On December 7, 1990, less than a year after dismantling of the notorious Berlin Wall started, I gave a talk entitled “A New Political World Disorder?” at a prestigious international colloquium whose chief topic was “Transition in Eastern Europe.” The conference was held at a beautiful villa in Trevio, Italy, just north of Venice. Because participants included representatives of different governmental parliaments, university dons, leading business entrepreneurs, and bank presidents (including the president of the Bank of Rome), the perimeter of the villa was heavily guarded by Italian police carrying Uzi machine guns and restraining German shepherds on leashes.
Two chief co-sponsors (which still exist) hosted the event. One identifies itself as a German, Christian Social Democratic foundation. The other, an Italian NGO with close ties to UNESCO, describes itself as an international group of intellectuals and representatives of the cultural, artistic, academic, ecclesiastical, and political worlds, inspired by the reflections of the French philosopher Jacques Maritain “and convinced of the importance of his personalist inspiration in the face of the challenges of the contemporary world.”
The intellectual mood in Western Europe at the time was euphoric, full of hope and concordism; filled with real possibilities, not impossible dreams, of a new world political order founded upon Enlightenment principles of peace, harmony, and economic prosperity.
Conflicting readings of history
I do not know precisely why I was invited to be the only American to talk at this gathering. But, since one chief co-sponsor celebrated itself as being convinced of, and inspired by, the personalist teachings of Jacques Maritain, since Maritain had been the chief inspiration of Christian social democratic parties that had grown up in Europe after World War II, and since (being young and foolish) I had thought the organizers of the event were actually interested in what I had to say on the topic, I devoted my paper to engaging in a serious intellectual analysis of the transition then happening in Eastern and Western Europe the way I thought, on the basis of his personalist intellectual principles, Maritain would have done.
While I was convinced—based upon my reading of Maritain and his friend and fellow Frenchman Etienne Gilson—that what was then happening in Europe had the potential to be a cause for celebration, my understanding of the historical significance of the event did not correspond to that of some of the chief organizers of this colloquium. They saw the political event like Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History”—not the simple passing of a state of post-World War II European history, but the end of history considered as such: political fulfillment of mankind’s political evolution, universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of Enlightened human government, and, for the first time in history, the start of true civil society. I saw it as a sign of convulsions occurring within the modern Western conception of human nature and cultural institutions founded upon this conception of the human person.
More precisely, I told the audience that the Cartesian understanding of the human person upon which the modern West was founded attempts ideologically to justify mathematical consciousness, and misnamed “social-scientific” imitations of it, as the only criterion of all truth—including psychological, educational, sociological, moral, political, and metaphysical truths. I added that, while such a consciousness is great at understanding and uniting dimensional bodies, geometrical figures, it is totally incapable of resolving metaphysical, educational, psychological, sociological, and political disagreements, or of uniting people into a social unit or organization.
Social and political units are not mathematical units. Social and political unity arises from common harmony generated by common effort to generate and share in common goods, not from positional relation, bodily extension of parts in place, or from mathematical measuring devices and technologies. Hence, when confronted by problems of integrating social units, the Cartesian understanding of human nature and its ugly Enlightenment stepchildren have no rational answer to give. All they have to offer is blind necessity and brute force; and this is true of all the cultural institutions that essentially flow from them.
To look, therefore, for a new and improved political order unified by modern free-market economics, modern political conservatism, or liberal socialism, modern psychology, sociology, or philosophy, was to place their hopes in myths. I added that, to attempt to build a new, rational political order upon such misbegotten myths was a mistake of major proportions that European culture could not then afford to make. I cautioned that no attempt to rebuild Western culture would be effective unless and until, as Jacques Maritain had noted decades before, it was accompanied by a new and integral conception of human nature (an integral humanism or personalism) around which cultural organizations of the West could exercise their proper acts.
The refashioning of the West
I reminded them that, for several centuries, starting with the Reformation, and especially since the time of Descartes, Western cultural institutions have been engaged in a reckless adventure (1) to abandon the ancient Greek understanding of the human person as a rational animal and their prevailing vision of the world as naturally intelligible to human reason. And (2) to refashion the West on the corpse of what, in his classic book The Unity of Philosophical Experience, Gilson has called the “Western Creed.”
According to Gilson, this Western Creed was based upon a psychology of the human person as a rational animal. This psychology was a proximate principle of all Greek science. Its first principle was an unwavering trust in the natural ability of human reason to know the truth about things and about ourselves as knowers, to use human wisdom to set things in order and govern them well.
