Ultimately, without that higher purpose to bind it, society would fall — as it has — into “emotivism”, relativism and ultimately disintegration. If every culture is cored around a sacred order — whether Christian, Islamic or Hindu, the veneration of ancestors or the worship of Odin — then the collapse of that order will lead inevitably to the collapse of the culture it supported. There is a throne at the heart of every culture, and whoever sits on it will be the force we take our instruction from. The modern experiment has been the act of dethroning both literal human sovereigns and the representative of the sacred order, and replacing them with purely human, and purely abstract, notions — “the people” or “liberty” or “democracy” or “progress.”
I’m all for democracy (the real thing, please, not the corporate simulacra that currently squats in its place), but the dethroning of the sovereign — Christ — who sat at the heart of the Western sacred order did not lead to universal equality and justice. It led — via a bloody shortcut through Robespierre, Stalin and Hitler — to the complete triumph of the power of money, which has splintered our culture and our souls into a million angry shards.
The vacuum created by the collapse of our old taboos was filled by the poison gas of consumer capitalism. It has now infiltrated every aspect of our lives in the way that the Christian story once did, so much so that we barely even notice as it colonises everything — from the way we eat to the values we teach our children. Cut loose in a post-modern present — with no centre, no truth and no direction — we have not become independent-minded, responsible, democratic citizens in a human republic. We have become slaves to the self and to the power of money; broken worshippers before the monstrous idol of Progress. “In the ethics of the West,” wrote Spengler, “everything is direction, claim to power, will to affect the distant.”
After Virtue ends with its author declaring that the task we face today is similar to that set for those living through the collapse of Rome: not to “shore up the imperium” but to start building anew. Macintyre famously concluded that the West was waiting for “a new — and doubtless very different — St Benedict.” That was forty years ago, and we are still waiting, but it’s not a bad way to see the challenge we face. Despite the tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan, the post-Christian West is not at all short on ideas, arguments, insults, ideologies, stratagems, conflicts or world-saving machines. But it is very short on saints; and how we need their love, wisdom, discipline and stillness amidst the chaos of the times. Maybe we had better start looking at how to embody a little of these qualities ourselves.
Aaron Weinacht describes the arc of Paul Kingsnorth's trilogy of novels and considers how they respond to a fundamental human question: "How do we respond to losses we can’t do much to change?" https://t.co/tKqd518PMW pic.twitter.com/16LpG6G2rX
— Front Porch Republic (@FrontPorchRepub) April 27, 2021