Have we become a society of Randians? And is the Randian, self-worshipping self a product of Christianity?
What do I always identify as the main principle of modern liberalism? The belief that the self, namely one’s own self, is the highest thing and the source and criterion of all values, a belief that is expressed as self-love, self-worship.
You are quite right about this being a core principle of liberalism. British philosopher John Gray describes this principle as moral or normative individualism, or the idea that what is of ultimate value is individual states of mind or feelings, or aspects of the lives of individuals. The consequence is that the claims of individuals are held to prevail over those of communities or collectivities.September 29
Brandon F. writes:
We should not overlook Christianity’s contribution to this error. The idea that the individual has special purpose, is in fact singled out and adored by the Almighty is the beginning of this idea in the West in my opinion.LA replies:
It is a truism that Christianity (preceded by the Jewish scriptures, particularly the Book of Psalms) made the individual person, the individual psyche or soul, far more important and central than it had been before. Consider Augustine’s obsession with his own self and its sinful or virtuous condition in The Confessions, an experience that would have been inconceivable prior to Christianity. But I hope that Brandon is not suggesting that the modern self-worshipping self is the fault of Christianity, or that the Western/Christian sense of self was a mistake.Daniel S. writes:
It is true that almost every error in modernity has its roots in Christianity, or rather an inversion of Christianity. G. K. Chesterton noted this his book Heretics:LA replies:
Chesterton’s remark, and your gloss on it, are superb.Daniel S. replies:
Thank you. I was thinking about this specific issue recently with regards to right-wing neopaganism, which claims it wants to “go back” to some sort of pre-Christian pagan practice, citing figures like Nietzsche, Julius Evola, and Heidegger as their inspiration. Of course Nietzsche (the son of a Lutheran pastor) and Heidegger (raised a Catholic) were as much a product of Europe’s Christian heritage as comparable, explicitly Christian thinkers like Dostoevsky and Chesterton. The truth that the neopagans stubbornly resist is that once the logos was made flesh and came among men there would be no going back, not ever (remember, Christ has already overcome the world). Even Rene Guenon and Schuon testify to this truth. Neopaganism is not an authentic quest to resurrect dead Nordic deities, but mere reaction, a flight from God (indeed, I would explain all of modernity and its errors as being ultimately a flight from God, though one that is as doomed as the flight of Icarus).LA replies:
The idea of “no-going back” is also central to Eric Voegelin’s thought. As he put it, Christianity represented a new and higher (actually the highest) stage of “differentiation” or “articulation” of the multi-layered reality in which we live, most importantly in differentiating the transcendent from the immanent, the spiritual from the secular. Once having experienced that differentiation, man cannot go back to the pre-differentiated, pagan, cosmological (i.e. “a cosmos full of gods”) stage, no matter how much he may want to. The attempt to return to the simpler, pagan condition only leads to a gnostic deformation of reality, in which all of reality, including the transcendent (which man cannot get rid of, once it has been differentiated in his soul) is squeezed into a single obsessive ideological idea which is ultimately imposed on society by a gnostic totalitarian elite. Modernity offers a plethora of such monstrous and doomed attempts to de-differentiate reality: the Rule of the German Superman, the Rule of the Marxian Superman, the Rule of the Randian Superman (which fortunately only exists in a novel), the Rule of the Feminist Superwoman, the Global Egalitarian State, John Lennon’s Stateless Egalitarian Humanity (which also must end up as a Global State under the rule of a totalitarian elite), and on and on.Daniel S. replies:
Your last comment about de-differentiated realities reminds me of something said by Srdja Trifkovic several years back about the monistic nature of both Islam and liberalism:Thucydides writes:
You have pointed to the Christian origins of liberalism’s moral and normative individualism, or focus on the self. The other core commitments of liberalism also have their origins in Christianity. These are human universalism, egalitarianism, and the belief in progress.Daniel S. writes:
Thucydides articulately outlines the heresy of liberalism and its bastardizing the things of God and dragging them down into the realm of the profane. But then again, as Martin Luther observed, Satan is ever the ape of God.Clark Coleman writes:
Chesterton is quoted:LA replies:
Yes. I would say it’s more a clever rhetorical point than a serious substantive point. What he’s saying is, it is irrational to blame various modern neo-pagan and utopian belief systems on Christianity, since, in reality, everything we are, our entire civilization, comes to us from Christianity (or at least via Christianity). Blaming Communism or liberalism on Christianity is like blaming the existence of sin on the existence of the good; it’s like blaming the existence of hurricanes on the existence of the earth and the solar system. Once you have a Christian order, you are inevitably going to have various distortions and heresies of Christianity, just as once you have the good, you are going to have various perversions of the good.Clark Coleman replied:
OK, but I just very strongly reacted to having that statement appear in print without being challenged. It is a perverse statement, regardless of motivation.LA replies:
I agree with you that Chesterton’s remark, in and of itself, is obviously incorrect.October 2
Thomas Bertonneau writes:
Is Chesterton’s claim concerning Christianity’s relation to paganism really baffling or perverse? Not to me. Merely to consider it historically is to concede that Christianity emerged in the context of late pagan thought. Certainly the phrase “comes out of” or “comes from” can refer to that. But even more than that, Christianity absorbed, “baptized,” and consciously preserved and then transmitted to posterity the pagan intellectual and artistic heritage. There is a fascinating chapter in Augustine’s Confessions, an early fifth-century document, in which the autobiographer says that Platonism, which he had studied in his early thirties, was the necessary stepping stone in his pilgrimage to the Catholic faith. And in The City of God, supposing my memory serves me, Augustine says words to the effect that Revelation (and I deliberately use the capital R) includes Greek philosophy, especially Plato and the Platonists. Slightly earlier than Augustine, Saint Basil of Caesarea issued a pamphlet decrying the claim of some Christians that a Christian educational curriculum should eschew entirely “pagan letters.” Basil regards this claim as self-evidently absurd, pointing out, for example, that there is a great moral continuity linking Christianity to the higher paganism. He adduces the episode from Homer’s Odyssey where the hero, washed ashore on the remote island of Scheria, confronts in his nakedness the decorous princess Nausicaä, taking great care in supplicating her to hide his unclothed indignity. In this episode, basil says, the pagan hero acts like a perfect Christian gentleman.LA replies:
And the naked Odysseus didn’t have any tattoos!Terry Morris writes:
I’m not so sure that either you or Mr. Coleman is correct. Chesterton seems to me to be criticizing Christianity in the same way that the both of you criticize mainstream conservatism. Which, of course, is a perversion of true conservatism.LA replies:
My reply to Mr. Coleman on that point was too quick and simplistic. On one hand, Christianity originates in the Incarnation and Revelation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. That has nothing to do with paganism. On the other hand, in the articulation of the Christian religion after the time of Jesus, Greek (i.e. pagan) philosophy was merged with the Hebraic and Christian ideas of God. So in that sense it could be said that Christianity is of (partly) pagan origin.Catherine C. writes:
Today you made a connection between tattoos and the flight from God, as does Flannery O’Connor in her story “Parker’s Back.” The story is about a man who has covered the entire front of his body, as well as his arms and legs, with tattoos. In a last desperate attempt at transcendence he has a “picture of God” tattooed on his back.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 28, 2012 03:40 PM | Send