The claim that the current Administration and their supporters trend to ‘socialism’. My co-blogger at Stones Cry Out wonders if this is an appropriate phrase and as well if the term is being abused to the point of being meaningless. Freydrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom might be read as a clarion call not specifically warning against socialism itself but a more general tendency highlighted in Chapter 2 of Chantal Delsol’s The Unlearned Lessons Of the Twentieth Century essay which I’m in the process of blogging my way through. Many of the tendencies and hopes (for change?) that the movement which propelled Mr Obama to the White House are in fact identified by Ms Delsol in her essay (and Ms Delsol being first of all a French national, a philosopher, and writing an essay that pre-dates Mr Obama’s run to the Presidency should be noted). Utopian dreams and the totalitarian consequences is the real danger. It should also be noted that many themes in this chapter resonate well this week as the abortion ethical question returns to the surface propelled by the killing of Mr Tiller.
A recurring theme of Ms Delsol’s is that the crux of the unlearned lessons lie in the continued acceptence of the fatal flawed that lie as the basis of the 20th century utopian totalitarian projects which were so very costly in human life and dignity. While we reject specifics of those projects we accept very many of their premises and therefore lie likely (easy?) prey for finding new ways to explore life in a totalitarian dystopia.
Ms Delsol begins chapter two, which is entitled The insularity of the human species.
Totalitarianism, of whatever persuasion, emerges when we get caught up in the belief that “everything is possible.” It might be worth recalling just how difficult it was to have this idea accepted, or, for instance, to remember how reluctantly the thought of Hannah Arendt was received in France. To deny that “everything is possible,” to make the postulate of unlimited possibility the cornerstone of the errors of the twentieth century, was, it was said, to equate terror and utopia, or to liken the perversities of man’s annihilation to ideals about reshaping human nature. To do this was unthinkable as long as ideological dreams were still persuasive.
Several decades of perseverant reflection, however, finally made it possible to state openly that the idea of that “everything is possible” represents the birth of the twentieth century. This little phrase, which was to reveal itself to be so terrible, essentially means two things. “Everything is possible” is a way of determining who is human: one can then arbitrarily set a boundary here or there between humans and “subhumans” and declare a particular category to be nonhuman, which is what Nazism did. “Everything is possible” is also a way of determining what it is to be human: one can then arbitrarily decree that humans can or should live without authority, without personal secrets, without family, or without gods, which is what communism did. In fact, communism ended up adding the first consequence of “everything is possible” to the second and denied the humanity of those who made no effort to become other than they were.
The essential defense against “everything is possible” is the axiomatic ontological insistence on the irreducible dignity of the human being, which must be and remain a foundational certainty. Human dignity in this context implies two important things. First that man may not be treated as a thing. This contitutes a ontological distinction between man and the rest of nature. Second, that there is therefore an essential bond between all men.
The modern secular (and many liberal deist) thought continues the project of defining man by his attributes and denying his essential axiomatic dignity. Discoveries (and the rise of scientism … see the quote excerpted Sunday), have blurred the biological and neurological differences between man and the animal world. Medical and biological capabilities have expanded our understanding of man’s development and our ability to affect this.
The Kantian was hoped would deflect the necessity of ontological axiomatic dignity. Kant argued persuasively that man deserves respect by virtue of being endowed with moral autonomy. This results however in the tempting substitution replacing “It is not man who has dignity, but man insofar as he is autonomous. [emphasis mine]” One characteristic is not sufficient to defend man. Thus the newborn, the dying, the handicapped become less than human. As our abilities at genetic screening expand, the fine tuning of our exclusion from the ‘truly human’ can narrow.
At the beginning of the twentieth century it was felt that the rise of reason and our understanding of the physical world would do away with the need for religion. But, especially inasmuch as religion provides a framework in which to base the necessary axiomatic irreducible dignity of man the reverse is true. The necessity and place for religion, instead of being done away with, is ever more needed and required as a bastion holding a multitude of totalitarian dystopias at bay.
A final note which may connect to the currently vogue resurgence of the abortion question in the light of current events.
Prudential wisdom consists precisely in acting within shadowy areas, where bearings have a tendency to disappear. but prudence is not a form of pragmatism; it is a virtue. It may dispense with overly strict principles on the condition that its eyes remain fixed upon points of reference that lie above those principles: there is an immense difference between allowing someone to die and decreeing that all the dying who have reached a certain point are no longer persons.
Dying and fetus I’d offer might be exchanged in the above.