History and the Origins
Following the course of our argument so far, we have been carried to a disquieting vista. Traditionalism and Modernism, these evident uncompromising antipodes, apparently agree on a crucial point: the present moment must be abolished. They propose diametrically contrary reasons for this conclusion, and profoundly different solutions to the problem it presents. Modernity would replace the here and now with the ‘next phase’, which ultimately culminates in a terminus to mankind itself; Traditionalism would replace the here and now with the ‘divine order’ or some echo thereof. Modernism opposes the present with an impatient ‘not yet’, Traditionalism, with a plaintive ‘no longer’. The unavoidable consequence of the one view as much as the other seems to be the necessity of more or less violent change.
This unexpected point of contact between these two great antagonists can be reformulated negatively: both Modernism and Traditionalism are necessarily anti-conservative with respect to the present moment, with respect to the whole of Modernity. They agree that the one view which is no longer possible, and perhaps no longer even palatable, is the conservative view.
How can we account for this point of community where we would least expect to find it?
Modernism conceives of the present moment as being governed by a secret law pressing mankind and human society ever upward; this is the crux of its ‘overcoming’ of the present.1 Traditionalism conceives of the present moment as being governed by a secret law pressing mankind and human society ever downward, save as they are infused or inspired by buoyant divine forces, whose reappearance will come at the end of the cycle of ages, after the Kali-yuga or the Iron Age. The Modernist views history as a trend which culminates in the ‘end of history’, a final and universal homogeneous world state, a kind of political Pangea. This world state alone would realize the ‘freedom’ of mankind, the freedom of everyman to seek what ends he will; it is the denatured theology of modernism incarnate on earth. The ‘aim of history’ by this view, as well as the right work of the individual, is governed inexorably by this ‘historical finality’. The Traditionalist meanwhile holds that the right work of the individual is to prepare for the return of the cycle from its lowest to its highest point, to prepare the rebirth of the origins after their long decadence in modern times. This will follow the collapse of the present ‘order’, the close of the present cycle in fire or ashes.
These views, apparently contrary to one another, are both open to the same fundamental philosophical objection: neither one has demonstrated, nor can demonstrate, the necessary issuance of its predicted future from out of the dark womb of ‘History’. The one has recourse to ‘historical necessity’ or to the supposedly inevitable but ultimately indemonstrable ‘march of history’, the other to what is openly acknowledged to be a myth, i.e. a story which is logically unprovable but which is supposedly bound to a divine past, and which thus contains a divine lesson or kernel of esoteric truth. Both are purportedly derived from a presumed insight into the ‘laws of history’; both acknowledge, that is to say, that there exist, at least for our fallen time, precisely such ‘laws’, and that these ‘laws’ are effective on human action and human societies. This makes for a philosophical dilemma: the particular interpretation that one makes of history depends, not on one’s analysis of history, but on one’s prior commitments to one or the other of these worldviews.
At the same time, in the absence of such commitments, the analysis of history seems to result forever in a kind of stalemate. The future is characterized by impenetrable mystery, the past by essentially ambiguous or equivocal facts, and the present by a quality of uncertainty and dependence on one’s embattled knowledge of what preceded it and what will follow it. Both Modernism and Traditionalism attempt to formulate such understanding and predictions, but how can they possibly do so to the satisfaction of a critical mind? One’s view of the past, as noted, is governed by one’s presuppositions, the very subject matter of philosophical inquiry. So far as the future goes, either man is free, and so history cannot be foreseen with any mathematical precision or any degree of surety since it depends decisively on unpredictable acts today and tomorrow, or else men are the slaves of contingency, so that nothing can ever guarantee or even forestall that tomorrow a piece of ‘bad fortune’ will not intervene and radically change his direction or destroy him altogether. Recourse to supposed ‘laws of history’, derived from history itself, are no good here, because the one thing visible on any naïve review of history is the total absence of such laws. History is not like the physical or organic worlds – evidently predisposed to a kind of intuitable regularity. There is no ordered firmament standing above the sphere of history, no cosmos in which it is evidently contained, no systems of stars which reflect in the regularity of their movements some manner of coherency and pattern; history, if it has laws, buries them deep within itself beneath a scintillating and mercurial skin, so that one must go delving Hegel-like or Spengler-like, deep into its bowels, to discover them. But then these laws are fundamentally disputable; they are the subject, not the presupposition, of philosophical inquiry. As little as history shows to us an unequivocally rising ladder of human progress, so little does it reveal a manifest cycle of downward motion or decay. History moves by fits and starts, now climbing and now descending, and reveals nothing so much to the impartial observer as the salient absence of regular motion.
This makes scientific prophecy of the future impossible: the future remains mysterious so far as rigorous science is concerned. On the other side of history, the deep past, history is bound by an equally impenetrable pre-historic shadowland. We know that this pre-history exists on account of the enigmatic traces it has left for us in the rumours and ruins of what were, to all extant evidence, mighty civilizations, quite sufficient in their extent and achievements to disprove the anthropological or scientistic assessment of pre-history as a world of primitives and savages. But at the same time we know almost nothing concrete about the beliefs or ways of life or quality of the men who peopled it. It is a city unknown, and our investigations into it always have the character of guesswork.
