Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Eternal recurrence versus Progress

            Francis Bremer begins his book The Puritan Experiment with the following: "On 6 February 1566, in the reign of Queen Mary, Bishop John Hooper was brought to Glouchester, the seat of his diocese, where he was burned at the stake."   Are we not tempted to think that sort of thing couldn't happen again, cruelly executing those who oppose the "official religion"?  Surely we have progressed beyond that sort of treatment of those who disagree with us.  But have we?

            We of the West have not thus far repeated the religious wars that ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, but we no longer live in the era when we of the West were quite certain that only our opinions and laws mattered to the world.  While we gave up fighting wars amongst ourselves for religious reasons, we found others.  The largest and bloodiest wars this planet has seen began in the West.  To some extent we have exhausted ourselves.  We no longer want to rule the world.   We have opened ourselves up to the multiplicity of the world's cultures.  Who are we to think we have the best ideas, the best ways of doing things when the thing we have been best at is killing each other?  Why not open ourselves up to the other cultures?  Perhaps they can ameliorate our self-destructive tendencies.

            In Europe, more than elsewhere in the West, that "opening up" has brought an influx of people who very much believe in chopping off the heads (an Islamic equivalent to the Christian burning at the stake) of those who don't share their religious belief.  Bat Yeor and Oriana Fallaci have screamed out against what is happening in Europe, but insecure European Leaders aren't willing to emphasize European tradition, European ways of doing things over against Islamic fundamentalism.  Far better, they think, to accept all things, to tolerate all the people (and their views) whom the West dominated in earlier times.  Surely it is good to penitentially accept the bombings, defacements, car-burnings and fatwas.  We in the West deserve to pay for our past sins.  We need to be controlled and limited.  We need to listen to other cultures.

            Let me hasten to say that I don't agree with that popular Leftist view.  While we were killing each other in the West, other cultures were being as blood-thirsty as we were.  We exceeded them only in being more efficient about our killing.  So there is no culture to turn to that is fundamentally different from our own in that respect. 

            I don't subscribe to the Hindu, Nietzschean, or even Mircea Eliade's theories of "eternal recurrence" or "eternal return," but neither do I hold with the Leftist-Pacifistic belief in "progress."  We are not going to resume burning Catholics or Protestants at the stake, but if we allow the Yeor-Fallaci nightmare to take hold, we may very well one day see the equivalent.  We as a species have not "progressed" beyond killing those who disagree with us.  Aside from the fact that we have gone on killing each other for political reasons, the Peace of Westphalia was a kind of truce which "understood" the self-destructiveness of religious wars, but the Islamic world has not signed onto that "peace."  We have diluted our traditional Western Christianity to the point where few are willing to die for it, but that is not the case with the Islamic religion, and European "progress" has opened itself up to that.

            When I was younger I appreciated the Leftist (Marxist) ideal.  It was wonderful to believe that man could "progress" beyond his sins and failures.  All we needed to do was to modify our social circumstances and all men would become brothers.  There would be no need to fight with one another.  Life would be beautiful.  Unfortunately that "ideal" was disproved by events.  Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward was not realized in Communist Russia.  What that Socialistic experiment taught those of willing to learn it was that no societal tinkering was going to change human nature.  The evils of National and Soviet Socialism are too well known to need repeating.  Perhaps it is because the European Left realizes that, that it is opening itself to "other cultures."  The Left rejected Liberal Democracy (Capitalism) and embraced Socialism, but when the latter proved to be an unachievable myth they were unwilling to accept, as Francis Fukuyama did in The End of History, the idea that Liberal Democracy would prevail in the world.  Without defining it systematically, these Leftists assumed a sort-of Rousseauean view whereby the simpler cultures of the "Third World" could be looked to as being preferable to our failed Western culture.  To trust in these "Third World" cultures requires more faith than I have.  Better to return to Christianity, which, with a little backbone, could more than oppose the inroads made by Islam in Europe.  Humanity has not "progressed" beyond faith.  It is naive of the Left to accept atheism as enlightened and progressive while at the same time turning to the primitive or at least less-well-developed views of Third World Cultures.  Far better, in my view, to mine our own Western Culture for what we need.

            I am arguing here that the Leftist "Progressives" are not moving in directions that will be good for those of us who live in the West.  Let other cultures develop as they will but we in the West should not be so willing to abandon our own.  Heidegger urged us to seek "authentication" in our own cultures.  This doesn't mean that we should embrace our entire past.  We should learn from our mistakes and strive not to repeat them, but at the same time we should value our successes.  To look only at the mistakes -- as anarchists like Noam Chomsky and Ward Churchill are wont to do -- feeds the sick Western tendency toward self-flagellation.  "Who can save me from this body of sin and death?"   And with low-hanging branches they, the Chomsky flagellants, whip their own backs and are willing to lie down before any third-worlder willing to step on them.

            I have yet to read a systematic description of this Leftist Progress but there is the distinct smell of burning flesh in all that I have heard them say.


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