“The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk” Hegel wrote. But is this flight of wisdom cause or consequence? Some people assume that his words accurately describe the fact that concrete understanding is a consequence of history. Yet if history is change (and that for the worse), it could just as well mean that history is the consequence of the departure from wisdom, to which are attached the chains of causality that enwrap the towers of human aspiration. For wisdom focuses on truth and flies steadfastly toward its goal, blind to the mirages of fanciful hope conjured by thirsting human ambitions.
If we take the American republic as our example, we observe that what begins in wisdom comes to its end because the heirs to that beginning depart from the wisdom that made it possible. America’s founders made respect for truth the foundation upon which they built their hopes for just government, which is to say a government respectful of man’s natural liberty. To this end they instituted America’s government upon a careful respect for the idea of right, doing so more explicitly and with greater deliberate care than had ever been seen before in human history.
For all his many errors (rooted mainly in his disregard for the Western Christian acknowledgment of the Incarnation), Hegel appreciated the absolutely fundamental importance of the concept of right, which reflects the preoccupation with justice that is at the heart of any rational understanding of human governance. He did not, of course, conflate right and freedom, as minds victimized by his errors are prone to do in our day. But because he overlooked the importance of the Incarnation, Hegel did not think through the fact that the reconciliation of right and freedom in human terms continually takes place in and through individuals, who therefore persistently represent the concrete realization of human freedom in universal terms, prior to and quite apart from any manifestation of their collective will in the State.
Schopenhauer (and his rebellious offspring, Friedrich Nietzsche) understood Hegel’s error but, like him, rejected the Christian understanding of the Incarnation. Schopenhauer’s reification of will, though it makes possible the exaltation of individual human achievement, does so without proper regard for the formal requirements of objective human existence. The willful “arrow of longing” is tipped with a coldly destructive flame. It sets alight the sacrificial pyre on which to make a holocaust of individuals, burning away every appearance of humanity. Such are the pyres that produced the billowing darkness of 20th century slaughter, in which the lights of a perverted science reveal, where once were nations, the charnel houses of the living dead.
Such especially is the state and condition of Europe in the light deprived dawn of the 21st century. However, the wisdom of America’s founding has properties that should inoculate Americans against the intellectual and spiritual plague that is spreading through the world on westerly winds of decadent change. And for a time, it did. But after several decades of miseducation and indoctrination, America’s elites have been thoroughly infected. They seem now almost entirely enthralled by forces hostile to the wise moderation of the American founding and the reverence for God’s authority that is its strong foundation. In service to that hostility they seek quite literally to demoralize the American people. By every available means they are bathing the nation’s moral foundations in the corrosive acid of spiritual, intellectual and moral libertinism. There is no God; there is no truth; there are no limits; there is no law, except the will to power and sensual pleasure, and a palpably false compassion for those unable, without let or hindrance to seize or be seized with its voracious appetites. In the course of this dissolution the sense of justice degrades into vengeful wrathfulness. Within whited sepulchers embossed with purported scenes of youthful love and sexuality, the aesthetic sensibility decomposes into lofty, cruel, self-worshipping hedonism. All that distinguishes self-conscious humanity within the flux of mindless, heartless, insensible chaos is dismissed as prejudice and superstition.
All this takes place by way of preparation for returning humankind to its long condition of servitude to the unbridled passions of a vainglorious few. Yet this aim abuses the name of “progress” and pretends to proffer paradise on earth, with no question of God to overlook our pride. This latter is the key to understanding why America’s elites have turned against the way of life that made them so outstanding. Precisely because it respected their capacity for freedom, that way of life forced them to choose at every turn between doing what served their ambition and doing what they knew to be right.
How many of them have risen to what seemed like the very pinnacle of personal success by selling themselves – body, soul and conscience – to shadowy power brokers that demanded the sacrifice of all. How many of them found in the fulfillment they so longed for that they had lost their very selves and ended up, like the fallen angels in Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” chewing dust and bitter ashes. This bitterness is the fruit of their bad conscience; the inescapable sense that for perishable goods they have surrendered the true and only substance of their imperishable goodness. Too proud to admit that their fate springs from self-deception, they turn against the very way of life that, because it respected their capacity for freedom, allowed them the opportunity thus to abandon themselves. And so they long to exact revenge from all who chose to place conscience above ambition. What better revenge than to lure or force them into making the same sacrifice of conscience and right, until all are burning in the lake of fire, nourished with bitter ashes.
Instructed by the truth they found in Scripture, America’s founders knew the self-defeating result of vain ambition. When they trusted America’s fate to the sovereignty of the majority of the people, it was not because they thought them smarter or materially stronger than the few. It was because they realized that in most human beings conscience ends up being more decisive than ambition, so that for the most part people are too cautious to let ambition betray them into sacrificing it.
Now we are in the midst of an insidious form of war against the American republic, testing that reliance upon the people’s natural decency. I wonder when and whether enough Americans will awaken to the fact that the vengeful bad conscience of our anti-American elite lies at the heart of the threat now poised to dissolve our way of life. Americans of good conscience are slow to understand that, by remaking them in its own image, the force of evil that informs bad conscience seeks to destroy both them and their country.