Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

More Chantal

Although it didn’t provoke much of a thread, the quote I posted from DelSol’s THE UNEARED LESSONS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY was the subject of several private emails to me. Dan Mahoney suggests that I didn’t post the best quote, which I’m going to do now. (And it’s the one that fits best into my signature ALIENS IN AMERICA theme. It’s also an example, I think, of POSTMODERNISM RIGHTLY UNDERSTOOD.)

The emergence from dreams of utopia thus signals a return to age-old reflections on the human condition: "But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish." [a quote from Francis Fukuyama] Consequently, the human situation can once again be seen as what it has always been, although we have tried to ignore it as an inadequate situation. We are guests on the earth and will never be completely at home here. Human history has nothing in common with Ulysses’ voyage; at the end of which the heroes goes home to familiar surroundings and loved ones, who are always there when needed and never disappoint. The hope that we can nurture is not that we might achieve perfection, whether through a classless society or material well-being for all, but that we might manage to live better within our paradoxes.

Discussions - 4 Comments

"The hope that we can nurture is not that we might achieve perfection, whether through a classless society or material well-being for all, but that we might manage to live better within our paradoxes." Does the belief that we can "live with our paradoxes" mean to suggest that human beings can be satisfied or fully reconciled with being aliens? Is it not part of the human condition itself to seek, or desire, to be at home in the world? Was it not preisely that desire that modernity played upon and thus why it was in some ways so successful? The "aliens" theme is very compelling but I wonder if it takes an extraordinary effort to live in the light of such an understanding. An effort that cannot be reasonably expected of many.

What if the lessons are better left unlearned? Or better yet since the lessons of every century purport to inform the centuries after it...could we not argue that the lessons the 20th Century absorbed from the 19th were overdramatized...and thus that the real lesson is not to overdramatize the lessons of history that we are too close to. Isn’t there a sort of parallel in parents who try radically different approaches from the ones used on them? Prunning is good, but shouldn’t it also be selective? All the European experiments in Utopia fail but the american one lives on. Should we not distinguish then between Communism, Fascism and the american experiment?(I am not sure that the postmoderns really do this, especially when the focus is on Utopia in a blanket way.). But perhaps no one wants to argue that the United States is a Utopia. But I think the post-moderns would say that it is. In essence what I want to say is that from the perspective of some Europeans the United States conceives itself as a Utopia, especially in its articulation of Inalienable Rights. Europeans on the other hand are beings intellectually and historically superior...they have learned lessons about man that leave little room for hope...

So I agree with J Coleman "It takes an extraordinary effort to live in light of such an understanding. An effort that cannot reasonably be expected of many." 1.3 births per couple?

The twentieth century was cursed with the bane(s) of ideological thinking and projects. Communist ideology in particular promised a new man, a new society, and that both would be perfect (no conflict between one’s inviduality and one’s species-being, a classless society, from each according to his ability, to each according to his need, etc). The communist regimes were surreal regimes (the term "surreal" is used in a technical sense): the ideology justifying the regime was revealed as THE BIG LIE in the stark contrast with the empoverishment, atomization, and psychic derangement wrought by leaders claiming that the ideology was true, e.g., actually realized by the society, and by the poor members of the society who were compelled to mouth lies they knew were untrue. (V. Havel has a great line: after listing a lot of things the leaders of the regime lied about - productions statistics, freedom, etc. - he concluded: they lied about lying.)
Okay, one of the fundamental tenets of ideology was "everything is possible," "men are historical, i.e., plastic beings," society’s can be reengineered by the correct science properly, i.e., willfully, ruthlessly, applied. The ideological project failed miserably. But in its midst, a certain percentage (Solz. sortof guesstimates about 20% of the people in the camps) of people discovered that they had souls, i.e., they could see the truth for themselves and that they were responsible for the integrity of their souls: they would rather risk death than comply with the regime and its lies. Havel agreed with Solz. on this and wrote up his own version of "living in the truth," even in the midst of the regime of the Lie. He talks about "consciousness and conscience" over against the ideology’s claims that Matter precedes spirit, or of economic determinism.

Delsol draws a further lesson: after the ideological promises of a perfected mankind and perfected society, we’ve rediscovered the real characteristics of the human condition and of human beings: the human conditions is structured by insurpassable (but "manageable") dichotomies and tensions: good v. evil; life v. death; truth v. ignorance/error/falsehood. And man is the imperfect being who is suspended between these antimonies and has to navigate between them (which is the task of philosophy, ethics, the economy, statesmanship).

So, I would say that her portrait of man is bit toward the aliens side of things, because we’ll never eradicate the "downside" of the constitutive antimonies of life; she does insist (more than Peter perhaps) that we also have this Promethean impulse/spirit to improve the status quo and, yes, work towards a perfect world. Modernity (and especially the ideological currents of modernity) is the Promethean spirit unbound. She, however, wants to keep it tethered to the human condition. She also locates "hope" at the heart of true human existence, which may be a difference with Peter. (I just add that to hear him comment.)

Paul, I actually am more hopeful than she is, because I have hope that the individual human person might endure. And of course I’m all about love.

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