Saturday, 20 September 2014

'Here I Stand" - The Problem of Universalism

How does one win hearts and minds to counter an imperialistic universalism when universalism is the faith of the intellectual class that dominates the modern West? Where is our Luther?

I suppose the claim that universalism is a problem will bring some readers up short almost immediately. The idea that there is a universal quality to a humanity of fixed and equal natures is the over-riding assumption of Western culture, especially in its dominant American form.

The starting point must be to show how the 'universal' is a fraud and that, once this fraud is exposed, not only universalist politics but identity politics, the politics of gender and ethnicity, of class and nation, are equally fraudulent.

Toleration shifts from that toleration that arises because we are all allegedly the same (when we are clearly not) to a toleration of each precisely because they are different.

Commonality will no longer be imposed to meet a pre-set theoretical and intellectual standard of universality but can arise from below through the co-operation of free individuals as their similarities and shared desires become clear.

Back in the early nineteenth century, Chateaubriand, 'Novalis' and Coleridge understood that universalism operates against the instinctive aesthetic of humanity, against the inner spirit of the individual and the weight of history.

This mentality fuelled the romantic European Right but it need not necessarily be that the instinctive aesthetic is not progressive - quite the contrary.

Universalists socialise humanity into normal behaviours, chopping off the far sides of the Bell curve, in a way that represents no single person alive. They make the universe into something that exists so far from really existing humanity that no space is left for the inherent complexity of the individual.

And this critique (although the nineteenth century anti-universalists would disagree with their penchant for obscurantist philosophies) extends to the universalism of religion as much to the universalism of the philosophes and the aufklarer.

Above all, to be anti-universalist is not to be anti-rational - on the contrary, it is universalism that works against human reason by depending on an abstract, manufactured, Kantian Reason.  Human reasoning is fitted to the human condition. It is a tool, not an end.

'Objective' abstract Reason is a poor thing, a simulacrum of the real. Human level reason still has room for intuition and for instinctive judgements that may not be pure but are, nevertheless, human and oftentimes right. Our human reason lies in openness to our dreams as much as to our calculation.

It is something of a cliche that Reason is totalitarian in concept (as opposed to reasoning which is just one, generally essential, tool amongst others). Reason fakes reality much as scholasticism once faked spirituality. Scholasticism proved to be dysfunctional and so, now, is Reason.

Which brings us back to our Luther. Luther asserted a different spirituality against a degenerate scholastic culture. A new Luther might assert a different social reality against a degenerate universalism. Here may someone stand.