Sunday, 27 November 2016

First Sunday of Advent

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham

And my favourite Advent hymn (from Lincoln Cathedral choir):

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Manent Mercredi (4): Europeans are lost

This interview of Pierre Manent, former director of studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, was conducted by the newspaper Il Foglio in the wake of the ISIS murder of Fr. Jacques Hamel. (English version from First Things.)

The French are exhausted, but they are first of all perplexed, lost. Things were not supposed to happen this way. … We had supposedly entered into the final stage of democracy where human rights would reign, ever more rights ever more rigorously observed. We had left behind the age of nations as well as that of religions, and we would henceforth be free individuals moving frictionless over the surface of the planet. … And now we see that religious affiliations and other collective attachments not only survive but return with a particular intensity. Everyone can see and feel this, but how can it be expressed when the only authorized language is that of individual rights? We have become supremely incapable of seeing what is right before our eyes. Meanwhile the ruling class, which is not a political but an ideological class, one that commands not what must be done but what must be said, goes on indefinitely about “values,” the “values of the republic,” the “values of democracy,” the “values of Europe.” This class has been largely discredited in the eyes of citizens, but it occupies all the positions of institutional responsibility, especially in the media, and nowhere does one find groups or individuals who give the impression of understanding what is happening or of being able to stand up to it. We have no more confidence in those who lead us than in ourselves. It is neither an excuse nor a consolation to say it, but the faults of the French are those of Europeans in general.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Manent Mercredi (3): oppositional thinking

From Le Regard Politique, my translation. (The English version of the work is Seeing Things Politically.)

Fundamentally, what annoys me in the work of some  contemporaries that I have touched on, such as Louis Dumont, but even in such as a writer like Heidegger, is that their thought is dominated by a polarising and in the end polemical approach. A sort of battle of the giants is revealed to us between the new and the old, but the new and the old are each still thought of in terms of the other: the modern is defined by being the negation of the ancient, which is itself defined by being the anticipated negation, so to speak, of the modern.


The evolution [of my thought] of which I am speaking consisted in freeing myself as much as possible from the polemical posture which is shared by the two great parties of the Modern and the anti-modern. And which is even, in the final analysis, shared by those who look for impartiality in a 'neutral' polarity, 'without conqueror or conquered', between 'holism' and 'individualism', whose attempts I've followed with sympathy: they may modify the tone, but not the basis of the debate for it is still a principle of opposition, a polarity of contraries, which organises their thought. Opposition and hostility are not only some of the most powerful forces in human life; they often penetrate the most intimate depths of thought. It seems to me that, in the more recent period of my work, by reducing, if I can put it like this, the element of hostility which was included in my thought, I have arrived at an expanded understanding of the questions which have occupied me from the beginning.



It's easy to apply this to the current public world. The tone of mutual hostility which exists between (say) pro and anti-Trump partisans is clear. But Manent I take it is going beyond this. (The following should be read more as speculation rather than an interpretation of Manent.) An analysis, say, such as feminism which rests essentially on an opposition between male and female interests, and between the patriarchal past and the progressive future, covers up real life complexities and other possible political approaches and resolutions.  And the solution here is less about opposing feminism (because that simply reproduces the oppositional thought) but disregarding it entirely. Ideological thinking such as feminism traps even its opponents into being opponents.

In politics, Manent's main focus, I think leads to an obvious way forward. One constantly wrestles to free oneself from the black and white thinking associated with identification with or opposition to a particular ideology, and instead tries to reduce (note the hint that full success is impossible) the influence such ideological approaches have on you in favour of a prudential attention to reality and human nature.

[The focus on feminism isn't something I found in Manent. But it occurred to me while writing this that opposition to binary, oppositional thinking is something that feminism regularly pays at least lip service to. The irony of this of course is that it's hard to think of many other ideologies which currently produce so much oppositional thought and action both within its own ranks and as a reaction.]

Daniel J. Mahoney's essay on Manent is interesting:

This focus on practical philosophy—on deliberation and action—has become increasingly central to Manent’s work. He rejects a social science rooted in the fact-value distinction as estranged from the deliberations and choices that confront acting man. Contemporary discourses about “values” are remarkably vacuous, he maintains, since they ignore the structure of human action and render human choice arbitrary or groundless—in Max Weber’s famous formulation, men choose their gods, who may turn out to be demons. Behind soft democratic relativism, with its endless evocation of arbitrary “values,” lies an inexpiable “war of the gods,” a neo-Nietzschean metaphysic that destroys the moral integrity of liberal democracy. Manent’s thought points in a more truthful and salutary direction.