Desiderius Erasmus, Renaissance Humanist
Editor’s Note: This will be another long day on this website.
March 2018 was a big turning point for this website.
There were two events that happened that month which set me on my present course. The first was the debacle of Richard Spencer’s speaking tour and how it unfolded at Michigan State. The second was the collapse of the Traditionalist Worker Party in a sordid sex scandal.
I said at the time that I was finished with Alt-Right 1.0. I also said that I wanted to start working on writing a book about morality. As I began to become absorbed in my research, there was a long stretch of time when this blog was being barely updated. It lasted roughly from March 2018 to June 2018. I was really at a loss as to how to translate what I was reading and thinking about, most of which was from other centuries, into easily digestible blog posts for this audience.
March 2018 was a real slap across the face for what we call “the movement.” It caused me to do a lot of self reflection about my beliefs, this insane world in which we live and where we and it are going. I hated to see two men who are family become so damaged from the fallout from adultery. I hated the reaction to the Michigan State event. It really set my mind to whirling about what I believe and why I believe it. I felt like I wanted to “go back to the drawing board” and rethink everything.
WHAT DO I ALREADY BELIEVE ABOUT MORALITY?
This was the first question that I asked myself and focused my mind. It was from that point that I decided to explore the where and why and how of how I had acquired my own personal moral beliefs. The answer was in my library and in the archives of this website. I had acquired my moral beliefs from both my traditional culture and from reading lots of books over the course of 18 years. As an INTP Scorpio, I am a very well educated person who likes to think about problems.
As the humanists of the Renaissance would say, sometimes you have to go back to the sources to figure things out. Martin Luther would have agreed. There was a huge crossover from Renaissance humanism to Protestantism during the Reformation because so many people at that time were already thinking about how their Christian faith had evolved across the course of the Middle Ages. John Calvin in France was one such humanist who made that transition. He had studied and lectured on Seneca.
What is the best book that has been written about the state of morality in contemporary Western culture? As I began this project, I had no doubt that it was Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue. I had bought and read this book many years ago. It has also long been my favorite book on the subject. I decided to reread this book and posted a review of it on this blog last April:
This is how it begins:
“Imagine that the natural sciences were to suffer the effects of a catastrophe. A series of environmental disasters are blamed by the general public on the scientists. Widespread riots occur, laboratories are burnt down, physicists are lynched, books and instruments are destroyed. Finally a Know-Nothing political movement takes power and successfully abolishes science teaching in schools and universities, imprisoning and executing the remaining scientists. Later still there is a reaction against this destructive movement and enlightened people seek to revive science, although they have largely forgotten what it was. But all that they possess are fragments: a knowledge of experiments detached from any knowledge of the theoretical context which gave them significance; parts of theories unrelated either to the other bits and pieces of theory which they possess or to experiment; instruments whose use has been forgotten; half-chapters from books, single pages from articles, not always fully legible because torn and charred. Nonetheless all these fragments are reembodied in a set of practices which go under the revived names of physics, chemistry and biology. Adults argue with each other about the respective merits of relativity theory, evolutionary theory and phlogiston theory, although they possess only a very partial knowledge of each. Children learn by heart the surviving portions of the periodic table and recite as incantations some of the theorems of Euclid. Nobody, or almost nobody, realizes that what they are doing is not natural science in any proper sense at all. For everything that they do and say conforms to certain canons of consistency and coherence and those contexts which would be needed to make sense of what they are doing have been lost, perhaps irretrievably. …
What is the point of constructing this imaginary world inhabited by fictitious pseudo-scientists and real, genuine philosophy? The hypothesis which I wish to advance is that in the actual world which we inhabit the language of morality is in the same state of grave disorder as the language of natural science in the imaginary world which I described. What we possess, if this view is true, are the fragments of a conceptual scheme, parts which now lack those contexts from which their significance derived. We possess indeed simulacra of morality, we continue to use many of the key expressions. But we have — very largely, if not entirely — lost our comprehension, both theoretical and practical, of morality. …”
Here’s a crude summary of MacIntyre’s position on ethics:
1.) “Morality” has gradually fallen into a state of grave disorder and has largely disappeared from our lives since the modern age. This is largely due to the misguided attempt since the Scientific Revolution to create a “scientific” basis for morality analogous to Newtonian physics.
