By Dr. Robert Peters
C.S. Lewis reminds us in The Abolition of Man that “for the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men…”
In Modernity without Restraint, Eric Voegelin outlines the attempts of modern Gnostics to immanentize the eschaton or “create” utopias without the transcendent through the power of the state.
The Triumph of the Therapeutic is Philip Rieff’s bold assertion about the state of Rousseau’s autonomous individual in late modernity, an individual bereft of story and of relationship; not a Promethean self but rather an estranged and shriveled self.
In the October 1993 issue of First Things, Robert W. Jenson narrates in his article, “How the World Lost Its Story,” the estrangement of Modernity from the Great Story which both frames and quickens creation. In fact, God has been estranged from His creation and finds no place in it, including no place in the decaying liturgies of the Church.
In his article, “The First Conservative,” published in The American Conservative on 10 August 2011, Dr. Donald Livingston lays out David Hume’s insight that the philosopher must follow the philosophical process inexorably to the point of nihilism and ultimately to humility and just there find that the abstractions of philosophy cannot replace the common sense of the real world and the relationships which it demands. Hume distinguishes between religion which is based on fear and humility and philosophy which is based on curiosity and pride. False philosophy is, according to Hume, “the Voice of Pride not Nature.” False philosophy gives man a false hope in abstract ideas. True philosophy brings the thinker to the point of nihilism and then beyond to the real world.
These scholars and thinkers give contour to first principles which can be extrapolated from their writings, writing from different eras, on different continents and with different context, yet with a common theme.
At the heart of the common theme is that man is a creature in a created order in which man must learn to live creaturely if he is to be happy. The other part of that theme is that man is not content to live creaturely in the created order, as C. S. Lewis says, “conforming the soul to reality,” which from the Christian understanding would also mean that we are limited not only by being mere creatures but by being fallen creatures who do not adequately understand our condition or the condition of the creation in which we have our being. As Lewis, however, asserts man prefers to reject creaturehood and to attempt “to subdue reality to the wishes of men.” If, as Jenson asserts, Modernity has cut itself off from the framing and quickening story of the Gospel, then all stories lose their context and meaning. Man is cut off from his Creator. His option then is to embrace the nihilism which Hume says is the end of philosophy or to himself create a fiction of reality which rejects the transcendent but somehow embodies it or, as Voegelin puts it, “to immanentize the eschaton.” Philip Rieff reminds us, going all the way back to Plato, that therapy was once that which we gave the gods and in return received a blessing from them. Today, we give ourselves or have given to ourselves by psychiatrists and psychologists therapy, suggesting that we believe ourselves to be gods; or that in our dark but self-imposed estrangement from the Creator, the creation and even our own nature as creatures, we in vain attempt the ancient liturgy of therapy but without communion.
Rieff calls the circumstance of Modernity the therapeutic culture or the anti-culture. The term “anti-culture” offers a meaningful juxtaposition to “culture.”
Culture consists of the traditions, customs, habits, institutions and principles which restrain the whims, desires and compulsions of the person so that he is free to execute his responsibilities, duties and obligations to God, to Church, to family and to the local commonwealth. That freeing from so that one is free to is the process of developing character. Character is the acquiring, internalizing and living out of the great virtues: the cardinal virtues, the capital virtues and the Christian or theological virtues.
