Sunday, April 28, 2013

The End of Freedom

We have to recognize that metaphysics has been reduced to nothingness. Not only is the existence of God rejected, man himself, what is as a person at the core of his being, is no longer considered.
Marie-Dominique Philippe, Retracing Reality: A Philosophical Inquiry

Reflection – A couple days ago, when I wrote my post about my new book The I-Choice, I used language injudiciously, and caused an unfortunate misunderstanding with at least some of my readers. I would like to clarify this matter now.

Most of the problem was that I was writing in a hurry (as is usually the case in my busy life), and one particular sentence came out ambiguously, open to two interpretations (darn those pesky pronouns and their unclear antecedents!). I had been talking about the fact that, as far as I know, the book I’ve written is unique in the field, that Catholic books on the subject have been mostly cheer-leading or how-to manuals about social media, and that the non-Catholic books I have read are deficient in that they raise concerns about the negative impact of technology, but have no positive vision of what it means to be human.

Now I was referring to specific books by specific authors, but the sentence as I originally wrote it (I have since edited the post for clarity) could be read as my saying that all non-Catholics have no idea of what it means to be human. Which of course would be an extraordinarily silly thing to say, and so of course (!) I did not say that, nor do I think it, nor is it true.

But I certainly could have been read, reasonably, to have said that, and I apologize for the misunderstanding to any readers who were offended. Only two expressed offense, but where there are two who say something, there’s another twenty who don’t, generally.

Anyhow, though, it does bring up a deeper issue. Why is it that so many modern secular authors (the ones I have in mind, the ones I referred to in the previous post come from the fields of journalism, psychology, computer programming, sociology, law) in fact do indeed lack any positive concept of what a human being is, what a human being should be.

In fact, it is an intrinsic element of post-modernity to reject a priori any notion of a ‘human nature’, any sense that there is something human beings are which conditions what human beings are to become, and hence what human beings should or should not do.

For Sartre, any notion of human nature spells the end of human freedom. If we are some positive, definite ‘thing’, then we are not free. And this is largely the sense of post-modernity. The only thing that defines a human being is that there is no definition of a human being, and so human beings can do just about anything they want to do.

This all seems very free and liberating and expansive, but is it, really? Sartre ended up endorsing Stalinist Marxism. For him, the liberating boundlessness of human freedom was too much for the mass of men; existential vertigo or agoraphobia is the result of a boundless freedom. For Nietzsche, only the strong, the ubermensch could endure freedom, and to them belongs the world. The untermensch who are the mass of humanity are not worthy of freedom and are not to be given it.

If there is no human nature, how can there be inalienable human rights? If we are not ‘something’ how can something definite and unchanging be accorded to us? If there is no human nature, what difference does it make if some human beings choose to slaughter other human beings? What difference does it make if human beings who are particularly powerless are used as spare body parts or experimental tissue, or are exploited sexually or in any other way a strong human being can exploit a weak one? If there is nothing particular about human beings that endures through the strong and the weak, the good and the bad, that is simply human no matter what, then what difference does it make who does what to who?

Social order may dictate a certain orderliness in our affairs, but that’s not the same as saying it’s simply wrong to—oh I don’t know—kill and cut up human embryos for research purposes, or do any number of grisly and seamy things to one another that I better not mention on this blog lest it not get through your spam filters.

A fixed and definite human nature, the clear idea that it does mean something to be human, is the only safeguard of human freedom and human rights. Freedom has to have an end, not the 'end' that post-modernity deals it, where freedom self-destructs in meaningless and anarchy, but the end of our moral tradition, in which our human freedom moves towards a transcendent goal. Post-modernity, informed by Sartre and Nietzsche et al, is entirely wrong on this point; the Catholic moral tradition is entirely right.

1 comment:

  1. One also reads these days the human body is under the guidance of the inhabiting mind and is free to choose its functional characteristics. The Biblical distinction of male and female does not exist and the individual is free to choose what to include in their life style even to altering the biological structure. Apparently there is no core humanity but a life style cafeteria.


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