“Let the boy prove himself a true knight and win his spurs.”— Edward III on his son “the Black Prince,” 16 years old, Battle of Crécy
“Let the boy prove himself a true knight and win his spurs.”— Edward III on his son “the Black Prince,” 16 years old, Battle of Crécy
This will be a multi-part essay on the philosophical foundations for the modern world with regards to Hobbes and Locke. Much of the material will be drawn from Christoper Ferrara’s book Liberty: The God That Failed. This essay can be said to be a brief summary of his work. I also highly recommend the book if such topics interest you and you wish to dive into them deeper.
For us to comprehend the modern ideology so ingrained in the thought of today we must first understand the foundations that it is laid upon. Although we could carry this analysis back to the rise of Mechanical Philosophy of Descartes and the Cartesian Revolution we will begin at a later point in history that built upon these streams of thought. All we will say about Descartes is that he opened the door to the absurd concept of certainty in radical uncertainty.
Where we will begin is with the ushering in of the concept of modern Liberty which was built upon the philosophy of both Hobbes and Locke. In the prior age, the foundations of understanding were built upon the orderly hierarchical cosmos of divinely appointed natures or substances ordered to a living God, which had its pinnacle in the summum bonum (highest good) of man. This worldview requires a society to be founded under the Christian Commonwealth (or Kingdom) whose entirety of laws and ordering are set for the purpose of directing man to his revealed eternal destiny. All of this having its bedrock in the Greco-Catholic synthesis with its understanding revolving around Aristotelian hylomorphism of the unity of body and soul in one human person whose indivisible whole was the very basis of both political and ethical life in the above mentioned system. The Aristotelian understanding of substance and its incorporation into the Christian theology via Thomistic thought.
The dawn of Liberty in its modern application obviously could not be built upon such a worldview. Both Hobbes and Locke, who ushered in the new system of Liberty, did nothing short of carry out a full scale attack on Substance Theory and the Greco-Catholic synthesis. They rejected the concept that man was able to apprehend the world as it really is through the senses, and even went so far as to assault human identity as it was previously understood. They carried out this assault using the “mechanical philosophy” of Descartes. At its core being nothing more then a Cartesian division of man into material and spiritual parts, which removed the spiritual from the realm of politics and ethics.
Hobbes, in his book Leviathan lashes out against the Aristotelian-Thomistic system. He claims that the only thing man can come to know is the names he gives to the ideas that arise in his mechanical brain upon receiving sensory input from the world. Furthermore, he claims that man cannot confirm that these ideas stem from a fixed or universal reality, not even to what he calls man. He states, “Reason, in this sense, is nothing but Reckoning of the consequences of general names agreed upon, for the marking and signifying of our thoughts…”. Hobbes also attacks the concept of an immaterial soul and denied the existence of a spiritual realm.
…mocking “the Latins” who defined God as a “Spirit Incorporeal, and then confess their definition to be unintelligible: or if they give him such a title, it is not dogmatically, with intention to make the Divine Nature understood; but Piously, to honour him with attributes, of significations, as remote as they can from the grossness of Bodies visible.”
-Liberty: The God That Failed
Hobbes even makes the assertion that the Holy Spirit is not a spirit, claiming it is nothing more then “the voice of God in a dream.” Utter heresy.
Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding continues this assault on the existence of universal substances and the reality of the spiritual realm. Unlike Hobbes, however, Locke does not carry out his assault so directly but does so through skepticism. This skepticism aligns with the Cartesian method of the only certainty being radical uncertainty. As Ferrara puts it,
Skeptical of everything but his own skepticism.
Locke was not willing to conceive that questioning the authority of our senses leads to the undermined belief in the existence of God. Classical Philosophy “supposes, without examining it, the validity of Knowledge,” (Epistemology, Catholic Encyclopedia) which begets the theological claim that a loving God would not create man in His image only to give him senses that deceive him. This can be witnessed in the Greek philosophies and how they came to such fundamental understandings through reason alone, by their senses.