gave to our classical ancestors, the Greeks and the Romans, a keen awareness of the cardinal and the capital virtues, and they developed a means of training young men in the acquisition of the virtues: artes liberals, made up of the Trivium and the Quadrivium. Dante, in his Divine Comedy, provides the melding of the classical and Christian virtues in “Paradiso” as Saint Beatrice takes over as guide from Virgil, telling Virgil that he carried his light behind him in the classical virtues but that now she completes them with the Christian virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. Providence
At the heart of culture, pagan or Christian, is that which we have come to call “religion.” Religion is man’s realization, always imperfect, that “something” is moving through the created order and man is required to respond to it, to the best of his abilities, and to align himself with the order which he senses to be revealed or apprehended in creation itself. This is the act of trying to live creaturely: in harmony with the created order and the Creator of that order. In the Christian understanding, we cannot align ourselves with God and cannot live creaturely until the fall has been undone. The means to the undoing of the fall is the Gospel. Grace is extended to man because the Second Person of the Trinity fleshed Himself into history as the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, and thereby became our Kinsman Redeemer, the Second Adam, in that He suffered, He died, He arose and He ascended. Grace, the gift made possible through that Passion, is received by and in Faith, itself a gift of God. Once Grace is imputed through Faith, we can begin the quest of living creaturely within the divine order. This is the Gospel of the Church Age, an age of culture, from its pagan antecedents in
Greece and to the end of that age, coming perhaps in the late Middle Ages, during the Renaissance or at the Enlightenment. Rome
The hallmark of Modernity is Rieff’s anti-culture. The anti-culture is the deconstruction of the customs, traditions, habits, institutions and principles which would restrain the whims, lusts and compulsions of the individual so that the individual can pursue those drives unencumbered by convention or taboo. The person becomes the individual: the Rousseauian individual or autonomous individual – the would-be Promethean self. This autonomous individual is then outfitted with the abstract Lockean rights of life, liberty and property. Character is no longer important or even desired because character is an internalized restraining force. In the place of character rises the cult of personality, malleable and marketable. Yet, this would-be Promethean self, bereft of relationship which is itself a restraining force, is really an estranged, alienated and shriveled self, seen in millions of faces from the homeless on the streets to the glamorous of Hollywood with their addictions and their loneliness and their suicides and murders. It is little wonder that the vampire – the ultimate estranged, alienated and shriveled self, a parasite on life itself – has become the cult attraction of the American middle class, particularly females. Although there has been an attempt to rehabilitate the vampire – to make evil good and good evil – the vampire remains that evil which destroys the created order. By his erotic attraction and his demonic power he draws the girl from the protection of the father, the brother, the fiancé or the husband. He draws her from God, from home, from Church and from communion with kith and kin and the local commonwealth.
Freedom in a culture is freedom from our whims, desires and compulsions so that we are free to fulfill our duties, responsibilities and obligations in all of the relationships which the created order by its very nature demands. Freedom in an anti-culture is freedom from the restraining forces of customs, traditions, habits, institutions and principles so that the individual can pursue his whims, compulsions and desires without restraint.
In a culture, character is of the utmost importance, for through it and with it we learn to live and live creaturely. In the anti-culture, personality, uninhibited, is of the most importance; for by it we can express ourselves from the wildest orgies to the most horrible and destructive wars.
In a culture, we subjugate ourselves in subsidiarity to different levels of hierarchy: God, Church, family, and local commonwealth. We nurture the sacred places of communion: the marriage bed for husband and wife; the supper table for the family; the communion table for the family of Faith; and the garden – the vegetable garden for nourishment; the flower garden for beauty and the churchyard or cemetery where the Christian will receive his last baptism, buried with Him in the hope of the resurrection, where the curse of that other garden Eden will be undone as we rise in Eternal Day.
In the anti-culture, we deny and decry the sacred places, destroying the marriage bed with adultery and unnatural acts; displacing the gathering place of the supper table with the television and computer; reducing communion among the saints and with the Lord to mere symbol and letting the gardens go fallow or become artificial and distant.
At the core of any culture is religion, pagan or Christian. At the core of the anti-culture is an abstract individualism, abstract rights and the abstract state in which a notion of the “something” or God in and pushing through the created order is alien.
In the anti-culture the only subjugation is to the Hobbesian state which is an abstract corporation with a monopoly on coercion, with the ability to define the limits of its own power and driven by a powerful will, be that will one of a dictator, an oligarchy or even a democracy in which the masses are manipulated by the elites. There is no subsidiarity and no communion; merely the collective of millions of autonomous individuals held in check by the coercive will of the state, perhaps - as it devalues currency and thereby dries up wealth, as it subsumes liberty, and as it further estranges with its intrusive policies husband and wife, parents and children, family and community - the ultimate vampire. Jefferson Davis remarked in his address to the Mississippi Legislature in December of 1862 that “our enemies are a traditionless and homeless race.”
