist, and if transcendentals were real, it wouldn't really matter much to their lives....

There's nothing quite so horrid and absurd as those of the "practically minded" type. They can't find answers, because it never occurs to their bland complacency that there might be a question! Lordy, lordy, what's be done? Give me an up-front atheist any day. At least there's something to get your teeth into, or to fight against, instead of punching the Pillsbury doughboy. Same goes for politics. I'd value an old-fashioned Communist infinitely over today's Peace n' Mush fake liberals and fake pacifists.

Posted by John Weidner at October 4, 2009 3:24 AM
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