Nietzsche on Modernism
Nietzsche, though, did not merely disdain Christianity because of what it is, but because of what it had given birth to. In his view, Christianity had not only brought with it a new god and a new form of godliness, it instead changed the way those in the West viewed religion and morality entirely. So successful was the leavening influence of Christianity, that even those Enlightenment thinkers who could no longer bring themselves to believe in God, could not help but seek the same fundamental goals in their own naively-contrived moral and political systems.
On this count, Nietzsche directs most of his barrages at the utilitarians of his day. As a self-styled “free spirit,” he could not bear the thought of someone using such a noble name for purposes so unlike his own, particularly levelers of all stripes, “glib-tongued and scribe-fingered slaves of the democratic taste and its ‘modern ideas’” (44; see our first post for Works Cited). If Nietzsche is the father of cynics, surely the utilitarians were our first hippies, seeking “the universal, green-meadow happiness of the herd, together with security, safety, comfort, and alleviation of life for every one,” while chanting their twin anthems of “Equality of Rights” and “Sympathy with All Sufferers” (Nietzsche 44). He therefore dismisses all “systems of morals which address themselves to the ‘happiness’” of individuals – such as “hedonism, pessimism, utilitarianism, or eudaemonism” (225) – in that they place each person on an equal footing with every other and therefore encourage a sort of mediocrity that does nothing to temper passions, correct improper tendencies or encourage nobility (198).
Since he has removed objective truth as a proper standard for judgment, Nietzsche bases his criticism of utilitarianism in the historical framework outlined above, as well as the psychological weakness implied by its exaltation of the low throughout all areas of life. “Nietzsche demonstrates how psychological strength rather than truthfulness may be used to evaluate competing interpretations of the world and the ways of life they spawn” (Kirkland 598). Thus in his view, utilitarians suffer from a sort of identity crisis due to their blending of secular skepticism and Christian morality. Such a person’s “fundamental desire” is that “the war which is in him should come to an end” by means of “a soothing medicine and mode of thought (for instance, Epicurean or Christian)” in which one may find rest in “the happiness of repose, of undisturbedness, of repletion, of final unity,” a unity, however, that is impossible within such a framework (Nietzsche 200). Instead, the utilitarian must live with such a crisis unresolved, in a sort of moral mediocrity. Thus, he sees around him the exaltation and propagation of the average, and mourns that “they will be the men of the future, the sole survivors; ‘be like them! become mediocre!’ is now the only morality which has still a significance, which still obtains a hearing.—But it is difficult to preach this morality of mediocrity” (262)!
Aside from his complete terror at the thought of Europe being surrendered to such sissies, Nietzsche rebukes utilitarian thought for the same kind of self-contradiction and inversion of nobility found previously in Christianity. “Ye Utilitarians—ye, too, love the utile only as a vehicle for your inclinations,—ye, too, really find the noise of its wheels insupportable” (Nietzsche 174)! Both schools of thought, based as they are primarily on principle rather than precept, are exploitable through either personal abuse through mere selfishness or systemically by the strong and cunning. Nietzsche therefore sees in the weakness of Aristotelian, Spinozan and utilitarian thought an opportunity for those who “have the Will to Power” to “play the master” (198). Utilitarianism is merely the latest development in modern political thought, and since “the democratic movement is the inheritance of the Christian movement,” utilitarianism is merely a modern, democratic Christianity without the Christ as king (Nietzsche 202). So while in Nietzsche’s view, Christianity was bad enough, the sinking of Christianity to a mere moral philosophy resulted in a transformation that is even more to be regretted, in which, “all . . . the absolute demands . . . the difficult virtues . . . and the saintly heroic struggle were degraded . . . into a kind of charity of softness that demanded nothing while it provided every earthly comfort” (Wiker 110-111).
Although an atheist, Nietzsche had no room for such soft atheism. As Wiker puts it, “The bestseller atheists around now (like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris) are pussycat atheists, not lions like Nietzsche who, if he were still around, would chew them up and spit them out in disgust” (100). Linker points out that this is due in part to the fact that Nietzsche recognized a sad truth that others have not yet brought themselves to realize: “Whereas most modern atheists viewed their lack of piety as an unambiguous good—as a mark of their liberation from the dead weight of authority and tradition—Nietzsche responded to his insight into the amoral chaos at the heart of the world with considerable pathos.” So while other non-believers may still seek some measure of joy in a world without purpose, “All of Nietzsche’s work begins from the assumption that, viewed in itself, the world is a meaningless and purposeless chaos,” and one in which happiness is to be found only in a purpose of our own making (Linker).