The existence of this past and its simultaneous inaccessibility suggests to us the the terrible reality and devastating power of telluric catastrophes, disasters capable of wiping entire civilizations, not only off the map, but out of human memory. This is inbuilt into the very idea of Traditionalism and its cyclical view of the world; but it would appear that these catastrophes can occur at any moment during the cycle, and not only at its nadir. By Traditionalist standards, at least, it appears that the Golden Age lies on the other side of just such a catastrophe. For all we know, this worldwide catastrophe brought an end to the Golden Age. One is compelled to ask if such catastrophes, which have led to the annihilation of civilizations entire, might not lead as well to the annihilation of mankind itself. Today indeed we are forced to approach this question from a fundamentally new standpoint: for today, for the first time in history, mankind itself is capable of producing precisely such a man-annihilating catastrophe. This power is not even limited to a single possibility: nuclear holocaust; the artificial production of a super-virus or super-disease which can eliminate the race; the ruination of the planet’s atmosphere through ‘manmade global warming’ or the desertification of the Earth’s surface until the Earth can no longer sustain human life; the production of an ‘artificial intelligence’ of sufficient uncontrollability and unpredictability that it might massacre the species entire; the manufacture of self-propagating ‘nanotechnology’ which might alter the physical conditions surrounding us until they become inhospitable to human life; the engineering of the human genome for so long and to such a radical extent that the races genetic profile becomes unstable or susceptible to any number of unexpected disasters – these are only the possibilities which might face us in the relatively near future on account of our current level of ‘technological progress’. We can thus derive no complacent optimism from our review of history: the ‘necessity of progress’ is called into question by the evidences of the deep past on the one hand and by the fruits of that very ‘progress’ itself on the other.
In this sense, it would appear that the Traditionalist perspective is in its way more ‘optimistic’ than the Modernist, for it seems to provide for the commencement of a new cycle, and thus at least promises the preservation of the race, if not of its present forms or achievements. At the same time, there can be no fixed surety that mankind is destined to survive the coming ‘end of the cycle’. Its survival depends, not certainly on the laws of nature, but on the will of the divine; but what do we know of the divine will, or of what the divine mind thinks of humankind and its wretched struggles? Surely the existence of individual men is not a matter of concern to the divine; this conclusion is so obvious as to become trivial, and hardly needs a work like Voltaire’s Candide to bring us to awareness of it. One has merely to consult the mortality list of the most recent earthquake to confirm as much. Nor are good men, nor even divine men, spared these disasters, so far as their earthy existence goes. What can guarantee then that the divine will ensure the survival of any man when the final catastrophe comes? Who can assure us that the gods will scoop up even some handful of worthy survivors from out of the inferno to see to their continuation? Both Modernism and Traditionalism seem to be conditioned by a secret optimism which has no clear grounding, and which would seem to be contradicted by other elements of the same views. Traditionalism has, however, this excellent reason for hope, which Modernism cannot claim: even if the end of man is to come, the divine is eternal, and divinity in man is equally so. Man, insofar as he has become a transcendent being in his person, is deathless in the decisive respect. To this extent, Traditionalism gives an empyreal guarantee of life to man or to the best men.
Be this as it may, we are concerned with the question of human history and its conservation or loss; and whatever the reality of the Traditionalist promise, the earthly destruction of man means necessarily the end of that history. So far our analysis of history goes, we find nothing to guarantee its continuation; a multitude of contemporary viewpoints promise to us a bright tomorrow (e.g. the universal liberal order of freedom, equality, prosperity; the return of the Golden Age; the technological singularity which brings a new state of wonder and makes possible the physically impossible, transforming us into gods), but all of them might in fact be but a secret nightmare gilded in false array (e.g. a global dictatorship, the final Armageddon, a technocratic tyranny or the abolition of our humanity in a digital death). All these views in their popular form tend to lead to nothing so much as the deresponsibilizing of men, for they convince us to shuck our duties from our shoulders and thrust them upon the back of some fantastical tomorrow. In the meantime we bury ourselves in complacency and wretched contentment, a kind of nihilism which is so petty and pathetic that it hardly deserves so dire a name.
Having arrived at such a point we are compelled to step back and take stock. The question reasserts itself: What are Modernism and Traditionalism, and where do they originate? What are their origins?