The seeds Locke planted lead to the undermining of Church Authority and created the modern notion that their is no absolute truth, which ironically is claimed absolutely. Locke’s philosophy claims that man’s mind is a blank slate when he is born and can only collect ideas about the world through the use of his senses. Therefore, knowledge for Locke (and Hobbes) as he states in his Essay, “hath no other immediate object but its own ideas…. and is only conversant about them.” Locke claimed that one cannot even postulate a human nature or substance with any certainty. We can see the reverberating effects of such an ideology in the modern world with the rise of such things as transgenderism. Furthermore, Locke even denies that the “self” is body-soul unity. Claiming that, “consciousness alone unites actions into the same person… Self depends on consciousness, not on substance.” For Locke a person is nothing more then a stream of consciousness, not the soul of Christian teaching. Ferrara in his book Liberty: The God That Failed, drawing from Fabro’s, God in Exile states,
Locke’s confused “conservative” application of the mechanical philosophy, which maintained “verbal assertions of the distinction between the material world and the spiritual,” was nonetheless “in face eliminating any such distinction in theoretical order and drawing the logical conclusion from his basic principle that certainty consists in the perception of the agreement or disagreement of ideas.”
As Fabro concludes: “The importance of Locke’s influence on the molding of modern materialism and atheism by now are surely quite clear, despite his most outspoken declarations in favor of spiritualism and Christianity….”
This notion of reality espoused by Locke and Hobbes becomes the new epistemological foundation for Liberty. In summary it states that man is only the name assigned to a collection of perceptible attributes. It rejects that man is a substance of divinely created unity of body and soul with a fixed nature and his end in the summum bonum.
I will continue this essay with posts later down the road diving deeper into these topics.
“It is indeed better (as no one ever could deny) that men should be led to worship God by teaching, than that they should be driven to it by fear of punishment or pain; but it does not follow that because the former course produces the better men, therefore those who do not yield to it should be neglected. For many have found advantage (as we have proved, and are daily proving by actual experiment), in being first compelled by fear or pain, so that they might afterwards be influenced by teaching, or might follow out in act what they had already learned in word.” –Saint Augustine, Treatise on the Correction of the Donatists.
Side note: I can attest to this. It was fear that brought me back to the Church originally. Which in time has led to influence by teaching and love of Christ.
“Catholicity is a complete system of civilization, so complete, that in its immensity it embraces everything—the science of God, the science of the angel, the science of the universe, and the science of man. The infidel falls into ecstasy at sight of its inconceivable extravagance, and the believer at sight of its wonderful grandeur. If there be any one who, on beholding it, passes by with a smile, people, more astounded at such an amount of stupid indifference than at that colossal grandeur and that inconceivable extravagance, raise their voice, and say, “Let the fool pass.” All humanity has studied for the space of eighteen centuries in the school of its theologians and its doctors; and at the end of so much application, and the end of so much study, up to to-day the abyss of its science has not been sounded. There, it learns how and when all things and times are to end, and when and how they had their beginning: there, are discovered secrets which were ever hidden from the speculations of the philosophers of the Gentiles,” and the understanding of their sages: there, are revealed the final causes of all things, the concerted movement of everything human, the nature of bodies and the essence of spirits, the ways by which men walk, the term to which they go, the point from which they come, the mystery of their peregrination and the line of their journey, the enigma of their tears, and the secret of life and death. Children suckled at its prolific breasts, know today more than Aristotle and Plato, the luminaries of Athens. And yet the doctors who teach these things, and rise to such sublimity, are humble. It was given to the Catholic world alone to present a spectacle on earth reserved formerly to the angels in heaven—the spectacle of science bent in humility before the divine throne.”
-Juan Donoso Cortés
I will be doing a weekly (if not more) posting of Reactionary reading material I can find online. I hope you, dear readers, can find this helpful in your endeavors to understand the schools of reactionary political thought. I hope this will be beneficial to you. I cannot stress the importance of reading original material, and not just blogs.