His atheism was one that “wanted nothing less than to make us totally at home in the world, and he understood that this monumental task could be accomplished only by convincing us that we possess the power to redeem it, all by ourselves, without God” (Linker). Nietzsche therefore called on philosophy to do as it had always done: to reflect “the most spiritual Will to Power” by creating “the world in its own image” (9), to convince others “that all of human experience and history had to be reconceived” in order to make “sense of the world in terms of its intrinsic meaninglessness” (Linker). He is therefore unique among atheists, in that he was “brutally honest about what atheism really meant . . . . No up or down; no good or evil; just sheer human will swimming in an indifferent, if not hostile, chaos” (Wiker 100).
But the progress of human history seemed to him to be heading in exactly the opposite direction, killing God, but still mourning his loss, and therefore looking for his resurrection and second coming (a resurrection that so frightens Nietzsche he does not mention it even once in his text). Thus he wondered whether moral thought would ever find freedom in the realization that its ideals were merely “an arbitrary valuation projected onto reality in order to derive a sense of purpose in the face of chaos” and in that realization “kill the Christian God” to which such a search for purpose had given birth (Linker). He therefore “eventually became disillusioned with his own early proposals to cure modern disillusionment. . . . As before, modern man had fallen into meaninglessness, but now there was no possible redemption from it—and this we were supposed to accept as good news” (Linker). But if the modern age was characterized by this struggle between philosophies partly Christian and partly skeptical, a new age was dawning in Western thought. He “detected in Enlightenment secularists the residues of Christian morality, the extirpation of which would require a direct confrontation with nihilism,” and such a confrontation is exactly what he achieved (Hibbs).
Nietzsche on Christianity
Though Nietzsche’s overall intent is to drive home to his readers this epistemological view and its implications for religious, moral, and social thought, he also recognizes that such would be impossible without discussing more specifically the faults of previous systems, as well as how things got to be the way they are. Because of this, the vast majority of his work serves as a post-modern critique of classical Christianity. Nietzsche bases the majority of his case against faith on his interpretation of the historical development of civilizations.
His narrative begins with the fundamental assumption that, “In the beginning, there was chaos” (Linker; see our first post for Works Cited). The governing force of the world was not a god, gods, or a universal sense of fellowship, but raw power. In fact, to Nietzsche, it was only through naked force that morality even came to be. “The pointless, anarchistic violence that characterized the prehistoric world [only] came to an end when certain individuals began to focus their will to power on the goal of decisively triumphing over others.” Linker continues, that having achieved their material and perhaps financial conquest, this new elite then sought to do the same ethically and religiously and therefore “foisted the first ‘moral valuation’ onto mankind” (Linker). Thus strength did not arise from moral principles, but moral principles from the strong (see Nietzsche 32).
When most speak of the oppression of the ruling class, they do so in quite a different vein – following Rousseau, Locke, Marx, etc. – that is, to criticize if not to condemn outright. Nietzsche, however, while believing oppression to be the historical norm, views this as an affirmation of human nature and history rather than an attack on it. Since the acts of the powerful are based on their natural superiority, their behavior is not to be condemned, but rather embraced. To Nietzsche, then, “the good is nothing other than an expression of what the members of the victorious class do and what they affirm. And what they do is triumph ruthlessly over the weak by violence” (Linker).
In this narrative, religion, too, rose from the foundations of this strong-man society, as the strong of each culture formed their own creation and founding myths (complete with divine ancestors) in order to both justify the use of their power and to keep the people under the illusion that this was simply the way the gods wanted things to be. Thus in the Nietzschean state of nature, “All human greatness demanded great suffering, harsh discipline, renunciation of comfort, courage against pain, and even cruelty in its use and elimination of the weak” (Wiker 103). Writing within a few decades of The Origin of Species Nietzsche therefore believed strongly in the harshness of a Darwinian world ruled by ‘survival of the fittest’, and made full use of its darkest implications. Yet he went even further in his understanding than Darwin himself dared to go. As one writer put it, “Darwin focused on survival and Nietzsche focused on the fittest” (Wiker 108). Thus in Nietzsche’s world, the natural and historical foundation of both church and state is that of naked force, and true religion and statesmanship have never forgotten it.
