How may so slim a e-book bear so daring a title as The Idol of Our Age? In these instances of overhype, when fatuous exaggerations are de rigueur, “revolution” is a mere advertising shtick, and “glib” is the brand new “groovy,” Daniel J. Mahoney’s erudite essays might be met with a skeptical shrug. How can something rely as the idol of our age—how to decide on among the many myriad social, socialist, and delinquent media icons, the colossal nymphs gracing the screens of Time Sq., the deconstructionist demigods of the academy? But Mahoney, who holds the Augustine Chair in Distinguished Scholarship at Assumption School, is undaunted. As revealed within the e-book’s subtitle, he proposes to clarify nothing lower than “How the Faith of Humanity Subverts Christianity” and thus, implicitly, civilization itself.
As bold as its topic may sound, the e-book delivers.
The “Faith of Humanity” was the lofty identify that French thinker Auguste Comte (1798-1857) gave to his Positivist worldview, an anti-theological doctrine by which he meant to substitute “the love of Humanity for the love of God.” An avowed atheist, Comte despised all metaphysics—a time period of derision that he hurled at what he thought of futile, unanswerable, foolish queries into the which means and origin of life, the character of thought, and different equally unproductive speculations. Which did nothing to cease him from utilizing such quintessentially Christian ideas as charity, spirituality, and religion (consistency was not his forte).
Having rejected conventional faith, Comte enthrones the dual deities of Progress and Social Feeling, which he treats as all of the extra sacred for being left conspicuously undefined. Because the Positivists use science to usher in Progress, Social Feeling triumphs, and man inherits the earth. It’s facile logic and wishful pondering masquerading as argument, however it undoubtedly took maintain, setting us on the trail to trendy science-worship within the identify of a superficial humanism that champions mankind on the expense of actual human beings. Mahoney cites approvingly the German American thinker Eric Voegelin’s (1901-1985) critique of Comte’s completely “naïve religion that believes historical past will merely go away evil behind within the new, optimistic age.”
Mahoney and Voegelin are each appalled by Comte’s cavalier contempt for religious concepts, which he nonetheless proceeds to undertake, subvert, and eventually invert. Succumbing to the final word hubris, Comte himself “takes the place of Christ, simply as ‘the love of Humanity,’ the jealous Grand-Etre, takes the place of ‘love of God.’” The self-anointed messiah of optimistic science clearly couldn’t resist the narcissistic temptation to genuflect earlier than his personal picture. “On this sense, Comte has divinized his personal existence, making himself the herald of a brand new Humanity worshipping itself. Comte’s existence, and Comte’s alone, actually has common significance because the harbinger of human self-deification.” Mahoney doesn’t want so as to add that in 1826, the hapless thinker was admitted to a psychological hospital, which he quickly left with out being cured. Narcissus too had drowned.
If the worship of man by man is what defines the Faith of Humanity, it does so in defiance of the real respect that actual human beings are sure to point out for different human beings. For within the identify of some amorphous, relativistic, “ethical” order, writes Mahoney, “Left-wing humanitarians and ‘progressive’ churchmen spout on about ‘social justice’” at the same time as “they by no means actually inform us what ‘social justice’ is or what the adjective provides to the noun.” All of it quantities to “a type of juvenile existentialism, marked extra by farce than angst.” However make no mistake, it “has turn out to be the default place of our age.”
Maybe most appalling of all is the underlying, although hardly unconscious, hypocrisy. Mahoney factors out that the virtue-signaling, self-described humanitarians are principally involved with their self-image as “caring.” He agrees with French thinker Pierre Manent that humanitarian ethical posturing “makes the avant-garde of humanity really feel smug and self-satisfied” however dispenses with real grace, which may solely come from a better ethical sphere. Charity takes greater than posturing, and can’t be diminished to handouts. The best theological advantage, “real love of 1’s neighbor,” is “solely potential as a result of one discerns in her or him ‘the picture of God.’” On that foundation, nobody might presume to determine for another person; everyone seems to be equal earlier than God within the particular sense enshrined within the American Declaration of Independence, which has nothing to do with the “homogenizing egalitarianism” of the humanitarians, which is in actual fact anathema to true freedom.
Manent, in his Foreword to this quantity, agrees that so-called humanitarianism “is the one strongest issue within the shaping of our private and non-private ideas, emotions, and actions. It’s an opinion that instructions and forbids, evokes and intimidates: it’s a ruling opinion.” Assured that they’re “intrinsically proper and ‘progressive,’” the self-righteous whose concepts and attitudes so decisively form our society are usually secular. But the hubristic temptation has contaminated even denizens of the church—even Pope Francis.
