In ‘Augustine and the Limits of Politics,’ political scientist, Jean Bethke Elshtain lamented:
‘Albert Camus’ work, ‘The Rebel’ is understudied and underestimated.’ (p.115)
Elshtain’s work is peppered with references to Camus. Her affinity with the French agonistic and “existentialist” philosopher is easy to observe. Elshtain sees a good amount of Camus’ questions and conclusions as relevant to contemporary discourse.
That is of course, where dialogue and dissent are allowed, which to the keen observer like Elshtain and Camus, are things fast being forced into private. This is because the pathos in post-modern monologues (such as: facebook rants, easy likes, mob put downs and whip statements) are taking over. (It was from this that Elshtain later wonders whether or not, ‘democracy can survive social media and the rise of the technocratic class. See: ‘‘State Of Democracy’)
Earlier in her book, Elshtain provides some commentary on a post war lecture Camus gave in 1946 at Columbia University:
‘To what was no doubt a hushed auditorium, Camus went on to enumerate the clear symptoms of what he called a ‘crisis of world-dimensions; a crisis in human consciousness.’ He described these as a rise in terror, following upon such a perversion of values that man, woman or historical force is judged today not in terms of human dignity but in terms of success (consider here: doing and saying whatever makes you popular – or gets the most likes). The crisis is based, as well, on the growing “impossibility of persuasion.” Human beings live and can only live by “retaining the idea that they have something in common,” a starting point to which they can return […] Camus noted two other symptoms of the crisis. One he called the substitution of the “political” for the “living” person.’ (p.70)
Citing Camus, Elshtain then points to the unhealthy ‘growth of bureaucracy.’ – ‘For what counts now is whether or not one has helped a doctrine to triumph, not whether or not one respects a mother and spares her suffering” (ibid). All these, Elshtain asserts, ‘can be summed up in a single tendency – the cult of efficiency and abstraction.’ (ibid)
Camus’ conclusion is then highlighted:
“That is why the man in Europe today experiences only solitude and silence; for he cannot communicate with his fellows in terms of values common to them all, and since he is no longer protected by a respect for man based on the values of man, the only alternative henceforth open to him is to be a victim or an executioner.” (Ibid)
What stands out the most, though, is Elshtain’s own conclusion about what Camus was on about:
‘Camus lays the crisis squarely on the doorstep of an unchecked will-to-power. And from that flows the terrible notion that one can cleanse the world, purge the old, the tired, the imperfect, though terror.’ (p.71)
Directly connected to this is a post-war assessment made by Albert Camus in 1948:
‘Between the forces of terror (coercion) and the forces of dialogue (persuasion), a great unequal battle has begun. I have nothing but reasonable illusions to the outcome of that battle. But I believe it must be fought, and I know that certain men and women have resolved to do so. I merely fear that they will occasionally feel somewhat alone, that they are in fact alone, and that after an interval of two thousand years we may see the sacrifice of Socrates repeated several times.’
(Camus, A. ‘Resistance, Rebellion & Death: Essays’ pp.73-74)
I agree with Elshtain, Camus has the potential to wake The West up from its slumber; to bring technicolour back into focus and persuasively correct the current politically correct technoblur. He names that which should be named and wasn’t afraid to address what needed to be addressed. It’s also helpful to note that after he published,’The Rebel’, French communists (among them was J.P. Sartre) labelled Camus, who was one of their own, a reactionary et.al. Simply because he questioned the ideology and where that ideology landed. He disagreed with them and spoke out against it. As a result he was threatened, ridiculed into submission, excommunicated and disowned by his friends. Which, for the Christian who participates in these realms and seeks responsible dialogue translates into:
‘You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.’
(Jesus, Mark 13:13)
Camus, A. 1960 Essays: Resistance, Rebellion and Death, Vintage Books, Random House
Camus, A. 1946-1947 The Human Crisis, pp.20-24
Elshtain, J.B 1998 Augustine and the Limits of Politics, University of Notre Dame Press (pp.70-71 & p.115)
The image used here is my own.
8 thoughts on “The Rise of The Technocrat & The Growing Impossibility of Persuasion”
“the only alternative henceforth open to him is to be a victim or an executioner”
Social darwinism. Without any objective values or ethics, that’s all that remains. When secularists with whom I attempt to dialogue protest and insist they don’t share the totalitarian ideals of marxist regimes, I have to constantly point out that, regardless of their personal opinions, their world view is the very soil in which such tyranny grows.
