What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already, in the ages before us. — Ecclesiastes 1:9-10
Yesterday afternoon, the weather here in Eugene, Oregon, was perfect: warm, with a breeze, inviting. The tennis courts at a nearby high school were finally unlocked, and so I was able to hit with a friend for an hour while two of my kids walked our new puppy on the nearby walking paths. It was, in short, idyllic and peaceful, with a welcome sense of normality to it.
Early this morning, just as the sun started to battle the clouds on the horizon, a fierce thunderstorm commenced. While most thunderstorms, in my experience, have a certain sound and feel, this one was quite different. At first, my wife and I thought people were dragging something metallic in the streets; then it sounded like gunfire and heavy artillery. It was completely natural, and yet seemed quite unnatural.
Then, checking the news soon afterward, we learned that there had been riots in downtown Eugene, less than three miles from our house, involving several hundred people. A number of businesses, including some we occasionally frequent, were looted and destroyed. “What began as a peaceful march hours earlier Friday,” reported a local news outlet, “had by early Saturday morning ‘morphed’ into violence and vandalism.” What began as peaceful protests (and Eugene has protests constantly in response to all sorts of events and people) in reaction the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis soon became ugly, nasty, and unnatural. And, yet, it also seemed, in a way, quite natural.
I say that in the context of the past three months, but also with an eye to the decades (and even centuries) prior, both of which have provided plenty of instances and evidences of social schizophrenia, moral incoherence, and a bewildering array of double standards.
Like many others, I thought that the initial responses to the coronavirus by local and national governments were generally understandable and within reason. But it was almost inevitable, given the technocratic mentality and control-freak nature of so many in the elite and ruling classes—with a direct nod to the insights of Angelo M. Codevilla—that serious problems would arise. As Dr. Codevilla told me in a 2016 CWR interview:
Above all, the ruling class defines itself by a set of attitudes, foremost of which is contempt for those outside itself. This contempt stems from the rather uniform education that the ruling class’s members absorbed from universities and which they developed by living in their subculture. Believing themselves intelligent apostles of scientific truth, they regard others as dumb and in the grip of religious obscurantism. Religion is the greatest of the divides between the ruling class and those it deems its inferiors. Whereas they believe themselves morally good and psychologically sound, they regard others as suffering from psychological dysfunctions and phobias—effectively as bad people. The ruling class does not believe that those outside itself have the right or capacity to conduct their own lives.
All of that can be applied easily to the past few weeks and to the growing tensions over the loosening of pandemic restrictions, religious freedom, and simply making sense of what we really know (and don’t know) about the coronavirus. As for “intelligent apostles of scientific truth”, consider the rhetoric of software magnate Bill Gates, who wrote in late April that we will only “return to normal” when we “develop a safe, effective vaccine.” Humankind, Gates asserted with disconcerting confidence, “has never had a more urgent task than creating broad immunity for coronavirus.” Never! Never? Those are words from a man who is either a stranger to history and reality, or who thinks history and reality can be bent to his will.
The inanity and insanity of what has been transpiring was summed up well by Michael McHaney, a judge on the Illinois Fourth Judicial Circuit Court, in a May 23rd ruling on a lawsuit brought by a Clay County small business owner against Governor J.B. Pritzker, contesting Pritzker’s shutdown order:
Since the inception of this insanity, the following regulations, rules or consequences have occurred: I won’t get COVID if I get an abortion, but I will get COVID if I get a colonoscopy. Selling pot is essential, but selling goods and services at a family owned business is not. Pot wasn’t even legal and pot dispensaries didn’t even exist in this state until five months ago and, in that five months, they have become essential, but a family-owned business in existence for five generations is not.
A family of six can pile in their car and drive to Carlyle Lake without contracting COVID but, if they all get in the same boat, they will. We are told that kids rarely contract the virus and sunlight kills it, but summer youth programs, sports programs are cancelled. Four people can drive to the golf course and not get COVID but, if they play in a foursome, they will. If I go to Walmart, I won’t get COVID but, if I go to church, I will. Murderers are released from custody while small business owners are threatened with arrest if they have the audacity to attempt to feed their families.