Mahoney devotes a whole chapter to Francis, whose church is now dealing with a grievous menace partly due to his reluctance to handle head-on the sexual misconduct of monks and the protecting up of their crimes. Whether or not the pontiff pays the value is unclear; it might be he shall be protected by the media. For Mahoney discerns “a component of the bien-pensant in Francis’s papacy, an inclination in his utterances and self-presentation to substantiate broadly held left-liberal elite opinions about politics and the world.” The Pope’s anti-capitalist sentiments are well-known: “He has little or nothing optimistic to say concerning the market financial system.” As an alternative of critically exploring social and political measures that basically do assist the poor, “the pope endorses authorities motion to advertise ‘a greater distribution of earnings’” identical to they do on NPR.
Peace, Actual and Illusory
The e-book’s different chapters introduce readers to a few prophets, as Mahoney calls them in deference to their means to understand properly earlier than their contemporaries did the totalitarian implications of totalitarianism. These are the American Orestes Brownson (1803-1876); the Russian Vladimir Soloviev (1853-1900), who was in lots of respects a precursor of Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008); and Aurel Kolnai (1900-1973), a Hungarian Jewish-born Catholic convert. Mahoney describes them as “males of peace, which is exactly why they reject ideological pacifism and the confusion of Christianity with an unthinking sentimentality.”
A big presence within the background of this e-book, furthermore, is the good French historian Alain Besançon, to whom it’s devoted, and whom Mahoney thanks for serving to him respect that genuine Christianity is anathema to all types of “hatred of the true.” Within the eloquent concluding chapter, Mahoney restates this anti-utopian stance by interesting to a pontiff whom he does respect, Pope Benedict XVI. “Man,” Benedict properly said, “is mind and can, however he’s additionally nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he’s, as one who didn’t create himself.” This isn’t to say that we can’t—certainly, we should—enhance ourselves. However as Mahoney rightly interprets that message, “the start of knowledge is to know males aren’t gods.”
These essays go properly past the start of knowledge, although it’s laborious to withstand a quibble or two. Initially, there’s Immanuel Kant, about whom Mahoney writes: “Little question there are worse issues than Kant-inspired cosmopolitanism.” In reality, the cosmopolitanism that Kant is alleged to have impressed, and Mahoney rightly condemns, contradicts the German thinker’s celebrated Categorical Crucial, which Kant himself claimed “coincides with the story informed in [the] Holy writ.” As Kant places it (with uncommon readability) in his 1781 essay, “Conjectural Starting of Human Historical past”:
Thus man had entered right into a relation of equality with all rational beings, no matter their rank (Genesis three:22), with respect of being an finish in himself, revered as such by everybody, a being which nobody may deal with as a mere means to ulterior ends.
Equally glib is Mahoney’s remark concerning the weak point of “the liberalism of an Isaiah Berlin,” who “continuously invokes pluralism however is afraid to attraction to reality in essentially the most capacious sense of the time period.”
Setting apart the matter of Berlin’s braveness, which wants no protection (the immensely erudite Oxford classicist labored for British intelligence in World Conflict II), Mahoney denies that pluralism will be defended except by interesting to reality within the capacious sense. But by rejecting what he calls “the dogmatic separation of the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ on the coronary heart of contemporary philosophical discussions of ethics,” Mahoney dangers sharing the identical conceptual swamp as his adversaries. For by conflating info and values, Karl Marx and his followers drew normative conclusions from a determinist ontology: what “must be” in conformity with bodily legal guidelines, presumably “have to be” from an ethical standpoint. Thus “progress” turns into Janus-faced, without delay descriptive and prescriptive.
Absolutely it’s higher to attempt to choose whether or not one thing be true or false primarily based on whether or not or not it’s empirically falsifiable, on the one hand, and on the opposite, primarily based on what it’s every of us seeks in life, which is determined by private inclinations and preferences—which in no methods implies that each one selections are morally on a par. Like Kant, Berlin is Mahoney’s ally, not his adversary.
What the creator clearly will get proper is that humanitarianism, however its lofty pronouncements, is in the end primarily based on an phantasm, revealing “the ideological lie underneath situations of modernity. At its middle is a willful denial of the political and religious nature of man in any substantial sense of the phrases.” He’s additionally right that invoking rights will not be solely inadequate however could also be outright subversive of real human dignity when rights are redefined to imply the exact reverse of the Biblical principle that we’re all created in God’s picture.
Mahoney writes that “believers and non-believers alike can study . . . the best way to take evil critically once more and keep away from an ethical optimism that blinds us to the sempiternal wrestle between good and evil within the human soul.” Completely. That wrestle won’t finish irrespective of how profitable our intellects may proceed to be in discerning the interior workings of the intricate machine that’s our ineffable, miraculous universe. We mustn’t faux that it’ll.
 Immanuel Kant, “Conjectural Starting of Human Historical past,” in Immanuel Kant: On Historical past, edited and translated by Lewis White Beck (Macmillan Publishing Co., 1963), p. 54.
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