Pontius Pilate's Second Interrogation of Christ, detail of tile from Episodes from Christ's Passion and Resurrection, part of Maesta' of Duccio Altarpiece in the Cathedral of Siena, 1308-1311, by Duccio di Buoninsegna (ca 1255 - pre-1319), tempera on wood
It is a big step to take, but one that epitomises the shift in ideas that needs to happen if liberalism is to be challenged.
For we swim in the medium of liberalism, seemingly the product of progress after millennia of darkness and superstition. To challenge western rationality is an apostasy in the modern world. Have not millions died in the cause of western democratic ideals? Shame on anyone for questioning such a cause.
And yet, and yet... what is this disembodied mind of western rationality? Nothing, argues the Cartesian position itself, most famously championed by John Locke. It is a ‘tabula rasa’, to be filled in by whatever worldly experience happens to come its way - a view which underpins the cultural Marxism of modernity.
Could there be a more cruel, elaborate and stultifying fiction? To be thrust at birth into a prefabricated external world, where most of our responsibilities are unacknowledged and are progressively diminished and our freedom is in reality a figment of our imagination. We imagine ourselves the product of genes and the environment, functions of complexes and familial trauma, inextricably dependent on external contingencies, but then proclaim ourselves free!
Itis the very opposite of freedom. Perhaps we should not be surprised after all that western rationality, with its credo of liberalism and individual freedom, has led to inhumanness and sameness the world over.
And it is about more than mere imposition of global uniformity,it is about the loss of self. Under the individualism of modern times,the authentic self has disappeared. We ‘become a copy, a number, along with the crowd’, wrote Kierkegaard, ‘ground as smooth as a pebble, as exchangeable as a coin of the realm’. We may have to be like this to ‘succeed’ in modernity, argued Kierkegaard, but we are pawning ourselves to the world and have ‘no self for God’.
Surely Marx said that the authentic self was the mind freed from God. The individual will not reach his potential until progress has given him freedom to be what he likes in a world of material abundance. Under such conditions, the process of individuation will be complete. The individual will have escaped the herd.
Not so. Material abundance, could it ever happen under Marxist conditions, will simply give the individual more opportunities to be distracted from the truth of his own inner emptiness. Such is the stark realisation at the point of death, posited Heidegger, ‘when the flight of the individual from himself has to end and ‘the world and our being-in-it show themselves purely and simply’.
Is not the hard evidence from liberalism this, that the more we ‘progress’, the more diversity is extinguished and the more we become the same. This is no escape from the herd, it is regression into the herd.
It may appear that the overturning of liberalism is an impossible task. Are not its ideals perpetually reinforced, hour by hour, minute by minute in the media, the 24-hour news, entertainment channels, Hollywoodism and strictly controlled curricula of state schooling? Are not the brutalised masses continuously distracted by the ‘bread and circuses’ diet of sport and entertainment? Have not the declining manifestations of religion in the west become simply the lobby groups for liberalism.
But overturning this seemingly impregnable superstructure of ideas is not an impossible task - once the truth is known. And what the truth reveals are liberalism’s shallow foundations.
Fallen man rejected the objective nature of truth - the natural order. Sin is the imposition of disorder in place of the natural order. Jesus Christ challenged that disorder. Today we live under a regime of disorder that poses as order.
We have come to think of sin in a subjective way, a tendency compounded in modernity by the all-pervasive influence of Freud’s ideas.
We have taken the view that the free unfolding of the will, self-determination, is at the heart of what it means to be human. But this is nothing more than extreme subjectivism, an observation of the world from a distance that allows the individual to break things down, measure them, quantify them,work out how to exploit them and, ultimately, calculate their price.
Self-determination is left behind when life is led to the natural order. Here there acceptance of hierarchy in a vertically structured social organism founded on the principle of unity in multiplicity. Everyone relates to everyone else in conformity with their respective natures and the right to fulfil those natures. This contrasts with modern thought in which equal rights are realised only on the purely quantitative plain of numerical unities (1 = 1). ‘Everything tends to numerical juxtaposition,’ wrote Jean Borella, ‘which is only possible through the destruction of all the qualitative differences that specifically make up individual natures, so that, with equality, a right is the right to nothing’.
The vertical structures of tradition were laid low by money. It all started with money, the trafficking of money by elements living on the margins and in the pores of society. The post-Reformation rise of materialism, progressivism, rationalism and liberalism had their roots in money as the resistance to usury crumbled. Where status is conferred in modernity, wealth is the final arbiter of human worth. Everything, everyone, now conforms with the standard of universal measurement. ‘Money destroys human roots’, wrote Simone Weil, ‘wherever it is able to penetrate, by turning desire for gain into the sole motive. It easily manages to outweigh all other motives, because the effort it demands of the mind is so very much less. Nothing is so clearand so simple as a row of figures’.
Karl Marx described modernity as Judaised. ‘Money has become a world power’, wrote Marx, ‘and the practical Jewish spirit has become the spirit of the Christian people. The Jews have emancipated themselves insofar as the Christians have become Jews. The god of the Jews has become secularised and has become the god of the earth.’ As Dieudonné has discovered, to be against the system is now to be anti-semitic.
Once truth is accepted, the history of modernity is seen in a new light. But what is truth? - asked Pontius Pilate of Jesus. The very question reveals the moral relativism and pragmatism that has arisen again in our own times. Jesus confronted Pharisaic hypocrisy and self-righteousness, as well as Roman moral relativism. Together these epitomised the fallen state of man then, as they do the fallen state of liberalism today.
In his triumph over death, Christ offered redemption from our fallen state. What would you have, a self grounded in the truth of a transcendental creator God, or a self founded upon moral relativism? Unity in multiplicity or the equality of commodities? There is no half way. The choice is reflected in the political dichotomy for our times - God versus Mammon, or Good versus evil.