2.) This attempt to create a “scientific” foundation for morality has inexorably led to stripping the world of moral purpose (telos), nihilism and the collapse of the Christian faith.
3.) Aristotle was right that morality is a practical science. The virtues and vices are the moral qualities that compose your character. The practical end of morality is human happiness. When we practice and exercise the classical virtues, we become better people.
4.) Christianity didn’t so much reject Aristotle as it reconciled him with Augustine and created a new moral synthesis. This was St. Thomas Aquinas’s great accomplishment. Medieval Christianity built upon the insights of Antiquity to add the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity as well as the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. Sadly, humility which is the opposite of pride seems to have largely disappeared from our culture.
5.) Medieval institutions like the hospital and university were places where these virtues were cultivated. The hospital, for example, was the institutionalization of charity. We originally built hospitals to care for the poor and the sick. We practice our faith in church to become better Christians.
Needless to say, I already believed this. I have believed it for years which is why I am so utterly dismissive of the moral idiots who condemn people like me. In my view, they are confusing politics with morality. A good person is an honest person, a courageous person, a person of great moral integrity, a temperate person, and so forth. In other words, morality is something that ANYONE can practice. It is not the exclusive province of the self-righteous, holier-than-thou, witch hunting bigots and fanatics known as the SJWs. These people are extremely deluded about morality.
I can look at someone like Rep. Ilhan Omar and think to myself, you know, it was courageous of her to break the great taboo on criticizing the Israel Lobby. I think she is being honest about the power and influence of wealthy Jewish donors over our politics and that is refreshing. At the same time, she has a number of crazy political positions which I don’t agree with at all.
Alasdair MacIntyre has another great book which I highly recommend: Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopedia, Geneology and Tradition.
I’ve owned it for years. It was one of the first books that I reread it last April. I remember how much it influenced me back after I graduated from college.
If I can briefly summarize, MacIntyre’s project in this book is his attempt to explicate, reconcile and synthesize the Thomist tradition (Aristotelian-Augustinianism) with the Enlightenment and Nietzschean moral paradigms. He kind of seems himself as a modern day Aquinas.
There is a lot of food for thought in this book as well. Many years ago, I used to be something of a fedora tipping Nietzschean atheist while in college. I was very similar to Richard Spencer in that respect, but MacIntyre really helped me think through the problem of nihilism.
Aristotle towers above Woke Twitter as one of the great well-springs of the Western Christian moral tradition. He is truly one of the greatest of the dead White males.
He was such a brilliant pagan mind that the Church had little choice but to come to terms with him as the Aristotelian corpus was gradually recovered in the High Middle Ages. As I have explained above, St. Thomas Aquinas made the greatest effort to reconcile Christianity with Aristotelianism. Aquinas is another one of the greatest of the dead White males scorned by our oh so highly moral political establishment!
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
After reading Alasdair MacIntyre, I went back and started reading Aristotle last March and April. I also started reading St. Augustine, but we will get to him later.
Here are some key takeaways from his Nicomachean Ethics:
1.) Ethics is a practical science.
2.) Humans are goal-oriented beings who need a sense of direction or purpose in their lives.
3.) The highest good is human happiness or flourishing.
4.) The moral virtues are qualities that you acquire through practice which build your character and make you into a better, happier person in life.
5.) Humans are social beings, not radical individualists.
6.) Human society should be constructed in such a way as to maximize human flourishing. At least in the Greek-speaking lands … he moves on from Ethics to Politics in which he explains why this won’t work when you are dealing with irrational barbarians.
7.) Finally, there is nothing about political correctness in this book, which is a diabolical ideology invented over 2,000 years later that has only led to social division and strife.
I own no less than five different versions of this book. I read it many years ago while in college. I’ve returned to it from time to time over the years.
As I read through Aristotle’s Ethics, I realized that ANYONE (who is at least rational) could be a practicing Aristotelian. After all, Aristotle is simply telling you to acquire these moral qualities, practice them and to build your character. The classical virtues are like a sort of ARMOR for your mind that steers you away from vicious behavior (i.e., the vices).
