Is Enlightenment rationality and liberalism central to the West?

I have little patience for the pick-up artist who blogs at “in mala fide” but one of his commenters made an interesting argument that liberalism is central to the West.

I only noticed the comment because Hunter Wallace was patient enough to slog through the original argument at:

At the original “in mala fide” comment page, Brendan writes:

Liberalism “comes from” the core of the Western tradition,… liberalism *is* the West –… the West became disconnected from the ancient heritage – a heritage of culture and tradition…

Of course, the West “rediscovered” this patrimony, through Moorish translations of it, with the rise of scholasticism in the West. However, this “rediscovery” was disastrous because it did not reflect the attitude that the early Church – which was intimately familiar with the Greek philosophical patrimony – took when approaching thinkers such as Aristotle. The Western scholastics, through no fault of their own mind you, were basically “reinventing the wheel” when it came to understanding the relationship between faith and reason – and reinventing it in a very unfortunate manner. The scholastics are the source of the beginning of the dictatorship of reason in the West, as well as the layers of the roots of the subsequent antagonism in the West between “faith” and “reason”. By exalting reason to the degree they did (claiming, for example, as the Roman Church still does today, that the existence of God is deducible by reason), they forever compromised the faith of the West by laying the foundation for the subsequent, relentless challenge that reason would pose to the existence of faith in the West.
The “rediscovery” of the ancient pagan world did not stop there, of course. The humanities were next to be “rediscovered”, resulting in the rise of humanism. …
The combination of scholasticism, with its ever-increasing weirdness (delving with philosophy into such mysterious matters as the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or the precise nature of life after death), and humanism, with its increasing impatience with anything “imposed from above” beyond the level of the human person, led directly to the Protestant Reformation – a development which was the beginning of the end for the West in spiritual terms.
How so? The core problem of the Reformation was the nature of authority. The slogan regarding authority that was popularized by the reformers, and embraced by most of them, ranging from Luther to Calvin and beyond, was “sola scriptura” – “scripture alone” – as the source of authority. …
Following the Reformation, the balance of power, in terms of determining the course of Western culture, shifted decisively to the Protestant powers. …
If the truth of faith was to be found by reading the Biblical texts with the aid of human reason, it was only a matter of time until thinkers began to expand upon that and come to the conclusion that human reason itself was the critical point.
….The thinkers of the Enlightenment were simply following through on the “idea” of authority which was hatched by the Reformation, and simply asked the question: “Why need we confine ourselves to that text?”. It was only a matter of time until that question was asked, and only a matter of time until human reason became as exalted as Descartes did (cogito ergo sum) – a breathtaking reduction of humanity as much as it is the exaltation of human reason.
It will be objected as to why this is a bad thing. It’s a bad thing because once the Enlightenment got going down that track, it was again only a matter of time until it began attacking religion, as such, outright, as being “contrary to reason”. Thus was laid the foundation of the contemporary secular state. At the same time, many of the old “moral rules” championed by Christianity were retained, to the extent supportable by reason as such. That’s the essence of why contemporary “liberals”, who are the enthusiastic heirs of the Enlightenment for the most part, often see themselves as being deeply moral – they are following *certain* of the moral teachings which the West has inherited from its Christian period to the extent that these do not contradict reason, or the idea of the supremacy of the individual and the individual’s autonomy – something that follows from the exaltation of reason to the degree of being the sole arbiter of truth. At the same time, it explains the degree of what many “conservatives” would view as “moral decay” in the contemporary society – because, following human reason as the sole arbiter of moral truth, it goes without saying that much of what used to pass for “moral behavior” can be subject to disagreement by reasoned debate – it’s these areas that the contemporary liberal does not seek to regulate, because the moral rules in these spaces are subject to reasonable debate, and reason does not provide an obvious, universal answer – in such cases, according to this way of thinking, moral rules are something of a “jump ball”, and therefore should be left to the individual autonomy to be resolved. Hence the enthusiasm of liberals for the “social gospel” and “social morality” and their famous disinterest in any universal *personal* morality on issues such as sexuality.
The problem for the West, therefore, is that liberalism directly follows from virtually all of Western history for the past 1,000 years. It’s not an aberration – it’s the logical outcome of the developments of the past 1,000 years, and particularly of the Protestant Reformation and its aftermath. …

Fundamentalism, then, is fundamentally modernist in its assumptions about the nature of truth, … by claiming that the text meets the standards for truth claims accepted by the secular world – the scientific method and positivism.

It’s for all of these reasons that I believe strongly that the only “cure” for liberalism and scientism and positivism and secularism and so-on in the West is for the West to turn its back on itself, and choose a new path. A path that is not based on the developments of Western culture of the last 1,000 years. I do not think that this will happen, however – it’s too much to ask of any culture, really, and particularly one with the spectacular degree of self-hatred and self-annihilating tendencies as the contemporary West has. But the issue certainly is not skin-deep … it is *bone*-deep in the West. The West *is* liberalism, full stop. It can be nothing else, unless and until it gives up on being the “West”, and embraces again what it once was many centuries ago.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: