Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Why the decline?

Troutsky writes:

I would be curious as to your views on WHAT is causing the decline and WHY? To me, it is no accident or natural trend.

It's not an easy question, and I'm not overly optimistic that I'll be able to give a sufficient answer, but I'll try to post a couple of thoughts anyway.

I guess we can start with the issue of decadence. Pat Buchanan has been proclaiming "The Death of the West" for several years now, and while he's been early to jump on the bandwagon if one considers popular commentators, the signs of our demise have been present for much longer than this.

Fortunately, a growing segment of the population is waking up to the fact that there is something severely wrong with our country and our culture. Witness the Ron Paul campaign. I'm not exactly sure how this fits; a truly decadent culture wouldn't have any reformers because no one would have any hope of change. Then again, I'm not sure how far Paul will be able to go. It would be very decadent of us to ignore his warnings.

I recently picked up an excellent book titled From Dawn to Decadence. I'm only about a quarter in, but I heartily recommend it. Therein, the author, Jacques Barzun writes: “When people accept futility and the absurd as normal, the culture is decadent. The term is not a slur; it is a technical label.”

That about sums it up. I started writing a piece for the paper, attempting to show how our war on terror is decadent. It was a harder piece to write than I imagined it would be, simply because the whole war on terror is so blatantly absurd--and futile. If you swallow the party line, and rehearse the Sean Hannity talking points, it will probably escape you, but the second you begin to rationally examine the principles of preemptive war, the whole absurdity becomes clear.

For instance, it's absurd to attack countries in the Middle East who haven't threatened us just because they might some day get a bomb and use it on us. Hypotheticals are dangerous pretexts with which to engage in extraordinary measures. Hypothetically, anything could happen. We could just nuke the Middle East to prevent anything unseemly from happening, but most rational people realize that mass murder is the height of immorality. As a country, our prudence is wanting. Our foreign policy is not that of a republic of rational individuals; it is that of a despot, frightened lest his power be threatened.

Or again, it is idiotic to attack the Middle East while leaving the border insecure. Troutsky gets a bit flabbergasted every time I mention the border, but he needn't do so. Whether or not massive migration is good for this country can be debated; so too can the extent of the threat posed by the terrorists. The point here, is that if the terrorists are a threat to our way of life, leaving the border insecure is the height of absurdity. But this policy goes unquestioned, not only by the elites--who have ulterior motives--but by those who support the futile war on terror. Yes, I know that the conservative commentariat clamors about border control, but that won't stop them from supporting an open-borders candidate to attempt to prevent Hillary, another open-borders candidate, from taking power.

The culture is decadent, and in other ways too. But I'm supposed to examine the reasons behind the decadence, so we'll move onto that.

One reason, I would say, is the inability of most people to live rationally. I don't think that thinking has ever been held in such disregard as it is at present. As I noted in today's paper, people don't read books; those who do, often read only garbage. What passes for a logical argument these days is embarrassing. Bill O'Reilly and the conservative clowns make so many groundless assertions that it's impossible to keep up; things aren't any better amongst so-called liberals.

The war on terror is a perfect example of inanities passed along as self-evident, but there is more to the tragedy than the foreign policy of Americans. In fact, the war on terror is a sign of our inability to think; it is not its cause.

Put another way, the acceptance of outrageous principles by a large segment of our population reveals an inability to think properly. Notice, too, that many of those who have changed their minds concerning the validity of the Iraq invasion have done so for strange reasons. Some charge that the war was poorly run, which, though true, is utterly beside the point. The problem, as I have written before, is that the war was immoral because it was an unprovoked act of aggression.

Morality has seeped into the discussion, and it is part of our lapse into decadence. It, too, is tied to the proper use of reason. The just war doctrine, a subset of the natural law theory, is a good example or right reason leading to right action. For man is, above all, a rational creature; when he fails to use his higher faculties, he inevitably goes wrong.

The natural law theory helps us identify what went wrong. As a Catholic, it should come as no surprise when I say that I think that the greatest tragedy of all-time was the reformation. The society of the Middle Ages had, alas, become decadent, and it was unable to reform itself in time. Christendom was cloven, and the modern world is a result of that shipwreck. Hence Barzun starts his book with Luther's theses.

One of the unintended consequences of the Reformation has been the collapse of the higher faculties. It is ironic, perhaps, that the champions of reason have seen their god thrown out the window by their ancestors--here we see Hegel's dialectic at work--but it was almost inevitable. By proclaiming that man, and not the Church, was arbiter of truth, the idea of objective truth became a tenuous one. The Protestant faction saw internal reformations, as sect after sect emerged with the "real" truth. Fast forward, and we have the post-modern society, where not only truth, but reality itself, is relative: mere subjective perception.

The reformers didn't intend for this to happen. Revolutionaries seldom foresee all that will come of their actions; Marx didn't envision the Gulag Archipelago, Rousseau couldn't see the Terror. But happen it did. We are left with the decadent excesses of a revolution gone wrong.

This is where the Church enters in. Whether or not She is right--I contend that She is--She is consistent and authoritative in ways no other aspect of society pretends to be. We ultimately fell into decadence because of rejection of the Church, and the conception of objective Truth which She alone purports to hold. We can no longer think because we have rejected the only Institution which dares to contain Truth; we can only get back to a better society if we return to Her. When people begin to think right, they will start to act right. So long as our thinking is flawed, we haven't a prayer at escaping certain cultural ruin.

The Church has come under fire--no pun intended--for burning heretics. The excesses of the Inquisition have been over-stated--see Henry Kamen's book for an objective account of the Spanish version--but excesses they were. Nonetheless, the Church was right in thinking that heretics are dangerous. Get a wrong idea into a man's head, and he will begin to live immorally. Allowing a man to think that preemptive war is acceptable might cause him to launch wars, willy-nilly, against his neighbors.

With this, I bring my somewhat long-winded, and fairly scattered piece to a close. In brief summation, the world has gone wrong because it cannot think; the Church is the guardian of thought and truth, and a return to Her will allow mankind to think again. Since man is rational, right ordered thought is necessary for right action. If we are to restore our civilization, we must learn to think again, and for that, I present to the reader the Roman Catholic Church.

You really didn't expect anything different, did you?


gregra&gar said...

To rue the lack of rational thinking as a sign of decadence and then champion Christianity is the epitome of false logic.

A Wiser Man Than I said...

How so?

I've cited one example of how Christianity--specifically Catholicism--provided the right rational against the war when the world failed to do so. I saw all sorts of posters about how war is never the answer--false--and how we didn't want blood for oil, but I found the most cogent defense against aggressive war in the Church's Just War Doctrine.

Sit down with some of the medieval scholars; I recommend Aquinas. You'll see a powerful utilization of rational thinking, one which far surpasses anything which takes place in the decadent post-modern world.