The great larceny of modernity

One of the comments on my yesterday’s piece raised some serious questions that deserve a serious answer.

And so it began

Here is how a reader responded to my statement that I oppose Catalan secessionism: “…it is strange that someone who believes in conservative localism would be against the regionalism of, for instance, the Catalans. Franco sought to subsume all of the geographical region of Spain under one identity. Such plans are still being attempted by the EU, as well as our Muslim friends. Whatever the source, it must be resisted.”

Franco thereby finds himself in a posthumous company I doubt he would have welcomed in his lifetime. This shows the inherent dangers of allowing superficial similarities to overshadow profound differences.

The EU seeks a unity based on politics. “Our Muslim friends”, on the other hand, wish to unite the world under the aegis of their religion. That’s a fundamental difference, as great in its way as the one between the EU and the Holy Roman Empire.

The latter loosely united European states on an ecclesiastical basis, while leaving plenty of room for them to keep and nurture their national cultures, economic arrangements and politics. This is the kind of European Union I’d welcome today, should the remotest possibility of such a settlement exist.

On the other hand, I’m opposed to both the EU and especially to the threat of a pan-European caliphate because I see both as tyrannical and mortally dangerous to everything I hold sacred. Thus it’s possible to welcome some types of unity while dreading others.

As to Franco, it wasn’t he who “sought to subsume all of the geographical region of Spain under one identity”. It was dynastic marriages that did that, and long before little Francisco was even a twinkle in his Daddy’s eye.

The one in the twelfth century incorporated Catalonia into the Kingdom of Aragon; the one in the fifteenth century integrated Aragon (and therefore Catalonia) with Castile. So do let’s blame Ferdinand and Isabella for a united Spain, not the late Caudillo who, as a traditionalist conservative, fought to preserve Spain as she had been for half a millennium.

But the question remains: Is there an inherent contradiction between championing traditional localism while at the same time opposing Catalan separatism – or, extending the argument, that of Scotland and other constituent parts of the United Kingdom?

That puts into focus the title above. ‘The great larceny of modernity’ is the term I use to describe the transition from Christendom to another, modern, civilisation that was largely inspired by its violent rebellion against Christianity and the civilisation it had created.

However, discarding one civilisation to usher in a successor isn’t the same as a scientist abandoning one theory in favour of another. The old civilisation may be knocked off its perch outwardly, but it can’t be fully uprooted from the consciousness and instincts of the people weaned on it.

That’s why successful revolutionaries always strive to destroy the house of the old civilisation, while looting its furnishings and moving them, appropriately vandalised, to the lodging of a new civilisation.

For example, if you look at the revolutionary slogans of post-Christian modernity, you’ll notice their tripartite form regardless of where and when they were concocted.

Starting from the French “liberté, egalité, fraternité”, one could site the American “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness”, the Russian “vsia vlast sovetam” (all power to the Soviets) or the German “ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer” (one people, one nation, one leader). And even a somewhat less significant twentieth century revolution had to chip in with a vapid ‘Work harder, produce more, build Grenada!

What we are witnessing here is the first stage of larceny: the revolutionaries sensed that the world around them was alive with Trinitarian music. Since people’s ears were attuned to it, they were predisposed to respond to similar sounds even if they conveyed a different meaning.

In a similarly devious way the linear, teleological nature of Christian eschatology was transformed into the secular doctrine of progress.

Unlike the Eastern mind trained to respond to circular, static philosophies, the Western mind had been conditioned by its philosophy to expect a dynamic linear movement.

With an enviable sleight of hand, modernity replaced the kingdom of God as the final destination of linear development with the eudemonic idea of happiness as the ultimate goal of life – which, courtesy of St Anselm, had been known since the eleventh century as a sure recipe for amorality.

In the same vein, the Christian concept of equality before omnipotent, merciful God was vulgarised into a worldly equality before an omnipotent if less than merciful state; Christian inviolable value of every person became ‘human rights’; ennobling Christian charity was turned into the corrupting welfare state; reason as a tool for understanding the creation of rational God was turned into soulless secular rationality.

And of course the sublime idea of Christianity (and its civilisation) bringing all peoples together into a single commonwealth was eventually perverted into producing such an obviously wicked contrivance as the EU.

The important thing to remember is that the anti-Christian rebellion was inspired not so much by a desire to create as by an urge to destroy.

It’s no coincidence that the first wholly atheist century, the twentieth, brought about the destruction of every traditional empire. Whatever we may think of, say, the Habsburgs, Hohenzollerns or Romanovs, it’s hard to deny that their empires were infinitely preferable to their immediate secular successors.

But the chaps wielding the battering rams of modernity hadn’t considered the pros and cons before wreaking their mayhem. They were driven by a destructive animus above all, however totally it was camouflaged by demagoguery about progress, liberation, equality or whatever.

All this applies in spades to the perversion of traditional Christian localism as the bedrock of any political dispensation. This developed as a revolution against the statist collectivism of the Greco-Roman world with its overall conception of man, nature and reality.

For Christianity was indeed a revolution, the only truly successful one in history. It stressed the autonomous value of the individual and built its political dispensation from there up. Hence the family became the most essential building block of society (you’ll notice how systematically and passionately the ensuing modernity has been destroying the family).

Familial local institutions, such as parish, guild, township, village commune formed a cocoon  protecting the family from the central political power of the princes. Thus even that most absolute of monarchs, Louis XIV, had more power over his glamorous courtiers than over the lowliest of peasants.

That familial localism was destroyed by all modern states, regardless of their ostensible ideology. The family and institutions based on it got to be seen as competitors to the burgeoning power of the central state. That’s why they had to be destroyed – but with an element of larceny thrown in yet again.

The local self-government of small communities has been replaced by the post-Christian notion of national self-determination as a natural entitlement of every ethnic group, no matter how lacking in size or self-sufficiency.

That cause has been faithfully served by every enemy of traditional European institutions because it was seen as a powerful weapon against them. The First World War, the final violent assault on traditional Europe, is a great example of that underlying impulse.

Thus Woodrow Wilson, a politician whose sinister influence tends to be underestimated, was at the same time a fanatic of a single world government and a great champion of national self-determination.

There was no contradiction there at all, at least not to a modern mind. The first was the end; the second, the means. National self-determination fanatically pursued is bound to tear asunder Europe’s traditional commonwealths – QED.

However, the ensuing independence is as bogus as most things about modern politics. For, having left the organic, historical arrangement in existence for centuries, those newly independent countries seamlessly pass into real bondage to the Johnny-come-lately contrivance of the EU.

What do you think will happen to Catalonia or, more relevant, Scotland when they leave the yoke of their traditional association? They’ll become EU members within months, possibly weeks, losing in the process the not inconsiderable autonomy they enjoyed before.

Thus Catalan – or for that matter any other European – separatism will only increase the size of a political setup about which my correspondent clearly feels as I do.

To conclude, political issues are much more nuanced and complex than they appear on the surface. They aren’t easily reducible to catchy, simple slogans. Simple tends to be simplistic and eventually destructive. Just look at the slogans sited above.

2 thoughts on “The great larceny of modernity”

  1. You favourite poet (obviously not) sometimes made sense by pure chance:

    The hand that signed the paper felled a city;
    Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,
    Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country;
    These five kings did a king to death.

    1. Actually, though I wouldn’t call Dylan Thomas my favourite poet, he was undeniably a poet — which is more than I can say for some of our recent Poet Laureates. Actually, his Welsh namesake R.S. Thomas was much better, though not nearly as well-known.

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