It is in reading Nietzsche’s version of this history that the reader begins to see why the author places most of the blame for European faults on Christianity. The presence of Judeo-Christian values like faith, hope and love turned all natural religion and morality on its head, inverting the values to which most humans had subscribed and reinventing the idea of God as transcendentally perfect, rather than a mere projection of human nature into the heavens. Nietzsche not only dismisses Israel’s claim as God’s “chosen people among the nations,” but also regards the Jews as “a people ‘born for slavery’” (195, quoting Tacitus). Their crime is the tendency of their prophets to reject all things high (wealth, virtue, vice and pleasure) and to exalt all things low (poverty, piety and compassion). In other words, if “the significance of the Jewish people is to be found,” it is that “with them that the slave-insurrection in morals commences” (Nietzsche 195).
Nietzsche more than likely did not understand just how right he was, nor how wrong. While Nietzsche’s thought begins and ends in chaos, Judaism has quite a different approach: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1 ESV). Thus, while this does indeed imply a certain “slave morality” among mankind, it is a slavery in which the weak, fallible and finite is subjected to the truly Powerful, Perfect and Infinite. The rub for Nietzsche comes in the fact that he is grouped among the former, rather than praised among the latter. But Judaism is also more than this. Jewish morality is rooted both in the character of God himself and in their unique historical encounters with him, particularly in their divinely led exodus from slavery in Egypt. Moses captures this balance of faith and faithfulness perfectly: “For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:45). The more humans witnessed of God’s power and goodness, the more they realized their own need for his steadfast love and providential care.
This same emphasis is seen when Yahweh reveals the covenant to Moses on Sinai:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. . . . You shall not make for yourself a carved image . . . . You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain . . . . Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. (Exo 20:2-11)
Each of these provisions points to God as Creator and Redeemer, to their deliverance out of Egypt, to his uniqueness and transcendence, to his divine character and sacred nature. This relationship between faith and faithfulness is preserved, too, when we move to the moral aspects of the covenant. He is all loyalty, life, faithfulness, integrity, truth and satisfaction (vv. 12-17). Nietzsche takes special exception to the seventh commandment: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exo 20:14). “Wherever the religious neurosis has appeared on the earth so far, we find it connected with three dangerous prescriptions as to regimen: solitude, fasting, and sexual abstinence” (Nietzsche 47). And not to be outdone by such pithy and forthright statements as those of the Decalogue, he adds later: “Even concubinage has been corrupted—by marriage” (123). Yet there is something is this account that is so striking that even Nietzsche (especially the power-monger he is) cannot fail to be impressed with. This divine-human encounter is not all love and happiness (at least as most would understand it). Upon seeing “the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off” (Exo 20:18). Reverent fear is therefore a vital part to the Jewish faith.
Christian morality maintains this same basic framework of faith and faithfulness, but with a strong emphasis on the condition of the inner man as a prerequisite to right action (as we have pointed out before). Because of this, the concept of love, though ever-present throughout the Old Testament, plays a more prominent role as the guiding theme of Christian morality. So while incorporating Judaism’s emphasis on imitating God (Eph 5:1) and holy living (1Pe 1:15, quoting our passage above), greater emphasis is placed on God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. Thus, “We love because he first loved us” (1Jo 4:19), Christians are to “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36), and are to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32).
Jesus himself initiated this shift in thought in the first chapter of his Sermon on the Mount (Mat 5). He says concerning the Hebrew Scriptures, “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (v. 17). So while murder, adultery, illicit sex and perjury all remain sins, he also condemns hatred, lust, divorce and oaths (vv. 21-37). And while other commands remain equally in force, like the lex talionis (“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” v. 38; see Rom 13:1-7) and the second greatest command (“You shall love your neighbor,” v. 43; see 22:39), both are further clarified in the command to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (v. 44). Thus, to employ the words of the Apostle John, “There is no fear in love,” but the perfect love of the New Covenant casts out the fear of the Old (1Jo 4:18).
