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Blog Entries tagged 'spirtitual'

Culture and Barbarism: Metaphysics in a Time of Terrorism

An excerpt from Culture and Barbarism: Metaphysics in a Time of Terrorism

By Terry Eagleton, in Commonweal

"The prevailing global system, then, today faces an unwelcome choice. Either it trusts its native pragmatism in the face of its enemy’s absolutism, or it falls back on metaphysical values of its own-values that are looking increasingly tarnished and implausible. Does the West need to go full-bloodedly metaphysical to save itself? And if it does, can it do so without inflicting too much damage on its liberal, secular values, thus ensuring there is still something worth protecting from its illiberal opponents?

If Marxism once held out a promise of reconciling culture and civilization, it is partly because its founder was both a Romantic humanist and an heir of Enlightenment rationalism. Marxism is about culture and civilization together-sensuous particularity and universality, worker and citizen of the world, local allegiances and international solidarity, the free self-realization of flesh-and-blood individuals and a global cooperative commonwealth of them. But Marxism has suffered in our time a staggering political rebuff; and one of the places to which those radical impulses have migrated is-of all things-theology. In theology nowadays, one can find some of the most informed and animated discussions of Deleuze and Badiou, Foucault and feminism, Marx and Heidegger. That is not entirely surprising, since theology, however implausible many of its truth claims, is one of the most ambitious theoretical arenas left in an increasingly specialized world-one whose subject is nothing less than the nature and transcendental destiny of humanity itself. These are not issues easily raised in analytic philosophy or political science. Theology’s remoteness from pragmatic questions is an advantage in this respect.

We find ourselves, then, in a most curious situation. In a world in which theology is increasingly part of the problem, it is also fostering the kind of critical reflection which might contribute to some of the answers. There are lessons that the secular Left can learn from religion, for all its atrocities and absurdities; and the Left is not so flush with ideas that it can afford to look such a gift horse in the mouth. But will either side listen to the other at present? Will Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins read this and experience an epiphany that puts the road to Damascus in the shade? To use two theological terms by way of response: not a hope in hell. Positions are too entrenched to permit such a dialogue. Mutual understanding cannot happen just anywhere, as some liberals tend to suppose. It requires its material conditions. And it seems unlikely these will emerge as long as the so-called war on terror continues to run its course.

The distinction between Hitchens or Dawkins and those like myself comes down in the end to one between liberal humanism and tragic humanism. There are those who hold that if we can only shake off a poisonous legacy of myth and superstition, we can be free. Such a hope in my own view is itself a myth, though a generous-spirited one. Tragic humanism shares liberal humanism’s vision of the free flourishing of humanity, but holds that attaining it is possible only by confronting the very worst. The only affirmation of humanity ultimately worth having is one that, like the disillusioned post-Restoration Milton, seriously wonders whether humanity is worth saving in the first place, and understands Swift’s king of Brobdingnag with his vision of the human species as an odious race of vermin. Tragic humanism, whether in its socialist, Christian, or psychoanalytic varieties, holds that only by a process of self-dispossession and radical remaking can humanity come into its own. There are no guarantees that such a transfigured future will ever be born. But it might arrive a little earlier if liberal dogmatists, doctrinaire flag-wavers for Progress, and Islamophobic intellectuals got out of its way."

Which is why, my friends, I ultimately believe more in Buddhism than liberal politics, but remain open to both.

 

April 23rd, 2009