All Greek science grew out of the (1) human psychological conviction that causes of organization, natures, exist within things independently of human knowers and also within human knowing faculties themselves; (2) the conviction that these causes were naturally knowable to human reason, and (3) the desire, as perfectly as possible, by knowing these principles to fulfill the prescription inscribed on the temple of the Oracle at Delphi: to “Know Thyself.” This desire for perfect, rational self-understanding and human action through understanding the natures of things was the proximate first principle that generated ancient Greek interest in, and wonder about, the physical universe. This interest and wonder, in turn, generated all of the Western cultural institutions that were later refined by the ancient Romans and medieval Christendom.
When the modern world began in the 17th century, as Gilson and Maritain recognized, this trust started to waver. Trust in the existence of natures (causes of unity, organization, and action) existing within things knowable to human reason and within human beings themselves started to be displaced by the conviction that no natures exist within things; or if they do, ordinary human beings cannot know them. Truth about ourselves and things around us can only be grasped by “science.” And science no longer consists in a virtue of the human soul. It consists in the power of the human will to torture nature to reveal her secrets.
At the moment this psychological change happened, the classical principles of truth in things knowable to un-Enlightened human reason that had generated all Western cultural institutions and the Western Creed became displaced and replaced by the Will to Power, or what Gilson called the modern “Scientific Creed.”
No longer would truth of reason and things precede and measure science. From now on, science (in the sense of technological manipulation of inanimate nature and human beings) would precede truth in things and the human mind. Enlightened science (Pure Reason/the Will to Power) became the measure of truth in individual human minds and in things existing outside our minds.
Accurate self-knowledge and the ability rightly to distinguish one thing from another are signs of wise people. Yet, as I told my audience in Italy, these were precisely the qualities that had been increasingly disappearing from the West during the 20th century. Increasingly, people throughout the West were losing their self-understanding, their sense of self-identity. Increasingly, Westerners, especially professionals, were losing the ability precisely to define their natures. Increasingly, Western cultural institutions (the “Establishment”) could not make intelligible to themselves or to anyone else precisely what was their nature and how it differed from the natures of other things.
Increasingly, people who called themselves “philosophers” were becoming fools; theologians were becoming atheistic; Catholics held doctrines of Protestants; Protestants had no idea of their religious principles; illiterates were teaching grammar in schools; psychologists no longer believed in the existence of souls; women with dysfunctional personality problems were teaching courses on feminist identity; people with no educational training were becoming university administrators and presidents; biologists killed plants and animals and studied lifeless chemicals, yet still considered themselves to be probing for the causes of life; physicists were actually mathematicians; and leaders in all professions, but especially political leaders, were becoming increasingly inept, no longer had the ability to lead.
I added that Westerners were increasingly turning a deaf ear to “the Establishment,” what today we call “the System,” because, increasingly, Western cultural institutions had nothing “relevant,” nothing to contribute to human life in the area of human wisdom, to say to people. Ordinary people in general recognize that what qualifies people to lead is a sense of right direction, and they also recognize that the mere possession of political power, an academic degree, administrative position, or educational license does not preclude a person from being a fool. The moral right to leadership comes chiefly from wisdom, not from positions of power. If Western cultural institutions were losing their ability to command leadership, I said, this was because people were increasingly recognizing them to be what they are: simulacra of wisdom maintaining themselves through deceit and sophistry.
By the time of this meeting in Treviso, a quarter century ago, this lack of Western self-understanding and the ability of Western cultural institutions to command authoritative respect had become so great that it was causing a death rattle within these institutions. I added that nothing short of a complete purging by these institutions of the Cartesian conception of human nature that had infected them (“not charms or amulets, not politics of Right or Left”) could restore Western culture’s health. Indeed, if this view of the human self continued to dominate within Western culture, I predicted the West would self-destruct in a cultural collapse that would likely be issued in by new and more exotic forms of fundamentalistic, perversions of the totalitarian State attempting to unify human society around one or more monolithic myth.
The blindness of Enlightenment education
By this time in my talk, the head of the German co-sponsoring organization could contain his rage no longer. Much to the embarrassment of the Italian hosts, he jumped up out of his seat, started screaming at me in a heavily-German, English accent to “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Sit down! Sit down! We have heard enough!”
Seeing that, apparently, he disagreed with my thesis, I apologized to my audience over my inability to continue and sat down.
Only years later did I realize how much that talk resembled a syntheses of prophetic critiques of the modern West that the celebrated American educator Mortimer J. Adler had given to his contemporaries some 50 years previous to my talk in two articles: “God and the Professors” and “This Pre-War Generation” (both published in Harper’s Magazine). Better than pretty much any other intellectual analysis, I think, these articles and the warnings I gave in Treviso explain that the chief cause of the increasing Islamization of the West lies in the foolishness of Western educators and the anarchistic students they have spawned.
