Archive for the ‘Understanding Modernity’ Category

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SEX 2 From Roger Scruton’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Philosophy

April 10, 2014
Life in the actual world is difficult and embarrassing. Most of all it is difficult and embarrassing in our confrontation with other people who, by their very existence as subjects, rearrange things in defiance of our will. It requires a great force, such as the force of sexual desire, to overcome the self-protection that shields us from intimate encounters. It is tempting to take refuge in substitutes, which neither embarrass us nor resist the impulse of our spontaneous cravings. The habit grows of creating a compliant world of desire, in which unreal objects become the focus of real emotions, and the emotions themselves are rendered incompetent to participate in the building of personal relations. The fantasy blocks the passage to reality, which becomes inaccessible to the will. In this process the fantasy Other, since he is entirely the instrument of my will, becomes an object for me, one among many substitutes defined purely in terms of a sexual use.

Life in the actual world is difficult and embarrassing. Most of all it is difficult and embarrassing in our confrontation with other people who, by their very existence as subjects, rearrange things in defiance of our will. It requires a great force, such as the force of sexual desire, to overcome the self-protection that shields us from intimate encounters. It is tempting to take refuge in substitutes, which neither embarrass us nor resist the impulse of our spontaneous cravings. The habit grows of creating a compliant world of desire, in which unreal objects become the focus of real emotions, and the emotions themselves are rendered incompetent to participate in the building of personal relations. The fantasy blocks the passage to reality, which becomes inaccessible to the will. In this process the fantasy Other, since he is entirely the instrument of my will, becomes an object for me, one among many substitutes defined purely in terms of a sexual use.

The intentionality of desire is the topic for a book, and since I have written that book, I shall confine myself here to a few remarks. My hope is to put philosophy to its best use, which is that of shoring up the human world against the corrosive seas of pseudo-science. In true sexual desire, the aim is union with the other, where ‘the other’ denotes a particular person, with a particular perspective on my actions.

The reciprocity which is involved in this aim is achieved in a state of mutual arousal, and the interpersonal character of arousal determines the nature of the ‘union’ that is sought. All desire is compromising, and the choice to express it or to yield to it is an existential choice, in which the self is, or may be, in danger.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the sexual act is surrounded by prohibitions; it brings with it a weight of shame, guilt and jealousy, as well as the heights of joy and happiness. It is inconceivable that a morality of pure permission should issue from the right conception of such a compromising force, and, as I argue in Sexual Desire, the traditional morality, in which monogamous heterosexual union, enshrined in a vow rather than a contract, is the norm, shows far more sensitivity to what is at stake than any of the known alternatives.

If it is so difficult now to see the point of that morality, it is in part because human sexual conduct has been redescribed by the pseudo-science of sexology, and as a result not only robbed of its interpersonal intentionality, but also profoundly demoralized. In redescribing the human world in this way, we also change it. We introduce new forms of sexual feeling – shaped by the desire for an all-comprehending permission. The sexual sacrament gives way to a sexual market; and the result is a fetishism of the sexual commodity.

Richard Posner, for example, in his worthless but influential book entitled Sex and Reason (but which should have been called Sex and Instrumental Reason), opens his first chapter with the following sentence: There is sexual behavior, having to do mainly with excitation of the sexual organs.’ In reality, of course, sexual behaviour has to do with courtship, desire, love, jealousy, marriage, grief, joy and intrigue. Such excitement as occurs is excitement of the whole person. As for the sexual organs, they can be as ‘excited’ (if that is the word) by a bus journey as by the object of desire. Nevertheless, Posner’s description of desire is necessary, if he is to fulfil his aim of deriving a morality of sexual conduct from the analysis of cost and benefit (which, apparently, is what is meant by ‘reason’). So what are the ‘costs’ of sexual gratification?

One is the cost of search. It is zero for masturbation, considered as a solitary activity, which is why it is the cheapest of practices. (The qualification is important: ‘mutual masturbation’, heterosexual or homosexual, is a form of nonvaginal intercourse, and its search costs are positive.)

Posner proceeds to consider hypothetical cases: for example, the case where a man sets a ‘value’ of ‘twenty’ on ‘sex’ with a ‘woman of average attractiveness’, and a ‘value’ of ‘two’ on ‘sex’ with a ‘male substitute’. If you adopt such language, then you have made woman (and man too) into a sex object and sex into a commodity. You have redescribed the human world as a world of things; you have abolished the sacred, the prohibited and the protected, and presented sex as a relation between aliens: ‘Th’expence of spirit in a waste of shame’, in Shakespeare’s famous words. Posner’s language is opaque to what is wanted in sexual desire; it reduces the other person to an instrument of pleasure, a means of obtaining something that could have been provided equally by another person, by an animal, by a rubber doll or a piece of Kleenex.

Well, you might say, why not, if people are happier that way? In whose interest is it, to retain the old form of desire, with its individualizing intentionality, its hopeless yearnings, its furies and jealousies, its lifelong commitments and lifelong griefs?

Modern philosophers shy away from such questions, although they were much discussed in the ancient world. Rather than consider the long-term happiness and fulfillment of the individual, the modern philosopher tends to reduce the problem of sexual morality to one of rights — do we have a right to engage in, or to forbid, this or that sexual practice?

From such a question liberal conclusions follow as a matter of course; but it is a question that leaves the ground of sexual morality unexplored. This ground is not to be discovered in the calculus of rights and duties, but in the theory of virtue. What matters in sexual morality is the distinction between virtuous and vicious dispositions. I have already touched on this distinction in the last chapter, when considering the basis of our moral thinking. I there emphasized the role of virtue in creating the foundations of moral order. But it is also necessary, if we are to give objective grounds for the pursuit of virtue, to show how the happiness and fulfilment of the person are furthered by virtue and jeopardized by vice.

This, roughly speaking, is the task that Aristotle set himself in the Nicomachean Ethics, in which he tried to show that the deep questions of morality concern the education of the moral being, rather than the rules governing his adult conduct. Virtue belongs to character, rather than to the rules of social dialogue, and arises through an extended process of moral development. The virtuous person is disposed to choose those courses of action which contribute to his flourishing – his flourishing, not just as an animal, but as a rational being or person, as that which he essentially is. In educating a child I am educating his habits, and it is therefore clear that I shall always have a reason to inculcate virtuous habits, not only for my sake, but also for his own.

At the same time, we should not think of virtue as a means only. The virtuous person is the one who has the right choice of ends. Virtue is the disposition to want, and therefore to choose, certain things for their own sakes, despite the warring tendency of appetite. Courage, for example, is the disposition to choose the honorable course of action, in face of danger. It is the disposition to overcome fear, for the sake of that judged to be right. All rational beings have an interest in acquiring courage, since without it they can achieve what they really want only by luck, and only in the absence of adversity.

Sexual virtue is similar: the disposition to choose the course of action judged to be right, despite temptation. Education should be directed towards the special kind of temperance which shows itself, sometimes as chastity, sometimes as fidelity, sometimes as passionate desire, according to the ‘right judgement’ of the subject. The virtuous person desires the person whom he may also love, who can and will return his desire, and to whom he may commit himself. In the consummation of such a desire there is neither shame nor humiliation, and the ‘nuptuality’ of the erotic impulse finds the space that it needs in order to flourish.

The most important feature of traditional sexual education is summarized in anthropological language as the ‘ethic of pollution and taboo’. The child was taught to regard his body as sacred, and as subject to pollution by misperception or misuse. The sense of pollution is by no means a trivial side-effect of the ‘bad sexual encounter’: it may involve a penetrating disgust, at oneself, one’s body, one’s situation, such as is experienced by the victim of rape. Those sentiments express the tension contained within our experience of embodiment.

At any moment we can become ‘mere body’, the self driven from its incarnation, and its habitation ransacked. The most important root idea of sexual morality is that I am in my body, not as a ‘ghost in the machine’, but as an incarnate self. My body is identical with me: subject and object are merely two aspects of a single thing, and sexual purity is the guarantee of this.

Sexual virtue does not forbid desire: it simply ensures the status of desire as an interpersonal feeling. The child who learns ‘dirty habits’ detaches his sex from himself, sets it outside himself as something curious and alien in the world of objects. His fascinated enslavement to the body is also a withering of desire, a scattering of erotic energy and a loss of union with the other. Sexual virtue sustains the subject of desire, making him present as a self in the very act which overcomes him.

Traditional sexual education also involved a sustained war against fantasy. Fantasy plays an important part in our sexual doings, and even the most passionate and faithful lover may, in the act of love, rehearse to himself other scenes of sexual abandon than the one in which he is engaged. Nevertheless, there is truth in the Freudian contrast between fantasy and reality, and in the belief that the first is in some way destructive of the second. Fantasy replaces the real, resistant, objective world with a pliant substitute – and that, indeed, is its purpose.

Life in the actual world is difficult and embarrassing. Most of all it is difficult and embarrassing in our confrontation with other people who, by their very existence as subjects, rearrange things in defiance of our will. It requires a great force, such as the force of sexual desire, to overcome the self-protection that shields us from intimate encounters. It is tempting to take refuge in substitutes, which neither embarrass us nor resist the impulse of our spontaneous cravings.

The habit grows of creating a compliant world of desire, in which unreal objects become the focus of real emotions, and the emotions themselves are rendered incompetent to participate in the building of personal relations. The fantasy blocks the passage to reality, which becomes inaccessible to the will. In this process the fantasy Other, since he is entirely the instrument of my will, becomes an object for me, one among many substitutes defined purely in terms of a sexual use.

The sexual world of the fantasist is a world without subjects, in which others appear as objects only. And should the fantasy take possession of him so far as to require that another person submit to it, the result is invariably indecent, tending to rape. The words that I quoted from Richard Posner are indecent in just the way that one must expect, when people no longer see the object of desire as a subject, wanted as such.

Sexual morality returns us, then, to the great conundrum around which these chapters have revolved: the conundrum of the subject, and his relation to the world of space and time.

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SEX 1 From An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Philosophy — Roger Scruton

April 9, 2014
Precisely because desire proposes a relation between subjects, it forces both parties to account for themselves. Unwanted advances are therefore also forbidden by the one to whom they might be addressed, and any transgression is felt as a contamination. That is why rape is so serious a crime: it is an invasion of the sanctuary which harbors the victim's freedom, and a dragging of the subject into the world of things. If you describe desire in the scientistic terms used by Freud and his followers, the outrage and pollution of rape become impossible to explain. In fact, just about everything in human sexual behavior becomes impossible to explain - and it is only what might be called the 'charm of disenchantment' that leads people to receive these daft descriptions as the truth.

Precisely because desire proposes a relation between subjects, it forces both parties to account for themselves. Unwanted advances are therefore also forbidden by the one to whom they might be addressed, and any transgression is felt as a contamination. That is why rape is so serious a crime: it is an invasion of the sanctuary which harbors the victim’s freedom, and a dragging of the subject into the world of things. If you describe desire in the scientistic terms used by Freud and his followers, the outrage and pollution of rape become impossible to explain. In fact, just about everything in human sexual behavior becomes impossible to explain – and it is only what might be called the ‘charm of disenchantment’ that leads people to receive these daft descriptions as the truth.

I read a lot of Roger Scruton, simply because he makes such great sense. Nowhere does the modern liberal philosophy tank  into meaninglessness is over sex related issues, from abortion to womens’ issues to gay marriage, you can’t spend more than 3 minutes with these masters of the universe that a well-reasoned piece by Peter Kreeft or Roger Scruton wouldn’t demolish easily. Read on.

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Sex is the sphere in which the animal and the personal meet, and where the clash between the scientific and the personal view of things is felt most keenly. It therefore provides the test of any serious moral philosophy, and of any viable theory of the human world.

Until the late nineteenth century it was almost impossible to discuss sex, except as part of erotic love, and even then convention required that the peculiarities of sexual desire remain unmentioned. When the interdiction was finally lifted – by such writers as Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis – it was through offering a ‘scientific’ approach to a widespread natural phenomenon. Such was the prestige of science that any investigation conducted in its name could call on powerful currents of social approval, which were sufficient to overcome the otherwise crippling reluctance to face the realities of sexual experience.

As a result, modern discussions of this experience have been conducted in a ‘scientized’ idiom which, by its very nature, removes sex from the sphere of interpersonal relations, and remodels it as a relation between objects. Freud’s shocking revelations, introduced as neutral, ‘scientific’ truths about the human condition, were phrased in the terms which are now more or less standard.

According to Freud, the aim of sexual desire is ‘union of the genitals in the act known as copulation, which leads to a release of the sexual tension and a temporary extinction of the sexual instinct – a satisfaction analogous to the sating of hunger’. This scientistic image of sexual desire gave rise, in due course, to the Kinsey report, and is now part of the standard merchandise of disenchantment. It seems to me that it is entirely false, and could become true only by so affecting our sexual emotions, as to change them into emotions of another kind.

What exactly is sexual pleasure? Is it like the pleasure of eating and drinking? Like that of lying in a hot bath? Like that of watching your child at play? Clearly it is both like and unlike all of these. It is unlike the pleasure of eating, in that its object is not consumed. It is unlike the pleasure of the bath, in that it involves taking pleasure in an activity, and in the other person who joins you. It is unlike that of watching your child at play, in involving bodily sensations and a surrender to physical desire.

Sexual pleasure resembles the pleasure of watching something, however, in a crucial respect: it has intentionality. It is not just a tingling sensation; it is a response to another person, and to the act in which you are engaged with him or her. The other person may be imaginary: but it is towards a person that your thoughts are directed, and pleasure depends on thought.

This dependency on thought means that sexual pleasure can be mistaken, and ceases when the mistake is known. Although I would be a fool not to jump out of the soothing bath after being told that what I took for water is really acid, this is not because I have ceased to feel pleasurable sensations in my skin. In the case of sexual pleasure, the discovery that it is an unwanted hand that touches me at once extinguishes my pleasure. The pleasure could not be taken as confirming the hitherto unacknowledged sexual virtues of some previously rejected person.

A woman who makes love to the man who has disguised himself as her husband is no less the victim of rape, and the discovery of her mistake can lead to suicide. It is not simply that consent obtained by fraud is not consent; it is that the woman has been violated, in the very act which caused her pleasure.

What makes a pleasure into a sexual pleasure is the context of arousal. And arousal is not the same as tumescence. It is a leaning towards’ the other, a movement in the direction of the sexual act, which cannot be separated, either from the thoughts on which it is founded, or from the desire to which it leads. Arousal is a response to the thought of the other as a self-conscious agent, who is alert to me, and who is able to have ‘designs’ on me. This is evident from the caress and the glance of desire.

A caress of affection is a gesture of reassurance – an attempt to place in the consciousness of the other an image of one’s own tender concern for him. Not so, however, the caress of desire, which outlines the body of the recipient; its gentleness is not that of reassurance only, but that of exploration. It aims to fill the surface of the other’s body with a consciousness of your interest – interest, not only in the body, but in the person as embodied. This consciousness is the focal point of the other’s pleasure. Sartre writes (Being and Nothingness) of the caress as ‘incarnating’ the other: as though, by your action, you bring the soul into the flesh (the subject into the object) and make it palpable.