Jefferson Davis also, however, said the following, a message of hope: The principle for which we contend is bound to reassert itself, though it may be at another time and in another form. Given the classical and Christian education of Jefferson Davis, it would be safe to conclude that his statement was not limited to the Confederacy, for the Confederacy was dead; and not to the South, for the South was prostrate. Rather as he looked over the lost legacy of the Confederacy and the ruins of the South, it is quite likely that he saw the whole of Western culture as it was being devoured by the emerging Hobbesian state in Germany, in Italy and in America. When our ancestors came to the New World and initially settled in Jamestown, Virginia; New Bern and Wilmington, North Carolina; Charleston, South Carolina; and Savannah, Georgia, they brought with them like a fragile plant the classical and Christian traditions which had been planted, grown and nurtured in Christian Europe, particularly in the British Isles. They placed that plant in new soil and, therefore, in a new idiom; and then with Bible, with gun, with plow and with ax, they spilled out of those coastal cities and pressed westward to the
and beyond, into the far West. It would appear, from the perspective of Modernity in the early 21st century, that much of that good work has been lost, found like C.S. Lewis’ Old Narnia only in nooks and crannies, in enclaves and waning strongholds. It has been overcome, or so it would seem, by the anti-culture, by the subsuming and consuming power of the Hobbesian state, and by demographic shifts, a form of war, which threatens to wipe all that has come to be over the last two thousand years away. Mississippi
A Christian is, however, neither a pessimist nor an optimist; he is hopeful because he knows the Story to be true and the Story Teller to be even truer. We must be like Leonidas at Thermopylae and see beyond the day and our own death; we must be like Arthur as he defended, seemingly in vain, the last vestiges of Christian Roman Britain; we must be like the Christian Saxon Earl Byrhtnoth who fought a losing battle against the pagan Danes at Maldon and take his words as the unknown poet smiths them to heart: Thought must be the harder, heart must be the keener, mind must be the greater, while our strength lessens.
It is fitting to close with an excerpt from The Free Magnolia, Volume 4, Number 1, a paragraph originally spontaneously produced during a discussion on the website of Chronicles Magazine. This author penned the lines; but they were nurtured into The Free Magnolia by Dr. Clyde Wilson, the scholarly voice of our Southland: The South is a garden. It has been worn out by the War, Reconstruction, the Period of Desolation, the Depression and the worst ravages of all—Modernity; yet, a worn-out garden, its contours perceived by keen eyes, the fruitfulness of its past stored in memory, can be over time, a time which will last longer than those of us who initially set our minds to the task, restored, to once again produce, for the time appointed unto it, the fruits which nurture the human spirit and which foreshadow the Garden of which there will be no end.
Alighieri, Dante. Divine Comedy. Trans. Gustave Doré and Anna Amari-Parker.
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Davis, Jefferson. “Jefferson Davis’ Speech at
, Miss.” The Papers of Jefferson Davis. Jackson Rice University (MS-43): Houston: Press. 2011. Web. Rice University
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Peters, Robert. “The South is a Garden.” The Free Magnolia 4:1 (2011):
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Dr. Robert Peters is a writer and teacher living in Fairview,
. He received his B.A. in German from Louisiana College in Pineville, Louisiana; his M.A. in German from Southern Louisiana Methodist University; and his Ph.D. in German from the . University of Southern California
Dr. Peters has served as a civilian linguistic specialist for the
United States Army, Europe, and for the 417th Military Intelligence Battalion of the National Guard. He has also served in state-funded, public residential schools in Louisiana Louisiana, Alabama and . He is currently the headmaster of Arkansas Central School in Grand Cane, . Louisiana
He and his wife, Alice, own and live on a small thirty-acre farm. The Peters have two children and three grandchildren. The Peters are members of the
. Dr. Peters is the current commander of the Colonel Samuel D. Russell Camp #1617 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and is an associate of the Abbeville Institute. Fairview Baptist Church
Dr. Peters enjoys reading, writing short stories and sketches, and hiking.