The False Freedom of Childish Progressivism
Untrained children represent a formidable danger to a society committed to trapping nature in the straightjacket of ideological demands and expectations.  Insofar as those children have not yet been formatted to integrate into our Information Era or Age of Ideology, it is only logical for the defenders of a strictly (childish) modern conception of freedom… The post The False Freedom of Childish Progressivism appeared first on VoegelinView.

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Untrained children represent a formidable danger to a society committed to trapping nature in the straightjacket of ideological demands and expectations.  Insofar as those children have not yet been formatted to integrate into our Information Era or Age of Ideology, it is only logical for the defenders of a strictly (childish) modern conception of freedom to see the right to abortion as an expression of the irreducible right to individual self-expression in a society of individuals who have awakened to their individuality as “autonomous” (as per Kant) agents of “universal creativity” (as per Nietzsche).  For the human being growing within a womb is not yet what we would call an individual: his heart beats, he dreams, but he knows nothing of modern man’s self-consciousness.  As the tribal peoples whose systematic enslavement by modern enlightened Europeans Kant considered altogether condonable, not to say unqualifiedly just, the lives of “humans in the womb” are, to the “woke” of our times, not merely expendable, but preferably sacrificed on the altar of progress.  Why, the untrained child reminds the representatives of radical creativity of the limits of their world.  To murder the untrained human who is not yet an “individual,” is to contribute to the effacing of the threat that dangerous nature poses to the rise of a universal safe or comfortable society.
The notion that freedom entails the overcoming of nature, if only through the “scientific” transformation and replication of nature, is as old and as new as Niccolò Machiavelli.[1] Today, that notion thrives in ideology, the doctrinal affirmation of what Shakespeare called a “Brave New World”.  It is no accident that the contemporary appeal to freedom carries with it the denial of the freedom of those who are unenlightened to their status as modern or Machiavellian “individuals”—seats of autonomous choice of ends in the context of a “history” or “evolution” that, in our Machiavellian world, is supposed to replace the mysterious mind of a biblical God.  Why, even many so-called conservatives, today, swear by the individuality that progressives merely spell-out in radical terms, liberating it from any and all traditional “prejudice”.  If the modern (Machiavellian, Cartesian, Kantian, Hegelian, Nietzschean, Foucauldian, etc.) individual is the seat of freedom, then this modern Icarus must be preferred to any ancestral Daedalus.
The new Icarus has learned from his ancient paradigm’s demise that, when armed with a “scientific” appropriation of the Father’s art, the “autonomous Self” need not fear, or come to regret self-destruction.  The new Icarus is a promethean scientist whose technique enables him to rise to the Sun without risking to have his wings melt or burned on the way.  Our own schools teach us the techniques we need to rise to ever-new heavens and indeed to push the boundaries of Heaven on the way to building Heaven on Earth.
The “conservative” appeal to Father-Daedalus is mute in the context of a “History” in which we are primarily creators of our ends, not to speak of our destiny, through autonomous choices grounded “transcendentally” in the cosmic creativity that Nietzsche dubbed, “will to power” (der Wille zur Macht).  Accordingly, Daedalus appears, today, as mere receptacle of technical information that the new Icarus can use to serve his all-too-Machiavellian, or scientific cause—prototypical anti-Eucharistic end cut off from a means in which it was never truly at home.  Thus does the new conservative appeal to the ends that the old died for, as his choice.  Even the most articulate promoters of religious orthodoxy take this path,[2] as do even the proudest defenders of conservative education.[3]
Little does the new conservative appeal to (once again, Machiavellian) value-free “facts” help counter the rise of a society in which facts are determined or discerned (through selection) by the feelings or sentiment constituting the content of our “individual freedom”.[4] The inadequacy of pragmatic resistance in the name of raw facts comes to light most vividly in the context of recent controversies over the question of “gender,”[5] where gender is defined vis-à-vis a modern/progressive mechanistic conception of bodies, a conception that invites the notion of nature’s evolving into what Marx called a “Realm of Freedom” (Reich der Freiheit) in which natural necessity (the Reich der Notwendigkeit)[6] has been thoroughly transferred onto a “spiritual” platform, which is what, today, we would call ideology.[7]
Much of contemporary political discourse is structured along the lines of the modern conflict between “nature”/necessity and “spirit”/freedom.  As long as we abide by the dichotomy at hand, we cannot but participate in the rise of the technological society that is supposed to reconcile all opposites, but in whose synthesis the original (pre-modern) poles characterizing reality are merely eclipsed, as we remain alienated from them.