The caress is given and received with the same awareness as the glance is given and received. They each have an epistemic component (a component of anticipation and discovery). It is hardly surprising, given this, that the face should have such supreme and overriding importance in the transactions of sexual desire. On the scientistic view of sex it is hard to explain why this should be so – why the face should have the power to determine whether we will, or will not, be drawn to seek pleasure in another part.

But of course, the face is the picture of the other’s subjectivity: it shines with the light of self, and it is as an embodied subject that the other is wanted. Perversion and obscenity involve the eclipse of the subject, as the body and its mechanism are placed in frontal view. In obscenity flesh becomes opaque to the self which lives in it: that is why there is an obscenity of violence as well as an obscenity of sex.

A caress may be either accepted or rejected: in either case, it is because it has been ‘read’ as conveying a message sent from you to me. I do not receive this message as an explicit act of meaning something, but as a process of mutual discovery, a growing to awareness in you which is also a coming to awareness in me. In the first impulse of arousal, therefore, there is the beginning of that chain of reciprocity which is fundamental to interpersonal attitudes. She conceives her lover conceiving her conceiving him … not ad infinitum, but to the point of mutual recognition of the other, as fully present in his body.

Sexual arousal has, then, an epistemic and interpersonal intentionality. It is a response to another individual, based in revelation and discovery, and involving a reciprocal and co-operative heightening of the common experience of embodiment. It is not directed beyond the other, to the world at large; nor is it transferable to a rival object who might ‘do just as well’. Of course, arousal may have its origin in highly generalized thoughts, which flit libidinously from object to object.

But when these thoughts have concentrated into the experience of arousal their generality is put aside; it is then the other who counts, and his particular embodiment. Not only the other, but I myself, and the sense of my bodily reality in the other’s perspective. Hence arousal, in the normal case, seeks seclusion in a private place, where only the other is relevant to my attention. Indeed, arousal attempts to abolish what is not private – in particular to abolish the perspective of the onlooker, of the ‘third person’ who is neither you nor I.

I explored some of the ways in which the subject is realized in the world of objects, and placed great emphasis on intention, and the distinction between predicting and deciding for the future. But it should not be supposed that the subject is revealed only through voluntary activity.

On the contrary, of equal importance are those reactions which cannot be willed but only predicted, but which are nevertheless peculiar to self-conscious beings. Blushing is a singular instance. Although an involuntary matter, and – from the physiological point of view – a mere rushing of blood to the head, blushing is the expression of a complex thought, and one that places the self on view. My blush is an involuntary recognition of my accountability before you for what I am and what I feel. It is an acknowledgement that I stand in the light of your perspective, and that I cannot hide in my body. A blush is attractive because it serves both to embody the perspective of the other, and also at the same time to display that perspective as responsive to me.

The same is true of unguarded glances and smiles, through which the other subject rises to the surface of his body and makes himself visible. In smiling, blushing, laughing and crying, it is precisely my loss of control over my body, and its gain of control over me, that create the immediate experience of an incarnate person. The body ceases at these moments to be an instrument, and reasserts its natural rights as a person. In such expressions the face does not function merely as a bodily part, but as the whole person: the self is spread across its surface, and there ‘made flesh’.

The concepts and categories that we use to describe the embodied person are far removed from the science of the human body. What place in such a science for smiles as opposed to grimaces, for blushes as opposed to flushes, for glances as opposed to looks? In describing your color as a blush, I am seeing you as a responsible agent, and situating you in the realm of embarrassment and self-knowledge. If we try to describe sexual desire with the categories of human biology, we miss precisely the intentionality of sexual emotion, its directedness towards the embodied subject.

The caricature that results describes not desire but perversion. Freud’s description of desire is the description of something that we know and shun – or ought to shun. An excitement which concentrates on the sexual organs, whether of man or of woman, which seeks, as it were, to bypass the complex negotiation of the face, hands, voice and posture, is perverted. It voids desire of its intentionality, and replaces it with a pursuit of the sexual commodity, which can always be had for a price.

It is part of the intentionality of desire that a particular person is conceived as its object. To someone agitated by his desire for Jane, it is ridiculous to say, ‘Take Henrietta, she will do just as well.’ Thus there arises the possibility of mistakes of identity. Jacob’s desire for Rachel seemed to be satisfied by his night with Leah, only to the extent that, and for as long as, Jacob imagined it was Rachel with whom he was lying. (Genesis 29, v. 22-25; and see the wonderful realization of this little drama in Thomas Mann’s Joseph and his Brothers.)

Our sexual emotions are founded on individualizing thoughts: it is you whom I want and no other. This individualizing intentionality does not merely stem from the fact that it is persons (in other words, individuals) whom we desire. It stems from the fact that the other is desired as an embodied subject, and not just as a body. You can see the point by drawing a contrast between desire and hunger (a contrast that is expressly negated by Freud). Suppose that people were the only edible things; and suppose that they felt no pain on being eaten and were reconstituted at once.

How many formalities and apologies would now be required in the satisfaction of hunger! People would learn to conceal their appetite, and learn not to presume upon the consent of those whom they surveyed with famished glances. It would become a crime to partake of a meal without the meal’s consent. Maybe marriage would be the best solution.

Still, this predicament is nothing like the predicament in which we are placed by desire. It arises from the lack of anything impersonal to eat, but not from the nature of hunger. Hunger is directed towards the other only as object, and any similar object will serve just as well. It does not individualize the object, or propose any other union than that required by need.

When sexual attentions take such a form, they become deeply insulting. And in every form they compromise not only the person who addresses them, but also the person addressed. Precisely because desire proposes a relation between subjects, it forces both parties to account for themselves. Unwanted advances are therefore also forbidden by the one to whom they might be addressed, and any transgression is felt as a contamination.

That is why rape is so serious a crime: it is an invasion of the sanctuary which harbors the victim’s freedom, and a dragging of the subject into the world of things. If you describe desire in the scientistic terms used by Freud and his followers, the outrage and pollution of rape become impossible to explain. In fact, just about everything in human sexual behavior becomes impossible to explain – and it is only what might be called the ‘charm of disenchantment’ that leads people to receive these daft descriptions as the truth.

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Nietzsche and Emerson 2 – Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen

April 8, 2014
Nietzsche understood what it meant to travel imaginatively through time and space in order to find a thinker to think with. Just as he had to travel to the mental and moral world of a mid-nineteenth-century American philosopher enroute to himself, twentieth-century American readers would now turn to him for the same. They would look across the Atlantic for an example of the perils and possibilities of the aboriginal intellect. They would look to a nineteenth-century German thinker in order to feel at home.

Nietzsche understood what it meant to travel imaginatively through time and space in order to find a thinker to think with. Just as he had to travel to the mental and moral world of a mid-nineteenth-century American philosopher enroute to himself, twentieth-century American readers would now turn to him for the same. They would look across the Atlantic for an example of the perils and possibilities of the aboriginal intellect. They would look to a nineteenth-century German thinker in order to feel at home.

 

A few pages from the prologue of American Nietzsche. If you ever asked yourself how Nietzsche happened, how the “mad, mustachioed Teutonic philosopher of the hammer” ever found his way to our cultural bloodstream. This is the book for you.

American Nietzsche is neither a biography nor a formal analysis of philosophical concepts. Professor Ratner-Rosenhagen is a historian, and the subject of her book is presented through the lens of her discipline. It is, in short, an insightful and skillfully written treatment of the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche’s ideas and image on American culture. Refreshingly, I detected no axes being ground, no hidden agendas skulking in the shadows. The author has simply identified an important story that needed to be told, and has done so in a thorough, well-organized, and interesting manner. Whatever your level of familiarity with Nietzsche the person or his work, or your opinions about either, if you have an interest in the events, ideas, and people that shaped 20th century American culture then you will very likely find this book engaging.”

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And so it was that in 1862 Nietzsche discovered in Emerson a thinker to think with. While the American author impressed on his young German pupil that the life of the philosopher is a life on the open sea, he also taught him that no other thinker can tell him where he’s heading or where to find firm land. He simply works by “provocation” along the way.

And provoke Nietzsche, Emerson did. Nietzsche continued to read Emerson intensively throughout 1863, later noting that of all the books he “read the most,” Emerson’s topped the lists” And this was just the beginning. From the age of seventeen up until his mental breakdown at the age of forty-four; from his days as a gymnasium student through his graduate studies, his professorship, and then his years as an itinerant writer; and from the safe harbor of Christian faith to the tumultuous seas of indeterminacy, Friedrich Nietzsche turned repeatedly to Emerson, who then pushed him forward. In time, many others would propel Nietzsche’s thinking — Plato, Kant, Goethe, Lange, Schopenhauer, and Wagner — but none survived his penchant for slaying his own intellectual gods.

He never sought to slay Emerson, however; the enthusiasm he expressed for him as a teenager reappeared in his essays, journals, and letters, over the course of his entire intellectual career. Emerson’s influence on Nietzsche was unmistakable even to Nietzsche himself. As he thought about himself while writing an early draft of his autobiography, he couldn’t help but think of Emerson. Indeed, it was a rereading of Emerson’s “Spiritual Laws” (1841) that suggested “Ecce Homo” as an appropriate title for his autobiography.” As he reflected on his intellectual path, he couldn’t help but reflect warmly on Emerson’s company along the way: “Emerson, with his Essays, has been a good friend and someone who has cheered me up even in dark times: he possesses so much skepsis, so many’possibilities,’that with him even virtue becomes spiritual.”

Yet Nietzsche’s ideas are not carbon copies of Emerson’s. If they were, his uses of Emerson would be a lot less interesting than they are. The sheer fact that he read Emerson in translation reminds us that Nietzsche had a lifelong relationship with a highly mediated Emerson. Even accounting for linguistic variations, though, the similarities are striking enough that the additional awareness that Nietzsche “loved Emerson from first to last,” as Walter Kaufmann put it, has made many, like Kaufmann himself, insist that nevertheless, “one would never mistake a whole page of Emerson for a page of Nietzsche.”

Perhaps. One might take Kaufmann up on the challenge and place a Nietzschequotation, image, or broad concern alongside its Emersonian counterpart and see how easy or difficult it is to drive a wedge between the two. One could juxtapose their criticism of barren scholarship; their concern that excessive reverence for the past makes us “fatalists,” as Emerson believed, and makes the past our “gravedigger,” as Nietzsche had; or their anxiety over belatedness, which fostered a longing in Emerson to be “born again,” and a fear in Nietzsche of being “late-born.” One could examine how both authors expressed an abiding interest in power. While Emerson averred that “life is a search after power,” Nietzsche came to believe that “life simply is will to power.’” Both emphasized a conception of power as something striving, pressing onward.

For Emerson, “Life only avails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a last to a new state.” Nietzsche celebrated “plastic power,”which he described as, “the capacity to develop out of oneself in one’s own way, to transform and incorporate into oneself what is past and foreign, to heal wounds, to replace what has been lost, to recreate broken molds.”

It might be of no consequence that Nietzsche was rereading Emerson in 1881-82 while preparing The Gay ,Science and Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-85). What is noteworthy, nonetheless, is the philosophers’ shared aversion to the view of revelation as something historical, rather than ongoing, and to any belief in a divinity outside the self. Emerson believed this created a bankrupt spirituality, “as if God were dead,” to which Nietzsche had his madman announce in the affirmative that “God is dead.”

Someone well versed in Emerson and Nietzsche might never mistake Emerson’s line from “Compensation, “In general, every evil to which we do not succumb, is a benefactor,” with Nietzsche’s from Twilight of the Idols, “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” But at least it is worth noting that Emerson’s line in Nietzsche’s personal copy is heavily underlined.

Whether we look for affinities or influences, the parallels between Emerson and Nietzsche mount. But we miss what Emerson meant to Nietzsche if we fail to consider how Nietzsche used Emerson not to get closer to him but to get closer to himself. For Nietzsche, Emerson provided an image of the philosopher willing to go it alone without inherited faith, without institutional affiliation, without rock or refuge for his truth claims.

As Nietzsche made his way from spiritually-adrift teenager, to philology professor, to freelance philosopher, Emerson’s image of the philosopher, and his approach to philosophy as a way of life, proved essential to his self-definition. Emerson gave Nietzsche a way of describing himself to himself, as we see in his letter of 1866 to an old friend, Carl von Gersdorff. In it, Nietzsche dreamily imagined himself” as Emerson so excellently describes [it] … pure, contemplative, impartial eye.”

It was Emerson who imparted to Nietzsche the image of philosophy as a spirit of play, laughter, and dancing. Nietzsche repeatedly employed this image of levity and joyousness when he considered his own thinking. In the aphorism “Learning to think,” Nietzsche complained, “our schools no longer have any idea what this means…. Thinking has to be learned.. . as a form of dancing…. Who among Germans still knows from experience that subtle thrill … of intellectual light feet”

It was Emerson’s characterization of the liberated thinker as “intellectual nomad” that helped Nietzsche to imagine himself as a “free spirit” in a quest for truths of his own making.” Likewise it was Emerson who impressed on Nietzsche the power of the oppositional intellect to make the world anew. “Let an American tell them what a great thinker who arrives on this earth signifies as a new centre of tremendous forces,” affirmed Nietzsche in “Schopenhauer as Educator” (1874). Quoting this American’s essay “Circles” (1841), Nietzsche affirmed, “Beware,’ says Emerson, “when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet. Then all things are at risk. It is as when a conflagration has broken out in a great city, and no man knows what is safe, or where it will end.”

But of all the uses Nietzsche had for Emerson, it was his notion that a philosopher without foundations works by provocation, not instruction, as an “exemplar,” not a guide, which most vividly suggested to Nietzsche the possibilities of his own philosophy. The philosopher is useful insofar as he helps carry one to one’s self. “No one can construct for you the bridge upon which precisely you must cross the stream of life, no one but you yourself alone,” Nietzsche insisted. “There exists in the world a single path along which no one can go except you: whither does it lead? Do not ask, go along it.”

Nietzsche found confirmation in another quotation from Emerson’s “Circles”: “A man never rises higher than when he does not know whither his path [will] lead him.” If Emerson sent Nietzsche on the path of philosophy without absolutes, on a path to become who he was, he also reminded him that he would not be waiting for him upon his arrival.

Throughout the 1880s Nietzsche sent manuscript after manuscript to his publisher, and his publisher, in turn, sent them off as books to a German reading public as yet indifferent to his ideas. Nietzsche never forgave his German contemporaries for leaving him in the lurch. Undaunted, he spent most of the final year of his productive intellectual life, though struggling with illness, swept up in a euphoric mood. It was during what would become his final sprint of productivity that a third fan letter arrived from America, this time from Karl Knortz, a Prussian-born freelance writer in New York, who wrote to express his admiration for Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Nietzsche now had reason to believe that the praise it contained truly signaled that his dawn was finally breaking, for just a few months earlier the prominent Danish literary critic Georg Brandes had delivered a series of high-profile lectures on him in Copenhagen, at long last drawing attention to his genius. In his letter, Knortz, a translator of American authors into German and a promoter of German literature for American readers, also relayed his desire to promote Nietzsche to American audiences.