Social Darwinism is an interesting subject, certainly something that is heavily engrained in a lot of the fabric of what was the 20th century. I quipped once to a mate on F.B that “I like Darwin, it’s his followers that I have a problem with.” After reading Darwin’s, ‘Origins of the Species’ and a few primary documents related to debates throughout the 19th century, I’m conscious of the distinction between an Evolutionary Scientist and a Social Darwinist. Darwin was not warm to those who chose to use the science, in abstract. Out of interest, I was able to track the influence of social Darwinism back to WW1; seen in a post here which features Vernon Kellogs’ damning assessment.
I find that most neo-darwinists are quick to attempt to make such a distinction between evolutionary science and social darwinism. I have to constantly point out to them that the latter is a logical consequent of the former if we’re going to take Darwin and his ideological descendants seriously. Darwin’s entire project was non-teleological, which, as Plantinga points out, doesn’t allow for some version of theistic evolution, which would essentially be a form of intelligent design via some evolutionary path. Darwinists, however, are quick to reject any notion of intelligent design precisely because it smacks of the very theism to which they will pay lip service (when trying to appease theistic concerns) but to which they are actually opposed when and if it threatens their scientism or methodological naturalism.
In the Atlantic essay “The Modern View of Evolution”, it’s clear the author hasn’t engaged with serious philosophical critiques of neo-darwinism. He attempts to defend attacks against claims that the average evolutionist is somehow guilty of the most egregious evil, but that simply demonstrates that he doesn’t understand the arguments offered by serious critics. Like atheists who protest that they’re not all bad guys, they fail to see that the accusation is not against particular adherents of the worldview in question, but results from following the logical entailments of such views. Darwinian evolution is a theory of origins that is entirely non-teleological and in such a purposeless existence there can be no objective ethics of which to speak (worse yet, there can be no claim knowledge arising from a system where survivability need not require intelligence or any awareness which corresponds to an objective reality). The neo-darwinist who goes to church and believes that there is a God who created him for a purpose is living in a state of cognitive dissonance. The only way he can affirm the two conflicting worldviews is by compartmentalizing them sufficiently such that the twain shall never meet nor require rational reconciliation.
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Perhaps I’m being a little too optimistic, but I think one inevitably leading to the other is more avoidable than unavoidable.
As in the case of George Romanes and Kellog:
Darwin was a scientist and a theist, although, it’s true that he later considered himself an agnostic. The term ‘natural selection’ implies that the world is being acted upon by an outside force. It takes faith to believe in it because the act of natural selection has never be seen. My own thought here is a work-in-progress: essentially if the numerous mentions of ‘natural selection’ in Darwin’s Origins, was replaced with the words Holy Spirit, the text would come close to being a theological thesis on God’s work in creation, illuminated, in part, by the possibility of evolution. Even with ‘natural selection,’ – God’s act in creation and His freedom to act are not diminished.
Science and ideology are separate spheres. For science to be true science it must remain separate, or it loses its objectivity. As in the case of scientism; it enslaves science to ideological presuppositions, which in this case is called evolutionary ethics. If governed purely by this ethic, society would devour itself. Take racism, or the pre-ww1 era compared to the post-ww1 era; like a black hole, the war dehumanised and consumed everyone in one way or another. My own problem with this is how many tentative conclusions in science are now so easily based an evolutionary perspective – its now a given; rigid; no other explanation required. Science appears boxed into it, without question.
I apologize ahead of time for the lengthy commentary…
“I think one inevitably leading to the other is more avoidable than unavoidable.”
It’s not whether any particular Darwinist is engaging in social Darwinism or whether it’s avoidable. The point is that the non-teleological premiss of Darwinism provides the logical preconditions for such behavior. The atheist who insists he is neither a nihilist, an anarchist, or a sadist and who avoids such behaviors is still incapable of providing any objective moral ground for his denunciation of nihilism, anarchy, or sadism. In like manner, how does an impersonal, non-teleological, naturalistic process impose obligatory moral duty on its random products?
“if the numerous mentions of ‘natural selection’ in Darwin’s Origins, was replaced with the words Holy Spirit, the text would come close to being a theological thesis on God’s work in creation”
I agree, however, such a counterfactual would no longer be Darwinian. Such a process would constitute theistic evolution, which is, in effect, simply a form of creationism via a long, tortuous process. Of course, it wouldn’t be a form of Biblical creationism since the Biblical teaching is that all things produce “after their own kind”. Academic and professional Darwinists, of course, will have no such thing, either from Biblical theists or theists of any other stripe.
“Even with ‘natural selection,’ – God’s act in creation and His freedom to act are not diminished.”
