03 January 2017

The hour is later than you think – the urgency of a creative late-antique ressourcement

Two articles for your consideration, gentle readers:

First, in the Economist, a somewhat pearl-clutching take on how the nouvelle nouvelle-droite are looking toward the Middle Ages for inspiration, with intimations that online communities are learning the ‘wrong’ things from mediæval European studies. Secondly, a response to that article from Rod Dreher at The American Conservative, taking this article to task for assuming only one reason for a renewed interest in mediævalism, and referring instead to Nikolai Berdyaev’s call for a new Middle Ages. And – let us be clear – a rightist, Berdyaev is not. Much less is he a sympathiser with the techno-fetishistic nationalism which forms the basis of the modern ‘alt-right’!

After all, there are certain aspects of the mediæval world that the nouvelle nouvelle-droite miss in their entirety. Though they are correct to reject ‘globalism’, they retreat to a nationalism that the mediæval mind would find quite foreign. The nationalist mythos was unknown to a Christendom in which the village you lived in and the lord you served mattered far more than your bloodline or your idiolect. Black people – excuse me, ‘Moors’ – were viewed with curiosity rather than with hostility. They were an exotic novelty rather than a threat, and still less an ‘inferior’ underclass to be exploited. The latter came only with the Renaissance and the Atlantic slave trade. And, to its great credit, the Latin Church resisted that on traditional grounds.

Likewise, rejecting brute œconomism is all well and good. But there is nothing less mediæval than to take refuge in the vulture capitalism and the cult of the ‘winner’ which Trump and his cohort represent. Mediæval monarchs and lords knew that they had responsibilities to those who were less powerful than they were, and the Church (both West and East) made sure that they were aware of those responsibilities even when they didn't practise them consistently. And for all the flaws of ‘progressivism’, the embrace of massive corporate projects that defile the environment and places of sacred and historical import is not properly mediæval either. Mediaeval man may have considered himself the apex of the created order, but he was well aware of his limitations within and against nature. Furthermore, he had both a tragic and ironic sensibility regarding man’s fate in a universe which was not designed solely to accommodate him, but rather God.

Needless to say, these are important elements of mediævalism which I believe to be worth keeping – or, if they have been lost, creatively reintroducing. I have no doubt they would be unpalatable to the Whiggish editorial staff of the Economist. So much the better! But likewise, I have little doubt they would be considered still too ‘left’ for the spoilt palates of the nouvelle nouvelle-droite.

In light of the past series of articles I have done, attempting just such a mediæval and neo-Platonic, ‘realist’ ressourcement on the ‘pelvic issues’ (one meant to run agonal to both the unfeeling clinicalism of modern neoliberal ‘sex education’, as well as to the blood-and-soil racial-demographic concerns – what Berdyaev would doubtless call the ‘bestiality’ – of the nouvelle nouvelle-droite), these two pieces together demonstrate precisely why such a ressourcement is needed and desirable. It’s safe to say, I think, that Mr Dreher and I agree on the need for a less-suffocating public and intellectual atmosphere, one in which ideas other than those of neoliberal faux-progressivism are allowed and considered. We both definitely agree on the value of recovering a Benedictine ethic. We probably have differing views on the methods needed to achieve it, and what the economic and social ramifications of such a recovery would be. But he is right on the money, when it comes to understanding the appeal a more ‘enchanted’ time has on the isolated modern soul.

The sooner this appeal is addressed by those professing themselves to be ‘humanists’, the better. After all, the ‘humanism’ that emerged in the Renaissance was itself rooted in a much earlier and more venerable tradition, going back to Late Antiquity. That tradition (fittingly, given that we celebrated the feast of Saint Basil the Great this week!) includes the Cappadocian Fathers, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Benedict of Nursia, Saint Maximos the Confessor, Saint John of Damascus and many other spiritual luminaries of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. It is not to be forgotten that these luminaries belonged to, and upheld, a rich and ‘dense’ social order which showed, on balance, a far greater concern for the powerless and vulnerable than ours does today.

I have been advocating this for a long time now; but it is high time we began learning the hard lessons of that tradition. The hour is later than we think.