Wednesday 1 May 2013

If Leftism does not come from Christianity - where does it come from?


There is more than one answer - but an important factor is the psychological consequences of modernity: which is functional specialization.

From my book Thought Prison (2011) :


The millennium-deep roots of political correctness

The West took a turn toward legalism, logic and bureaucracy around AD 1000 (‘the Great Schism’) when the Roman Catholic Church (gradually) broke away from the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church the Byzantine Roman Empire with its capital in Constantinople.

Like most long term policy mistakes the East-West schism was initially richly rewarded (otherwise the mistake would not have been made) – since it led to tremendous 'progress' in first philosophy and scholarship (especially Thomas Aquinas) with the development of universities, then later in science and technology, and later still in the economy.


But schism led on to more schisms, with no end in sight.

But the benefits and the mistake were alike in being built-on continuous specialization of function; progressive specialization of all functions, with limit.

The Great Schism built-into the thought systems of the West a fatal error, of which PC is a remote and indirect consequence.


Once modernity (progressive specialization) has been built into a system, it cannot stop itself - and it cannot stop itself because continual specialization creates (or indeed itself is) continually increasing autonomy, so there is no way of one part of the system stopping another.

You just get more and more specialization of function until the whole social system falls apart into useless fragments; and all the King's Horses and all the King's men cannot put Humpty together again.


By secularizing knowledge, by creating The University – by making philosophy autonomous of the Church (instead of having learning institutionally focused in monasteries) the West eventually made political correctness - which is now everywhere and inescapable.

And PC is the West's Nemesis, because the West cannot decisively overturn PC without overturning that which made it The West.

The West cannot overcome PC without ceasing to be The West.

Yet, if this overturning of PC does not happen, then the West will itself be subverted by PC.

In other words, The West is built upon error: its strength is also its weakness; its power is also that which is self-destroying; even as The West built its great structures it was simultaneously gnawing at their foundations.


Here is the double-bind:

To be anti-PC is to be anti-The West (always in tendency, albeit not by intention)

Yet at the same time, to be pro-PC is to be anti-The West (always in tendency, and also by intention)

And/ So/ But The West never was sustainable.


Looking back, The West was a blip on the graph of history - albeit a thousand year 'blip'! –with a hundreds year long, gradual up-tick and the rapid decades long collapse looming ever-closer.

Just so soon as The West began to implement its assumptions towards completion (which is political correctness), just so soon The West began actively (as well as passively) to destroy itself.



Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

If Leftism does not come from Christianity – where does it come from?
Leftism does in fact come from Christianity, as everything in the West. Leftism has so much power on minds only because it is a quasi-religion, or a reversed religion: an all-encompassing religion founded by God cannot be replaced by anything else than a powerful anti-religion founded on enmity with God.

The Catholic Church made the West. The other religions or quasi-religions are the devil’s work to undo Christianity: the Eastern Schism, the Western Schism and its thousands of splits, the French Revolution and the so-called ‘Enlightenment’ and, finally, Leftism. The Eastern Schism has, I believe, almost nothing to do with Leftism, apart from the fact it created a precedent for the Western Schism. I don’t think the great apostasy, of which Leftism is the main manifestation, could have existed without both Schisms.

The West was sustainable only as long as it was truly Catholic. And of course the Catholic Church will endure till the end of times whether or not the West sinks forever or survives.

Adam G. said...

Your mechanism sounds a lot like Joseph A. Tainter, The Collapse of Complex Societies. In effect, there are mechanisms that increase prosperity (in the West, autonomy and specialization) but in order to work effectively, these mechanisms have to be robust and not easily stopped, having their own sel-generated momentum, so when they reach the point of diminishing returns there is no good way to shut them off.

Imnobody said...

Completely agree with Sylvie. I think the Reform paved the way to modernity. The rejection of authority to interpret the Bible and placing this interpretation in the hands of individual was the first step towards today's moral relativism.

I made a long comment and I think I saw it a while ago but it does not appear now. I don't think it was offensive or off-topic.

Bruce Charlton said...

@I - "I made a long comment and I think I saw it a while ago but it does not appear now. I don't think it was offensive or off-topic. "

You posted it on the Tolkien dream-meteor thread...

The Crow said...

Leftism comes from, and lives in, the mind. It happens when people become too frightened of reality, and reject it completely.
Reality is replaced with a theoretical surrogate, that quickly becomes more real than what it replaced.

Bruce Charlton said...



Bruce seems to be adopting an Eastern view of the situation, something which I've seen and admired in many of his posts, although recently he seems to be leaning more and more towards Mormonism. It will be interesting to see where he ends up!

As Eastern Orthodox, I share this view: the ills of the modern West can be found in the Great Schism. Exactly what caused the Schism, and how this led to the corruption of the modern West, is debated among the Orthodox, but I tend to sympathize with the view that it boils down to the doctrine of papal supremacy (and to a lesser extent Scholasticism), which poisoned the relationship between Church and State within Christianity, and gave too much authority to secular philosophy, whose end result is militant secularism.

[...] True Symphony of Church and State was lost in the fall of the last Orthodox monarchies (though even there the sickness set in a while back, with Peter the Great's Westernization program).

I really don't see how an Eastern schism view fits into this. If you want to blame modern secularism on the Reformation, I'm happy to agree Protestantism played a crucial role (though not a foundational role). But as you note, the East did not play any part in modernity; if anything, the East tried most of all in Christendom to hold modernity at bay.

Bruce Charlton said...

@jgress - "True Symphony of Church and State was lost in the fall of the last Orthodox monarchies"

I agree with this view, I agree it was *lost* in 1917 - and I think it means that the Eastern Orthodoxy which remains is broken from its roots, incomplete, weakened.

For a modern Westerner to practice EO (outside a strict and devout monastery) is now simply a different denominational style within Christianity.

If there is revival in Russia, and an Orthodox monarchy re-established (which *could* happen) then this situation will change - but unless that...


I have been very interested by Mormonism - and held it in very high regard - since before I was a Christian. But what has happened more recently is I finally *got* Mormon theology as a system - and found that it answered most of my main concerns and problems with 'mainstream' Christian theology (free will, the nature of the Trinity, the possibility of a relationship with God the Father, the problem of evil/ pain/ suffering, the purpose of mortal life etc), as well as being congenial to my 'pragmatic' philosophical temperament.

jgress said...

I wouldn't say you have to be in a monastery! I think what you do have to be sure of is to choose a traditionalist Orthodox community. The Left has captured the leadership of all the "mainstream" denominations, and this includes the Orthodox patriarchates. If you don't believe me, just read some of Patriarch Bartholomew's environmentalist writings. In that sense you are right that Orthodoxy is fragmented, and I certainly believe the fall of the Tsar was part of that development.

Basically, to be saved in our world today is a very difficult thing. There's no way around it. But what will get you there is a love for the Truth.

Bruce Charlton said...

@jgress - well, an Orthodox community, at any rate. There seems to be precisely one monastery/ community in the UK which is almost-certainly in the mainstream of traditional Russian orthodoxy - and it is about 400 miles away, and I am a feeble person!

Imnobody said...

Thank you, Bruce. Sorry I sent the comment to the wrong post.

Besides what you say, I guess the problem was to mix Aristotle with Christianity, which is like mixing oil and water. This produced a tension who made the West great (in comparison with Orthodox Christianity and Islam, which had no such tension) and unstable, ending with its eventual decline and fall.

Since AD 1000, new texts by the Philosopher were discovered in the West. The Church tried to ban Aristotle but it ended up being accepted without opposition.

Thomas Aquinas did a brilliant job by building a coherent system where Aristotle and Christianity can coexist but it was a unstable equilibrium, which nominalists torpedoed during the Late Middle Ages.

There were three resolutions to this problem: rejecting Aristotelism (nominalism and the Reform), rejecting Christianity (though paying lip service to it, that is, Humanism) and rejecting both and putting the natural sciences as a new paradigm to understand man (which was done by Bacon and Descartes and all the intellectuals since then, that is, modernity).

When Copernicus, Kepler and Newton proved that the ancients were wrong about the natural sciences, philosophers like Descartes concluded that they were also wrong in philosophy. A new philosophy was born trying to import the concepts of natural sciences into the philosophical realm (this is painful obvious in Descartes). This scientific concepts do not fit well with philosophy and with the structure of a society. This has ended up producing the contradictions of modernity (read "the mess we all are now").

So it was a rejection of everything who came before to try to establish a new philosophy, a new worldview, which ended up being implemented in society, starting with the American and the French revolutions