Traditionalism takes its bearings, as we have lately stated, by the unitary and esoteric truth lying behind appearances and exoteric teachings; but it takes its point of departure from the necessity of finding one’s way in fallen times. Its point of departure, that is to say, is not the esoteric (that is rather its destination); its point of departure is a rebellion against Modernism. It is late-come, tardy; even by its own estimation, it would not exist at all if we lived in a truly ‘Traditionalist’ epoch. The very titles of many of its founding works – as for instance Evola’s Revolt Against the Modern World and Guénon’s Crisis of the Modern World – point to its reactionary nature. It exists in reaction to, in response to, the modern crisis. It therefore points us in two directions simultaneously: first, to analysis of the pre-modern Traditionalist line of teachers and civilizations, and second, to its great contender, the Modern World. It would not exist in the absence thereof; Modernism is the necessary, if not sufficient, condition for Traditionalism. To adequately understand Traditionalism, we must therefore understand Modernism.
Modernity takes its proximate origins from two sources: the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The first is equivalent to the attempt to resuscitate a dormant Antiquity, primarily in the political and artistic senses. Philosophically, it represents a conscious departure from Antiquity, an overcoming of a dark ‘history’ through the diligent study of the same. The Renaissance rebirth of Antiquity thus unwittingly laid the groundwork for its subsequent murder in the Enlightenment; and for the same reason, the Renaissance has a more peripheral role in the development of Modernism than the Enlightenment; the Enlightenment is the true ‘origin’ of Modernism.
But the Enlightenment, as even these remarks demonstrate, was not born of the void. It consisted primarily in a response to, a modification of, or a rebellion against classical philosophy, and classical political philosophy in particular. Its purported reasons for this rebellion were from the very first pragmatic; classical political philosophy, as Machiavelli stated it,2 did not treat of the reality of human life, but rather of some ‘ideal’ human life which was not actual and could not be made so. This was aggravated by the irksome disproportion, noted classically by Hobbes,3 between the seemingly objective and final successes of mathematics in the new science on the one hand, and the continuing disrepair and chaos of human polities on the other. The difference between geometry and political philosophy, of course, had always been known; this was hardly a discovery of modern times. But classical philosophy had taken the difference to be produced by the nature of geometry as opposed to the nature of the human being; these natures differed, and consequently it would be meaningless to attempt to understand them via parallel philosophical approaches or methodologies. The moderns were enormously impressed, however, by the emergence of natural science, which they took to be a demonstrable improvement over classical science; and, having seen that this natural science could be extended to the whole of the physical world (what began to be known as ‘nature’ in the inclusive sense in contradistinction to the restrictive or distinctive classical idea of nature),4 believed that this science could be extended to human beings and human things as well as to number and geometrical form. For by the new view, the human being was considered ‘a part of nature’, comprehensible in light of the ‘natural laws’. One primary source of Modernism, if it is not the true source of Modernism itself, is therefore located in the question of science, as this was elaborated by Galileo, Newton, Huygens, Copernicus, Kepler, Lavoisier &co.
The question therefore opens of the character of the change which these men produced in the former natural science – that natural science of the scholastics which traced its origins back the Philosopher, to Aristotle himself, and which was transmitted to the first modern natural scientists via the reconciliation which Thomas Aquinas had effected or attempted to effect between classical philosophy and Christian theology. Why did the moderns effect a break with this tradition? In what did this break consist? To what extent is it tied to the spirit of the Renaissance, and to what extent did it represent rather an extraneous and unrelated spirit, a spirit of its own – the Modern spirit in ovo? What is the relation of this idea to the concept of History which arose in that same period, and what critique can be made of both these new ideas?
These questions, some of which are neglected to such a shocking extent that they are often not even perceived any longer, point us emphatically to a conclusion which is relevant to our present disquisition: Modernism arose in specific dialectic with pre-Modernism. One must therefore comprehend the ‘before’ if one is to rightly comprehend the ‘after’: the true origins of Modernism are coeval with the origins of the West itself, of the Western Tradition. It is imperative that these origins be understood.
The origins of the Western Tradition can be traced back to a remarkable extent to two men, two ‘historical moments’ which were absolutely unique and ‘creative’ with respect to all that followed: Socrates and Christ. In some ways, these men were strangely parallel in their lives: they both voluntarily chose to live lives of comparative poverty and even ‘ignominy’ with respect to the standards of their time; they were martyred by their governments on the pretext (among other things) of impiety; both were regarded as being in some way totally new or revolutionary by the milieus in which they moved, and were therefore largely greeted with strong mistrust on the part of the older generations and ecstatic devotion on the part of the younger; and neither of them, so far as we know, wrote down even a single one of their teachings, but were rather recorded in these teachings by their pupils or disciples. But here the similarities end, and a remarkable series of contrasts commences.
One was given to the shocking and, to orthodox minds, insanely arrogant claim that he was the incarnate Son of God; the other was given to the provoking and maddeningly humble claim that he knew that he knew nothing. One silenced his critics with the power of his single utterances; the other demonstrated the poverty of his critics’ views through ruthless and lengthy dialectic. One is recorded primarily as speaking to or before crowds and masses of men, and was intent on the conversion of all mankind; the other did all in his power to turn his conversations upon a single specifically chosen man or else very small select groups, spoke in dialogue even in the presence of others, and sought the cultivation of an extremely exclusive group of rare potential philosophers or philo-philosophers. One wept thrice, proclaimed the coming of God, promised redemption and the overcoming of the grave and founded hope as a virtue; the other promised, it would seem, nothing at all, and is said to have laughed in the very hour he was made to die. Finally, one of them impelled men to absolute loving obedience to the One God; the other, to absolute uncompromising investigation of the cosmos, without restriction and without special regard to supposedly divine commandments.
