Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Explaining the Modern World

We moderns think that our modern world is different. We all agree on that. But we disagree on just about everything else. So we all write narratives to explain why our world is different and what this difference means.

The three most authoritative narratives are probably the Enlightenment narrative, the Romantic narrative, and the Marxian narrative.

The Englightenment narrative is the one that says we are moving from the dark night of superstition to a new world of reason and science. That human society is progressing from ignorant ways of social organization based on tradition and divination towards a rational society based on science and rational discussion. This society will be led by a rational, educated elite that runs the government and sets the parameters of social development from above.

The Romantic narrative is a reaction against the Enlightenment narrative. It looks upon the world as more of an unfathomable mystery, working in a mysterious way. It honors the hidden paths of nature and it looks to sensitive, creative people to intuit the essence of the world and to replace the artificial and the superficial with an authentic humanity that is in tune with the life principle. This society will be led by a sensitive, creative elite that can develop in themselves an authentic response to the experience of being thrown into the world.

The Marxian or revolutionary narrative says that we are in a new phase of the age old conflict between the powerful and the people. In the old days, the contest was between the aristocrats and the peasants. Now, with the rise of the middle class, the contest is between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Just as the peasants were inevitably ground into dust in the agricultural age, so the proletarians are being inevitably immiserated into poverty by the triumph of the bourgeoisie and capitalism. But this will lead to revolution and the salvation of humanity in a world of sharing and caring. This society will be led by a revolutionary elite that knows the meaning of history and represents the will of the oppressed.

Shouldered aside by these bold visions has been another narrative. It is the narrative of democratic capitalism. In this narrative we have recently made the transformation from an agricultural age, based on the power of warrior landowners, to an industrial age, based on the power of the market, producers and consumers, to negotiate their needs through productive enterprises, finance, and law. This society is a self-discovery process, as people great and small engage with the market to discover and fulfill other peoples' needs and thereby to satisfy their own needs. They form social structures as they go, augmenting the foundational group of the family with voluntary associational groups that operate by cooperation and competition rather than by the brute force of government power or religious inspiration.

The purpose of the new conservative movement of the last 50 years is to discredit the three narratives that have so dominated the last two hundred years and establish a new order in which reason, creativity, and conflict will be moderated by a Greater Separation of Powers that limits the power of reason, of creativity, and of conflict to reach strategic concentration and totalitarian power.

And that will be something.

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