Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dogma, Ideology, Criticism, and Philosophy, Part 2

...continued more or less directly from last time...

Ideology as Dogma

Gene Callahan has been producing some excellent and insightful pieces on the nature of ideology.  These focus on two questions -- first, where do they come from, and second, what are they really?

In response to one commenter, he describes the production of an ideology as a stripping down of a philosophical ideal and body of truth to produce a set of rote rules to be dogmatically followed, irrespective of the actual results they produce.  It is easy to see this kind of thing in action, and while he uses libertarianism as his ideological example, I'll stick with something a little more obvious:  communism.

No doubt, most readers will disagree with the ideals of communism, however, from the point of view of the communist himself (at least, if he is an honest communist), he is pursuing something he considers to be an ideal.  However, as the 20th century will attest, every attempt to implement this ideal was an abject failure, but often no matter how bad the failure became, and no matter how horrific the consequences, communist ideologues continued pushing their systems to greater extremes, attempting to overcome reality.

But in truth, it wasn't really the ideal which failed, because the ideal never had a true existence indepenedent of the efforts of the ideologue.  What did exist were systems of rules -- legal manifestations of ideologies -- instituted while people persisted in behaving in manners contrary to the ideal, to a significant enough extent that every experiment failed rather spectacularly.  No doubt, if people's natures had really conformed to the ideal and shared it to a sufficient extent, strange as the notion may seem, they probably would have succeeded, at least for a while.  But where is one to find such people? 

Ideologies can also be a sort of deformed offspring of a well and fully developed philosophical worldview arising by a different means.  Gene describes how a worldview can come under an external pressure and 'crack,' fragmenting into pieces. This is how Voegelin described the proliferation of Christian sects under the pressure of the human desire to immanentize God and discover form in history in the late Middle Ages.  An ideology is a practical attempt to cling to the ideals of the old whole which could not hold together under the strain.  It is a broken and incomplete expression of the full original, simplified and hardened to survive in a caustic reality.

Ideologies survive not because they are better, but by hardening people into committed ideologues.  They function better than the nothingness that would prevail in the truth-vacuum created by the dying, coherent worldview, but they themselves can never be, nor do they even attempt to represent, a real set of philosophical truths.  To comprehend reality is not their purpose -- they are a superficial attempt to deal with reality, not to understand it.  As such, they 'work' better than nothing at all, but they are inherently mildly to severely dysfunctional, as any people that attempts to live too strictly by them for long enough will eventually find out.   

What Chesterton and his company of philosophers have done -- as it seems to me, anyway -- is to have seen in the dogma of the modern ideologies the reflection of the ancient body of truth from which they disintegrated.  They looked at the dogma of the day, and made the 'critical transition' on a grand scale.  They began to criticize the dogma, and to interpret it, until they had built back up in their minds for themselves the thing from which it had come, at least to the degree possible to each of them. 

It is this which such philosophers are looking towards and trying to convey their vision to others.  This is the reason they appear to be all over the map with respect to ideology, yet manage to argue in manners strangely consistent with themselves.  They are not arguing from a set of 'logically consistent' ideological positions.  They are criticizing what they see from the light of a divine vision.  They have a complete and whole thing in view, the thing from which the others were derived, which is why what they have to say often has a great deal in common with every ideology, but must also conflict with every one of them, wherever it falls on the political spectrum. 

For Chesterton and Belloc, this image seems to conform most to the social organization of the late Middle Ages, but if you read enough of them, you will begin to detect strains of the modern -- mostly tempered versions of those strains of thought which rebelled against the medieval, especially the notion of 'equality.'  Chesterton even sympathizes with the French Revolution, of all things!  To them, the situation may not have been perfect, to be sure, but whatever its failings, at least the notions of order articulated by the medieval worldview were a good-faith attempt to be the right kind of thing. 

Modern attempts are not.  No fixed set of rules informed by an ideology -- as our modern governments are organized -- can ever hope to preside over beings possessing a free will and therefore governed by a non-fixed nature, at least in a way that pretends to a philosophically sound notion of justice.  Logic and systems of abstract derivations can never govern alone, because life is not a logic problem, nor is reality the product of an argument, but an actual and messy experience. 

On the other hand, a system informed by a body of eternal truths, governing beings committed to living their lives in light of it, might just stand half a chance.  Libertarianism, while still an ideology, in its own way acknowledges the failures inherent in 'rules,' and, where it has been limited to the politics of civil government, generally acknowledges the necessity of external sources of values and means of social order and organization.  Where it has attempted to fill the entire void and become a full-blown body of philosophical truth, (or, rather, where people like Ayn Rand have attempted to make it serve in such a capacity) it has performed poorly.

But in as much as it reflects a skepticism towards the role of rule-mongering in resolving the problems of governance, it does have the germ of 'political criticism' in it.  It just does not have the full flower.  It is the skeptical, chaotic, in-between separating the established left-right ideologies from the as-yet-unnamed group containing the philosophers, just as the skeptical, chaotic liberal 'adolescence' separated the 'youthful' authoritarianism from 'conservative' adulthood.

So, to recap, as it seems to me  at this point --

The medieval order, informed by the orthodox Christian worldview and the preceeding centuries of Western philosophical tradition, 'cracked' during the late Middle Ages, which eventuated in the Reformation.  Adherents tried to 'save' the situation by successive efforts of codifying into law systems which had largely been governed by tradition.  In so doing, they were inadvertently converting their governance to an ideological basis rather than being based on a body of tradition informed by received truth, occasionally and judiciously reinterpreted as necessary.

Eventually, the effort failed, and groups committed to varying ideologies successively overthrew cobbled-together legal orders as they rebelled against dominant rival ideologies.  Initially, these groups were decidedly Christian and oriented towards asserting liberties against legal restrictions imposed by their rivals.  However, both positions had become decidedly ideologically based and detached from the original body of truth which had sprung them.  Over time, both the liberty and the Christianity dropped by the wayside, as tradition died, practical necessity and ambition asserted themselves over questions of philosophy, and memory of the ancient body of truth and the ability to relate to it in the old ways slowly faded away.

The turn of the 20th century marked a critical escalation point in this process, especially as the normalization of the 'industrial lifestyle' resulted in a practical elimination of the study of the ancient truths in favor of modern science and an absorption in high material productivity and titillating distractions.  Very few people anymore bother with 'the classics,' medieval theology, or other such subjects, which are largely considered quaintly anachronistic and useless.  The history of 20th century violence and social decay reflects this disregard for the lessons of the past.

Belloc and Chesterton saw this, as have other thinkers and observers in slightly diferrent ways.  They thought the trajectory of things had gone off in an undesirable and dangerous direction, even before the turn of the century, while others were trumpeting the inevitability of progress and material greatness.  They saw that the solution, if it were anywhere, lay far in the past and in putting aside much modern claptrap.  They thought it was important to grasp the old truths again and resurrect the old ways, if in new forms, and they saw that the measure of things was not to be found in mere logical coherency, or in economic statistics, but in the degree to which a man's life is allowed to conform to the ideal for which he was created.

I'm beginning to think so, too.

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