At a 1940 conference in New York City on science, philosophy, and religion, Adler started his paper, entitled “God and the Professors,” by observing that the conference organizers had chosen the topics of science, philosophy, and religion as their main areas of interest because they and all the participants shared “a vague sense of cultural disorder as the root of their troubles, as the source of a threatening doom.” Far from being the prime movers of the cultural disorders of the day, Adler claimed that the Hitlers, Mussolinis, Stalins, and Chamberlains were “but paranoic puppets dancing for a moment on the crest of a wave—the wave that is the historic motion of modern culture to its own destruction.” Adler claimed, “A culture is not killed by political conflicts, even when they attain the shattering violence of modern warfare; nor by economic revolutions, even when they involve the dislocations of modern mass uprisings.”
A culture, Adler said, “dies of diseases which are themselves cultural. It may be born sick, as modern culture was, or it may decay through insufficient vitality to overcome the disruptive forces present in every culture; but, in any case, cultural disorder is a cause and not an effect of the political and economic disturbances which beset the world today.”
He maintained that, like the health and disease of the body, cultural health consists in organizational health, the harmonious functioning of its parts, and cultures die from lack of harmonious functioning of these same parts. He added that “science, philosophy, and religion are certainly major parts of European culture; their distinction from one another as quite separate parts is certainly the most characteristic cultural achievement of modern times. But if they have not been properly distinguished, they cannot be properly related; and unless they are properly related, properly ordered to one another, cultural disorder, such as that of modern times, inevitably results.”
In short, Adler was maintaining that, if we do not properly understand the natures of things, their intrinsic principles, causes, of unity, organization, and action, especially of culturally-related natures like religion, science, philosophy, we cannot properly relate and unite them as complementary parts of a coherent cultural whole, or healthy cultural organization. This, however, is precisely the problem we have understanding and solving the increasing Islamization of the West at the present time. Our international political leaders do not properly understand, have never been trained to understand, the natures of things, and especially the natures of philosophy, science, and religion. Worse, they tend to think that things have no natures, or if they do, these are not knowable by political reason. And the reason they are so politically and intellectually blind is due to the Enlightenment education they have received within modern Western colleges and universities.
Such being analogously the case in 1940, Adler told the conference organizers that their conference could not possibly succeed “because one cannot expect the professors to understand what is wrong with modern culture and modern education, for the simple reason that that would require them to understand what is wrong with their own mentality.”
“Instead of a conference about science, philosophy, and religion in relation to democracy,” Adler said what was needed was “a conference about the professors of science, philosophy, and religion, especially American professors whose intellectual attitudes express a false conception of democracy. The defects of modern culture,” he added,
are the defects of its intellectual leaders, its teachers and savants. The disorder of modern culture is a disorder in their minds, a disorder which manifests itself in the universities they have built, in the educational system they have devised, in the teaching they do, and which, through that teaching, perpetuates itself and spreads out in ever widening circles from generation to generation. It is a little naive, therefore, to suppose that the professors can be called upon to solve the problem of the relationship of science, philosophy, and religion in our education and in our culture—as naive as it would be to invite the professors to participate in a conference about what is wrong with the professors.
According to Adler, precisely what was wrong with the professors was that they were scientific positivists, that they claimed the whole of truth is contained in physical science, and that outside physical science all other claims to knowledge are emotionally-held opinions. Hence, Adler claimed that the most serious threat to democracy was the positivism of the professors, which dominated every aspect of modern education in 1940, and, he said “is the central corruption of modern culture. Democracy has much more to fear from the mentality of its teachers than from the nihilism of Hitler,” he added. “It is the same nihilism in both cases, but Hitler’s is more honest and consistent, less blurred by subtleties and queasy qualifications, and hence less dangerous.”
Scientism and irrational prejudice
Following up on the international political pathologies of his day, Adler did not stop with the professors. In his scathing 1940 Harper’s Magazine article “This Prewar Generation,” among other things, he accused post-World War I American young people of having a mindset largely similar to that of Hitler’s youth. “Our college students today, like Thrasymachus of old,” Adler said, “regard justice as the will of the stronger; but unlike the ancient sophist they cannot make the point as clearly or defend it as well.”
While Adler did not think that American youth of his day tended to reduce justice to mystical identification with the State, to advancing the cause of the Fatherland, he claimed that, chiefly under the influence of American higher education, post-World War I and pre-World War II American youth had become, like Thrasymachus, sophists who had developed habits of mind that (1) tended to identify right behavior with a personal will to power, personal success, and (2) did not enable them to conceive of democracy as intrinsically superior to fascism and articulate rational arguments to defend such a superiority. Hence, Adler claimed that American youth would continue to work for democracy only so long as democracy continued to work for them.