But in order to do that, Knortz would need Nietzsche’s help. So he asked the German author for a description of himself and a characterization of his oeuvre. Nietzsche gladly obliged. In a letter of reply dated June 21, i888, he sketched a portrait of his work and himself for his would-be American audience:

The task of giving you some picture of myself, as a thinker, or as a writer and poet, seems to me extraordinarily difficult…. The thought of advertising myself is utterly alien to me personally; I have not lifted a finger with that end in view. Of my Zarathustra, I tend to think that it is the profoundest work in the German tongue, also the most perfect in its language. But for others to feel this will require whole generations to catch up with the inner experiences from which that work could arise.”

Nietzsche may have thought that his philosophy awaited an audience of readers yet unborn, but given Knortz’s enthusiasm, he had reason to suspect that he might first find that audience in America. In a letter to his publisher asking for his assistance in facilitating Knortz’s propaganda, he speculated about the value of securing a readership across the Atlantic. “In principle all my experiences show that my influence begins on the periphery and only from there will the currents ripple back to the `Fatherland.” That summer, Nietzsche sent off a flurry of letters to friends telling them that he had “admirers in North America.” Soon Americans would learn, he enthused, that “I am the most independent spirit of Europe and the only German writer — that’s something! — .”n

Though Nietzsche liked the image of himself as an intellectual nomad, and though he long ago decided that the thinker without foundations must go not only without compass or guide, but also without a final destination, his desire for freedom never fully subdued his longing for an intellectual home. He knew from his own experiences that a feeling of refuge — while fleeting — is necessary even for the free spirit. He likewise knew from his own experiences reading Emerson that sometimes it is abroad that the aboriginal intellect finds a home.

A home in America for Nietzsche’s philosophy? After almost three decades with Emerson’s writings, the prospect seemed likely indeed. After all, it was America that had created the thinker with whom he thought as he came to terms with himself and his world. It was the American Emerson who showed Nietzsche the possibilities of thought beyond the good and evil of Christian piety.

It was the American Emerson who critiqued sterile ideas and made philosophy a friend to life. It was the American Emerson who understood that philosophical inquiry in a world without absolutes works by example and provocation only. And it was the American Emerson who Nietzsche believed never could have been produced within the suffocating philistinism of his native German culture. Nietzsche did not know much about America, but he did know — or at least he believed — that with one exception (himself), Germany could never have given birth to such a dynamic thinker. He summed up his feelings for Emerson this way: “Emerson. Never have I felt so much at home in a book, and in my home as — I shouldn’t praise it, it is too close to me.

Nietzsche understood what it meant to travel imaginatively through time and space in order to find a thinker to think with. Just as he had to travel to the mental and moral world of a mid-nineteenth-century American philosopher enroute to himself, twentieth-century American readers would now turn to him for the same. They would look across the Atlantic for an example of the perils and possibilities of the aboriginal intellect. They would look to a nineteenth-century German thinker in order to feel at home.

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Nietzsche and Emerson 1 – Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen

April 7, 2014
It was Emerson who taught Nietzsche a way forward, a way to begin imagining life as a process of thought, thought as possibility, and possibility as a conception of being as "eternal becoming" (anticipating his later discovery of Emerson's notion that "the soul becomes")." Emerson bathed Nietzsche in images of the intellectual life as life on the open sea, as circles of waves emanating outward from the active intellect.

It was Emerson who taught Nietzsche a way forward, a way to begin imagining life as a process of thought, thought as possibility, and possibility as a conception of being as “eternal becoming” (anticipating his later discovery of Emerson’s notion that “the soul becomes”).” Emerson bathed Nietzsche in images of the intellectual life as life on the open sea, as circles of waves emanating outward from the active intellect.

A few pages from the prologue of American Nietzsche.  If you ever asked yourself how Nietzsche happened, how the “mad, mustachioed Teutonic philosopher of the hammer” ever found his way to our cultural bloodstream. This is the book for you.

“Ratner-Rosenhagen’s book explores what American readers have made of him. She discusses key aspects of Nietzsche, including his anti-foundationalism (perspectivism), his famous claim that “God is dead”, his emphasis on interpretation, and the role of the “overman” in his thought. There are interpretive questions, addressed by different readers, about whether Nietzsche is a “political” or a “personal” thinker and about what Americans of varied political persuasions have found worthwhile in this markedly undemocratic philosopher. The approach of the book tends to be historicist. Ratner-Rosenhagen tries to show how different American interpretations of Nietzsche surfaced in response to changes in American culture”

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Nietzsche discovered Emerson’s philosophy in 1862 as a seventeen-year-old gymnasium (secondary school) student at the prestigious boarding school Schulpforta. His first encounter with Emerson occurred during a crisis in his studies. Four years earlier, Nietzsche had entered the gates of Schulpforta as a scholarship student, and though an obedient and compliant pupil who excelled in his studies, he had a difficult adjustment to the school’s grinding regimentation and austere discipline.

The sequestered and routinized program eroded rather than enriched his belief in institutional intellectual life. Nietzsche later described “the uniformizing discipline of an orderly” education at Schulpforta as “that almost military compulsion, which, because it aims to affect the mass, treats individuality coldly and superficially.” Young Nietzsche bristled under the regime, causing him to wonder whether Schulpforta drilled in scholarly knowledge while it drowned out self-directed intellectual exploration in equal parts.

While the regimentation and impersonality of Schulpforta caused him to question his studies, his studies caused him to question his religious beliefs. Nietzsche had entered the gymnasium at age fourteen with an ardent Lutheran faith as his trusty companion. He came from a line of Lutheran clergy — both his paternal and maternal grandfathers had been ministers, as was his beloved father, Ludwig. Nietzsche had spent his early childhood in the parsonage of his father’s church in Rocken, and after his father’s death when Nietzsche was four years old, his mother continued to raise him and his younger sister, Elisabeth, in an environment imbued with her affirming Christian piety.

At Schulpforta he received training in historical criticism to work with Greek and Latin texts, but he saw its value for humanistic studies in general. Though he still thought religion was the “solid foundation of all knowledge [Grundveste al/es Wissens],” historical science was beginning to shake that foundation. His faith provided succor during bouts of homesickness. However, Nietzsche’s theological studies and daily worship at Schulpforta did nothing to help him as his ardent faith began to give way.

Nietzsche’s poetry of 1862 testifies to the increased sense of intellectual waywardness and spiritual crisis:

I know not what I love,
I have neither peace nor rest,
I know not what to believe,
what life am I living, why?

 Nietzsche’s growing dissatisfaction with Schulpforta’s mass regime and his feelings of spiritual estrangement, as he put it, “led me back to myself,” causing him to seek intellectual stimulation and emotional relief outside his formal studies. Together with his friends, Wilhelm Pinder and Gustav Krug, he sought escape in the form of a literary fraternity, Germania, which the three students founded in 186o in order to pursue their intellectual curiosities and foster their creative self-expression.

The boys set the ground rules for membership: each was expected to produce a work of criticism, poetry, a musical composition, or some original research, for critical analysis during their quarterly “synods.” For the next three years, the boys met to review one an-other’s contributions, draft critical rebuttals, drink wine, and contemplate the universe. As the most zealous Germanian of the three, Nietzsche delighted in his extracurricular discoveries, churning out musical compositions, poems, and essays on Cicero, Byron, and Napoleon.

As Carl Pletsch has shown, he would come to regard his Germania experiences — this learning outside of learning, this self-directed study — as his true education: “I saved my private inclinations and longings from the uniform law, I lived a concealed cult of certain arts, I occupied myself with a hypersensitive addiction to universal knowledge and pleasure to break the rigidity of a legalistic [time schedule].” While time with Germania satisfied this striving, it also fostered a conviction that true knowledge cannot be found within an institutional setting, but is rather achieved through creative aspiration on one’s own terms.

And so it was in this period of personal turmoil that Nietzsche, age seventeen, first got his hands on a translation of Emerson’s The Conduct of Life (1860) and first got an idea of what philosophy could make possible. It was during one of his “concealed” extracurricular forays for Germania in April 1862 that he began reading Emerson. This was his true education. This was also Nietzsche’s first contact with philosophy — it wasn’t until the following year that he expressed interest in Plato and another two years until he discovered Schopenhauer.

It was Emerson who first instructed Nietzsche “about philosophy in life.” Enlivened by his discovery, Nietzsche penned his very first philosophical texts as a Germanian in direct response to his reading of Emerson. During his Easter vacation from school while friends and family around him were celebrating Christ’s resurrection, he took the occasion to question the veracity and relevance of Christianity.

Modifying Emerson’s title “Fate” to “Fate and History: Thoughts” (1862), Nietzsche showed what the world could look like when read through eyes of “great philosopher-prophets” like Emerson. If, as Emerson had said, “there is no pure originality. All minds quote,” and that “only an inventor knows how to borrow,” then Nietzsche proved to be quite inventive in his appropriation of Emerson’s ideas and images to wrestle with his doubts about religion

Fate and History: Thoughts, and his follow-up essay, Freedom of Will and Fate, though pieces of Nietzsche’s juvenilia, sketch in embryonic form many of the major leitmotifs of his mature philosophy, and foreshadow his uses of Emerson for decades to come. In these essays, Nietzsche put Emerson’s imagery and arguments to work to answer Emersonian questions about the relationship between human agency and the external forces that work to constrain it.

The Christian faith topped his list. What would it take, Nietzsche mused, to come out from under the “yoke of custom and prejudice,” and achieve a “freer standpoint” from which to consider the balance of power between freedom and fate? He recognized that “it is entirely impertinent to want to solve philosophical problems over which a conflict of opinion has has waged for many millennia.”And yet, what he found more disturbing was the “question whether mankind hasn’t been deceived for two thousand years by a phantom.”

It worried Nietzsche that the quest for a freer standpoint from which to consider human reality might cause “great revolutions once the masses finally realize that the totality of Christianity is grounded in presuppositions; the existence of God, immortality, Biblical authority, inspiration, and other doctrines will always remain problems.”

But Emerson’s essay reminded young Nietzsche that religious faith was not the only force that limited an individual’s will and intellect. Indeed, Emerson impressed on him that there are all sorts of influences — historical, physiological, even familial — that condition the individual’s experiences and limit his perspectives. The plain fact, Nietzsche came to realize, is that as human beings, we inherit so much of who we are that the distinction between the aboriginal and the adopted, between freedom and necessity, might itself be a phantom.

In “Fate,” Emerson wondered about the influences that tyrannize one’s temperament: “Ask the doctors, ask Quetelet, if temperaments decide nothing? or if there be anything they do not decide?” In “Fate and History,” Nietzsche likewise wondered what role temperament plays in the individual’s freedom to apprehend and affect his world, reformulating Emerson’s questions as “Is not our temperament, as it were, the coloration of events? Do we not encounter everything in the mirror of our personality? … Ask gifted doctors, Emerson says, how much temperament decides, and what. . . it does not decide.”

The individual may seek release from that which has formed him, but Emerson expressed doubt whether this was fully possible. As he argued, “The menagerie, or forms and powers of the spine, is a book of fate: the bill of the bird, the skull of the snake, determines tyrannically its limits…. How shall a man escape from his ancestors, or draw off from his veins the black drop which he drew from his father’s or his mother’s life?”

In direct dialogue with Emerson on this question, Nietzsche asked, “What is it that pulls the soul of so many men of power down to the commonplace, thereby hindering a higher flight of ideas? A fatalistic structure of skull and spine; the condition and nature of their parents; .. . their environment; even … their homeland.” For Nietzsche, it was disturbing to consider the sheer range of external forces, “stifling the capacity of the soul through force of habit.” What troubled him was not simply that “we have been influenced “but that we are so blind to influences that we cannot tell the difference between our self and the world, our independence and our inheritance.

Though emboldened by Emerson’s challenge to external forces that constrain individual autonomy, he was nevertheless chastened by Emerson’s description of the consequences of a world without limits on the will and intellect. As Emerson formulated the problem, “If we thought men were free in the in the sense that, in a single exception one fantastical will could prevail over the law of things, … as if a child’s hand could pull down the sun. If, in the least particular, one could derange the order of nature, — who would accept the gift of life?”

This gave young Nietzsche reason to worry, as we see in his formulation of the problem: “If it became possible completely to demolish the entire past through it strong will, we would immediately be transported into the realm of autonomous gods, and world history would suddenly be for us nothing but a dreamy deception: the curtain falls, and man finds himself like a child playing with worlds, like a child who awakens at the glow of dawn and, laughing, wipes the terrible dreams from his brow.”

With Emerson’s cautions, Nietzsche recoiled from an image of autonomy so complete that there were no checks on the aggrandized self. Emerson insisted that he was “sure, that, though we know not low, necessity does comport with liberty, the individual with the world, my polarity with the spirit of the times.” But just how they did was the problem facing the philosopher.

Nietzsche agreed: “Here lies every important, unending problem: the question of justifying the individual to the people, the people to mankind, and of mankind to the world. And here, too, is the fundamental relationship of fate and history.”In Fate and History we see young Nietzsche thinking with Emerson about how to reconcile the self with the world, human agency with, as Emerson put it, “Beautiful Necessity.”

Though Emerson raised more questions for Nietzsche than he offered answers, he nevertheless impressed on him that the act of questioning is both the activity of the philosopher and an example of free will at work. Emerson argued that the active intellect could achieve a “double consciousness” which negotiates the competing desires for freedom and for limitations on that freedom. According to him, fate is nothing more than “a name for facts not yet passed under the fire of thought; — for causes which are unpenetrated. But every jet of chaos which threatens to exterminate us, is convertible by intellect into wholesome force.” By likening fate to “unpenetrated causes” and the work of intellect to mastery over them, Emerson taught Nietzsche to think about what thinking makes possible.

In a second attempt at philosophical writing a month after composing “Fate and History,” Nietzsche, in “Freedom of Will and Fate,” made his debt to the American philosopher explicit. He argued that “Freedom of will, [is] in itself nothing but freedom of thought,” and that “free will is only an abstraction indicating the capacity to act consciously; whereas by fate we understand the principle that we are under the sway of unconscious acts.”

It was “Emmerson” [sic] who suggested to him that “thought is always compatible with the thing that is apparent as its expression.” So when Emerson concluded his essay with the exclamation “Let us build altars to the Beautiful Necessity,” Nietzsche understood this simply as an affirmation of the active intellect passing facts under the fire of thought. In imagining the self as author of its experiences, young Nietzsche imagined the power of the thinker to negotiate freedom and fate, self and history, creative will and beautiful necessity.

Nietzsche’s discovery of Emerson in 1862 seems to have been the turning point when he decided he would try to go it alone without his religious faith. His first philosophical writings suggest that even as a teenager, he knew this wouldn’t be easy. Clearly more hesitant than zealous, Nietzsche confessed,

How could one destroy the authority of two millennia and the security of the most perceptive men of all time as a consequence of youthful pondering? How could one dismiss all the sorrows and blessings of a religious development so deeply influential on world history by means of fantasies and immature ideas? … I have attempted to deny everything: Oh, pulling down is easy; but rebuilding! And pulling down seems easier than it is.