This weeks reading:
[First posted at WCR: 23 November 2016]
The great fault of modernity is the severing of the link between the spiritual and temporal. A consequence of this is the loss of the idea that virtue and health are related; it is an entirely alien concept to modern westerners. Yet, our ancestors held this belief due to their metaphysical outlook. It is worth evaluating and exploring this relationship to understand what it entails.
The most basic proposition of this relation is that living naturally (in the pre-Enlightenment philosophical/teleological sense) is healthiest. In other words, a virtuous man, i.e. one clean in spirit, will likely be a healthy man, of both body and mind. Likewise, sin is detrimental to physical and mental fortitude. Perhaps this all seems much too abstract or, frankly, ridiculous. But, it is really quite intuitive as we will see.
In the Gospel of John, when Jesus comes across a man…
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To lately I have been trudging my way though a book entitled Liberty: The God That Failed by Christopher A. Ferrara. I highly recommend this book. As of now it is one of the best books I have ever picked up.
Within the first chapter of the book Ferrara goes into detail about the foundations of the Christian Commonwealth in Greek Philosophy. Its a fantastic and detailed account of how this Greco-Catholic Synthesis gave rise to Christendom and the proper ordering of man in regards to the State (referring to the Civitas, not the modern concept of the nation-state.)
What follows is a brief summary of Ferrara’s explanation of the Greco-Catholic Synthesis,
There arose a synthesis of the two great elements of the Western theologico-political tradition that began in Athens after its fall in the 4th century BC. It began when Socrates claimed to men that they must “care for their souls”. This turned the mind of Greece toward a higher ideal of state and society which led to a search for a new God. The Platonic-Aristotelian system developed for the time a philosophical realism. Ethics and politics based on the view of man as a creature possessed of a rational and immortal soul who inhabits an orderly universe which has a fixed and knowable essence. For Plato it was the Forms. For Aristotle, his “hylomorphism”, which became the Christian philosophical doctrine of matter and form. Every being in this universe is a substance, a unity of matter and the form that determines its nature. With the soul, as Christianity would teach, being the form of man. The Greeks viewed that the rational soul is ordered by nature to the practice of virtues (this was later assimilated into the Christian view in light of revelation). Mans happiness consists of an activity of the soul in accordance to virtue. The highest state of such virtue for Plato was the communion with God, and for Aristotle it was the contemplation of God for those who are capable. For the Greeks this was the summum bonum (Highest Good) through which the Greeks sought with unaided reason prior to the revelation of the New Testament.
This leads us into the political thought that began to develop under the Greeks and was later assimilated into the Christian Commonwealth. Man, being an ensouled creature whose purpose is a life of virtue and an encounter with God, led both Plato and Aristotle to teach that mans perfection requires life in the “State” which originates with the family. Aristotle claims the State is “a creation of nature” and “man by nature is a political animal.” So for the Greeks, along with the Christian leaders that followed them, a good State is one whose laws and institutions take care of the soul by promoting and protecting both virtue and religion over and above mere security of temporal things such as property. For the Greeks, along with the Catholics that followed, religion was not simply a private thing but a public honoring of the divine. The bedrock of the State from the view of the Greeks which was further defended under Christendom is summarized in Aristotle’s Politics:
But a state exists for the sake of the good life; and not for the sake of life only… It is clear then that the state is not a mere society, having a common place, established for the prevention of mutual crime, and for the sake of exchange. These are conditions without which a state cannot exist; but all of them together do not constitute a state, which is a community of families and aggregations of families in well-being for the sake of a perfect and self-sufficing life… by which we mean a happy and Honorable life…. Political society exists for the sake of noble actions, and not of living together.
The Greeks viewed man and the State as the politics of the soul. Greek philosophy produced a new order of values which helped pave the way for the universal religion of Christianity. Copleston in his book A History of Philosophy stated, “It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of Plato in the intellectual preparatio evangelica of the pagan world” and “the natural theology of Aristotle was a preparation for the acceptance of Christianity.”
The Greek foundations of natural theology, ethics and political philosophy along with the structure of the philosophy and theology of Christianity created the “synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church” (As Benedict XVI puts it). This reached its pinnacle under Thomistic philosophy. Which all comes together under the Greco-Catholic Sythesis: Which is summed up nicely by Ferrara in his book Liberty: The God That Failed,
-reveals the God for which the Greeks were seeking;
-explains man’s tendency to commit evil, and the fact of evil in the world, as consequences of the Fall of man on account of the original sin of our first parents;
-offers fallen man redemption through the grace won by the Redeemer, which repairs the defects of the rational soul clouded by Original Sin;
-completes (in the Aristotelian-Thomistic system of Thomas Aquinas and other medieval scholastics) the Greek picture of philosophical realism- a hierarchically ordered universe of divinely created and fixed natures of substances, with man and his rational soul at its visible summit and God at its highest good;
-adds the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity) to the cardinal virtues explored by Plato and Aristotle (prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude), and the concept of punishable transgressions against divine law- sin – to offenses against the natural order, concerning which there had been no explicit divine “ought” or divine prohibition in Greek philosophy.
This Greco-Catholic synthesis creates an understanding of human freedom as not only the practice of virtue, but liberation of the soul from the effects of sin.
So there you have it, a basic summary of the Greco-Catholic Synthesis. As I work my way though this wonderful book I plan on further summarizing topics of interest for my readers. I also highly recommend the purchase of this book. It is a great addition to the book collection of Catholics and Reactionaries.
It is taught in these modern times that the rise of the Enlightenment philosophies and the overthrow of the Throne and Alter was a necessary step in securing “Liberty” for the common man. This “Liberty” is a false liberty. It is the enthronement of a false idol that attempts to claim its legitimacy from the vague notion of the “will of the people”. In short it has become nothing except the pursuit of licentiousness. True liberty is only found in the Christian commonwealth.
As Chrstopher A. Ferrara puts it,
Christendom needs no defense against the charge that it was the enemy of liberty rightly understood. If liberty is defined, not as a mere absence of restraint on human action in the pursuit of whatever one considers happiness, or as the ability to acquire a hitherto unknown abundance of gadgets and other material comforts, but rather as the good life of virtue, the secure possession of truth in individual and social life, and freedom from the bondage of sin for the sake of eternal felicity, then the commonwealths of Christendom were bulwarks of true liberty in comparison with the collapsing secular state of political modernity, which have experience moral, spiritual and cultural decline from the moment they were established- at the point of a gun in every case.
The bedrock of a stable Civilization is that of religion. Without such a bedrock it dies. Many of those in the reactosphere recognize this truth. We witness the downfall of civilization quite glaringly in the modern times and it no doubt correlates with the diminished piety toward Religions tradition. Many in this modern tragedy see only darkness in our future. The decay of all we know. As Juan Donoso Cortes points out
In proportion to the diminution of faith, truths diminish in the world; and why the society which turns its back on God, beholds all its horizons suddenly obscured by terrifying darkness.
Even the men who ushered in the ideology of chaos and death recognized this reality. In the Social Contract, Rousseau writes, “That there never was a state formed without religion serving as the foundation”. Even the disgraceful and abdominal Voltaire in his Treatise on Intolerance states, “That wherever there is a society, religion is absolutely necessary.” One could assume however, that this is why the ideology of liberalism is near dogmatic in its disposition, a new religion if you will. But that is a topic for another time.
Religion is a requirement. Not a suggestion. This is even more so the case in a free state. A state that lacks political repression must have religious repression. Polybius states that holy fear is more necessary in free states than in others. This is simply because man is fallen in nature and requires some form of restraint upon his will. Or as Maistre puts it, “Man when reduced to himself, is too wicked to be free.” Without such restraint passions will consume him. No other remedy is better then that of religion. Political repression may restrict his will in some capacity, but only a reverent fear of the divine can truly place the proper chain on man and order him to the proper disposition.
We are all attached to the throne of the Supreme Being by a supple chain that restrains us without enslaving us. Nothing is more admirable in the universal order of things than the action of free beings under the divine hand. – Joseph De Maistre
Without a revitalization of reverence toward the divine and the traditions of Religion, all shall perish.