This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

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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Is man mostly evil or mostly ignorant?

 “In contradiction to St. Thomas (and to Luther, after all) the Church often seemed to take the position that man is rather stupid than wicked. Protestantism, though rather pessimistic about the spiritual qualities of the ‘sin-cripple,’ nevertheless gave him the Bible without explanatory footnotes, trusting in his intelligence (or ‘inspiration’). Catholicism, on the other hand, frequently tended to adopt the view that a superficial half-education was much worse than no education at all, and thus in Catholic countries we saw (and sometimes still see) a large number of illiterates side by side with an intellectual elite of high standards. The Protestant goal of education is usually one of good averages—the optimum for democracy. In democracies there will always be resentment and contempt for the ‘highbrow’ and the illiterate, the intellectual and the ‘peasant.’”

~ Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn[1]

Here Kuehnelt-Leddihn touches on one of the principal divisions between the traditional and the modern way of thinking about man. When Protestantism overthrew the Church, it proclaimed at the same time an unprecedented pessimism about man’s moral capabilities combined with a bizarre optimism about his mental aptitudes. In short, the Christian, ever since the birth of the humanistic age, is presented as totally depraved but also somehow unerringly intelligent. The traditional outlook, on the contrary, is better embodied in the words of Prince Metternich: that the people tend to be “good but childish,”[2] seeking after good ends but inevitably by the wrong means.

Now it is not the purpose of this section to approach theological issues. Such a task is reserved for an appropriate discussion, whereas here we intend to critique the views of modern society. Thus, we are more concerned with the socio-political reality that corresponds to each of these two ways of viewing man: good and ignorant, or evil and intelligent. We are concerned here with the effect that the liberal-humanistic anthropology has had on man’s view of himself, and the civilization he has constructed around this blueprint.

The question we need to ask is: Which of these views can we say is more realistic, in the sense that it corresponds to what we actually know about ourselves and our neighbors?

Obviously if we begin with an honest appraisal of our own personal competence, we’ll find that it does not go very far at all. If we imagine the personal range of competence of each individual as a sphere emanating from his person, we can say that this sphere is localized and small. It usually extends to himself, to his family, to his home, and some small distance into the surrounding community. Sometimes it extends a little further.  Sometimes it does not. But the point is that there are very few men whose range extends to a national or supra-national level, and these must be considered men not only of exceptional aptitude but also of special experience.

The limitations of competence which we have just proposed should be obvious, yet we know that the average voter in a democracy believes himself competent to pronounce on scientific issues such as global warming (although he has never studied ecology), economic ones such as monetary policy (although he does not know what money is), and foreign policy (although he couldn’t find Benghazi on an unlabeled map). Turning to the religious sphere, he believes that he can choose the best translation and then interpret that translation, choosing and verifying proper doctrine based on his own interpretations of his chosen interpretation. This he believes despite the fact that he knows no Greek, knows little of the history of the Bible, and has no idea that his interpretations inevitably wind up conforming to whatever his “like-minded” friends think.

After any honest study of the practical results of the Liberal view of man, we find that it has done little more than disconnect the individual from any long-term stabilizing structures (political or religious) that may have led him out of the prejudices of his own age. He was liberated from tradition, which embraced several thousand years, to become trapped in the 50-60 years that go to form his generational epoch.

What can we say then of this the new mentality? First, we can say that it cannot have won out by its practical results, which are absurd. It must have won for some other reason. Or, to look at it another way: was the Liberal revolution a result of the Lutherian-Lockean “discovery” of man’s intelligence, or were these new claims about man adopted because they served the ends of the revolution.

We find in the end that what we normally imagine to have been the significance of these ideas is in fact a confusion of proper order. The new view was not so much a new discovery but rather served as a self-justification in the name of “Liberty.” The new views about human intelligence were necessitated by the Liberal revolution, because if they were not true then the various revolutions, whether we are concerned with secular democracy or the private interpretation of scripture, would have been defeated from the start. Their inner logic depends on the truth of the premise that man is rationally self-sufficient, because the alternative would automatically necessitate an interdependent hierarchical arrangement in the corresponding spheres (political and religious). In short, the alternative would necessitate the return to a traditional-Catholic worldview.

The political Liberals were more consistent than the Protestants in this case, for the simple reason that the Liberals had no need for God after their humanistic revolution. The Protestants, however, still needed to convince man that he needed God. Since they’d rejected the idea of man’s dependence on the Church and Tradition, which had been the social expression of man’s need for God, they had to find some other need for God which could be proclaimed but which would not necessitate any concrete religious institution. In short, it had to be personal, and so they latched onto morality. Morality would now epitomize man’s “fallen-ness.” Here we are reminded of the famous Taoist teaching:

When goodness is lost, there is morality.

When morality is lost, there is law.[3]

In the downward progression, the Protestant form of Liberalism still holds to the first step, descending from goodness to moralism, while the political Liberals moved on from moralism to abstraction, and attempts to live by the law alone.

[1] Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Liberty or Equality.

[2] Memiors of Prince Metternich: 1773[-1835], vol. 3, p. 511.

[3] Tao Te Ching, 38. It is significant that in the same chapter another connection is made: “The moral man does something, and when no one responds he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.”

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