This shift in emphasis, however, is an even farther cry from the harsh realties Nietzsche “found” and glorified in the pre-moral age, and the reason why such a religion found him as an ever-ready enemy. Thus while most within the Western tradition view Christian charity as one of the greatest enlightening (though unfortunately inconsistent) influences in history, to Nietzsche it is a sort of cultural blindness, an outright ignorance of what true nobility is. “Love to one only is a barbarity, for it is exercised at the expense of all others. Love to God also” (Nietzsche 67; see too our discussion of this among his contemporaries)! Prior to the rise of such an ideal, ‘love’ merely represented the feelings of affection and passion, yet “Christianity gave Eros poison to drink; he did not die of it certainly, but degenerated to Vice” (Nietzsche 168). This same tendency can be seen in the Christian’s expected treatment of his personal enemies. In Nietzsche’s mind, such was wrong-headed on several counts. First, it is self-evidently false, as he implies by asking rhetorically: “To love one’s enemies” (Nietzsche 206)? Secondly, it is a denial of human nature: “It is inhuman to bless when one is being cursed” (Nietzsche 181). And thirdly, it contradicts even its own standard of morality in that, “There is a haughtiness of kindness which has the appearance of wickedness” (Nietzsche 184).
Perhaps Nietzsche’s greatest concern is the role of the incarnation and passion of Jesus Christ himself is sealing this inversion and perpetuating indefinitely into the future. As individuals living in a society literally permeated with Christian values and assumptions, it is almost impossible to imagine things coming into being in any different way. Yet, historically, such an inversion hardly seemed likely, and has required centuries to scratch the surface of its ethical significance. Paul points out the power of the Christ:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Php 2:5-8)
While the faithful may point this out in order to instruct, Nietzsche does so in order to condemn. “Modern men . . . have no longer the sense for the terrible superlative conception which was implied to an antique taste by the paradox of the formula, ‘God on the Cross’” (46). Yet, if Nietzsche is wrong, it is precisely this event that is most important in understanding the will of heaven. Just as Judaism discovers itself and its mores in its unique history with God and the Jews’ unique deliverance from bondage, Christianity is defined by the life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and thereby commemorates a new and deeper deliverance. What so terrifies Nietzsche is not so much that God might have saved us, but that he did so at complete personal cost to himself, and requiring precious little in return. It is the “boldness” of this inversion, more than any other, that has secured the perpetual progress of that dreadful promise: “a transvaluation of all ancient values” (46).
Here we return briefly to our opening theme: the ubiquitous (and in his eyes, terrifying) union of classic philosophy with orthodox Christianity. While he discusses many past and contemporary thinkers, artists and movements that many would regard as great, he sees in them only despair, all of them “finally shattering and sinking down at the Christian cross” because none “would have been sufficiently profound and sufficiently original for an anti-Christian philosophy” (256). Though faith and reason have long been viewed as compatible (see Isa 1:18, Heb 11:1), to Nietzsche, faith “resembles in a terrible manner a continuous suicide of reason—a tough, long-lived, worm-like reason, which is not to be slain at once and with a single blow” (46).
Beyond Good and Evil
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche is not nearly as controversial as he ought to be. When Beyond Good and Evil appeared on the European scene in the late 1800s the work was a bombshell. On one hand, the Enlightenment counter-establishment regarded him as a prophet, while on the other conservative liberals and traditional Christians immediately branded him as a heretic. It does not take long to make up one’s mind about him even today, and yet commentary on his work is relatively sparse, while what does exist seems to either praise him or sand down some of his rougher edges. Part of what draws readers to him today – in an age where candor is often mistaken for truth – is his out-spoken rejection of virtually everything now held dear in the West, particularly those Westerners who began jumping off the liberal Enlightenment bandwagon somewhere around the turn of century—the nineteenth century.