It was Emerson who taught Nietzsche a way forward, a way to begin imagining life as a process of thought, thought as possibility, and possibility as a conception of being as “eternal becoming” (anticipating his later discovery of Emerson’s notion that “the soul becomes”).” Emerson bathed Nietzsche in images of the intellectual life as life on the open sea, as circles of waves emanating outward from the active intellect. As Nietzsche described the image Emerson had seared into his imagination, “A struggling and undulating of the most diverse currents, ebbing and flowing, all to the eternal ocean. Everything revolves around one another in monstrous, ever expanding circles. Man is one of the innermost circles.”

Emerson also provided warnings that while life on the open waters without inherited truths promises ever becoming, it also threatens to pull one under. In leading a life of inquiry and exploration on “the sea of doubt without compass and guide” most will be driven off course by storms; only very few discover new lands. Out in the middle of the immense ocean of ideas one often longs to return to firm land.” It was Emerson who first instructed Nietzsche about the joys and terrors of the intellectual life without firm land beneath one’s feet, of life on the open waters of indeterminacy without compass or guide.

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Nietzsches Nietzsches Everywhere — Patrick Connelly

March 17, 2014
Nihilism is the complete disregard for all things that cannot be scientifically proven or demonstrated. Nietzsche did not claim that nothing exists that cannot be proven, nor that those things should be disregarded. What Nietzsche did suggest was that many people used religion, especially Judeo-Christian teachings, as a crutch for avoiding decisive actions. Nietzsche's contribution to existentialism was the idea that men must accept that they are part of a material world, regardless of what else might exist. As part of this world, men must live as if there is nothing else beyond life. A failure to live, to take risks, is a failure to realize human potential.

Nihilism is the complete disregard for all things that cannot be scientifically proven or demonstrated. Nietzsche did not claim that nothing exists that cannot be proven, nor that those things should be disregarded. What Nietzsche did suggest was that many people used religion, especially Judeo-Christian teachings, as a crutch for avoiding decisive actions. Nietzsche’s contribution to existentialism was the idea that men must accept that they are part of a material world, regardless of what else might exist. As part of this world, men must live as if there is nothing else beyond life. A failure to live, to take risks, is a failure to realize human potential.

Patrick Connelly is associate professor of history and director of the Honors Program at Montreat College. This is a reblog from books and culture.com. He reviews Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen’s American Nietzsche: The History of an Icon and His Ideas below.

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Zarathustra in America.
The tragic and ironic final chapter of Friedrich Nietzsche’s life began with a spectacular collapse into debilitating insanity on the streets of Turin, Italy. It ended with the incapacitated philosopher occupying the second floor of a Weimar villa that housed the archives from which his sister Elizabeth would assume controversial control over his legacy. Prior to his breakdown, Nietzsche balanced his expectation of being a seer and facilitator of a civilizational crisis with the conviction that he was criminally underappreciated in his lifetime.

The European “Nietzsche vogue” of his incomprehensible final years, however, gave credence to the notion that his time had indeed come. Among the witnesses of this phenomenon was Wilbur Urban, an American doctoral student at the University of Leipzig and son of an Episcopal priest who discovered The Genealogy of Morals in a local bookstore. Urban later described the resulting personal encounter with Nietzsche’s ideas, as he read through the night and undertook an intellectual and spiritual reevaluation of everything he held dear.

Urban’s experience of reading Nietzsche is recounted in Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen’s richly textured and absorbing American Nietzsche: The History of an Icon and His Ideas. The juxtaposition of Nietzsche near death in Weimar with a young American graduate student transfixed by his writings just miles away captures the importance of biography in Ratner-Rosenhagen’s account. Nietzsche’s “persona” became a focal point for readers and reviewers who “interpreted his philosophy through the lens of his biography.”

Yet American Nietzsche is also about the stories, emotions, and longings of Nietzsche’s readers and the “strong affective dimension” involved in how his ideas were received. The act of reading Nietzsche is narrated through published sources, personal recollections, marginalia, and fan letters written to Nietzsche and his sister. They give evidence of a thinker who struck a nerve with American readers due to his unconventional biography and singular vision of a modern world without foundations.

“Antifoundationalism” is a foundational idea in American Nietzsche, which explores how a motley crew of readers in the United States appropriated Nietzsche’s “denial of universal truth” in a distinctly American context. Academic philosophers, literary radicals, clergy, and political thinkers of various stripes are among the cast of characters concerned with the implications of Nietzsche’s ideas for “the moral and cultural grounds” of modern Americans. Ratner-Rosenhagen draws a portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche helping Americans understand themselves. This transatlantic intellectual and cultural exchange began, as Ratner-Rosenhagen tells the story, with an American thinker providing a transformative reading experience for Nietzsche himself.

Other commentators have noted Ralph Waldo Emerson’s influence on Nietzsche and discussed the affinities between the two thinkers, but no one has made such a forceful case that Nietzsche’s encounter with Emerson was so decisive and transformative. Ratner-Rosenhagen analyzes Nietzsche’s heavily annotated reading copy of Emerson’s Essays and notebook of Emerson quotations.

She credits Emerson with teaching Nietzsche about the “external forces that constrain individual autonomy.” Emerson is presented as providing Nietzsche with the example of the intellectual as provocateur, as one who doesn’t provide direct answers but provokes from a position “without inherited faith, without institutional affiliation, without rock or refuge for his truth claims.” Emerson’s influence, Ratner-Rosenhagen speculates, was particularly crucial in Nietzsche’s loss of faith, with his discovery of Emerson seemingly “the turning point” leading to his decision to abandon Christianity.

 Nietzsche biographers may wonder whether Ratner-Rosenhagen overstates Emerson’s role in Nietzsche’s personal and professional development (a recent biography by Julian Young contains only two references to Emerson in 562 pages of text), but American Nietzsche persuasively portrays Emerson as the “exemplar of the aboriginal intellect” abroad who helped Nietzsche to feel at home. It was a favor that Nietzsche would return to American readers in the decades to come.

Ratner-Rosenhagen does not exhaustively record every reference to Nietzsche in American print, though she examines in great detail how Americans experienced Nietzsche’s ideas. Her thematic and somewhat chronological survey begins with “the making of the American Nietzsche” by literary radicals and cultural critics. Literary radicals fretted over the state of American culture while hoping for a “cosmopolitanism” that would look to the example of Europe, which they believed had already been transformed by Nietzsche’s “challenge to all external authority.”

H. L. Mencken was among an eclectic group of cultural critics who focused on “the persona of Nietzsche.” Mencken’s influential monograph on Nietzsche refashioned the philosopher in Mencken’s image while suggesting that Americans desperately needed Nietzsche’s “fearless independence and fierce intelligence.” American Nietzsche later returns to the allure that Nietzsche contained for literary radicals and critics. Once again, Nietzsche’s biography educates these enthusiasts, who gravitated toward his paradigm of “the unaffiliated intellectual” changing the world through “literary expression and the social efficacy of ideas.” Writers and activists such as Emma Goldman, Kahlil Gibran, Randolph Bourne, and Walter Lippmann drew deeply from Nietzsche’s model of “the antifoundational intellect” and expressed hope that he could help them renew an impoverished American culture.

Mencken and other critics believed that religion was significantly to blame for that cultural poverty and were gripped by Nietzsche’s extraordinary attack on Christianity. The repercussions of Nietzsche’s critique were taken up by American clergy and theologians, who used the occasion to take inventory of Christianity’s future prospects and “to reassert their flagging moral authority in modernizing America.” Ratner-Rosenhagen’s account of Nietzsche’s religious readers is heavily weighted toward liberal Protestants and Social Gospelers, though she does consider Catholic apologists who viewed Nietzsche as the natural consequence of Protestantism.

Liberal Protestants and Social Gospelers understood Nietzsche as a “fellow seeker” and a “challenging doubter” who remained a vital instrument “for refitting their faith to the modern world.” Protestants less interested in this refitting, with a few exceptions, remain largely on the sidelines in American Nietzsche. Conservative Protestants are mentioned, but their collective perception of Nietzsche as an insidious force in the culture-shaping institutions of Germany and the United States remains underdeveloped.

Fundamentalists, who frequently lumped together Nietzsche and Darwin, are virtually absent from Ratner-Rosenhagen’s story. The addition of these neglected constituencies would strengthen the case that Protestants of all theological persuasions worried about the prospect of a civilization adrift from Christian foundations — even if they defined the problem and solution differently.

“A world after God” meant the arrival of the Übermensch for Nietzsche and his enthusiasts. The most ambitious section of American Nietzsche unites seemingly disparate individuals, discourses, and events around their fascination with one of Nietzsche’s signature ideas. Harvard philosophers, political radicals, and conservative New Humanists are portrayed as wrestling with the possibilities and limitations of the superman.

Nietzsche’s Übermensch later appeared in wartime debates less as a “constructive ideal” in antifoundational discourse than “a symbol for the German imperial temper.” The Übermensch seeped into the popular imagination through events such as the Leopold-Loeb trial, where the defendants murdered a boy due to their belief that “they were Nietzschean supermen.” Ratner-Rosenhagen makes a good case for the importance of the Übermensch for American readers, though as an interpretive construct it occasionally feels stretched.

Creating a coherent narrative is an arduous task for any reception study, of course, let alone one regarding a remarkably pliant thinker like Nietzsche. Ratner-Rosenhagen’s post-World War II examinations of the American reception illustrate that elasticity by focusing on the creation of numerous Nietzsches.

Walter Kaufmann’s Nietzsche was liberated from the taint of National Socialism, established as a serious philosopher who negotiated the analytic/existentialist divide in professional philosophy, and credited with transforming “American cold war culture” and fueling the discontent of the Sixties. Harold Bloom’s Nietzsche helped the critic move beyond the postmodern literary theories of Europe while enabling America to embrace its “alienated majesty” in a world without authorities beyond the self.

Richard Rorty’s Nietzsche inspired a “pragmatic antifoundationalism” that explored the tensions between self-creation and social solidarity in a world shorn of transcendent grounding. Stanley Cavell’s Nietzsche served as “a midwife of Emersonian philosophy” who helped Americans to rediscover their native antifoundational thinking. Allan Bloom’s Nietzsche was misappropriated to sustain “an unwholesome, lighthearted and softheaded ‘nihilism with a happy ending.’ “

Given these and other appropriations, can the real Nietzsche be discerned in an America awash in Nietzsches? It certainly goes against the grain of many of the thinkers discussed in American Nietzsche to suggest that a single understanding of Nietzsche is necessary or even possible. Epistemological and critical humility are needed — we do, after all, see through a glass darkly — but it is difficult to criticize misappropriations or misunderstandings of Nietzsche without having some sense of what he meant. This is especially challenging for a reception study.

Ratner-Rosenhagen contends that her book “is not even a book about Nietzsche” but rather “about his crucial role in the ever-dynamic remaking of modern American thought.” American Nietzsche is certainly about the latter — and engagingly so — but it is about Nietzsche as well. Ratner-Rosenhagen resists a full-fledged exposition of Nietzsche’s ideas, though she does selectively elaborate, taking several opportunities to correct perceived misreadings and resisting fashionable assumptions about the “death of the author.”

The emphasis on the act of reading Nietzsche also leads to questions about how to understand the cultural and intellectual setting those acts transformed. What impact did Nietzsche have on American culture as a whole, as opposed to select individuals? One instance where this issue becomes problematic is Ratner-Rosenhagen’s discussion of celebrity.

She discusses, in fascinating detail, letters from the Nietzsche Archive that were written to Elizabeth Förster-Nietzsche by her brother’s American fans. Ratner-Rosenhagen suggests that the letters reveal “Nietzsche’s emergence as a celebrity in American culture.” Historians of celebrity, she argues, have focused inordinate attention on musicians and actors and their respective industries while neglecting the emergence of “the prophetic thinker” as celebrity. But it is difficult to see how a relatively small sample of letters can be used as evidence of celebrity, which by its very nature is about mass appeal and consumption.

How then does one gauge Nietzsche’s broader impact on American culture? Ratner-Rosenhagen provides much food for thought on this question throughout American Nietzsche, particularly when she discerns a larger popular effect as in the case of Walter Kaufmann’s monograph and translations. I wonder whether a more specific distillation of the notion of cultural authority would be instructive as well.

“Cultural authority” is an amorphous term that sociologists and historians have used more than defined. It involves the authority of individuals, ideas, and institutions to promote certain understandings of meaning and values in the culture at large and to shape core assumptions about God, human personhood, social and political order, science, economics, law, and other spheres of public and private life.

Protestant Christianity had long informed the American cultural milieu but faced substantial challenges to its authority by the time Nietzsche’s ideas first registered in the United States. Sociologist Christian Smith writes that a “secular revolution” was afoot, involving “secularizing activists” seeking “to overthrow a religious establishment’s control over socially legitimate knowledge.” Many of the same American academics, critics, activists, and clergy who appear in American Nietzsche were participants in the seismic shifts of authority in culture-shaping institutions.

Nietzsche’s early American admirers may have questioned whether the European “Nietzsche vogue” would take root in the United States, but they recognized his awareness of and contribution to the larger story of secularism. William Mackintire Salter wrote in 1917 that “a subtle, slow secular revolution in the mental and moral realm was what Nietzsche had in mind.”

Nietzsche himself realized that uprooting Christianity’s cultural authority was a long historical process involving more than simply rejecting traditional beliefs. It would be overreaching, of course, to suggest that Nietzsche’s ideas singlehandedly accomplished this revolutionary aim in the United States, but many of the subjects of Ratner-Rosenhagen’s book were willing to utilize his ideas to accelerate the process.

The result of this secular revolution, along with the rise of competing authorities and understandings of the world, meant further openings were created for Nietzsche’s antifoundationalism to gain a hearing in the decades to come. Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen’s wonderfully written and stimulating American Nietzsche compels us to reckon not only with what he said, but with what we have become.

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The Relationship Between Objective Truth And Individual Conscience – Derek Jeter

February 25, 2014
No matter how much one intends to do good, inherently wrong acts remain evil and thus are detrimental to the well-being of the agent, even if the agent is ignorant of that evil. I might drink a glass of sulfuric acid, intending to satisfy my thirst, unaware of what the glass contains.  Nevertheless, the effect of such action is physical illness. So too with evil acts, which necessarily result in moral illness, regardless of whether one judges them to be good. American individualism is particularly susceptible to the error of making human subjectivity, expressed in the distorted notion of the primacy of conscience, the criterion of human dignity. Such a view involves the denial of true freedom and dignity; it leads to a society in which human choice serves as its own justification. What is right becomes nothing more than what is chosen.”