This is, of course, an impossibly curtailed treatment of either of these men, not to speak of both together. We present it merely to indicate the route by which a ‘return to the origins’ might bear real fruit for our study of the modern crisis. For nothing can be clearer than this: that the confrontation with Modernity demands of us a return to the origins, both the proximate (in the Renaissance and Enlightenment) and the deep (in classical and Christian Antiquity). The origins must be unearthed and grasped; the alternatives which they supplanted (as for instance: the Greek poetic tradition; the European pagan traditions; the rival cults of late Rome, such as the Mithraic; Christendom and the Gothic Age; etc.) must be drawn with due clarity, sympathy and justice, that their potential and their limitations in our modern day can be brought to light; for only through the self-knowledge that such ‘historical studies’ might furnish us can we possibly hope to confront the crisis of our times.
Such a return must be an act of reverence or of wonder. It opens the meaning of Modernity itself, and represents at the same time the revival of our Tradition; rather than rejecting the present or the history which produced it in favour of some tenuous future or haze-bound pre-history, we make time itself the object of our work, we dwell like divers or fishermen on this sea of memory, this wellspring of matchless vitality beneath us. We transform ourselves from mere cynical critics of our age into lovers of the West, philoccidentals. Thereby we revive, not only the customs, ways, styles of life contained in this superabundant and multifaceted past of the West, but its very soul, its philosophy or its faith, its eternal and unchangeable ‘Ideas’ or archetypes, which form its pith and its essence. And thereby, and thereby alone, do we open the possibility, the unique and precious chance, of a non-nihilistic response to Modernity, through the resurrection or rebirth of its truest and most fundamental origins.
1In this overview we disregard the powerful critique brought against this notion of history by men like Nietzsche and Hiedegger, who, one might say, preserved the modern sense of history, but shore it of the modern notion of progress. Both men have been implicated much more clearly in the advent of those political regimes which opposed the modern trend than in that trend itself, and this is no doubt in part due to their anti-progressivist, anti-meliorist view of history.
2See Machiavelli, The Prince, esp. Chapter XV.
3See Hobbes’ introduction to his Philosophical Rudaments Concerning Government and Society. See also Descartes, Rules for the Direction of the Mind, esp. Rules Two and Three, which would form the basis for his subsequent Meditations.
4This distinction can be briefly summarized as follows. The classical idea of nature took nature to be that which distinguishes the beings of the world from the other beings of the world; the nature of man is not the nature of dog, which in turn is not the nature of the stars or the stones. Each nature implies an end, a telos for the being in question, and these teloi cannot be interchanged. The right end of man is not the right end of a dog. ‘Nature’ for modern times, on the other hand, is rather something equivalent to the universe as such; it is the sum total of things that exist and that emerge on the basis of identifiable and mathematizable laws. But in the comprehension of these laws, the possibility arises of changing their emergent course; man can influence or alter or command the ‘natural’ order. To this extent, man stands in some mysterious way outside of ‘nature’; ‘nature’ is therefore increasingly understood in contradistinction to ‘man’ or ‘technology’ or to the artificial world that man produces. There appears to be a tension here; for man’s separation from the ‘natural world’ indicates that he cannot be comprehensively analysed in the light of its laws. Yet modern science is dedicated to nothing so much as the presupposition that the entire world, man included, can be analysed in the light of these laws. Man appears to wish to destroy his own underpinning, and the doctrine of progress suggests moreover that he is capable of doing so. Man remains the one open question in the world, the one ‘unnatural’ being. This inclines man along a path which ultimately seems to aim at his extricating himself altogether from the ‘laws of nature’ – process we have reviewed to some extent in Part II of this essay, and which appears to culminate in self-annihilation.
Without diminishing the validity of your sharp observations, I am persuaded we can easily locate the origins of modernity in what I would call more a religion than a philosophy. Once that root is identified, all the disastrous facets of modernity follow in a simple logical cascade.
I must respectfully disagree with both of you, Backward and perhaps Murdoch as well (depending on precisely how you view this issue), on the nature of Modernity. Though I am quite aware that one of the effects of Modernity has been the emergence of a kind of secular faith, allied to science and replete with perverted analogues for practically all the authoritative offices of traditional religions, I hold this to be a consequence of the Modern project, rather than its root or origin. It is proof of the failure and inadequacy of that project; Modernity could not do elsewise than produce a surrogate for religion, so as to placate the religious instinct of men, despite its (ongoing) attempts to render that instinct null and void and to produce a purely godless state, or an earthly paradise. The Modern root is, in my view, strictly philosophical in nature, and is to be sought in the work of men like Machiavelli, Hobbes, Descartes, Locke and Bacon – all of whom, incidentally, can with good cause be suspected of rank atheism. With respect to religion of any sort, the major thrust of these early Moderns was almost wholly negation and rejection.
