Jan 16, 2020
The devastation rationalism has wrought on modernity has yet to be calculated, because it is the air we breathe, often regardless of our professed beliefs.
To take politics as an example: the modern left, disenchanted with the Enlightenment narrative of reason’s supremacy, has, rather than restoring reason to its proper subordinate place in our vision of reality, instead become skeptical of all claims to truth. Lacking a foundation in truth, “critical thinking,” that shriveled scrap of reason enshrined by academics, has not kept them from believing any absurdity one could name. Meanwhile, establishment conservatism has for decades shown little awareness or interest in what is beyond immediate political utility—rendering its occasional victories at the ballot box empty of much power to conserve.
Nonetheless, a certain artistic-cultural vitality has typically been associated with liberalism. Only recently, when liberals have taken on the role of censorious schoolmarm, has the right begun to appear more creatively daring in its challenge of the status quo. But this association of creativity with subversion of society’s dominant structures is itself a bequest of the liberal “tradition”, whose increasing banality should warn those on the right that there is only so much mileage one can get out of exposing corruption and hypocrisy.
It may be surprising to learn that conservatism began as a literary and aesthetic movement rather than a political one. This is the starting point for a contemporary classic of philosophy, James Matthew Wilson’s The Vision of the Soul: Truth, Goodness and Beauty in the Western Tradition. The conservatives, starting with Edmund Burke in his critique of the French Revolution, defended the old order on the basis of its beauty. Wilson follows them in claiming that Beauty is central to the soul’s (and the West’s) vision of reality.
This is the first of three episodes exploring themes from The Vision of the Soul. In this episode, after giving an account of the roots of liberalism and conservatism, and showing the emptiness of liberal “freedom”, “equality”, and “critical thinking”, Wilson lays out what he considers the six central insights of the Western (Christian Platonist) tradition, culminating in the contemplation of Being as our greatest excellence and happiness.
[1:14] The core message and themes of The Vision of the Soul
[3:36] Liberalism as anti-culture
[8:15] Liberal freedom and equality are negative and contradictory principles
[11:13] The self-perpetuating struggle against phantoms of inequality
[14:15] The emptiness of contemporary conservatism exemplified by the second Bush administration; recovering conservatism’s roots as a literary movement
[18:53] Edmund Burke's critique of the French Revolution and utilitarian rationalism
[24:16] Modern intellectuals since Hobbes have wanted to make reality less interesting and wonderful than it seems
[29:13] Problems with rationalism and critical thinking as they are commonly understood
[32:16] The six fundamental insights of the Western tradition; Christian Platonism
[37:15] Beauty's oldest and deepest definition: veritatis splendor, the splendor of truth
[41:05] The most excellent form of human life: contemplation of Being, realized in happiness/salvation as an end with no further ends beyond it
[46:44] The difference between intellect and reason in relation to truth
James Matthew Wilson https://www.jamesmatthewwilson.com/
The Vision of the Soul https://www.amazon.com/Vision-Soul-Goodness-Western-Tradition/dp/0813229286
James Matthew Wilson on Twitter https://twitter.com/JMWSPT
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