No matter how much one intends to do good, inherently wrong acts remain evil and thus are detrimental to the well-being of the agent, even if the agent is ignorant of that evil. I might drink a glass of sulfuric acid, intending to satisfy my thirst, unaware of what the glass contains. Nevertheless, the effect of such action is physical illness. So too with evil acts, which necessarily result in moral illness, regardless of whether one judges them to be good. American individualism is particularly susceptible to the error of making human subjectivity, expressed in the distorted notion of the primacy of conscience, the criterion of human dignity. Such a view involves the denial of true freedom and dignity; it leads to a society in which human choice serves as its own justification. What is right becomes nothing more than what is chosen.”

Funny. I always thought the Wars of Religion or the 30 years war (1618-1648) took place between the Protestants and the Catholics and plunged Europe into nightmare. But while religion was given as the reason for war; there were many other reasons as well. These included land, money and economics, political power, natural resources, and more. Over time I think religion has taken the rap for all of the other reasons. Hence in the modern era you will find atheists who view religion as a source of evil – look at the hundreds of years of European history, don’t you “get” it?

I was taking my music course and found this explanation by Professor Robert Greenberg:

The series of horrific wars that devastated Germany between 1618 and 1648 are collectively referred to as the Thirty Years’ War. More than just a German war though, the Thirty Years’ War was a pan-European struggle in which politics and national self-interesto became inextricably intertwined with the religious issues that, ostensibly, had given rise to the conflict in the first place.

That part of Germany that embraced Lutheranism had been, before Reformation, part of what was called the Holy Roman Empire, a political conglomerate created in 800 when Pope Leo III, crowned Charlemagne, or “Charles the Great,” emperor of the new Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire was founded for two reasons: one, to consolidate the power of the church across a vast stretch of only slightly civilized Europe and two, as a defensive bulwark against non-Christians, which included everyone from Vikings to Muslims.

The Holy Roman Empire was, by definition, a Catholic Empire. If a substantial part of it should cease being Catholic, well then it no longer had any reason to be. This was not lost on the Holy Roman Empire’s chief ally, the Catholic Habsburg Empire, based in Austria. The Habsburgs saw Protestantism as an intolerable threat to its national interests, so the Austrians declared war on Protestantism and brought the tremendous resources of their empire to bear on the Protestants of Germany.

Meanwhile, to the West, the French saw a resurgent Habsburg Empire as being extremely dangerous to their own national interests. As a result, and talk about strange bedfellows — Catholic France allied itself with the Protestants so that it could fight the Catholic Habsburgs on German soil, which sure beat fighting them on French soil.

The English, who were always at odds with the French, nevertheless allied themselves with the French during the Thirty Years’ War, not just because the English were Protestant and it was in their best interest to keep part of Germany Protestant, but because they feared the growing power of the Austrians more than they feared the French.

The Lutheran King of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus, invaded Germany. Entire armies of mercenaries and criminals roamed central Europe, changing sides at will depending upon who had the upper hand and where the loot was. It was a terrible time, one that left Germany devastated.

The war ended in 1648, with Protestantism firmly established in what today is central and northern Germany.

So the “Religious Wars,” in the final analysis, resulted from (as Archbishop Scola noted in the previous post) the rigid admixture [vocab: The state of being mingled or mixed] of political power and religion that ruined the attempt in the Edict of Milan to define religious freedom. Heresy also muddied the waters.

The violence really raged all the way from the 1500’s by some estimations. Certainly that earlier era which produced the Edict of Milan in 313AD, when Constantine and Licinius, were the only two signatories to the Edict, “marked not only the gradual ending of the persecution of Christians but, above all, albeit within the limits of its time, the dawn of religious freedom.”

The notion of religious freedom, which, at the superficial level, attracts very wide approval, has in reality always to some degree lacked clarity. Archbishop Scola identified three complexities that muddied the waters of the modern era:

  1. The relationship between objective truth and individual conscience;
  2. The way that religious communities relate to state power;
  3. From the Christian theological point of view, the question of the interpretation of the universality of salvation in Christ, in contrast to the plurality of religions and world visions (“substantive” ethical visions)

I wanted here to address the first in a little more in depth from an essay I found by William E. Carroll in The Catholic Thing:

“There are few more famous phrases in American history than the Declaration of Independence’s affirmation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as inalienable, God-given rights. These rights, especially liberty, have come to be pillars of American culture. But the increasing emphasis on the radical autonomy of each human being has led in our time to a divorce between freedom and any notion of an objective order of truth. This is especially evident in various ethical theories that identify man’s dignity merely with the act of choice.  

It is true that freedom is a distinguishing human characteristic, but such freedom is grounded in an objective order of value; in fact, without such a grounding, without an essential ordering to what is true, freedom becomes a caricature of its real meaning. In our culture, it seems easy to forget, as President Obama has several times recently, that, in the original context, liberty and our inalienable rights have their source in the Creator.

One manifestation of this modern tendency to separate freedom from truth can be found in arguments about the primacy of conscience. Often appeals to this principle are at the core of justifications for dissent from the Church’s teachings on a wide range of moral questions.  Such arguments have been particularly attractive to many Americans, accustomed as they are to look at themselves and their society in terms of individual freedom and autonomy. The primacy of conscience, thus, seems to express a moral imperative.

As with human freedom, the role of conscience in moral decisions is a central tenet of Christian belief. But conscience and its primacy need to be understood correctly. In both popular culture and in the more sophisticated writings of some moral theologians, conscience has changed into something quite different from its traditional sense. 

Conscience is the act or condition of knowing the appropriate course to follow in a given situation. From the Latin cum scientia (conscientia), which means “with knowledge,” conscience is a habit or disposition of the intellect concerning specific human behavior. It is a judgment of practical reason rather than of speculative reason; that is, it is a judgment about praxis, about a course of action to be taken or an evaluation of action already performed. The obligation to follow one’s conscience flows from what conscience is. The summons of conscience to do what is good in particular concrete circumstances demands obedience only because it is the application of the objective and universal moral good.

The error into which many fall is to think that to judge an action to be good makes it good. But the judgment conscience makes is not infallible; one’s conscience could be poorly formed or one could act in ignorance, not knowing that a particular act is evil. Those who think that moral maturity, and hence moral well being, are only constituted by the autonomous decision of one’s conscience, misunderstand the role of conscience. 

Conscience is not some independent capacity to decide what is good and evil. Conscience functions within the moral order; it does not constitute that order. The moral imperative to follow one’s conscience is an obligation in the practical order not the speculative order: conscience commands behavior, it does not determine truth. Pope John Paul II made this point with great clarity in his encyclical, Veritatis Splendor

In the practical judgment of conscience, which imposes on the person the obligation to perform a given act, the link between freedom and truth is made manifest. Precisely for this reason conscience expresses itself in acts of judgment which reflect the truth about the good, and not in arbitrary decisions. The maturity and responsibility of these judgments – and, when all is said and done, of the individual who is their subject – are not measured by the liberation of the conscience from objective truth, in favor of an alleged autonomy in personal decisions, but, on the contrary, by an insistent search for truth and by allowing oneself to be guided by that truth in one’s actions. [61]

Both conscience and freedom are ultimately unintelligible apart from an order of truth and goodnessThe first principle of practical judgment, that is, of human action, is to do good and avoid evil. Practical judgment presupposes an understanding of good and evil by which it then measures the rightness or wrongness of particular actions. Both reason and faith allow man to discover that primordial insight about good and evil.

The recognition that some acts are inherently immoral regardless of the intention of the agent (e.g., abortion) is either a conclusion of speculative reason or a matter of revelation and is not called into question, much less invalidated, by the fact that a particular individual’s conscience might lead him to behave as though these acts are good.

No matter how much one intends to do good, inherently wrong acts remain evil and thus are detrimental to the well-being of the agent, even if the agent is ignorant of that evil. I might drink a glass of sulfuric acid, intending to satisfy my thirst, unaware of what the glass contains.  Nevertheless, the effect of such action is physical illness. So too with evil acts, which necessarily result in moral illness, regardless of whether one judges them to be good.

American individualism is particularly susceptible to the error of making human subjectivity, expressed in the distorted notion of the primacy of conscience, the criterion of human dignity. Such a view involves the denial of true freedom and dignity; it leads to a society in which human choice serves as its own justification. What is right becomes nothing more than what is chosen.”

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The Nature and Scope Of Religious Freedom In Our Contemporary Culture

February 24, 2014
ANGELO CARDINAL SCOLA, previously the Patriarch of Venice, was named Archbishop of Milan in 2011. The longing for truth respects the freedom of all, even of the person who calls himself agnostic, indifferent, or atheist.

ANGELO CARDINAL SCOLA, previously the Patriarch of Venice, was named Archbishop of Milan in 2011. The longing for truth respects the freedom of all, even of the person who calls himself agnostic, indifferent, or atheist.

Every 3rd Sunday of the month I am off to St. Clement’s Eucharistic Shrine in Boston to participate in a Communio study group. The group chooses an article from The Catholic journal Communio for discussion and each member leads a discussion on it. This Sunday it was my turn and we read an article titled The Nature and Scope Of Religious Freedom In Our Contemporary Culture by Angelo Cardinal Scola, previously the Patriarch of Venice and currently the Archbishop of Milan. I posed a Q&A on the article and here are my notes.

If you would enjoy Catholic fellowship and a discussion group on Catholic topics, join us. Happy to provide information to any interested. Leave a comment and I will get back to you.

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Q:    What was the significance of the Edict of Milan?

A     It marked not only the gradual ending of the persecutions of the Christians but, above all, the birth of religious freedom. In a certain sense, we can trace as far back as the Edict of Milan the very first emergence in history of the two phenomena that today we call “religious freedom” and “the secular state”.

Q:    The author speaks of “the grave contradictions linked to the practice and conception of religious freedom.” What are some of those contradictions that arose over time?

A     Ambrose wrote that Christians should be loyal to the civil authority, while at the same time he taught that the civil authority must guarantee freedom to citizens on the personal and social level. In this way there developed recognition of the boundaries of the public weal, whose security citizens and authority alike are called to ensure together.

In the early years of Christianity social disorders connected with the phenomenon of heretics invalidated the framework of religious freedom and the secular state that Ambrose and the Edict of Milan had established.

The Protestant Reformation led to an intensification of the rigid admixture [vocab: The state of being mingled or mixed] of political power and religion that culminated in the Wars of Religion.

The French Revolution introduced the idea of the absolute autonomy of the individual and society in respect to God and his Church. The Church responded in Dignitatis humanae by stating that the right to religious freedom implies immunity from coercion in a twofold sense: man has the right not to be constrained to act against his conscience and at the same time not to be prevented from acting in conformity with it.

Q:    How did the promulgation of the Declaration Dignitatis humanae fundamentally change the classic doctrine of religious tolerance developed after the Edict of Milan?

A     Dignitatis humanae stated that the human person has a right to religious freedom, and this right continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it. Dignitatis humanae shifted the issue of religious freedom from the notion of truth to the notion of the rights of a human person .Although error may have no rights, a person has rights even when he or she is wrong. This is, of course, not a right before God; it is a right with respect to other people, the community and the State.

The moral law in question is a negative right that adequately establishes the limits of the state and of the civil powers, denying them any direct competence in the area of religious choice. Understood in this way, the right to religious freedom implies immunity from coercion in a twofold sense: man has the right not to be constrained to act against his conscience and at the same time not to be prevented from acting in conformity with it.

Q:    What does the affirmation of religious freedom entail (really mean)?

A     The affirmation of religious freedom is the acquisition of a renewed knowledge of truth and, as such, always constitutes the start of a journey more than an arrival point. In this case it really means the acknowledgement of a crisis:

  1. In countries still governed by atheist dictatorships, persecution of dissidents and members of religious communities continues to be common practice.
  2. In Western Europe and the U.S. several frequent legal acts and decisions have been taken in the West which tend to coercively prevent the full expression of religious freedom: from prohibitions of conscientious objection in a professional sphere to the ban on wearing and showing religious symbols to the obligatory teaching even in religion schools of subjects based on an anthropology or a scientism which is opposed to one’s own creed

Q:    Contemporary neo-liberalism (Think Barack Obama or Andrew Cuomo) advances the idea (née conceit) of a neutral state, one that is in-different to religious phenomena which are labeled in the article as secularity of laicité.  Describe the position citing examples from the article:

A     In no particular order:

  1. A vision of public power as the defender of a secularity (laicité) that is extraneous to and mistrusts — or even discriminates against — any religious group or institution
  2. Encourages a cultural prejudice, i.e., the idea of identifying — in a way that is more practical than theoretical — what is secular with what is non-religious. In this way, the public arena is willing to accommodate all different visions and practices other than the religious ones.
  3. Takes on a secularist orientation which, by means of legislative choices, especially in matters of a sensitive anthropological nature, becomes hostile toward cultural identities of religious origin.
  4. By means of the objectivity and the authority of the law, it spreads a culture that is a secularized vision of man and of the world that improperly limits religious freedom.
  5. Takes on a secularist orientation by means of an anthropological vision marked by a profound individualism with an undue emphasis on “rights” rather than duties or obligations and the exercise of/moral conscience. Freedom “from” rather than freedom “to.”
  6. Elevating a scientistic and technocratic political culture at the expense of the religious.

Q     When Cardinal Scola speaks to the notion of religious freedom he encounters what he calls a complex knot of “classic problems.” One is the relationship “between objective truth and individual conscience.” What do you think he means by that?

A     A reference to a kind of Vatican short hand shown in this quote from Veritatis Splendour, encyclical letter of John Paul II:

The relationship between man’s freedom and God’s law is most deeply lived out in the “heart” of the person, in his moral conscience. As the Second Vatican Council observed: “In the depths of his conscience man detects a law which he does not impose on himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience can when necessary speak to his heart more specifically: ‘do this, shun that’. For man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged (cf. Romans 2:14-16)”. 101  The way in which one conceives the relationship between freedom and law is thus intimately bound up with one’s understanding of the moral conscience. Here the cultural tendencies referred to above – in which freedom and law are set in opposition to each other and kept apart, and freedom is exalted almost to the point of idolatry – lead to a “creative” understanding of moral conscience, which diverges from the teaching of the Church’s tradition and her Magisterium.
Veritatis Splendour, #54

Q     The following is a reading selection from pp 326-27 about some of the features of American neo-liberalism. How does it contrast with your understanding of what the American Founding Fathers had in mind or traditional American religious values vis-à-vis the state?

Contemporary neo-liberalism has taken positions that try to found what is political on procedures that are totally neutral with regard to any “substantive” vision, wanting to guarantee an active neutrality. In some cases, however, this even goes so far as to theorize that people who believe in a truth must be marginalized from liberal political debate… it is now a widespread conception in European juridical and political culture, particularly within European institutions. This conception interprets the categories of religious freedom in the light of the so-called “neutrality” of the state, and tends to become an institutional negative prejudice toward the religious phenomenon, instead of protecting an irreducible distinction between state and religions…. [It] encourages the idea of identifying – in a way that is more practical than theoretical — what is secular with what is non-religious. In this way, the public arena is willing to accommodate all different visions and practices other than the religious ones. … By means of the objectivity and the authority of the law, a culture spreads that is marked by a secularized vision of man and of the world, which is a legitimate voice in a plural society, but which the state cannot assume as its own, without implicitly taking up a position which improperly limits religious freedom. … Consequently, the so-called “neutral” state is not, in fact, impartial, in cultural terms. Rather, it takes on a secularist orientation which, by means of legislative choices, especially in matters of a sensitive anthropological nature, becomes hostile toward cultural identities of religious origin.
pp 326-327

Q     Based on the reading what is the difference between a non-confessional state and a secular state?