That is not to deny, of course, that phenomena like counter-initiation, man-worship and even Satanism have played occasional roles at numerous points in modern history. It might even be true that in certain cases these hidden forces have profited from the secularism of our days to propel themselves to greater power. But once again, I see no evidence that this state of affairs, nor the deification of Modernism itself and its transformation into a new faith, is anything but the unintended product, and relatively late-come product, of the emergence of modern philosophy.
You contradict yourself, simple negation can never be philosophy. Integrative soundness of causality and inference/deduction is. Philosophy in its prisitine understanding is the acquisition of true knowledge through the cogent analysis of nature, human and divine. As you have rightly stated, the modern project negates the divine. Yet, it does so not through the use of logical faculties but through omission and obfuscation. Just by defintion then, it can hardly be called philosophy.
Descartes, Hobbes, and least of all Bacon, when one really looks into their works, were philosophers in this very prisitine sense. Their stance was entirely devoted to a certain anthropology which was based on purposefully mendacious presuppositions about human nature.
However, we don’t have to argue about this. In the 1980s, many continental scholars were brave enough to ask this question and answer it in the affirmative. Unfortuantely, this debate has been more or less silenced and nobody even knows today that there were or are people who are still investigating this.
I struggle to perceive any contradiction in my words, but perhaps you will awaken me to it. I stated that the philosophers in question negated religion, not that their philosophy was predicated on negation itself. You seem to suggest that negation of the divine is sufficient to render those philosophies into non-philosophies; this would mean that philosophy and atheism are mutually exclusive. I am not persuaded of this. Or perhaps you are merely suggesting that these men are not really philosophers, because they negated the divine ‘not through the use of logical faculties but through omission and obfuscation’? I doubt this is an adequate description of their project, and I am sure that they would contest it. If anything, I think they might be charged with too great a dependency on their ‘logical faculties’.
Of course, that they employed ‘omission and obfuscation’ is, to my mind, beyond question, and I agree that they were at times ‘purposefully mendacious’. But that very phrase suggests a purpose, and every purpose, particularly at this level, has its reasons.
I will grant you that Bacon was not a philosopher so much as a scientist in the modern sense; I have recently made the same claim about Descartes in this very Journal. I think the same description could even at a stretch be extended to Hobbes, though his view of the world is to my mind broader than the other two men’s. Be this as it may, the distinction between scientist and philosopher must be understood as these men understood it, not as we are tempted to understand it: for, standing at the very point of rupture between Modernity and classical philosophy, they perceived the grounds for the divorce, as it were, with much greater clarity than we do. Or more to the point: their rejection of philosophy, right or wrong, was based on philosophical reasons, was a philosophical rejection, and not a merely scientistic one, as often occurs today in our ‘scientific community’.
Their major claim, implicit where it is not stated, is that past philosophy had failed precisely in the ‘acquisition of knowledge through the cogent analysis of nature’, as you nicely put it. One can of course argue that the cure they suggested was worse than the illness – I for one believe this – but I do not see that they were manifestly unphilosophical in their critique of classical philosophy. They might have been wrong in that critique – philosophers have been known to be, after all – but that is another matter. To attempt to address their critique philosophically, as one must do if one is to overcome them, is already to admit that these men were philosophizing.
Your struggle to perceive a contradiction because you define philosophy like many nonspecialists from the standpoint of popular imagination. The idea that philosophy can be entertained on atheistic terms is a modern construct and mostly propagated through the popular mind. In the history of science, this narrative has long been abandoned. We have to look at what our principle sources really say and not what modernity would like us to see. In other words, you have been duped by the very thing you want to criticize. I see that with my students all the time.
I was talking about philosophy in the ‘pristine’ pre-Socratic sense, which is always full of gods, even the ones you probably did not expect to be ‘religiously inclined’. They might have reframed the gods or left them out, but almost non of them were anti-religious. (I won’t go into detail here but let you do the homework, there is very good literature on it out there). Individuals like Democritus consequently had very little influence and were despised. Even the Ionian physiologoi, who rationalized the cosmos, did not deny the deities, but simply made them natural. This is why atheistic philosophy (or full-blown Epicurianism) had not been made mainstream until the 17th century. Before that, natural theology prevailed until modernity declared it insufficient or somehow defunct.
That should be quite self-explanatory why modernity has to have religious undertones as such. One of the major endeavors in political philosophy is to understand its occult implications since they are never to be divorced from their ‘philosophy’. Modern philosophy is embedded in these occultist beliefs, not the other way around.