These are just a few of examples of rules, regulations and consequences that are arbitrary, capricious, and completely devoid of anything even remotely approaching common sense.
Along similar lines, Dr. Edward Feser, who has written several times for CWR, argues with his typical rigor and clarity that the lockdown “is no longer morally justifiable.”
The lack of common sense noted by Judge McHaney and the failure of clear logic pointed out by Dr. Feser are, however, part and parcel of the modern technocrats, who are simply disciples of what the French philosopher and Catholic intellectual Rémi Brague calls “The Kingdom of Man” and the “Modern Project”. The Judeo-Christian heritage, Brague explains in his most recent book, understood that man was created by God and was ordered by nature to God; the goal of the modern project, which really hit its full stride in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the West, was expressed in the 1700s by the French Enlightenment thinker Raynal, who said, “The human race is what one wants it to be; it is the way one governs it that decides it for good or evil … Human beings are what the government makes them.” Man does not have a universal and objective nature; his nature is mere subjective putty in the hands of the enlightened elites.
Much more could be said on that topic, but what does this have to do with looters and “protesters” destroying eateries and other businesses in Eugene, Oregon?
A key part of the answer is that those who are deeply invested in the modern project—whether as leaders or disciples or propagandists—are either clueless about or openly antagonistic to the truth about human nature. They insist (rightly) on denouncing racism as evil, but then (wrongly but without a hint of hesitation) live and act as though “evil” is just an outdated religious construct created to control the masses, as people are actually inherently good. But, of course, “good” is not really fixed or certain; in fact, it is a continually moving target, depending on the whims (or what Christians would call “the passions”) of the enlightened few. Gender ideology, as Dr. Douglas Farrow recently and brilliantly explained here at CWR a few weeks ago, is a prime example.
As Brague notes, the Enlightenment sought, “explicitly or implicitly, the goal of rehabilitating human nature” Salvation is no longer a concern, especially since it posits a transcendent horizon, “but rather of showing that man is already fundamentally good and, as a consequence, has no need of salvation.” In the words of Rousseau: “There is no original perversity in the human heart.” Put another way, there are simply errors or flaws that must be fixed, corrected, adjusted, tweaked, and so forth, all with scientific precision and scientistic bias.
What has happened, in short, is that words which once had substance—justice, for instance—have been stripped of their metaphysical and, ultimately, theological moorings. Most people know, instinctively (via synderesis, to use the traditional term) that murdering someone because of their race or opinion or money or any such thing is wrong. Period. They want justice. But what does justice mean to people who are locked in the secular cocoon, insulated from objective truth and eternal perspective? How can they keep from devolving into a passionate mob seeking revenge—or simply seeking a thrill and a pile of loot under the auspices of “revenge”—when they believe (rightly or wrongly) that “the system” is against them and so they must act? Without any link—by way of family, or culture, or social interaction—to a sense of supernatural vocation, they act naturally, as fallen creatures seeking to be, to belong, to battle—but fall more deeply into base passions and evil pathways, what Proverbs describes as “the way of error” (Prov 12:28).
And this in fact is normal. There is, as the author of Ecclesiastes wrote so many centuries ago, nothing new under the sun. We are fallen; we are in desperate need of salvation; we cannot manufacture such salvation for ourselves, no matter how talented we are at programming code, creating vaccines, and “fixing” things. Medicine for the body is wonderful; medicine for the soul is priceless and eternal. Only the Son—”The wounded surgeon” who “plies the steel”, in the words of T.S. Eliot—who came below from above (cf Jn 3:13), can make things new, destroying the power of sin by His death, crushing the power of death by His Resurrection, and gifting the power of divine life when the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father in the Son’s name (Jn 14:26). But, just as peaceful protests do not actually “morph” into violent riots, we must actively and consciously choose the grace offered, take up the Cross before us, and seek the Kingdom of God.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!