A     Couldn’t find it but I found this (my previous post on PayingAttentiontotheSky.com):  A non-confessional state is one in which no religious belief is given precedence over any other. The government refrains from favoring or imposing one particular world view, and, without being dogmatic about it, tries insofar as is possible to treat different religious communities evenhandedly. This presumably is what the majority of the American founding fathers had in mind. A secularist state, on the other hand, is one in which religion as such — the notion or even mention of God — is as far as possible excluded from public life, public affairs, and public documents — with the purpose of eventually making godlessness, coupled with a humanistic adulation of man and his achievements, the reigning belief of the majority of citizens. This is the current American state.

Q     Were the American founding fathers being inconsistent when, in establishing equal treatment (at least in theory) for all religious denominations, they allowed references to God and the natural law in their Declaration of Independence and their Constitution?

A     I (Philip Trower, previous post, speaking here) would say No, because belief in a Creator, in the natural law, and in a moral conscience are not matters of faith. They are logical inferences based on the evidence, and as such are acts of reason within all men’s reach. This is at least implicitly recognized in the Vatican II documents on religious liberty.

Q     After describing a crisis in our current state of affairs living under secularism, Scola asks how are we to find a remedy for this serious state of affairs? What is his solution?

A     Recognizing that under the Edict of Milan (313) a) Adherence to truth is possible only in a voluntary and personal way, and b) external coercion is contrary to its nature, it has to be acknowledged that the realization of this double condition hinges on a presupposed personal commitment to truth. Indeed, to follow “the duty, and even the right, to seek the truth” (DH, 3) releases religious freedom from the suspicion of being just another name for religious indifferentism, which, in turn, presents a precise worldview, at least practically speaking. In the present historical moment, the worldview of religious indifferentism tends to dominate the others.

Q     What is Truth to the secular vision?

A     Truth is conceived only in relation to the subject and the subject’s freedom (which more than occasionally declines into subjectivism and its consequent relativism), it is, however, also true that religious adherence to established traditions is lived, too often, as a mere reaction. It is thus increasingly conceived solely in terms of public, community, and social life, to the point where it is quite difficult today to find cases in which the words “private,” “intimate,” “interiority,” “particular” and “individual” are used without a derogatory connotation.

Q     What does “a search for truth in the existential sense” mean for religious freedom and how does the current secularist state view it?

A     A search for truth in the existential sense still remains an inescapable part of life. However the secularism that embraces us encourages that the very idea of the search for a truth that is ultimate and therefore religious is simply losing any meaning.

Q     “A faith that is lived integrally” What does that mean to religious freedom?

A     The recognition of the fact that a faith that is lived integrally has an anthropological, social, and cosmological importance, which carries extremely concrete political consequences with it. If in every sphere of human existence, including the political, one witnesses to one’s convictions, this does not infringe anyone’s right. On the contrary, in the moment in which one promotes it, one sets in motion the virtuous search for the “noble compromise” (cum-promitto) on specific goods of an ethic, social, cultural, economic, and political nature. Where it is not possible to agree with other members of a pluralistic society on unrenounceable principles, one can resort to conscientious objection. It is more necessary than ever, today, to reflect deeply on the social dimension of conscientious objection, a reflection that is sadly still lacking.

Q     How are we to react then to the objection of a secular society that does not perceive an obligation to seek the truth in order to adhere to it? How does the Truth seek us? How does that longing for Truth affect society and religious freedom?

A     Our free invitation to them to reflect on what it means to have the obligation and the right to search for the truth is crucial. Augustine, a genius at giving expression to human anxiety, had grasped the secret of it, as Benedict XVI observes: “It is not we who possess the Truth after having sought it, but the Truth that seeks us out and possesses us.” In this sense, it is truth itself, through the significance of the relations and circumstances of life in which each person is a protagonist, which presents itself as the “serious event” in human existence and the shared life of human beings. The truth which seeks us out is evidenced in the irrepressible longing which makes man aspire to it: Quid enim forties desiderat anima quam veritatem? [What does the soul desire more strongly than the truth?] This longing respects the freedom of all, even of the person who calls himself agnostic, indifferent, or atheist. Religious freedom would otherwise be an empty word. The claim for religious freedom would become absolutely empty if we did not suppose the existence of human beings who personally and intimately cannot renounce the desire to adhere to an ultimate truth that determines their life.

Q:    What is the duty of the state vis–à–vis religious freedom

A     To guarantee space for public expression of religion (a safety zone which guarantees the inviolability of a human space) and communication between subjects.

Q:    What is the role of the laity in society?

A     It is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer.” This is not an invitation to pursue hegemony or domination, but rather the recognition of the fact that a faith that is lived integrally has an anthropological, social, and cosmological importance, which carries extremely concrete political consequences with it. If in every sphere of human existence, including the political, one witnesses to one’s convictions, this does not infringe anyone’s right. On the contrary, in the moment in which one promotes it, one sets in motion the virtuous search for the “noble compromise” (cum-promitto) on specific goods of an ethic, social, cultural, economic, and political nature. Where it is not possible to agree with other members of a pluralistic society on unrenounceable principles, one can resort to conscientious objection. It is more necessary than ever, today, to reflect deeply on the social dimension of conscientious objection, a reflection that is sadly still lacking.

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Secularism as a State Religion — by Philip Trower

February 20, 2014
The rapid transformation of traditional Anglo-Saxon liberalism and non-confessionalism -- with its well-intentioned attempts to be genuinely fair to everyone in religion as in everything else -- into dogmatic French-style secularism, bent on establishing godlessness as the dominant and privileged world view, seems to me the most significant development of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The most notable illustration of this change has been the recently drafted constitution for a federal Europe, drawn up under the chairmanship of former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, which excludes any mention of Christianity as a formative influence on European culture, attributing everything good in that culture to the Greeks and Romans or the 18th century Enlightenment. What we are hearing in this preposterous document, I would say, can legitimately be called secularist fundamentalism, even secularist fanaticism.

The rapid transformation of traditional Anglo-Saxon liberalism and non-confessionalism — with its well-intentioned attempts to be genuinely fair to everyone in religion as in everything else — into dogmatic French-style secularism, bent on establishing godlessness as the dominant and privileged world view, seems to me the most significant development of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The most notable illustration of this change has been the recently drafted constitution for a federal Europe, drawn up under the chairmanship of former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, which excludes any mention of Christianity as a formative influence on European culture, attributing everything good in that culture to the Greeks and Romans or the 18th century Enlightenment. What we are hearing in this preposterous document, I would say, can legitimately be called secularist fundamentalism, even secularist fanaticism.

Philip Trower, a veteran English Catholic journalist, is the author of Turmoil andTruth: the Historical Roots of the Modern Crisis in the Catholic Church (Ignatius, 2003). This article first appeared in the March 2004 issue of Catholic World Report.

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Western cultures are losing sight of the critical distinction between a non-confessional state and a secularist state.

At last someone has said it. At least as far as I know, it’s the first time it’s been said in a major English newspaper. On September 20 of last year, the Daily Telegraph — England’s largest quality national daily — carried an article about the problems the French government is having with some of its Muslims. “At the start of the school year,” the report ran, “several Muslim girls nationwide were suspended or expelled for arriving at schools with their heads covered.” In most French state schools this is forbidden. The French educational authorities see the wearing of headscarves by Muslim girls in state schools as a statement of religious belief, which — in the words of the relevant government document — would “constitute an act of intimidation, provocation, proselytizing, or propaganda.”

To defuse this potentially explosive situation, the French education ministry has appointed a special official to mediate between the Muslims and the local education authorities. The press have nicknamed this official “Madame Foulard” — Mrs. Headscarf.

Meanwhile in the northeastern industrial city of Lille, a group of parents and businessmen, following the long established practice of French Catholics and Orthodox Jews, confronted with the determinedly secularist nature of French state education, have set up the first Muslim secondary school in France. The students’ parents each pay just under $1,000 a year; the main funding comes from the businessmen. In short, Muslims-like other religious believers in France, where there are no tax rebates for education — will soon be paying twice for their children’s education: paying directly out-of-pocket for the schooling that their children actually receive, and indirectly through taxes for an education they prefer not to have.

However, this tax treatment was not the subject that attracted my attention and set me thinking as I read this report. It was, rather, a remark by the young Muslim administrator of the school, when he was interviewed by the press. “Secularism,” he said, “has become a new religion.” Indeed it has, and in a sense it always was. But why has it taken a young Muslim to notice it? Perhaps because, although now a French citizen, he is still able to look at Western civilization from outside, and therefore see certain things more objectively.

If most Westerners remain blind to what was all but self-evident to this young cultural “outsider,” it is no doubt because they are committed to the idea of the non-confessional state, and fail to see how it differs from a secularist state.

Apostolic Atheism
A non-confessional state is one in which no religious belief is given precedence over any other. The government refrains from favoring or imposing one particular world view, and, without being dogmatic about it, tries insofar as is possible to treat different religious communities evenhandedly. This presumably is what the majority of the American founding fathers had in mind.

Whether a non-confessional state can or should treat different codes of behavior impartially is a separate question. You can hardly have a nation or state with a plurality of codes of behavior — not at least about fundamentals and if that is the case, where are the basic precepts of such a national code to come from? This is a problem that the American founding fathers do not seem to have considered. It probably never occurred to them that any considerable body of citizens would one day question the truth of the natural law as formulated in the Ten Commandments.

A secularist state, on the other hand, is one in which religion as such — the notion or even mention of God — is as far as possible excluded from public life, public affairs, and public documents — with the purpose of eventually making godlessness, coupled with a humanistic adulation of man and his achievements, the reigning belief of the majority of citizens.

Such was the aim of anti-clerical French governments from 1870 to 1914. A high proportion of the republican politicians of that era were, in their own peculiar way, as apostolically atheist as Marx and Lenin; their teacher-training colleges were like seminaries, formed for the production of dedicated young apostles of unbelief, and a similar mindset apparently continues to permeate the thinking of an influential part of contemporary French officialdom. Hence the whole fuss about headscarves.

Atheism of this sort, which is a peculiarly modern phenomenon, deserves to be classified as a religion — at least from a governmental and legal perspective because it promotes its own fully formed view of the origin and meaning of life, offers its own form of salvation, and is zealously missionary and illiberal toward other world views or belief systems. In the rapidly approaching secularized European states (or pan-European state, governed from Brussels or elsewhere), atheism of this breed could become as much a state religion as it was in the Soviet Union — even if it is applied with more polish and less brutality.

Equal Mistreatment
Returning to the non-confessional state, one might ask: Were the American founding fathers being inconsistent when, in establishing equal treatment (at least in theory) for all religious denominations, they allowed references to God and the natural law in their Declaration of Independence and their Constitution?

I would say No, because belief in a Creator, in the natural law, and in a moral conscience are not matters of faith. They are logical inferences based on the evidence, and as such are acts of reason within all men’s reach. This is at least implicitly recognized in the Vatican II document on religious liberty.

Atheism is, by comparison, an act of unreason. It is much more reasonable to believe that the universe with all its complex structures is the work of a Mighty Intelligence than that it generated itself by accident and sustains itself without cause.

This obviously does not mean that atheists are all unintelligent. There are many reasons why people become atheists. Vatican II gives as one of them the bad example of believers; that is a melancholy truth. However, it no more constitutes an argument against belief than the evidence of bad lawyers is an argument against having laws, or people to administer them. The problem of evil is another major stumbling block. But whatever the grounds for unbelief, it is a matter of self-deception, or else of faith in human thinkers like Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, or Freud.

All this being the case, if devout little secularists and their parents feel intimidated or provoked by references to God and to religion in public places one can see no reason why in a genuinely non confessional (rather than secularist) state, religious believers should not enjoy an equal right to feel intimidated and provoked by God’s exclusion.

The rapid transformation of traditional Anglo-Saxon liberalism and non-confessionalism — with its well-intentioned attempts to be genuinely fair to everyone in religion as in everything else — into dogmatic French-style secularism, bent on establishing godlessness as the dominant and privileged world view, seems to me the most significant development of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. It is not perhaps as noticeable in the United States as in Europe, where there is no strong “Religious Right” to make politicians and seculists cautious about what they say or do. However in Europe we see small and large signs of the accelerating change every week, even every day.

The most notable illustration of this change has been the recently drafted constitution for a federal Europe, drawn up under the chairmanship of former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, which excludes any mention of Christianity as a formative influence on European culture, attributing everything good in that culture to the Greeks and Romans or the 18th century Enlightenment. What we are hearing in this preposterous document, I would say, can legitimately be called secularist fundamentalism, even secularist fanaticism.

That is why I believe one of the greatest services we can do our fellow citizens today is to help them recognize the crucial difference between a non-confessional state and a secularist state — so that the principles of the former can be manipulated as little as possible to advance the cause of the latter.

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Leisure: The Life and Health of the Soul by Mitchell Kalpakgian

January 20, 2014
Albrecht Dürer's Melencolia I has cut its black lines deep into the modern imagination. It shows a winged being who sits in apparent dejection, surrounded by unused objects of science, craft and art, holding a pair of dividers as she broods. Her face is a mask of darkness, but her bright eyes glare, revealing an acuteness of mind that contrasts with her exhausted pose. In 16th-century portraits, the head resting on hand pose was to become a universal image of the soul afflicted by sad thoughts – as in Moretto da Brescia's Portrait of a Young Man in London's National Gallery. The influence of Dürer's print is everywhere in Renaissance Europe. But what is equally amazing is the power of this 1514 work to fascinate us today, as when Günter Grass uses Dürer's print to meditate on modern politics in his 1973 book From the Diary of a Snail. Dürer's work of art continues to appeal because it is a diagnosis. It describes a malaise in the way a doctor might list symptoms. Sitting around, head in hand? Face a bit shadowy? My diagnosis: melancholia. Helpfully, Dürer even names this condition on the banner held aloft by a bat-like creature. Since people still suffer from melancholy – more likely calling it depression, the dumps or the blues – Dürer's image continues to resonate. As does his implication that melancholy afflicts the most ambitious human efforts, that it is a historical and collective, not just a personal, fate. The diagnosis that Dürer offers is rooted in medieval medicine. According to the notion of the "humours", melancholy was caused by an excess of black bile – hence the darkened face and the appropriate black ink. But Dürer offers something else not found in the old pseudo-science – a sense of a soul weighed down by its own intellect. In fact, the roots of his visionary masterpiece lie in Renaissance Italy, which he had visited and whose artists he knew well. In 15th-century Florence, philosopher Marsilio Ficino claimed that intellectuals, gifted and introspective souls like himself, were especially prone to the malaise of melancholy. He proposed various magical remedies to lift it – often invoking the power of the planet and goddess Venus to bring joy to the joyless. Dürer powerfully translates Ficino's idea of the sad intellectual into a heroic portrait of a great mind surrounded by unused tools of discovery and creation. Yet there is something more still. Dürer, we can guess from this print, knew the darkness of melancholy personally. He also knew it was the curse of one of the greatest artists of his time: his contemporary Leonardo da Vinci, whose art he had studied. Da Vinci notoriously suffered from a strange affliction that stopped him finishing his paintings. He fretted for years over a colossal statue of a horse that he never made, and started a battle painting that he left as a ruinous sketch on a wall in Florence. By 1514, he was a byword for mystifyingly irresolute genius. Is Melencolia I an allegorical portrait of the creative paralysis of da Vinci, the paragon of Renaissance art who Dürer aspired to emulate – flaws included? If so, this would be the first of many Germanic attempts to understand Leonardo, including Goethe's famous essay on The Last Supper, and Sigmund Freud's book Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood. Freud diagnoses Leonardo in modern clinical language. But nothing he says, there or elsewhere, is any more insightful than Albrecht Dürer's majestic and enduring study of the troubled human mind.

Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia I has cut its black lines deep into the modern imagination. It shows a winged being who sits in apparent dejection, surrounded by unused objects of science, craft and art, holding a pair of dividers as she broods. Her face is a mask of darkness, but her bright eyes glare, revealing an acuteness of mind that contrasts with her exhausted pose.
In 16th-century portraits, the head resting on hand pose was to become a universal image of the soul afflicted by sad thoughts – as in Moretto da Brescia’s Portrait of a Young Man in London’s National Gallery. The influence of Dürer’s print is everywhere in Renaissance Europe. But what is equally amazing is the power of this 1514 work to fascinate us today, as when Günter Grass uses Dürer’s print to meditate on modern politics in his 1973 book From the Diary of a Snail.
Dürer’s work of art continues to appeal because it is a diagnosis. It describes a malaise in the way a doctor might list symptoms. Sitting around, head in hand? Face a bit shadowy? My diagnosis: melancholia. Helpfully, Dürer even names this condition on the banner held aloft by a bat-like creature.
Since people still suffer from melancholy – more likely calling it depression, the dumps or the blues – Dürer’s image continues to resonate. As does his implication that melancholy afflicts the most ambitious human efforts, that it is a historical and collective, not just a personal, fate.
The diagnosis that Dürer offers is rooted in medieval medicine. According to the notion of the “humours”, melancholy was caused by an excess of black bile – hence the darkened face and the appropriate black ink. But Dürer offers something else not found in the old pseudo-science – a sense of a soul weighed down by its own intellect. In fact, the roots of his visionary masterpiece lie in Renaissance Italy, which he had visited and whose artists he knew well.
In 15th-century Florence, philosopher Marsilio Ficino claimed that intellectuals, gifted and introspective souls like himself, were especially prone to the malaise of melancholy. He proposed various magical remedies to lift it – often invoking the power of the planet and goddess Venus to bring joy to the joyless.
Dürer powerfully translates Ficino’s idea of the sad intellectual into a heroic portrait of a great mind surrounded by unused tools of discovery and creation. Yet there is something more still. Dürer, we can guess from this print, knew the darkness of melancholy personally. He also knew it was the curse of one of the greatest artists of his time: his contemporary Leonardo da Vinci, whose art he had studied. Da Vinci notoriously suffered from a strange affliction that stopped him finishing his paintings. He fretted for years over a colossal statue of a horse that he never made, and started a battle painting that he left as a ruinous sketch on a wall in Florence. By 1514, he was a byword for mystifyingly irresolute genius.
Is Melencolia I an allegorical portrait of the creative paralysis of da Vinci, the paragon of Renaissance art who Dürer aspired to emulate – flaws included? If so, this would be the first of many Germanic attempts to understand Leonardo, including Goethe’s famous essay on The Last Supper, and Sigmund Freud’s book Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood.
Freud diagnoses Leonardo in modern clinical language. But nothing he says, there or elsewhere, is any more insightful than Albrecht Dürer’s majestic and enduring study of the troubled human mind.

Dr. Mitchell Kalpakgian examines the deadly vice of acedia, its effects on the human mind and spirit, and why the art of leisure is so important, especially in today’s workaday society. Taken from the March 2009 Homiletic & Pastoral Review Dr. Mitchell Kalpakgian has taught English literature for thirty-nine years at several colleges. He is the author of two books, The Marvelous in Fielding’s Novels , and The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature (Neuman Press, 2000). He has published articles in the New Oxford Review, Culture Wars and The Catholic Faith.

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To ignore the Third Commandment and not keep holy the Sabbath not only violates divine law but also forms the vice of acedia, that condition of the soul associated with apathy and joylessness. If a person does not enjoy periodic rest, cultivate leisure on festive occasions, or restore his soul by honoring Sunday as a day of celebration, worship and rejuvenation of body and spirit, he becomes prey to the noon-day demon that releases the various symptoms of acedia that afflict the soul.

The Latin word that corresponds to the deadly sin of sloth, acedia signifies a state of mind, body and soul that manifests tendencies like listlessness, lukewarmness, restless, sadness and despair; as Josef Pieper explains in Leisure: The Basis of Culture, the unleisurely person

“[is] not at one with himself . . . as the Middle Ages expressed it, sadness has seized him in the face of the divine Goodness that lives within him — and this sadness is that ‘sadness of the world’ (tristitia saeculi) spoken of in the Bible.”

A person who never plays or rejuvenates himself, who never distinguishes between work days and holy days, and who disregards the Greek distinction between living and living well invites an attack from the noon-day demon associated with the vice of sloth.

As the name suggests, the noon-day demon afflicts its victims in the middle of things — in the middle of the day when fatigue rules the body, in the middle of a journey when boredom or exhaustion destroys enthusiasm, and in the middle of life when ennui wearies the spirit. In this condition of being in the middle of things, the excitement and newness of the beginning have lost their freshness, and the anticipation of the end and the thrill of accomplishment have not whetted the appetite for joy.

Thus acedia inflicts upon the person in the middle of things the state of lukewarmness or indifference. The noon-day demon makes a person neither hot nor cold, neither fervent about loving the good nor passionate about hating evil. This dullness or apathy becomes oppressive and robs a person of joy and hope, easily discouraging him from completing his journey, fulfilling his duty, or honoring his vows.

Once acedia rules a person, he loses his resolution and purpose and fails to finish an undertaking with the conviction of the traveler in Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”:

“And I have miles to go before I sleep/And miles to go before I sleep.”

Acedia also breeds listlessness. Because a person does not participate in the restorative leisure of Sunday or taste the rejuvenation of play, a person finds himself listless when not working. Time becomes burdensome and needs to be escaped by mindless activities that “kill” time and eliminate boredom.

Thus unleisurely, unsociable pursuits such as endless hours of television viewing or Internet browsing fill the vacuum. In the total world of work without leisure, the time away from work is considered merely a “break” or a period of recovery for the body to nourish itself with food and fortify itself with sleep in order to return to work and regain physical energy.

However, food for the soul and refreshment for the spirit do not receive their proper nourishment. In Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” Bartleby — the epitome of the “workaholic” who lives in his office and works even on Sundays — only eats and sleeps in order to return to work, never enjoying friendship, recreation or beauty. Listless and unoccupied when not working, he lives to work rather than working in order to play, and in the process he becomes perfunctory in his habits and lifeless in his demeanor, confining his conversation to a single phrase: “I prefer not to.”

This listlessness of mind and spirit, however, can lead to restlessness or frantic activity — another trait of acedia. Chaucer’s famous description of the lawyer from the prologue of The Canterbury Tales summarizes this state of mind: “Nowher so bisy a man as he ther nas/ And yet he semed bisier than he was.

“Just as passive, inane entertainment fills the void and combats boredom, constant movement and incessant busyness also dispel the monotony of time. Compulsive shopping, an unnecessary second job, an overscheduled day or week, involvement in more volunteer work and committees, and endless home improvements all provide substitutes for true leisure. A benefit of leisure is a change in rhythm, an opportunity to “be still” and recollected and experience the joys of an interior life and the pleasure of contemplation that Pieper describes as a “relaxed . . . purely receptive” beholding and “listening-in to the being of things.”

The purpose of leisure, then, is both social and contemplative, an occasion to enjoy the company and conversation of friendship and an occasion to “taste and see the sweetness of the Lord” and revel in the pure goodness of life’s simple pleasures. Like Alexander the Great’s obsessive preoccupation with more conquests and victories even after he ruled the Greek world and was proclaimed king of Asia — Alexander wallowed in sadness because his troops refused to cross the Ganges, as Plutarch records — compulsive activity enervates a person’s strength and robs the spirit of the regeneration that only leisure and play bestow.

The inspiration of the Muses and the power of Eros, as Pieper acknowledges, do not touch the listless, who waste time, or the restless, who never pause. They never experience the joy that Gerard Manly Hopkins celebrates in his poetry: “Glory be to God for dappled things . . . The world is charged with the grandeur of God . . . Look at the stars! look, look up at the skies!”

Another by-product of acedia that follows the absence of leisure is sadness, a sense of world-weariness expressed in words like the German Weltschmerz, the French ennui and the Latin tristitia that convey a tiredness with life. Instead of affirming the goodness of creation or rejoicing in the simple pleasures of life, the unleisurely suffer a chronic melancholy, a type of sickness unto death.

This sadness does not proceed from natural causes such as death, tragedy or injustice, but from a jadedness from living, a feeling of déjà vu (“been there, done that”). The repetition of work without leisure, the busyness of activity without joy, and the regimen of living to work instead of working to play allow no opportunities to transcend the workaday world of getting and spending to experience innocent, wholesome, childlike fun or the highest joys of civilization that worship, beauty and learning proffer.

Unlike the ancient Greeks who, as Pericles observed in his famous “Funeral Oration,” cultivate beauty and play (“When our work is over, we are in a position to enjoy all kinds of recreation for our spirits”), the unleisurely neglect their emotional, physical and mental health. They do not avail themselves of the natural, God-given cures that combat world weariness and the sense of vanitas vanitatum.

Without the normal healing of the Sabbath and the sheer joy of exhilaration afforded by life’s natural experiences of goodness, beauty and truth, the human spirit suffers from melancholy and never recovers from sadness. In Plato’s words, when men ignore divine festivals “as a means of refreshment from their fatigue,” the weight of the world’s cares does not allow them to stand erect and “return to an upright posture.”

The most insidious and destructive dimension of acedia is despair, a symptom that explains the deadly nature of this capital vice. Chronic listlessness, perpetual lukewarmness, compulsive restlessness and deep-seated sadness lead the soul to the state of hopelessness. When a person never looks forward to a time of leisure and recreation, when nothing beautiful, good, noble or miraculous inspires love or wonder, and when no form of activity produces rest, repose and happiness, the future appears bleak — a state of consciousness that Winston Smith in Orwell’s 1984 experiences when he comments on the drabness of modern life:

“It struck him that the truly characteristic thing about modern life was not its cruelty or insecurity, but simply its bareness, its dinginess, its listlessness.”

In the totalitarian regime of Big Brother, Winston suffers the dreary flatness of daily life because he is deprived of every form of leisure and play. After his day of work at the Ministry of Truth, Winston spends his free hours performing more labors for the Party — demonstrations, rallies and other political functions that amount to drudgery.

The world in 1984 is devoid of beauty, art, poetry and great literature, for the classics have been banned to assure the proliferation of the Party’s ideological propaganda. As Comrade Syme explains, “The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron — they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be.”

In the secretive world of Thought Police and spy networks where everyone suspects and distrusts everyone, Winston enjoys no friendships and pursues no romantic relationships. In the godless world of Oceania, Winston never anticipates the leisure of a Sunday, the celebration of holidays, or the civilizing, humanizing pleasures that restore the soul and lift the heart.

The acedia he suffers because of Big Brother’s dictatorial control of every aspect of personal life from work to play to thought to romance leads to a crisis in Winston’s life, where he ponders the famous existential question of “to be or not to be” that Hamlet posed. Winston struggles in the novel to decide whether “to stay alive” or “to stay human” as he grapples with the temptations of despair.

A humane society, then, that cultivates leisure and works in order to play creates culture. Without the fruits of leisure human life lacks the power of renewal and regeneration that worship, beauty, hospitality, friendship, games and conversation provide the human spirit. This ideal balance of work and play, which creates civilization, epitomizes the art of living well that the ancient Greeks bequeathed to the West.

In Homer’s Odyssey, when Odysseus sojourns in the country of Phaeacia, he revels in the society of a cultured people who not only welcome him with the rituals of old-world hospitality and provide him all the comforts of the body but also invite his storytelling, conversation and knowledge as they marvel at the tales of his adventures. The music of the bard, the performance of the dancers and the exhilaration of the Olympic games inspire his wonder, lift his spirits and make his heart rejoice. The warm sociability of the Phaeacians, their worship of the gods and their appreciation of “the feast, the lyre and dance” all derive from their practice of leisure.

Symptoms of acedia like listlessness do not appear in this land, for the people are productive in shipbuilding and weaving and skilled in dancing; as King Alcinous declares, “How far we excel the world in sailing, nimble footwork, dance and song.”

Celebrating the feasts of hospitality and the athletic games, the Phaeacians do not suffer world weariness but savor the sweetness of life’s simple pleasures. As they honor their guest with a kingly welcome, they affirm their gladness at the joy of living and illustrate what Pieper calls “the cheerful affirmation by man of his own existence” — the sense that “man is not only in harmony with himself . . . but also in agreement with the world and its meaning.” Because of these many blessings of leisure, Odysseus feels human and civilized again after all his tribulations at war and dangers at sea.

Without leisure, a society becomes dehumanized, impersonal, perfunctory or barbaric. Just as Winston in 1984 loses his capacity to think, feel, play and love because Big Brother and the Party organize their society as a regimen of total work and no play and regard persons as functionaries, so also the cyclopes in the Odyssey degenerate into crude barbarians because their way of life lacks every vestige of culture or civilization that comes from leisure: no worship of the gods, no customs of hospitality, no sense of beauty, and no conversations or life of the mind.

Both Winston Smith suffering the stark loneliness of daily life in 1984 and the cyclopes living in the darkness of solitary caves without a social or political life are depictions of existence as mere survival, the struggle “to stay alive.” The social virtues that foster civilization have no place either in 1984 or the caves of the cyclopes, where no one experiences a sense of belonging to a family or to a society. The art of living well cannot flourish in a culture that does not value the festive experiences that unify people and remind them of their common humanity.

Without the mirth, joy and rest of leisure, man does not drink from the cup of blessings or taste the sweetness of life that the goodness of creation offers from God’s divine Providence. If, as St. Thomas Aquinas commented, “No man can live without pleasure,” then this deprivation robs persons of a civilized life that accords with man’s dignity as a creature who has been created to rest on the Sabbath, to recreate on festive occasions and to provide for the body in order to enjoy the fruits of the spirit.