Our little back-and-forth is why I suggested that you would benefit from someone who knows his craft a bit better through some kind of peer-review process. Everything else comes across as amateurish despite your best efforts to the contrary.
I am always delighted to discover a man who can remedy my shameful ignorance. You, as a professional, will surely forgive an amateur if he begins by observing that the idea of a ‘specialist philosophy’ suggested in your opening rings rather curiously to untrained ears. Similarly, the idea of a ‘mainstream’ philosophy, which, I reluctantly confess, seems to me even a contradiction in terms. Could you kindly explain what you mean by these terms?
As for this irksome contradiction in my words, which somehow continues to elude me – I merely stated that philosophy and atheism were not incompatible. You have pointed out that ‘almost none’ of the philosophers were antireligious; I do not necessarily dispute it, but I do not see that it disproves my words. In the first place, my small point is quite amply sheltered within that ‘almost’. In the second place, there may be a difference between being antireligious and being atheistic. For instance, you speak of the physiologoi ‘making the gods natural’, as if that were anything other than atheism and a (hardly) veiled attack on religion. Yet Descartes, too, ‘made the gods natural’ in this sense; as did Newton, as did Hobbes, and as did almost every major modern scientist or philosopher up to very recent times, when it first became possible to openly advocate atheism without risking harsh persecution. Even Epicurus, whom you indicate as an unequivocal atheist, seems to have ‘naturalized’ the gods in the (lost) book he wrote on them – if Cicero is to be trusted. (I am assuming Cicero has not yet been disproven in this by the ‘very good literature out there’.) I am therefore hesitant to assume that a philosopher who ‘reframes’ the gods, and particularly one who ‘leaves them out’, is necessarily ‘full of gods’ or is ‘religiously inclined’.
I am thus unhappily forced to admit that, despite your generous will to educate me, I still fail to perceive the contradiction in my words, though I have full faith that you will be able to rectify this deficit in my comprehension, if only you will have patience with me, and continue our conversation a bit.
Perhaps we can proceed from here. You state that ‘atheistic philosophy’ was made mainstream in the 17th century; you state immediately on the heels of this that it ‘should be quite self-explanatory why modernity has to have religious undertones as such’. From my woeful lack of professional training, I cannot for the life of me perceive the connection between the two statements; would you be kind enough to explain? As for the ‘occult implications’ of the modern philosophers, even I have somehow been able to intuit the existence of these; but I am hindered in my progress by the silly supposition that what is ‘occult’ might not necessarily be ‘religious’, and in many cases, such as that of Epicurus or of Descartes, could very well be the very opposite. I am confident, however, that you will not leave me languishing in my confusion, but will point me in the right direction here, and disabuse me of my dilettante errors.
By all means, John, the underlying ridicule and cynicism in your latest response comes across not only as foolish but as condescending and prideful. Especially, because you take so much confidence in your limited knowledge. The fact that Higher Education has been corrupted does not mean that it does not impart correct knowledge in certain areas. Ridiculing my advice to seek out respective ‘good literature’ on the given topic is therefore anything but the attitude of someone interested in cultivating critical thought. I attempted to correct you in the knowledge deficit you have regarding an existing concept, which – as much as you like to doubt it – is still a fact. You, in turn, in your emotive and cynical response, take it as an attack on you personally, which is immature and does not suit you as the editor of a journal.
My comment was meant as an encouragement to further deepen your knowledge so that you can elaborate your arguments in a more informed fashion and move away from conjecture (which has been your main form of reference, even if you don’t realize it).
Arguments can be forceful and combative at times. Pettiness, however, should never be their guiding principle. I would therefore like to end the conversation with you here.
All the best to you.
In the first place, I am genuinely sorry, Murdoch. Despite a certain, I admit inappropriate and ineffectual attempt at playfulness in my last comment, I certainly meant no ridicule. I can assure you that I would be the last person to despise anyone who works in the academy for that reason alone. Nor did I take offence at your various charges against my failings, of which, I am quite aware, there is no end. I am simply doubtful that we will get anywhere if our arguments, rather than being directed at the subject in view, are targeted continually against the limitations, presumed or extant, in the other’s philosophical training.
Would you be good enough to make one last attempt with me? If you take my will to learn seriously, and attempt to work through these questions with me, I can assure you I will do my best to lay aside my many prejudices and approach these matters as one who wishes nothing more than to know.
Let me try to hone the question at hand. I believe we both accept that modern philosophy has been atheistic in at least a major current of its development. You have stated that there is an underlying religion to modern philosophy, and I believe you consider it to be more fundamental than the atheistic current. I do not see what this religion might be and in what way it may be considered a religion; could you help me understand this?
In case it is of use, here is a recapitulation of my view. I tend to agree with your penultimate comment regarding the godliness of the ancients to such an extent that I take the antitheistic as opposed to religious turn to be one of the defining characteristics of modern as opposed to premodern philosophy. To my view, any apparently ‘religious’ aspect to early modern philosophy was merely mask and protective camouflage, and more often than not was aimed deliberately and willingly at disintegrating all religion, in order to produce the conditions for a secular society. The most that can be said, it seems to me, is that a false religion was, among some moderns accepted, as a means for producing docility in the masses, so that a godless, scientific and utterly atheistic ruling class might come to rule in the place of the old religious authorities. Am I wrong in this? If so, where?