Adler did not think that post-World War I American culture alone had initially generated this post-World War I mindset. He maintained that centuries of Western cultural change had prepared the minds of American youth to become sophists. He argued that this situation was “the last fruition of modern man’s exclusive trust in science and his gradual disavowal of whatever lies beyond the field of science as irrational prejudice, an opinion emotionally held.”
While Adler considered “the doctrine of scientism” to be “the dominant dogma of American philosophy” during the early part of the 20th century, he maintained this last fruition of modern thought had received its finishing touches in university philosophy courses, all tending to reinforce the same conclusion: “only science gives us valid knowledge of reality.” Or, in another way of putting it: The whole of truth about the physical universe is contained in physical science. Outside physical science, all human judgments consist in irrational prejudice: opinions emotionally held.
While those educators who proudly proclaim the conviction that “the only valid knowledge of reality is contained in physical science” might tend to think this claim is a sign of having achieved the zenith of intellectual Enlightenment, in actuality, as Adler recognized, this is simply a dogmatic claim emotionally held. It is analogously the same as the fideistic claim of those who declare that the whole of truth is contained in Scripture or in the Quran. By reducing the whole of human truth to physical science, the proponents of scientism condemn all modes of reasoning outside of physical science to be devoid of intellectual principles, to be anarchic.
Beyond this, by claiming that physical science contains the whole of truth, those who proudly proclaim that only physical science contains valid knowledge of reality are saying that, unless they express themselves in the language of mathematical physics, politicians cannot know what they are talking about and cannot tell the truth or lie. In political matters, such individuals are self-proclaimed and immaculately-conceived ignoramuses.
For decades Western higher education and every area of the world in which this Western educational mindset has tended to dominate the popular culture have been propagandizing future world leaders to be convinced that (1) all cultures are religiously and morally equivalent; (2) political disputes have no rational principles discoverable by non-mathematical, rational discourse to solve political disagreements, and (3) politicians cannot use political experience rationally to solve political disagreements. As a result, when confronted by serious political dangers, contemporary world leaders tend to have no understanding of precisely how to start rationally attacking a political problem in order rationally to resolve it. This inclines them to (1) become individually immobilized on the level of natural reason, (2) lead from “behind” (that is, consider leading as simply expressing “group consensus” of socially-Enlightened minds [minds that are socially compassionate]), and (3) put their trust only in the collective “feeling” (opinions emotionally held) of their political colleagues. Since they all mean well and are sincere in their beliefs they incline to think that their collective feelings must be “Enlightened feelings”—as distinct from the un-Enlightened feelings of religious fundamentalists who, in their minds, believe such ridiculous myths as that the whole of truth is contained in the manifest destiny of Mother Russia, the Quran, or some other manifest destiny or scripture. Such political musings, of course, constitute the mindset of a fool.
In his Politics, Aristotle chiefly defined a “barbarian” as someone who, having a slave-like nature, cannot think prudentially because he denies the existence of natures in things, because such a person has an essentially anarchic mind. The reason for this is that, by being incapable of recognizing principles (archai) in things, a person can never understand their natures, the organizational unity of their parts, and their essential internal relationships, and can never rationally anticipate beforehand, or accurately predict, how they will act in the future.
For over a century, Western higher education has inclined to inculcate political leaders with the mindset of anarchists, barbarians, fools: people who tend be devoid or exercising prudential judgment. As a result, no wonder should exist why Western civilization is slowly being transformed into Eurabia.
Islamization and the submission of the West
Many Americans and Europeans today think that Barack Obama is the chief cause of contemporary Western Islamization. They are wrong. This transformation has been happening for centuries. Like Neville Chamberlain, Obama is more an external sign than a chief cause of the West’s intensifying submission to Islam. Cultures chiefly die from within because of a loss of strength to fight cultural disease infecting them and violent external attempts to kill them.
Many Americans and Europeans also tend to be baffled by Obama’s strange “leadership” style and his bizarre attitude of moral equivalence toward religion and political regimes. They should not be. Obama is Rousseau’s Emile, a child of pure emotion and Enlightened tolerance of all differences (except un-Enlightened ones).
Like Emile, Obama can only listen to Enlightened minds, to minds that share the same Enlightened feelings as he does. Like Emile, he knows that all religions have been created equal: equally false. Only Enlightened religion is true religion. And Enlightened religion for Barack Obama is analogous to the true religion of many Italian renaissance humanists, some later Protestant Reformers, and many contemporary German Catholic cardinals: the invisible Church, buried beneath physical rituals, and only knowable by the Elect. It is the original religion of love of humanity given by God to Adam and Eve in their state of original justice in the Garden of Eden that was lost for centuries after the Fall. To Barack Obama, Islam is this true religion (so is true Christianity): the Enlightened feeling of pure, non-judgmental, good will toward everyone except the un-Enlightened. Love of Humanity. Hence, Obama repeats and repeats, “America will never be at war with Islam.” After all, how could America ever be at war with true religion?
Due to his Enlightened education, Obama realizes that no natures really exist in things, or if they do, no un-Enlightened mind can know them. Like those great Enlightenment political savants Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rosseau, and John Locke, Barack Obama knows that (1) all individual human beings are only capable of knowing our own feelings or emotions; (2) all human knowledge, even science, is simply a “feeling” or belief system (science differs from other belief systems in that it is the belief system given the stamp of approval by Enlightened wills, wills possessed by people with a pure Good Will [Enlightened social scientists who hold academic chairs in humanities and social science department at Enlightened universities in the West]); and (3) since, as individuals (the selfish state of pre-Enlightened consciousness called the “State of Nature”), we can only have un-Enlightened, selfish, not scientific, feelings, all individual human beings, inside the State of Nature and in Enlightened civil society, are equally incompetent when self-rule is involved.
Since, in this pre-Enlightened State, as individuals, we are all equally and totally ignorant, we are incapable of civil government until, at some period in human history, some external force (the Leviathan of Thomas Hobbes, the General Will of Rousseau, or the Legislative Majority will of John Locke) causes us to submit to a social contract whereby we escape this anarchic condition and agree to be ruled by an Enlightened corporate political will.
Odd as it might seem—and this might come as quite a shock to many self-declared political conservatives—Barack Obama is just as much a proponent of the musings about knowledge and political teachings of Locke as he is of those of Rousseau. Like Locke, Obama knows not what substances are. Also, like Locke and any good Muslim, Obama thinks that, as Locke says in his famous “Second Essay” Concerning Civil Government, (1) human beings are God’s property and (2) individual will subject to no higher authority but that of God constitutes Enlightened will.
Beyond that, Obama agrees with Locke that in our individual natures (the State of Nature for Locke), since all human “power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another, there being nothing more evident than that creatures being of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of Nature, and the use of the same faculties, should be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of them all should by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above the other, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.” That is, Obama agrees with Locke that each individual human being is an individual precisely as being in no way different from any other member of the human species in rank and that only God’s providence in history (Natural Law) can cause the political dominion of one person over another.
On the contrary and in truth, however, beings that are of the same species and rank are exactly the same individual (numerically-one individual, not numerically-two individuals, not individually different). Individual differences involve beings of the same species and of different, unequal, rank. Human beings that are totally equal in freedom and faculties are identical, in no way different, are one and the same individual being.
It’s crucial to understand that Obama holds the same conviction about all individual natures, especially religions and other cultural natures. He thinks that no essential rank exists between or among them; or if some does, this is unknowable to the un-Enlightened mind.
Hence, Obama is bemused by Vladimir Putin and Putin’s un-Enlightened idea about leadership. Putin thinks that some cultures, nations, religions are better than others. Obama considers such attitudes to be un-Enlightened, backward. Obama is too good, too Enlightened, to entertain, much less accept, the notion of cultural or religious superiority, of qualitative greatness or goodness of one culture, nation, or religion over another. Like Emile, he knows these are the feelings of un-Enlightened will.
Obama scientifically knows his idea of leadership is better than Putin’s. He thinks that the idea that one culture, one political system or religion, could be better, greater, than another is precisely what has been wrong with the West since its inception. It is the un-Enlightened mindset that causes all cultural and religious competition, which Obama knows is, and always has been, a chief cause of war. Since competition belongs on the basketball court or soccer field, not in religion or political systems, an Enlightened political leader leads like Barack Obama: God’s Chosen Interpreter to the Little People of the General Will of Humanity, Enlightened Christianity, and True Islam. Hence, Obama considers his manifest destiny to be to eradicate any and all sense of religious and cultural inequality from the Earth, thereby becoming the End of History Incarnate.
One need not be a psychiatrist to recognize that the mental state of the Enlightened Leader I have just described is one of delusional grandeur. Still, even if we recognize this effect, we will not be able to eradicate the growing Islamization of the West unless and until we eradicate its chief cause: misguided professors of social science and philosophy at our Western colleges and universities.
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