Like all of the seven deadly sins, acedia awaits its opportunity to seduce human beings. The noon-day demon prowls everywhere in a workaholic society that knows only work and idleness and preys upon the tired, the bored and the apathetic who lack the time, the energy and the spirit to look above, to lift their hearts, and to fall in love with life again and again in the revel of mirthful play.

This great truth that leisure teaches is both simple and profound: the goodness of creation provides inexhaustible sources of renewal, regeneration and rejuvenation that are as plentiful as the myriad of stars. Just as play always gladdens the child, just as love always renews the heart and just as laughter always refreshes the spirit, leisure always liberates man from enslavement to work and releases him from the bondage to servile activities like earning money in order to contemplate the true, the good, and the beautiful.

The great mystery of leisure, then — to use a phrase from Xenophon when he refers to agriculture — is that it is “a generous art.” It gives so much, and it costs so little; “it is all a purchase, all is a prize.” So much exists to gladden and uplift the hearts of so many people. Just as the cycle of day and night requires man to eat, drink and sleep to replenish himself, the rhythms of the weeks and seasons also demand the food and drink and rest of the spirit that leisure provides.

As Pieper writes,

“The surge of new life that flows to us when we give ourselves to the contemplation of a blossoming rose, a sleeping child, or of a divine mystery — is this not like the surge of life that comes from deep, dreamless sleep?”

A jaded, listless world debilitated by work, worry and debt and indoctrinated with the ideas of the noon-day demon (“Let both man and woman work,” “Let them think they need more things,” and “Let them have no time except to eat and sleep”) needs this “surge of new life” again and again to resist the wiles of the deadly sin of acedia.

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The Differences Between Sex and Love – Fulton J. Sheen, Ph.D., D.D.

August 28, 2013
Real love, on the contrary, admits the need, the thirst, the passion, the craving, but it also admits an abiding satisfaction by adhesion to a value which transcends time and space. Love unites itself to being and thus becomes perfect; sex unites itself to non-being and thus becomes irritation and anxiety

Real love, on the contrary, admits the need, the thirst, the passion, the craving, but it also admits an abiding satisfaction by adhesion to a value which transcends time and space. Love unites itself to being and thus becomes perfect; sex unites itself to non-being and thus becomes irritation and anxiety

It takes three to make Love in Heaven–
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It takes three for Heaven to make love to earth–
God, Man, and Mary, through whom God became Man.

It takes three to make love in the Holy Family–
Mary, and Joseph, and the consummation of their love, Jesus.

It takes three to make love in hearts–
The Lover, the Beloved, and Love.

To that Woman
Who taught the sublime mystery of Love,
Mary Immaculate,
This life is dedicated

That nations, hearts, and homes may learn
That love does not so much mean to give oneself to another
As for both lovers to give themselves to that Passionless Passion,
Which is God.

The following is the first chapter of Bishop Sheen’s Three To Get Married

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Love is primarily in the will, not in the emotions or the glands. The will is like the voice; the emotions are like the echo. The pleasure associated with love, or what is today called “sex,” is the frosting on the cake; its purpose is to make us love the cake, not ignore it.

The greatest illusion of lovers is to believe that the intensity of their sexual attraction is the guarantee of the perpetuity of their love. It is because of this failure to distinguish between the glandular and spiritual–or between sex which we have in common with animals, and love which we have in common with God–that marriages are so full of deception.

What some people love is not a person, but the experience of being in love. The first is irreplaceable; the second is not. As soon as the glands cease to react with their pristine force, couples who identified emotionalism and love claim they no longer love one another. If such is the case they never loved the other person in the first place; they only loved being loved, which is the highest form of egotism.

Marriage founded on sex passion alone lasts only as long as the animal passion lasts. Within two years the animal attraction for the other may die, and when it does, law comes to its rescue to justify the divorce with the meaningless words “incompatibility,” or “mental torture.” Animals never have recourse to law courts, because they have no will to love; but man, having reason, feels the need of justifying his irrational behavior when he does wrong.

There are two reasons for the primacy of sex over love in a decadent civilization. One is the decline of reason. As humans give up reason, they resort to their imaginations. That is why motion pictures and picture magazines enjoy such popularity. As thinking fades, unrestrained desires come to the fore.

Since physical and erotic desires are among the easiest to dwell upon, because they require no effort and because they are powerfully aided by bodily passions, sex begins to be all-important. It is by no historical accident that an age of anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, such as our own, is also an age of carnal license.

The second factor is egotism. As belief in a Divine Judgment, a future life, heaven and hell, a moral order, is increasingly rejected, the ego becomes more and more firmly enthroned as the source of its morality. Each person becomes a judge in his own case.

With this increase of selfishness, the demands for self-satisfaction become more and more imperious, and the interests of the community and the rights of others have less and less appeal. All sin is self-centeredness, as love is otherness and relatedness. Sin is the infidelity of man to the image of what he ought to be in his eternal vocation as an adopted son of God: the image God sees in Himself when He contemplates His Word.

There are two extremes to be avoided in discussing married love: one is the refusal to recognize sexual love, the other is the giving of primacy to sexual attraction. The first error was Victorian; the second is Freudian. To the Christian, sex is inseparable from the person, and to reduce the person to sex is as silly as to reduce personality to lungs or a thorax.

Certain Victorians in their education practically denied sex as a function of personality; certain sexophiles of modern times deny personality and make a god of sex. The male animal is attracted to the female animal, but a human personality is attracted to another human personality. The attraction of beast to beast is physiological; the attraction of human to human is physiological, psychological, and spiritual.

The human spirit has a thirst for the infinite which the quadruped has not. This infinite is really God. But man can pervert that thirst, which the animal cannot because it has no concept of the infinite. Infidelity in married life is basically the substitution for an infinite of a succession of finite carnal experiences. The false infinity of succession takes the place of the Infinity of Destiny, which is God.

The beast is promiscuous for an entirely different reason than man. The false pleasure given by new conquests in the realm of sex is the ersatz for the conquest of the Spirit in the Sacrament! The sense of emptiness, melancholy, and frustration is a consequence of the failure to find infinite satisfaction in what is carnal and limited. Despair is disappointed hedonism The most depressed spirits are those who seek God in a false god!

If love does not climb, it falls. If, like the flame, it does not burn upward to the sun, it burns downward to destroy. If sex does not mount to heaven, it descends into hell. There is no such thing as giving the body without giving the soul. Those who think they can be faithful in soul to one another, but unfaithful in body, forget that the two are inseparable. Sex in isolation from personality does not exist! An arm living and gesticulating apart from the living organism is an impossibility. Man has no organic functions isolated from his soul.

There is involvement of the whole personality. Nothing is more psychosomatic than the union of two in one flesh; nothing so much alters a mind, a will, for better or for worse. The separation of soul and body is death. Those who separate sex and spirit are rehearsing for death. The enjoyment of the other’s personality through one’s own personality, is love. The pleasure of animal function through another’s animal function is sex separated from love.

Sex is one of the means God has instituted for the enrichment of personality. It is a basic principle of philosophy that there is nothing in the mind which was not previously in the senses. All our knowledge comes from the body. We have a body, St. Thomas tells us, because of the weakness of our intellect. Just as the enrichment of the mind comes from the body and its senses, so the enrichment of love comes through the body and its sex. As one can see a universe mirrored in a tear on a cheek, so in sex can be seen mirrored that wider world of love. Love in monogamous marriage includes sex; but sex, in the contemporary use of the term, does not imply either marriage or monogamy.

Every woman instinctively realizes the difference between the two, but man comes to understand it more slowly through reason and prayer. Man is driven by pleasure; woman by the meaning of pleasure. She sees pleasure more as a means to an end, namely, the prolongation of love both in herself and in her child. Like Mary at the Annunciation, she accepts the love which is presented to her by another. In Mary, it came directly from God through an angel; in marriage, it comes indirectly from God through a man.

But in both instances, there is an acceptance, a surrender, a Fiat: “Let it be unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:28) The pagan woman who has not consciously thought of God is actually half woman and half dream; the woman who sees love as a reflection of the Trinity is half woman and half Spirit, and she waits upon the creative work of God within her body. Patience thus becomes bound up with her acceptance. Woman accepts the exigencies of love, as the farmer accepts the exigencies of nature, and waits, after the sowing of the seed, the harvest of autumn.

But when sex is divorced from love there is a feeling that one has been stopped at the vestibule of the castle of pleasure; that the heart has been denied the city after crossing the bridge. Sadness and melancholy result from such a frustration of destiny, for it is the nature of man to be sad when he is pulled outside himself, or exteriorized without getting any nearer his goal.

There is a closer correlation between mental instability and the animal view of sex than many suspect. Happiness consists in interiority of the spirit, namely, the development of personality in relationship to a heavenly destiny. He who has no purpose in life is unhappy; he who exteriorizes his life and is dominated, or subjugated, by what is outside himself, or spends his energy on the external without understanding its mystery, is unhappy to the point of melancholy.

There is the feeling of being hungry after having eaten, or of being disgusted with food, because it has nourished not the body, in the case of an individual, or another body, in the case of marriage. In the woman, this sadness is due to the humiliation of realizing that where marriage is only sex, her role could be fulfilled by any other woman; there is nothing personal, incommunicable, and therefore nothing dignified.

Summoned by her God-implanted nature to be ushered into the mysteries of life which have their source in God, she is condemned to remain on the threshold as a tool or an instrument of pleasure alone, and not as a companion of love. Two glasses that are empty cannot fill up one another. There must be a fountain of water outside the glasses, in order that they may have communion with one another. It takes three to make love.

Every person is what he loves. Love becomes like unto that which it loves. If it loves heaven, it becomes heavenly; if it loves the carnal as a god, it becomes corruptible. The kind of immortality we have depends on the kind of loves we have. Putting it negatively, he who tells you what he does not love, also tells what he is. “Amor pondus meum: Love is my gravitation,” said St. Augustine.

This slow conversion of a subject into an object, of a lover into the beloved, of the miser into his gold, of the saint into his God, discloses the importance of loving the right things. The nobler our loves, the nobler our character. To love what is below the human, is degradation; to love what is human for the sake of the human, is mediocrity; to love the human for the sake of the Divine, is enriching; to love the Divine for its own sake is sanctity.

Love is trinity; sex is duality. But there are many other differences between the two. Sex rationalizes; love does not. Sex has to justify itself with Kinsey Reports, “But Freud told us,” or “No one believes that today”; love needs no reasons. Sex asks science to defend it; love never asks “Why?” It says, “I love you.” Love is its own reason.

“God is love.” Satan asked a “Why?” of God’s love in the Garden of Paradise. Every rationalization is farfetched and never discloses the real reason. He who breaks the Divine Law and finds himself outside of Christ’s Mystical Body in a second marriage, will often justify himself by saying: “I could not accept the Doctrine of Transubstantiation.” What he means is that he can no longer accept the Sixth Commandment.

Milton wrote an abstract and apparently a philosophical treatise on “Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce,” in which he justified the divorce on the grounds of incompatibility. But the real reason was not what he set down in the book; it was to be found in the fact that he wished to marry someone else while his wife was living. What is important is not what people say, but why they say it.

Too many assume that the reason people do not come to God is because they are ignorant; it is more generally true that the reason people do not come to God is because of their behavior. Our Lord said: “Rejection lies in this, that when the light came into the world men preferred darkness to light; preferred it, because their doings were evil. Anyone who acts shamefully hates the light.” (John 3:19, 20) It is not always doubt that has to be overcome, but evil habits.

From another point of view, sex seeks the part; love the totality. Sex is biological and physiological and has its definite zones of satisfaction. Love, on the contrary, includes all of these but is directed to the totality of the person loved, i.e., as a creature composed of body and soul and made to the image and likeness of God. Love seeks the clock and its purpose; sex concentrates on the mainspring and forgets its mission to keep time. Sex eliminates from the person who is loved everything that cannot adapt itself to its carnal libido.

Those who give primacy to sex for that reason are anti-religious. Love, however, does not concentrate on a function, but on personality. An organ does not include the personality, but the personality includes the organ, which is another way of repeating the theme: love includes sex, but sex does not include love.

Love concentrates on the object; sex concentrates on the subject. Love is directed to someone else for the sake of the other’s perfection; sex is directed to self for the sake of se]f-satisfaction. Sex flatters the object not because it is praiseworthy in itself, but rather as a solicitation. It knows how to make friends and influence people. Most sound minds resent flattery because they see the egotism behind the screen of altruism.

 

The ego in sex pleads that it loves the alter ego, but what it loves is really the possibility of its own pleasure in the other ego. The other person is necessary for the return of the egotist upon himself. The egotist finds himself constantly being encircled by non-being, purposelessness, meaninglessness; he has the feeling of being exploited. Refusing to be related to anything else, he soon sees that nothing is for him: The whole world is against him!

But love, which stresses the object, finds itself in constantly enlarging relationships. Love is so strong it surpasses narrowness by devotedness and forgetfulness of self. In history, the only causes that die are those for which men refuse to die. The more love grows, the more its eyes open to the needs of others, to the miseries of men, and to compassion. The remedy for all the sufferings of the modern brain lies in the enlargement of the heart through love, which forgets itself as the subject and begins to love the neighbor as the object. But he who lives for himself will eventually find that nature, fellowman, and God are all against him. The so-called “persecution complex” is the result of egotism. The world seems against him who wants everything for himself.

Sex is moved by the desire to fill a moment between having and not having. It is an experience like looking at a sunset, or twirling one’s thumbs to pass the time. It rests after one experience, because glutted for the moment, and then waits for the reappearance of a new craving or passion to be satisfied on a totally different object. Love frowns upon this notion, for it sees in this nothing but the killing of the objects loved for the sake of self-satisfaction. Sex would give birds flight, but no nests; hearts emotions but no homes; throw the whole world into the experience of voyagers at sea, but with no ports.

Instead of pursuing an Infinite which is fixed, it substitutes the false infinity of never finding satisfaction. The infinite then becomes not the possession of love but the fruitless search for love, which is the basis of so many psychoses and neuroses. The infinite then becomes restlessness, a merry-go-round of the heart which spins only to spin again.

Real love, on the contrary, admits the need, the thirst, the passion, the craving, but it also admits an abiding satisfaction by adhesion to a value which transcends time and space. Love unites itself to being and thus becomes perfect; sex unites itself to non-being and thus becomes irritation and anxiety. In love, poverty becomes integrated into riches; need into fulfillment; yearning into joy; chase into capture. But sex is without the joy of offering. The wolf offers nothing when he kills the lamb. The joy of oblation is missing, for the egotist by his very nature seeks inflation. Love gives to receive. Sex receives so as not to give. Love is soul contact with another for the sake of perfection; sex is body contact with another for the sake of sublimation.

A body can exhaust itself, but it cannot nourish itself. If man needed only nourishment, he could devour love as he devours food. But having a Spirit which needs the Divine Love as a unitive force, he can never be satisfied by devouring the love of another person. A potato has a nature; a man is a person. The former can be destroyed as a means to an end; the human may not. Sex would turn man into a vegetable and reduce a person to an animal. Sex makes hungry where most it satisfies, for the person needs the person, and a person is a person only when seen in an image of God.

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