Murdoch, I take your continued silence as a just rebuke. I pick up the thread of our dangling conversation for three reasons only: first, to repeat my public apology to you for any words of mine that might have seemed hostile or offensive, for which I am sorry; second, to tell you that, while you have expressed your desire to close the conversation with me, I hope you will not do so with the Journal as such, for your interventions here are always most welcome; and third, to reassert that I am happy to renew our discussion whenever you care to do so – though, out of respect for your evident desire, I will hereafter maintain my silence with you until I have had an explicit invitation from you to break it.
My best wishes to you.
You will notice, esteemed John, that I didn’t specify what religion created modernity. It is certainly not a traditional religion, nor one that is usually considered as such, despite being strictly observed by virtually the totality of mankind. Unfortunately, the widespread inability of recognising it as a pernicious religion is precisely what keeps modern man detached from reality and bent on self-destruction.
I did indeed notice that you did not specify the religion, nor did I mean to ascribe to you the facile idea that Modernity might be a religion in any conventional or traditional sense. Allow me to ask you, then, in precisely what you see this religion, which you claim originated Modernity, to originally consist, and why you would call it a religion, rather than a philosophy?
How generous of you to share your insights on the topic with us. Yet, if you had done some reading of previous contributions to this journal, you would have noticed that it is not only you who has been enlightened to view modernity as a cloaked religion, far removed from being a philosophy. In fact, there are quite distinguished essays that discuss that.
This journal is not perfect since it is not peer-reviewed by people who know their (at least philosophical) craft. However, you can find gems here and there written by people who know what they are talking about. Haughty comments like yours above don’t really help nor do they contribute to anything.
If I might comment on the matter of peer review, having been both a ‘peer-reviewer ‘ and having been published many times in peer reviewed journals, often a well-established peer-reviewed journal is no more than an editor with a Masterate, who draws on one or two acquaintances with degrees for advice. Many supposedly eminent scholars in academia are mediocre conformists, overly specialized to the point of being dogmatic and narrowly focused, while academia itself has a shameful record of dumbing down for the sake of churning out graduates, who go on to contribute precisely squat to any corpus of knowledge.
I suggest that Arktos Journal seems to be a ‘peer read’ journal that upholds excellent standards of scholarship and could – as I have suggested to the editor – very easily become a peer reviewed journal by drawing on the expertise that is readily available to it in forming an editorial or advisory board.
Kerry, I think Murdoch was aware of the overspecialization in established journals. From what I understood in his response, is that he simply encouraged us to treat matters like philosophy more seriously and have it checked by someone with more expertise so that we can grow into an alternative force in intellectual debate similar to the existing journals. I don’t think he meant to turn this into a mediocre profit and consensus-driven publication in the spirit of Elsevier.
As for your comment of having already established “excellent standards”, I really have to doubt you mean it seriously. Especially, since you say you have been published in peer-reviewed journals yourself. This journal is a great knowledge source for our community, but even I see huge gaps in fields like history, political science and philosophy. As Murdoch said, there are perhaps a handful of authors here that have been trained in their craft. Let’s appreciate our effort but let’s not be foolish in our over-confidence. I personally thought Murdoch’s suggestions were valid. How we go about that is totally up to us and the present editors. Maybe a similar set-up like the Occidental Observer, it does uphold scholarly standards.
It depends on the purpose of Arktos Journal. I am assuming it is intended to have several functions, including that of opinion, that is not necessarily going to be in scholarly format. I have not for a moment thought that there is any suggestion of mediocrity, just that orthodox academia is far from maintaining decent standards. While there are gaps in subject for a journal that is only a year old the achievements are nonetheless remarkable.
It is also good that there is opportunity for writers who are not formally trained, who can hone their writing and especially their research and referencing.
Yes, in comparison to established peer reviewed journals – and I have written for a variety – from economics to Gothic horror – I maintain that AJ compares well.
I think we misunderstood each other. Yes, it depends on the purpose and you mentioning the gothic horror stories is not precisely what I or Murdoch, for that matter, had in mind. Of course, AJ publishes mostly opinion pieces and as such it does an outstanding job. Once again, I believe that Murdoch simply referred to the articles dealing with more complex and sophisticated matters like philosophy or political theory, where opinion is misplaced and should be informed with facticity and knowledge. It can be dangerous to disseminate wrong information about delicate and important topics.
So yes, I agree with you, as an publication site that offers opinion pieces, AJ does a great job. As far as the intellectual part is concerned, it lacks professionalism. And I think that is what Murdoch criticized. Maybe another, purely intellectual branch or offshoot might meliorate this chasm. As I said, it is up to the editors.