So, after rereading the Nichomachean Ethics, I was persuaded that it was valuable. I started to practice the classical virtues in my own life. I will give you just one example: cultivating the virtue of temperance in my diet and physical activity level.
Unfortunately, I had gained back a lot of weight when Blompf was running for president in 2015 and 2016. After the fallout from Michigan State, I started reading Aristotle and concluded that I would try to implement the virtue of temperance in my own life. I took what I already knew about dieting and nutrition and shed all the weight that I had gained back through a combination of low-carb dieting, intermittent fasting and weight lifting. I also noticed that one of the great advantages of fasting is that an important side effect is that it really helps with mental clarity.
A temperate person is a moderate person. I began to practice the virtue of temperance in other areas of my life. For one, I stopped writing as harshly, and I also have made an effort to take a softer tone in my personal life when dealing with family members. Overall, I noticed that the effect of becoming a more temperate person was becoming a less angry, less stressed person. I also try to deal more charitably with people who disagree with me now. Humility is recognizing sometimes you are wrong.
BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX
Here’s another DEAD WHITE MALE that I read.
It is difficult to read St. Bernard of Clairvaux and other Cisterian writers and not be moved by the DEEP SPIRITUALITY of the Cisterian Order. I can only describe the experience as coming across a GEYSER of spirituality in the moral hellscape of the United States of America.
This was a man who was DEEPLY CHRISTIAN in a way which, I can only say, gave me pause and a whole new perspective on “Judeo-Christianity” or whatever the hell the “conservatives” are saying in the 21st century. To read Bernard of Clairvaux and his followers is to glimpse the staggering fall of the transplantation of Christianity into a New World context.
YES, Bernard had his differences with Peter Abelard, BUT … as I thought about it, I wondered what it says about the state of OUR SOCIETY that Bernard was one of the famous, beloved and respected Europeans of the 11th century, and WHO would be his equivalent in the 21st century? If Bernard of Clairvaux were alive today, would he have more Twitter followers than Kylie Jenner?
If you can believe it, Bernard and his immediate predecessors and followers thought that the culture of Benedictine monasticism had become spiritually soft in Europe, and so they carved Cîteaux Abbey out of the wilderness in Burgundy in what is now France. The Cisterian monks founded a more austere religious order which spread all over Western Europe.
These “athletes of Christ” prayed and worked and reformed their society. I’ve often wondered what their health and spiritual development must have been like. If the Cisterians could be transported to the 21st century, what would they say about political correctness?
St. Bernard preached the Second Crusade … so, into the bonfire with him as well, along with Aristotle who was a defender of slavery. Bernard was also not above chastising the Pope himself either. Both Luther and Calvin loved him. He was one of their favorite Catholics.
BTW, as far as I can tell, Bernard of Clairvaux never thought about political correctness as a moral code. This is probably because it didn’t exist in his time. In Bernard’s society, Christianity was still the basis of a common Western European culture.
There’s a lot of good stuff that I am skipping over here in European history, but I have get to the man himself who all my Catholic readers are so tired of hearing about.
I’m sorry, Catholics.
You’re going to have to endure this. Have patience. Once again, I would like to emphasize that AS A LUTHERAN that I would happily agree to BRING BACK INDULGENCES … if we could work together to end POLITICAL CORRECTNESS, which is a Satanic ideology. I’m saying that as a LUTHERAN that I think CATHOLICISM is a better moral paradigm than POLITICAL CORRECTNESS.
You can be FORGIVEN under CATHOLICISM and LUTHERANISM. But POLITICAL CORRECTNESS? There is no forgiveness. You’re sent to a secularized version of Purgatory.
Having to decided to embark on this quest to STUDY MORALITY exactly a year ago, there is no getting around coming to grips with Martin Luther. This is what I have done over the past year. Sorry Catholics, but I simply can’t AVOID Luther when I am a Lutheran myself. I can’t just skip over the founder of the Lutheran Church and his voluminous views on this subject.
