From Under the Rubble…Change You Can Believe In
Change You Can Believe In
“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King
These are dark days for Christendom. The “old order changeth” indeed. Today the Rubble looks at one side of “change”; the other side will have to wait a week.
One of the earliest historical accounts encountered by the budding philosophy major is the story of Heraclitus. A long, long time ago – a hundred years before Plato — Heraclitus trembled before the specter of change: “You can’t step in the same river twice,” he lamented. “Everything is in flux. – but seek the logos.”
The prospect of a cosmos in which nothing is permanent haunted Heraclitus, and it haunted Greek philosophy. The logos — unchanging, transcendent, the highest good – is the ultimate object of man’s desire to know, said Aristotle – but even he, to whom Aquinas refers simply as “the philosopher,” did not know its name. Only in the first verse of the Gospel of John do we find the solution for the existential tension of existence: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
All men are called to know and love the Word. “God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength.” (Catholic Catechism, 1, 1). By nature, said Aristotle, man desires to know. That desire is finally satisfied when God reveals to us the logos – Christ the Word, Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
The freedoms we enjoy in Western Civilization are founded on our acknowledgement of the existence of Christ, the logos. And He is our Lawgiver. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson invokes “The Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” as the source of all our rights and liberties.
But today Nature’s Laws, and Nature’s God Himself, are denied in the West. Why? And what are the consequences?
Let’s start with liberty. It is quite reasonable that its enemies should direct their fire at its divine source. With God out of the way, they can deny, then destroy, the natural law that is “written on our hearts” – and theirs (Romans 2:15). For if God does not exist, then neither does His law. And if His law doesn’t exist, then they get to make up their own.
Lovers and Losers
Heretofore, Philosophy has only interpreted the world.
The point is, to change it.
Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, XI
Why would Karl Marx reject philosophy so soon after receiving his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Jena? Well, Marx was fascinated by Hegel, especially by the Hegelian dialectic. Why? Because the dialectic forgives everything. Like Heraclitus’s river, nothing stays the same in the dialectic – not for long. If there is no logos, then there is no higher law that is valid for all men and all time. Good and evil come and go. That means that the Marxist can play the conjurer – Eric Voegelin called Marx an “intellectual swindler.” Once the logos is extinguished, the Marxist is free to serve the only good that’s left – himself.
The Catechism tells us that God “calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength.” But if there is no logos, whom are we to love? That’s an important question. After all, Augustine teaches that love determines man’s destiny. The object of our love determines our membership in one or the other of two eternal cities. On the first page of the City of God, Augustine spells it out: the Heavenly City comprises those men (and angels) who love God (amor dei) to the exclusion of themselves. The members of the City of Man, in contrast, are governed by love of self (amor sui) to the exclusion of love of God. The choice is made freely: amor dei frees the City of God to serve God, and amor sui frees the City of Man from the need to serve anyone at all. Every member wants to be a law unto himself, so the City of Man “is ruled by its lust of rule (libido dominandi).”
The impact on political and social life is profound. The reader might recall how Donoso Cortes (+1853) cited Pierre Proudhon’s penetrating insight: “It is surprising to observe how constantly we find all our political questions complicated with theological questions.” The decisive questions for classical politics are, “what is true,” and “what is man”? For modern, secular politics, the question is reduced to, “who shall rule”? For the City of Man, the answer is easy: “Me!”
Change – or Chains?
“Thou couldest have no power at all against me,
except it were given thee from above.”
So the City of Man denies God, and wallows in self-love. But, as Aristotle intimated, human nature, however fallen and depraved, still longs to know the truth. “What is Truth,” asked Pontius Pilate derisively, when Truth was staring him in the face. The City of Man has its own truths — served up by the Father of Lies, of course. For the City of God, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). We have faith in concrete, unchanging and eternal realities.
But the City of Man has its own version of the theological virtues. Embracing amor sui, the angelic members of the City of Man place their faith in Satan, their hope in power, and their love in themselves. Satan led the fallen angels out of Paradise (well, “led” might be a little misleading. “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from Heaven,” Christ told his disciples [Luke 10:18]). On earth, the City of Man places its faith in the Leviathan, its hope in his promises of “change,” and their love in themselves – at last they will be allowed to do as they please! After all, there is no logos, no eternal law, and no limit on their power that might impede them.
But when the dialectic rules, nothing stays the same for long. And, as Thomas Hobbes makes clear, the City of Man cannot long abide without a tyrant. Only too late do its members discover that the Earthly City was founded on a lie: “Ye shall be as gods.”
Ideas have consequences – and bad ideas have very bad consequences. The triumph of the libido dominandi helps to explain why Barack Obama can flout the natural law and the Constitution, and why Nancy Pelosi doesn’t need to read the oppressive legislation she champions. Why bother? They’re going to ignore it anyway, and do whatever the “correlation of forces” (Marx’s dialectical term) dictates at any given moment. That dialectic changes all the time, with one fundamental constant: it must always serve the will to power.
Eventually the bill comes due for those who swallowed the lie. Consider the (false) promise of diversity. “Free at last — free to be myself!” Then reality intrudes, in the form of chaos. And chaos can’t last for long.
For Augustine, the City of God serves the Prince of Peace. No problem there. But the City of Man longs for peace as well, even if it is merely of a paltry, earthly sort. “There is honor among thieves.” And chaos is its opposite. Order must be restored, and that means that the law of someone in particular must rule. Aristotle would call that man the tyrant, but many of the tyrant’s subjects would bristle at that term. After all, haven’t they embraced him so they could indulge in their “freedom”? Don’t they have their “rights”?
Enter Jean Jacques Rousseau, the father of totalitarianism. He conjured up the notion of the “General Will.” The all-powerful Sovereign, he says, knows what people really want, and need, to be “free.”
But what about those who resist – who say, “Hey, why his law, and not mine? After all, don’t they have the primordial promise — “ye shall be as gods”?
Rousseau has an easy answer: “they must be forced to be free.”
This article, From Under the Rubble…Change You Can Believe In is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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