I have been following this exchange with great attention, and I think it might be useful at this point if I issue a statement on behalf of the Journal’s editors.
In the first place, I would second those remarks to the effect that Arktos Journal aims to publish a variety of different kinds of authors and material. This cannot always be reduced to a difference between opinion pieces and expert writing, however. There are contributors to this Journal, for instance, who have written essays that I and the other editors consider to be of great worth both for their unusual depth, their freshness of insight and their fine aesthetic quality. While they are not mere opinion pieces, I am confident – nay, I am certain – that these articles would be rejected by most if not all peer-reviewed journals, because they consciously shun the trappings of the academy or in some cases (from the youth or the inexperience of the contributors) lack the basic specialist training which such journals understandably regard as being prerequisite to participation in the life of the intellectual community. Our Journal, to my view, would be perceptibly diminished if it excluded authors like these – and yet perhaps it would at the same time be more ‘professional’.
I therefore submit that a balance has to be struck here, and one which may well be prejudicial to the current ‘best practices’. This discussion touches on the guiding question of what this Journal ought to be. Is it finally to be an academic journal, and is this the meaning of professionalism? Yet what precisely does this entail? The academy cultivates specialization, and there is evident value which comes of specialization. Yet the specialist mentality, for all its virtues, is the very opposite of the philosophical or the artistic, and, as I can attest from experience, it often tends to shorten the blade that it sharpens.
I am tempted at this point to make what might seem a rather cheap observation – namely, that surely more than half of the great writings of our Western canon, which are presently the object of assiduous scrutiny on the part of tens if not hundreds of thousands of competent and well-trained scholars, would be scorned on stylistic grounds alone by the same journals in which those scholars commonly publish their work. I am of course not for a moment claiming that all the writers of Arktos Journal are so many undiscovered Xenophons, Nietzsches, or Descartes. I only mean to say that our current idea of academic professionalism, while it indubitably guarantees an eminently respectable level of rigour and factuality – which, I willingly concede, may too often be lacking in Arktos Journal – also imposes boundaries and attitudes such as are not always conducive to the kind of innovative and daring views which, I strongly maintain, we must resolutely seek to embolden. In our proper work, the line between error and insight is not always so confidently drawn as the professional academia would like it.
This is clearly a delicate issue. I do not for a moment pretend that the criteria and practices which Arktos Journal presently follows are ideal. There are doubtless many avoidable errors in the works we publish, and we would certainly profit from some form of peer-review, as both Kerry Bolton and Murdoch have well suggested. We should be relentlessly striving for higher quality in this regard. I also think that the idea which Dennis Haffield has broached of a purely intellectual branch of the Journal is of some interest. These and other ideas presented here will be taken into careful consideration by Arktos.
Whatever our path forward, I am absolutely certain that there is ample room for improvement – which is why I am grateful to all those who have aired their critiques. I sincerely hope that my own intervention will rather fuel than dampen this important discussion.
I appreciate your input, John. The reason why this debate intrigues me is that I – just like you – see so much potential in our work here. Coming from an academic field myself, I can assure you that there are many scholars who would like to publish for some alternative medium. Yet, out of fear for being ridiculed to have their pieces published alongside non-professionals, they shy away. I think it was mentioned here in the context of some other article, that we as a movement are not taken seriously for our intellectual endeavours. It think this results from the fact that we don’t have an outlet that can really compete with established sources of scholarly work. This is the main reason why I have suggested a purely intellectual offshoot of AJ.
Another important aspect I wanted to stress, is the idea that Kerry Bolton brought up, that academia is all about specialization. This is not necessarily true for journals. Many are interdisciplinary, publishing from a variety of fields and subfields. Beyond that, yes, academia in its modern form is about specialization. It has not always been this way though, this is what most people forget. The scholarly publishing model as it exists today is a profit-driven model which has been set up after the war by Jewish tycoon Robert Maxwell (l encourage everyone to look it up and see for himself how academic publishing has been perverted into a money-making maschine – the Guardian had an excellent article on it, two years ago). Before that, academic journals were designed to publish a variety of authors and topics just for the sake of curiosity, creativity and scientific dialogue. The prerequisits were so lax that almost all contributions had been accepted. The only criteria was a demonstratable degree of novelty in ideas or hypotheses and a proper scientific underpinning (i.e. not repeating what has already been established and showing that one achieved his/her results through valid scientific/logical means/thinking/experimentation.)
If we managed to set something up like that, we could slowly but surely change the discourse in scientific publishing, which is breaking down anyways. We have the means through technology and the world wide web, why not try it. There are some who had the same idea, but who isolate themselves too much, and are – for my taste – very pretentious. This is the trap that one always has to eschew when planning such a project. But if we orient ourselves alongside the cultural, literary and artistic journals of the interwar period or even the turn-of-the century ones, I would say, we can’t go wrong. Perfection is not the goal, as I see it, breaking the paradigm is.