11 Feb 2019
Presently I have little of anything to add to what I wrote yesterday. The thoughts that come to mind you may not wish to hear. The most difficult question you raise is, I believe, in effect a classical question of political philosophy: “Then what is to be done?”
We do not wish to have recourse to Romantic solutions: pretending that there are no truly serious problems in our political culture, social institutions, the churches, and so on. There is also the Romantic solution of the Hippie movement, that broke from society and formed communes based on “free love” and hallucinogenic drugs. A more common Romantic or escapist solution shows up in our mass culture, with so much mindless “entertainment” absorbing the interests and time of a large portion of our society. Then there is the escapist movement in the churches; I have seen this first hand from the (usually) young clergy who want to “go back” to the supposedly good old days of the Latin liturgy. In the process, they alienate many of the older folks, who had the style of liturgy to which they had been accustomed ripped from them in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Now some want to restore what was stripped away, but in a more artificial form (more detached from historical evolution in Christianity). In my view, to attempt the kind of removal from society that Benedict of Nursia achieved in the 6th century (based on generations of monks before him) would also be a Romantic revival, an escape that is fruitless because not possible or likely to succeed in this culture. Then there is the seemingly contrary escapism into social activism in politics, society, the churches. Not truly knowing the good or what is to be done, many dabble in all sorts of “social programs.” Often enough, they do more harm than good.
So what is to be done? For society as a whole, and for millions of peoples, I do not know, nor do I pretend to know. Even for some concrete individuals, I would be hesitant to recommend any course of action, beyond the most obvious: seek to develop one’s own character to the best of one’s ability; to seek not to be “contaminated by the world,” in the sense of the Letter of James; to break from mass culture, mass media, and crumbling political and social institutions to the extent possible; not to get caught up in apocalyptic or Gnostic dreaming; to face reality as honestly and as truthfully as one can. One must cultivate one’s own life in the spirit through study and meditation.
What I recommend not doing is clearly related, but I can be more explicit: avoid attachment to any ideology, including political or religious; avoid attachment to such crumbling institutions as the American political order, mass education, the Christian churches; avoid dependence on institutions to provide for one’s intellectual and spiritual life to the extent possible; avoid immersion in the products of mass entertainment (movies, television, pop music); avoid addictions in all forms. The task is enormous; it is not easy. Much personal effort is required.
On a more speculative note, I wonder how long Western civilization and specifically our political order will survive. An empire such as ours makes many enemies. The most powerful enemy now is Communist China. Although I may be wrong, and hope that I am, it seems that a catastrophic and extremely destructive war between these two “super-powers” could easily occur within the present generation (within twenty years or so). As I see it, we have been digging our own graves, giving the Chinese the technology and weapons to defeat us, or at least to murder millions. But then, we Americans keep murdering millions of our own infants through abortion: all in the name of convenience, which is an embodiment of the god of self. (America is absorbed in self-worship, as anyone with eyes to see can see.)
I shall continue to wrestle with the question, “What is to be done,” but I expect no easy or quick solution at all. We are “too far gone” to be spared by easy adjustments. As I wrote recently, our country is committing self-murder. The disease will run its course, with likely death of the civilization as it has emerged in history. I claim no certain or definite knowledge of the future.