The cancer eating away at the modern West is a lack of authority to which people can point to judge public policy, public debate on those polices, as well as the reactions to those policies and debates. As a result, debate has degraded into various camps striking poses, usually by signaling their unhappiness with the pose of other camps in the public sphere. The lack of an agreed upon authority means there is no way to judge the merits of any claim. Instead, it leaves force to resolve disputes.
A good recent example is the neocon opposition to Trump. These people are entirely defined by their hysterical reaction to Trump. There is no substantive issue around which they base their opposition. They are not pointing to ideological authority, tradition or even rules within the party. Their opposition to Trump rests on no authority other than their emotional reaction. That’s not an appeal to authority. It is a tantrum, the sort of thing you expect from toddlers. It is also the norm in the public space.
Now, there are two types of authority. One rises from objective knowledge accumulated over time about the natural world. An authority on engineering is someone, who has been trained as an engineer. His credentials are determined by meeting a set of objective criteria, like engineering exams, but also by remaining in good standing with other engineers. The same is true of all areas of expertise. These are the authorities on what is or what is not empirically true about their area of expertise.
In this regard, the West is in surplus. No matter the specialty, you can find someone who knows the material and can explain what is known about the topic. If you have an interest in statistics, you can find books written for every level of reader. You can find on-line courses covering just about any bit of knowledge you seek. If you have a desire to read Homer in the original, you can take on-line courses in ancient Greek. When it comes to what is factually true about the world, we have a surplus.
Where there is a shortage is in the area of what ought to be. What is true in the world is a very different thing than what ought to be true. What is true does not rely on a human authority to make it true. It does not need a supernatural authority to validate it. Two plus two will always be four as long as the universe exists. What ought to be true, however, relies on people, either as the authority or the voice of authority. This is the basis of moral codes, hierarchy, dissent and the collective action of society.
For most of Western history, religion was the authority upon which society relied to determine what ought to be. In the early Middle Ages, there was a great debate about the nature of that authority. That finally was settled and the Catholic Church was the worldly manifestation of that authority. After the Reformation, that authority was eroded, but replaced with Scripture as the source of authority. The story of the West, until the Industrial Age, was the story of Christian authority over man.
Of course, Christianity is a relatively new thing, so there have been other sources of authority in the West. The authority of blood is a universal. The great men of a people rise to the top of society. Their descendants, having inherited their great qualities, are assumed to be a source of authority. The king may not have done anything other than be born to the right father, but he has the magic blood. If it turns out that it did not take or the magic has lost its power, someone new must come along.
That’s where tradition fills in the gaps. The king’s heir may be less than the king, but the institutions that rose up around the king are now invested with authority. The reason the heir should be king, the reason he and no one else ought to have final authority, is this is how it has always been done. Tradition is probably the most powerful source of authority, as it assumes the is, as well as the ought. The custom, through trial and error, is proven to be the best, so it ought to be maintained.
In the current age, normal religion has been sidelined, not only as a source of authority, but as a legitimate part of public discourse. Fifty years ago, a public discussion of morality would have had representatives of various faiths to discuss what ought to be according their religions. A century ago those representatives would have provided authority for the current morality. Today, no public debate about moral issues, about what ought to be, includes religion, much less priests or theologians.
Tradition, of course, is by default eliminated from consideration. Much of what is passed off as public discourse is really a debate about how best to tear down the remaining traditions of society. The entirety of Progressive thought can be symbolized by the toppling over of statues on the college campus. The only thing they insist ought to be true is that truth itself must be overturned. Progressive morality, such as it is, is both the negation of moral truth and the denial of objective reality.
A world without authority, especially an agreed upon authority, is anarchy, but humans naturally retreat from anarchy. This is because anarchism is just mob rule. The ideal of anarchism is the mob mutually and magically agreeing to not murder one another, while the reality of it is the mob demanding authority to bring order. It is why democracy, which is just mob rule, is always a transition state. It is the period between the respect for natural, hierarchical authority and authoritarianism.
An example of this from history is the slow collapse of the Western Roman Empire, first into constant warfare, then into chaos and finally into the anarchy of local authority in the early medieval period. The end of the republic was not the end of a natural authority in Rome. The rulers still had to respect the gods and traditions. It is when those sources of authority collapsed that the end was clear for the Empire. The subsequent rise of the West was the rise of authority, Christian authority.
The modern West is undergoing the same sort of collapse of authority. Christianity, like the pagan faiths of the ancient world, has receded to the fringe. Tradition and hierarchy has given way to mob rule and force. What’s missing from the analogy is a new religion that provides a coherent order to the gathering chaos. Progressivism is an anti-religion, in that does not provide order to the natural world. Instead it preaches a denial of order and the denial of reason. It’s a primitive revolt against the natural order.
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