While couched in philosophical terms and presented as a philosophical treatise, Beyond Good and Evil is therefore primarily a rhetorical and polemical attack on practically every previous thinker in Western history (though, as we will soon see, he too has his favorite villains), particularly those associated with Christianity, democracy, utilitarianism and socialism. Particularly blameworthy is that philosophers too often fall prey to their own prejudices and are therefore untrustworthy. He sees as particularly problematic the dominant Western view of truth and philosophy, and seeks to provide a more noble interpretation by reinterpreting the history of society’s development. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how Nietszche’s criticisms as well as his proposed course of action is in fact an early form of post-modernism that has rejected both pre- and post-Enlightenment philosophy and that has sought and failed to transcend the dichotomy of good and evil.
The strongest argument for identifying Nietzsche among the first post-modernists arises from his own explicit statements on the subject. As Kirkland points out, Nietzsche himself later describes Beyond Good and Evil as a “critique of modernity,” and demonstrates this throughout the work itself by employing rhetoric in a way that draws attention to other popular thinkers in his own day (578). Epistemology (how one comes to know) is fundamental to philosophy (how one comes to view the world). Nietzsche therefore directs his first assault on the modern project by striking at its view of truth. Modern thought, beginning with the Enlightenment, developed an ever-increasing trust in the abilities of the human mind for rational thought. Nietzsche, however, seeks to point out the inconsistencies with such thinking in order to establish a new way of viewing the world. The rhetorical purpose of Beyond Good and Evil, then, is to interact with his contemporaries in a way that provides his own “self-overcoming of modernity and the enlightenment prejudice in favor of truthfulness” as an example to which he may call others, and therefore to “provoke the experience of self-overcoming in its readers” (Kirkland 578).
He introduces this concept in the first line of his work by comparing Truth to a woman whom humanity has unsuccessfully courted (Preface). Three possible explanations arise concerning the illusive nature of truth: (a) we are simply bad lovers, (b) she is playing “hard to get” or (c) we are seeking an ideal that does not in fact exist. Nietzsche, however (a better rhetorician than philosopher), blends all three responses. His primary criticism of both his predecessors and his contemporaries is that while many purport to rely on reason alone as their guide, “the conscious thinking of a philosopher is secretly influenced by his instinct” (paragraph 3). So while reason is useful in many situations (in fact, human life could not continue without it) to employ such reasoning in establishing absolutes and moral imperatives is in its own way irrational.
Later in his work, he asks similarly, “‘Why knowledge at all?’ Every one will ask us about this. And thus pressed, we, who have asked ourselves the question a hundred times, have not found and cannot find any better answer” (230). So while granting tentative concurrence to those who refer to philosophy as ‘a search for truth’ he also asks, “why not rather untruth” (1)? This he views as an essential, but unasked question and therefore a perpetual blind spot in all modern thought. Thus even a seemingly objective field like natural philosophy is itself a fallible human endeavor “based on belief in the senses” and following the false canon of “eternal popular sensualism” (14). And thus Nietzsche asks: If one’s eyes cannot be trusted, how can his mind?
He couples his concern about feigned objectivity with the ubiquity of neo-Platonism, even amongst otherwise secular thinkers. In his preface he refers to “Plato’s invention of Pure Spirit and the Good in Itself” as “the most dangerous of errors,” while also stating that “Christianity is Platonism for the ‘People.’” Thus, while many Enlightenment thinkers no longer believe in God, their belief in the Good “is at the back of all their logical procedure” and therefore discloses their metaphysical prejudice and the resulting futility of their efforts, as “they exert themselves for their ‘knowledge,’ for something that is in the end solemnly christened ‘the Truth’” (Nietzsche 2).
Though Kant often receives the brunt of these attacks, Nietzsche generally laments that “for centuries European thinkers only thought to prove something” (188), and were therefore mistaken in their conclusions because of faulty assumptions. He later continues this attack on the Platonic Good as well as its connection to Christian morality:
Plato . . . without the craftiness of the plebeian, wished to prove to himself . . . that reason and instinct lead spontaneously to one goal, to the good, to “God”; and since Plato, all theologians and philosophers have followed the same path—which means that in matters of morality, instinct (or as Christians call it, “Faith,” or as I call it, “the herd”) has hitherto triumphed. (191)
Nietzsche therefore criticizes modernism for both its naïveté concerning the limits of human reasoning and its unquestioned acceptance of traditional philosophy’s purposes and assumptions. He instead asserts that the common conception of truth as objective and transcendent is “in fact, the worst proved supposition in the world” and that truth is not seen in black and white, but instead “lighter and darker shades and tones of semblance” (34). He therefore goes beyond merely outlining the limits of human reason and seeks to point out that in a world in which we are so severely limited, objective thought (however laudable a goal it may be) is simply impossible. As Kirkland points out: “His critique of objectivity not only raises questions about the possibility or desirability of truthfulness and demonstrates the self-contradiction of the enlightenment: it calls for a new responsibility for the effects of offering interpretations” (575; see Nietzsche 33).
