This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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General ideas and ideology

 “When I repudiate the traditions of rank, profession, and birth; when I escape from the authority of example, to seek out, by the single effort of my reason, the path to be followed, I am inclined to derive the motives of my opinions from human nature itself; which leads me necessarily, and almost unconsciously, to adopt a great number of very general notions.”

~ Alexis de Tocqueville[1]

In the absence of custom and Tradition man has only himself, which is to say he does not have very much. Again we see how interwoven are the tendencies toward individualism, rationalism, and egalitarianism. They reinforce and perpetuate one another, and as one gains more footing the others come in its trail and soon make up the difference.

Here we come to the specific way of thinking adopted by men under such conditions, which Tocqueville describes as the adoption of “general ideas”:

“Men who live in ages of equality have a great deal of curiosity and very little leisure; their life is so practical, so confused, so excited, so active, that but little time remains to them for thought. Such men are prone to general ideas because they spare them the trouble of studying particulars…

“One of the distinguishing characteristics of a democratic period is the taste all men have at such times for easy success and present enjoyment. This occurs in the pursuits of the intellect as well as in all others. Most of those who live at a time of equality are full of an ambition at once aspiring and relaxed: they would fain succeed brilliantly and at once, but they would be dispensed from great efforts to obtain success. These conflicting tendencies lead straight to the research of general ideas, by aid of which they flatter themselves that they can figure very importantly at a small expense.[2]

Davila, of course, said all this in a single aphorism: “Every straight line leads right to a hell.”[3] Adding elsewhere: “Generalizing enlarges our power and impoverishes our spirit.”[4] These general ideas will, sooner or later, congeal into a semi-coherent, seemingly obvious, set of assumptions. This collection of assumptions is like a warm blanket for the mind—covering everything and concealing all of its own contradictions, hiding the uniqueness of every individual case by painting it over with the generality. If such a collection of general ideas are fitted together and popularized, it will become socially sanction and eventually unconscious set of preconceptions which allow men to answer every question without ever having to solve the problem it raised. This “master key” to life is called an ideology. Our present ideologies are several, but interconnected: liberalism, capitalism, socialism, nationalism, secularism, individualism, etc.

As Tocqueville explained, the ideologies never correspond to reality, but rather reality is pressed into the ideologies by brute force, and is always badly mauled in the process. We must remember, however, that ideologies are not only flattering, but necessary to the modern man: he requires ideology, not just for the sense of empowerment, but in order to believe in the great idea of democracy. For if he did not have answer to all the Great Problems, he would at that moment cast a shadow of doubt on his competence as a voter; and then the modern world would collapse.

[1] Democracy in America, 2.1.3.

[2] Democracy in America, 2.1.3.

[3] Scholia, 133.

[4] Scholia, 141. He also says elsewhere: “Ideas tyrannize he who has but few.”

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