When, in the wake of Machiavelli, we pit necessity and freedom against each other, we are conceiving both mechanically/mechanistically.  Mechanical necessity is supposed to undergird our society of free individuals—of beings individuated by a scientific discourse telling us that our freedom’s foremost guarantor is the (mechanistic) natural science that translates nature into information empowering us.  Our natural science stands, in other words, as our primary provider of “food for freedom,” enabling us to be free beyond the constraints to which pre-modern man is haplessly subject.  Science, in short, frees us from “the pre-modern condition,” catapulting us on a loftier horizon, a progressive world in which nature evolves technologically.  Currently this new stage is by and large accepted by both “progressivism” and “conservatism” insofar as the former party swears by unfettered freedom and the latter by the mechanisms that are supposed to ground unfettered freedom as social dream.
While the radically progressive will focus on a freedom-sive-dream (where the dividing line between freedom and the dream thereof is erased) as a de facto universal promised land, the modern conservative will remind us of the lingering of the material needed to support our social constructs and the dreams they unleash.  The radically progressive “postmodernist” is not disturbed by the material that the conservative points to, as long as the conservative does not invoke natural finality/teleology.  For in the absence of meaning-in-nature and given the “death”/eclipse of divine paternity/authority from our secular societies, the conservative’s appeal to nature poses no threat to the hyper-progressive appeal to radical creativity.  Even the new conservative’s “religious imagination” is welcome in the marketplace where everyone and everything is for sale; unless by “religious imagination” we mean an imagination in intimate dialogue with a divine mind.  For then the problem of philosophy emerges as archetypical obstacle to the rise of Sodom and Gomorrah and the “flourishing” of outright madness.
Postmodern recklessness is merely-fueled by those conservatives who shy away from raising the question of natural teleology.  Do these conservatives fear offending the authority of a (neo-)Cartesian science that has condemned nature to the condition of a voiceless tramp?  Have they accepted the modern extradition of a poetic understanding of science as ministerial to the living-knowledge that Plato represents as dialectic?  Have they abdicated the classical office of “imitating nature” (naturæ imitatio) as the way to truth for the human being as such?
Both progressives and conservatives emerge, today, as progressives, inasmuch as they share an evolutionist conception of nature on account of which nature is given meaning or its ends by, through or in human creativity historically and thus a posteriori.  The meaning that, in the Bible, the physical universe receives a priori (through and in the living/divine Word/Logos), is now supposed to be produced by men’s future-oriented transformation of nature, a transformation that presupposes the absence of any original meaning in nature.  In other terms, the modern scientific enterprise presupposes a disavowal of divine providence.  The modern, scientific conservative can therefore not help being progressive and thus in fundamental agreement with his avant-garde antagonist.
Does progressivism have only one alternative requiring fatalistic passivity before the inscrutable mind of an all-powerful divine will?  The literary milestones of our civilization suggest otherwise.[8]  Indeed, they suggest that it is precisely the progressive impulse of modernity that leads to fatalism in the garb of moral impotence before the dogma of mechanical necessity.  Today, we see the appeal to freedom reduced to faint echoes of early-modern appeals to universal enlightenment.  Each of us is supposed to be an individual helping himself on his own to overcome a brutish world otherwise deaf to his everyday pleas.  How does the individual help himself?  By gaining power; by working to have his voice heard; by promoting his own cause; by compelling his environment to pay attention to him; by bending the world to serve his needs, to respond to his own suffering.  Invariably, the appeal to freedom is not an appeal to a Given, but to something that we must earn, gain, conquer—progressively.  Why?  Because freedom is the result of the use of nature, of bodies, to serve ends alien to our bodies.  Freedom is not supposed to be enjoyed by discovering meaning in nature, nay in death itself, but by creating meaning by turning nature to serve our own ideals, or values, formal structures in which our burning feelings remain sheltered.
