Saturday, September 01, 2007

Alexander Solzhenitsyn ~ The Decline of the West

Humanism and Its Consequences
Daniel Mitsui @ The Lion & the Cardinal:
"How did the West decline from its triumphal march to its present sickness? Have there been fatal turns and losses of direction in its development? It does not seem so. The West kept advancing socially in accordance with its proclaimed intentions, with the help of brilliant technological progress. And all of a sudden it found itself in its present state of weakness.

"This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very basis of human thinking in the past centuries. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was first born during the Renaissance and found its political expression from the period of the Enlightenment. It became the basis for government and social science and could be defined as rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of everything that exists...

"We turned our backs upon the Spirit and embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal. This new way of thinking, which had imposed on us its guidance, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man nor did it see any higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth. It based modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend to worship man and his material needs. Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense. That provided access for evil, of which in our days there is a free and constant flow. Merely freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones.

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1 comment:

Aramis said...

Great post Athos. I like what Solzhenitsyn says: "We turned our backs upon the Spirit and embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal."

And then seeing why we are driven to turning our backs upon the Spirit, Raymund Schwager comments (under Freedom and Preset Nature from Chapter 4 of 'Banished from Eden'): "Within western history the struggle between Caesar and pope in part brought the preset order into question. The long-standing crisis between Church and political authority made the Reformation possible, which caused a deep rift in western society. This opened new ways in which the natural sciences and Enlightenment thinking could originate and gradually develop. The theoretical separation between body and soul (Descartes), and somewhat later between nature and freedom, untied thought on freedom from the bonds of nature for the first time, and at the same time turned nature into an object that could be manipulated at will. This development initially had consequences primarily in the social realm. In place of trust in the political authorities established by God, the idea of self-determination by the peoples (democracy) appeared, and in the toil of work one saw no longer a punishment decreed by God for original sin (see Genesis 3:17-19), but the possibility for the self-realization of one’s own life and for the improvement of mankind’s future (Marx). Progress in science and technology finally led to the gradual substitution of machines for many forms of human labor and to new forms of worldwide communication. In this way expanded windows of opportunity and previously unknown possibilities of creative action were developed.

"However, the devices humans produced (machines) exerted feedback effects on them in complex ways. People imitated these as new models in their thinking and began to conceive of the human body according to the model of machines. So humans were no longer simply conducting research but they became the object of investigation and manipulation. The effects of research on humans appear most clearly in the increasing possibilities for changing one’s nature through genetic manipulation. There is now a direct connection between theoretical insights into evolution and the practical possibility of altering one’s genetic inheritance."

Schwager broadens Solzhenitsyn's perspective of the decline of the West by looking at all of humanity as creature of God and he writes of the force more powerful, and that precedes reflective knowledge - mimesis, as it absorbs the influence of models in 'quasi-osmotic immediacy' (under Propagation and Imitation).