If one began with the presupposition that such a natural force could produce all the diverse living things we see today, perhaps that statement could be said to be true from a pseudo-molinist perspective. God, in His middle-knowledge, could be said to have instantiated a world in which He knew what would randomly result from natural processes (i.e., He could sort of ‘get the ball rolling’ and then, in deistic fashion, stand back and watch things come to pass which He already knew would instantiate). While such a view of origins doesn’t comport with a Biblical account, it could at least be held as a model by deists (and, in fact, that pretty much describes many a deist’s position). Such a view, however, would suffer from all of the same problems faced by the Darwinist precisely because, so far as the mechanism is concerned, the processes are completely natural, material, and physical.
“Science and ideology are separate spheres.”
You would need to unpack your use of “science” and “ideology” further for me to understand what you mean, since some ideologies are true and some are false. It seems axiomatic that any valid epistemology requires a true ideology (or set of ideologies).
“For science to be true science it must remain separate, or it loses its objectivity. As in the case of scientism; it enslaves science to ideological presuppositions,…”
There is no such thing as “objective science” if we take “objective” to mean that such a scientist functions with no presuppositions whatsoever. Everyone begins with presuppositions. It’s a logical antecedent for any intellectual growth or understanding. The real question is whether one’s presuppositions are true or false, because false presuppositions will lead a scientist to interpret the data incorrectly. Thus, the problem with scientism is not the having of presuppositions, per se. The problem with scientism is the commitment to false presuppositions like methodological naturalism, empiricism, materialism, physicalism, et al., and the belief that such things form a valid epistemology.
“…which in this case is called evolutionary ethics”
That’s putting the cart before the horse. Scientism is a precondition to darwinism and, consequently, to evolutionary ethics (i.e., social darwinism), not a result of it. A Darwinian evolutionary process could never lead to scientism because it could never be said to lead to any epistemology at all (again, because there’s no reason natural processes require truth-gaining attributes as a condition for survival).
“My own problem with this is how many tentative conclusions in science are now so easily based an evolutionary perspective – its now a given; rigid; no other explanation required. Science appears boxed into it, without question.”
And that’s why the debate is always skewed in favor of the Darwinists in the media and in the secular mind. Darwinism is the reigning presupposition by which all phenomena is interpreted, and which holds most academic institutions captive, barring all others from entry and thus eliminating anything resembling authoritative dissent. When darwinism is used to interpret all of the data and all competing theories are ruled out a priori, how could it be otherwise that all of the alleged “scientific evidence” supports it? That’s very convenient for the proponents of neo-darwinism, but it hardly constitutes anything resembling real science.
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I align with a lot of what you’re saying. The kind of ideology I’m referring to pertains to any human concepts that no longer serve humanity. but are instead placed as tasks masters (lords) over us.
I come to this with the perspective of a pastor who has to constantly attempt to build bridges and overcome the immediate hostility attached to the evolution/creation debate. All without compromising a faithful reading of the texts available to us. The initial mistrust and unnecessary hostility towards a person who stands with the Genesis accounts can shut down any potential for ministry. So, I think a bridge for communication is needed. I see Pneumatology as a potential area where the Church can reach out and achieve this.
How far Christian diplomacy/contextualising mission, in regards to these matters goes, before it becomes blatant compromise is not a new concern. O.T Israel, and later the Church have seemed to always been wrestling with this issue.
The final line in the sand, though, is that we either hear God speak to us in the way He has chosen to make Himself known to us (i.e.: Revelation), or we submit to what, where and who man and woman says God is. This navigates through hostile exchanges about origins; usually a road which leads to mere speculation and pathos than fact, which is something the Christian and Scientist can easily fall prey to.
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I do understand the need to build bridges of communication, but that’s precisely why I tend to focus on the ethical consequences of ideas like atheism and Darwinism, i.e., moral realism provides a starting point common to all men.
In “The Modern View of Evolution”, the author asks:
“Are we, to go through, all over again, the recital of the classic evidences of the actuality and manner of evolution as read from the four great documents of comparative anatomy, embryology, paleontology, and geographical distribution?”
This is, of course, supposed to be a rhetorical questions as if the “fact” of evolution is somehow settled. It’s this posture with which the Biblical theist must contend, and I see no other common ground between the article’s author and the Biblical theist except for the common human belief in moral notions, which I simply have to wait for him to reveal. He eventually does so when he addresses moral behavior and defends the moral character of neo-Darwinian evolutionists. It’s at that point I can appeal to our common belief by reminding him that his world view does not comport with the ethical realism we both affirm, which is something that Biblical theism can provide.
If, however, one tries to engage in a dialogue about origins without considering wider issues like its ethical consequences, the theist is fighting an uphill battle because it’s almost impossible (in my experience) to extricate the modern mind from a fideistic commitment to the premisses of scientism.