What are our public values/ideals if not masks of private feelings?  The question may appear redolent of a Nietzschean agenda, but it points beyond the German to forms of intelligibility irreducible to any “will” burning commonly in our individual bosoms.  Modernity’s ideals mask, not merely private feelings, but primordial problems seated at the heart of bodies and constituting at once their original motor (terminus a quo) and ultimate end (terminus ad quem).  In giving up our modern ideals, or the very industry of (moral) value-production, we expose ourselves once again to the quest to discover meaning in nature, not by transforming and perfecting nature, but by perfecting our art of imitation of nature—by receiving nature according to its own rhythm, and becoming ourselves the creations of nature, the works of art that allow themselves to be shaped by nature itself, as by a nature revealing its divinity in man-as-work-of-art.
There is a remarkably passive or contemplative aspect to the classical premodern conception of art—of human life itself—as “imitation of nature,” which is to say, of participation in the divine truth about nature.  In imitating nature, pre-modern man is not to mechanically “copy” a mechanical nature.  Where nature is not a machine, being “filled with Gods,” nature’s imitation involves attuning oneself to nature’s own way and so exposing one’s own way to an original one, the way of the very genesis of things.  For nature is birth and all that comes after birth is repetition—as natura naturata “rehearses/mirrors” natura naturans.

NOTES:

[1] Premodern or pre-Machiavellian man does not see himself as transforming nature, but as transforming human creations on the basis of nature.  His always mysterious and evidently “pre-scientific” “nature” provides the basis for his art.  To wit: in mixing flour with water to prepare bread dough, the baker has not transformed nature, but received the fruits of nature into “art forms” meant to nourish nature—to return to nature—in and through the human.  As we receive-and-render, we cultivate our humanity, our being-human.
[2] A recent example is found in Strauss, Spinoza & Sinai: Orthodox Judaism and Modern Questions of Faith.  Jeffrey Bloom, Goldstein and Student eds.  New York: Kodesh Press, 2022.  Jeremy Kagan’s chapter on “The Nature and Pursuit of Truth in Different Cultural Context” provides an eminent example of the trend in question.  Having mistaken Leo Strauss’s youthful, superficial reading of Spinoza for Leo Strauss’s own lesson about orthodoxy, and treading seemingly unwittingly in the footsteps of Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Heidegger, Kagan promotes a new orthodoxy that uses Torah as means to embellish a “scientific” evolutionist agenda.
[3] UATX is paradigmatic.  The university-to-be presents itself as “fiercely independent—financially, intellectually, and politically” and as “devoted to the unfettered pursuit of truth,” thereby standing as “cornerstone of a free and flourishing democratic society” (https://www.uaustin.org/our-principles).  Yet, its “curriculum is being designed in partnership not only with the world’s great thinkers but also with its great doers—visionaries who have founded bold ventures, artists and writers of the highest order, pioneers in tech, and the leading lights in engineering and the natural sciences” (at https://www.uaustin.org/programs-overview; boldface added).  Nothing is said about the fundamental incompatibility between the greatest (superlative) thinker of civilization and “the leading lights” of our technocracy.
[4] See my examination of Harvey Mansfield’s “Machiavelli and the Discovery of Fact,” in “Mastery of Nature,” in Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, 45.2 (Spring 2019): 223-48.
[5] For a popular stage of dissent, see Mark Walsh’s documentary, “What is a Woman?” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42ivIRd9N8E.  For a thoughtful investigation of the nature of womanhood cutting through currently raging controversies, see “Poetic Transcendence and the Way of Woman” at https://voegelinview.com/poetic-transcendence-and-the-way-of-woman/.
[6] P. 807 of Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. III.  In Marx Engels Collected Works, Vol. 37, Edited by E. J. Hobsbawn, J. Hoffman et al.  London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1998: 27 – 901.
[7] For a satirical review of the modern reinvention of (human) nature, see Giacomo Leopardi’s 1824-32 “The Academy of Syllographers,” in Operette Morali [“Minor Moral Works”].  The core of Leopardi’s argument is reproduced in my “Liberal Education and Understanding War and Peace,” at https://voegelinview.com/liberal-education-and-understanding-war-and-peace/.
[8] See my “Introductory Notes on Aquinas’s The Divine Will” (January 25, 2022), at <https://voegelinview.com/introductory-notes-on-aquinass-the-will-of-god/>

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