I’ve always known that I am Protestant in my cultural DNA. When I was a fedora tipping Nietzschean atheist, I couldn’t articulate the why of why I felt so strongly the way that I did about certain issues like the moral authority of the US political establishment. I simply could not accept on the basis of authority that political correctness IS morality.
There is just something at the core my being that disgusted me about being told that I had to believe in the moral authority of the SPLC and the confession of political correctness. I simply couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that these bigots, zealots, enthusiasts, fanatics we know as SJWs – Schwärmer, as Luther would have recognized them – have any kind of moral halo over their heads that make them better than anyone else in our society.
Quite the opposite.
Talk about a populist uprising? Was there ever one greater than the Reformation? Was there ever a bigger populist and nationalist in European history than Luther?
I have ZERO DOUBT that if we could transport Luther to the 21st century that he would be on the warpath about all sorts of issues. He would be attacking the US political and cultural establishment in far harsher terms than I ever have on this little old blog.
I would like to give a nod of respect to the greatest mind of the Reformed tradition. Even as a Lutheran, I found it a pleasure to read John Calvin.
I can see why Calvin built such a large international following in England. He is a crisp reasoner. He has a lot of interesting things to say about Christianity. If Calvin were also transported to the 21st century, what would he be saying about the state of Western culture?
Have these people ever READ Calvin? For some reason, I doubt it. In fact, I can’t think of many American “Judeo-Christians” who sound anything like Calvin at all. They don’t sound like Luther either. They don’t sound like Bernard or Aquinas. What they do sound like is a bunch of braindead Baby Boomers who have watched too much television.
I could continue in this vein. What do you think John Knox, the founder of Presbyterianism, would have said about Charlie Kirk’s take last night on feminism?
If Augustine, Bernard, Luther, Calvin, Erasmus, Knox and others went into a huddle and discussed the UNIVERSALITY of the Christian message, what would they have said? Can anyone be reconciled with Jesus Christ? There might be some debate over whether people have free will or whether God moves first or whether there is any spark goodness left at all in the human being, BUT all would have agreed that at least some people are saved. Does it have anything to do with political correctness? Is anyone damned to hell for “racism” and “xenophobia” or “sexism”?
None of them would have been familiar with that argument. It would sound strange to their ears … self-righteous atheists damning people over their made up sins.
Skipping ahead to Newton.
In Issac Newton’s day, Great Britain had become the trail blazer of the development modern science, a commercial society and the values of the Enlightenment such as freedom of speech and religious tolerance. It was also in the business of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
If we were to transport Issac Newton to the 21st century and ask him whether anyone can be, say, a scientist or a Christian, what would he have said? Must we cast him into the bonfire along with the other dead White males for not being woke enough on chattel slavery?
An extremely funny, witty writer who after all these centuries is still a pleasure to read. Sadly, also a racist and a white supremacist and a lover of science:
“It is a serious question among them whether they are descended from monkeys or whether the monkeys come from them. Our wise men have said that man was created in the image of God. Now here is a lovely image of the Divine Maker – a flat and black nose with little or hardly any intelligence. A time will doubtless come when these animals will know how to cultivate the land well, beautify their houses and gardens, and know the paths of the stars: one needs time for everything.”
“The Negro race is a species of men different from ours as the breed of spaniels is from that of greyhounds. The mucous membrane, or network, which nature has spread between the muscles and the skin, is white in us and black or copper-colored in them.”
A big fan of enlightened despotism. Three strikes and you’re out Voltaire!
FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE AND GEORG HEGEL
The 19th century … also offers some good stuff. Lots of smart dead White males.
Specifically, Georg Hegel and Friedrich Nietzsche got the ball rolling on thinking about philosophy and religion through the prism of History. Karl Marx too.
I like their historicist approach to analysis even if I disagree with a lot of their conclusions. As the author of The Antichrist, Nietzsche wouldn’t have had any time for political correctness either. He would have probably started to trace the historical genealogy of this cultural disease.
Marx had more interesting things to say about economics than Mises.
That’s enough for one long ass post.
We’ve set Faith and Reason at odds with each other. I think we demolished both in the process.
Note: We need like … a new Renaissance for European men? Let’s take the advice of the humanists and rediscover the origins of our culture.