The Way of Man
In our discussion of civics, we began with a recognition of certain biblical principles (justice, honor, righteousness) that are essential to a truly Christian interaction with the world around us. And though these principles have taken a variety of forms throughout the ages, in our current cultural climate they are often labeled as conservative or traditional. But this sort of conservatism is more than a contemporary political philosophy, its roots go much deeper (going back to the Garden) and broader (drawing from both the East and the West) than our current place in time and space.
We find an interesting parallel to these thoughts in a short, three-chapter treatise by C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man. A few months ago, we saw a glimpse of his approach to ethics by way of his views on universal morality and the Golden Rule. For example, in Miracles Lewis writes:
If we are to continue to make moral judgements (and whatever we say we shall in fact continue) then we must believe that the conscience of man is not a product of Nature. It can be valid only if it is an offshoot of some absolute moral wisdom, a moral wisdom which exists absolutely ‘on its own’ and is not a product of non-moral, non-rational Nature. (60)
Though this theme recurs in several of his other works as well (Mere Christianity, Surprised by Joy, and even the “deep magic” of Narnia), in The Abolition of Man, it becomes the fundamental ground of both educational and political reform. If being human means anything at all, this meaning must drive our efforts to live, love and learn. But by rejecting this traditional understanding of human nature, modernism reflects a narrow and incomplete view of humanity, which can only produce more of the same: “Men without Chests” (AM 25).
To illustrate this principle of universal morality, Lewis intentionally draws on the Confucianism of the East and its conception of the Tao (the Path or Way). “It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others are really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are” (18). So by living in a world that actually exists and among actual people capable of reason, man can utilize his common sense to recognize this Way and live by it.
Such a view of the Tao is present in almost every pre-modern or modern society, though under a sundry of different names, such as “Natural Law or Practical Reason or the First Platitudes” (43). In truth, then, it is not merely one way to view reality, it is the Way: “It is the sole source of all value judgments. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained” (43). Or as he states previously with greater brevity, “If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved” (40). Rationality depends on an objective reality and meaning outside, and independent of, human thought. And if we cannot even agree on the fundamental facts of reality human reason (much less language!) is a mere exercise in futility.
Of course, as we have pointed out before, the self-evident existence of the Tao does not extend to complete identity of ethical principles and precepts across cultures. Lewis, thus readily admits that, “Some criticism, some removal of contradictions, even some real development is required” (45). But this does not amount to a completely subjective, relativistic view of morality, since reality itself provides the ultimate test of authenticity. So while one age may “harmonize discrepancies in its letter by penetration to its spirit,” these developments are a vindication and fulfillment of the Way, rather than evidence of its demise (47). In other words “the Tao admits development,” but only “from within” (45).
Though modern ethical and political thinkers have rejected much of traditional thought on the subject, Lewis also provides a stern warning. If freedom is indeed the goal (or better, one of the goals) of Western democracy, democracies must recognize and renew their commitment to core principles, or else collapse into sheer tyranny. “Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery” (73). If the Tao falls, so does human dignity, so does common sense, so do human communities.
As you have probably figured out by now, true civics is much more than politics. It is a religious, moral and cultural endeavor that seeks to reform human society based on timeless principles; to remind us what it means to be human; and to point us to an order and a Mind far above our own. As we continue our march to the midterms, then, we will progress in what may seem strange directions, but which grow naturally from the principles we have discussed thus far (discussing literature, education, economics, and foreign policy) all the while maintaining a primarily literary approach (Jane Austen, Aristotle, Harold Bloom, Lawrence Levine, Karl Marx, Adam Smith, and Samuel Huntington). But before we proceed, we must address the greatest threat to such an approach: the post-modern pragmatism of Friedrich Nietzsche.