Monday, April 29, 2013

Reilly and Rousseau

The man who wrote the following words has been a foreign policy expert:

"Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) turned Aristotle’s notion of Nature on its head. Aristotle said Nature defined not only what man is but what he should be. Rousseau countered that Nature is not an end — a telos — but a beginning: Man’s end is his beginning. He has no immutable nature. 'We do not know what our nature permits us to be', wrote Rousseau in his Emile. A 20th century version of this view was offered by John Dewey, who said: 'human nature is not to have a nature'."

Now, Émile is a story or essay or both in one about educating a boy.

In that particular context, the words “We do not know what our nature permits us to be,” carry somewhat of a connotation, we do not know whether we should be gardener or writer, smith or cobbler, explorer or lean chair philosopher.

To Aristotle man's nature is not just an end, it is an end that is there in the beginning.

To Rousseau ... I must admit I have not read him. But to Rousseau there is a universal human nature which is not just there in the beginning but which is also an end, something one ought to follow up: compassion.

I happened to look up the author of the above quote. Robert R. Reilly, author of The Closing of the Muslim Mind.

I will quote you one sentence from the book review, a sentence purporting to sum up part of or aspect of the content:

"In this eye-opening new book, foreign policy expert Robert R. Reilly uncovers the root of our contemporary crisis: a pivotal struggle waged within the Muslim world nearly a millennium ago. In a heated battle over the role of reason, the side of irrationality won. The deformed theology that resulted, Reilly reveals, produced the spiritual pathology of Islamism, and a deeply dysfunctional culture."

As it so happens, I happen to have some very small insight of what happened among Muslims 1000 years ago. It may be that I know less than R.R. Reilly, but at least what I know does not depend on R.R. Reilly. Part of the so called flourishing of the intellect was ... Averroës. Ibn Rushd. And part of the problem with calling the outcome (the failure of Averroës) "an intellectual suicide" is that Averroës was not just rejected by Islam, but also by Catholicism. If you read Duhem, you will find that St Thomas Aquinas far more often agrees with Averroës' adversary Avempace (Ibn Bajja) than with Averroës. The latter affirmed things like "even God could not create other universes than this one". It was reasoned. It included in its reason the problem of void. And Avempace and St Thomas Aquinas solved the problem of the void as posed by Averroës identically, arrived at identical conclusions about the main problem - that creating a polyverse (or an inception thereof, one other universe) would be possible for God since he is almighty - and their particular solutions to the problem of void are the remote basis of modern scientific concepts of vacuum. Their respective conclusion - that God could very well create more than one world - is also part of the Orthodoxy of Stephen Tempier. It is - if you will read Duhem again - thanks to the doctrinal duty through these condemnations of 1277 to uphold God's omnipotence, that the concept of vacuum was transmitted intellectually.

Averroës is better described as New Age avant le mot. At least in so far as he considers that man's individual reason is only part of one big huge cosmic reason.

But New Age has some dutiful reverence for the law of nature - at least in its most Rousseauist form, of a law of compassion - which Averroës had not.

When Stephen Tempier condemns "there is no law of nature", he is not condemning St Thomas Aquinas, he is condemning Averroës.

Now, this may be hidden by the fact that St Thomas Aquinas cites Averroës more often than Avempace. But Avempace was no issue in Sorbonne. Averroës was, through men like Siger of Brabant. So, St Thomas Aquinas makes himself familiar with the intellectual idol of his day, and then refutes him again and again, and of course cites in order to refute.

R. R. Reilly by contrast thinks he can pin down Rousseau as the idol of men supporting same sex marriage. In so far as they have a somewhat inflated and distorted view of where compassion applies, maybe his identification is right.

But instead of familiarising himself with Rousseau, then using Rousseau as often as possible against same sex marriage, then refuting Rousseau every time he adopts a principle which will lead out of orthodoxy and to disaster, Reilly seems to prefer, at least in this essay, to identify the idol of the day and then show why he is such a disastruous idol - in a manner very intelligible indeed to his own camp followers, but perhaps not to Rousseau's.

Reilly really more rallies than he refutes.

One sign of this intellectual dysfunction is that Reilly is content with exactly one verbatim quote (was it two?), nearly out of context, except he cites the work in which it appears, and the context - or at least probably context - is only apparent to those who happen to know that Émile is a book about educating one boy.

Another sign of this is that the rest of what he says of Rousseau's words is taken from some very generalised anti-rousseauist flourishes. I am too little familiar with Rousseau to know if they are right or not, but they appear again and again. Chesterton - who was in some sympathy with Rousseau as with Jefferson - does not regorge these, but after Chesterton you get Father Bryan Houghton, Clive Staples Lewis, Lyndon LaRouche AND NOW R. R. Reilly repeating about same things about Rousseau's place in the history of political ideas. Resumé takes the place of quote.

A third sign of this is that he can pit Rousseau and Aristotle against each other like this. The real opponent of Aristotle would rather be John Locke or, before him, the author of Leviathan. To Hobbes and Locke there is one state of nature that contrasts with the state of civilisation, way before there is so in Rousseau.

Now, to Hobbes the state of nature is a nightmare from which civilisation or the state of law is a waking up with some necessary brutality. To Locke, the state of nature is imperfect but contains the seeds of self correction. To Rousseau, nature is good, as it is to Aristotle. Therefore, it is Rousseau of the three who is closest to Aristotle.

Where he disagrees with Aristotle is where he agrees with Hobbes and Locke.

Where he disagrees with Locke is that the arrangements which ended "the state of nature" to Locke are good and to Rousseau evil.

Reilly is really on spot when he says that to Rousseau civilisation is a substitute for the fall of man.

But to Josephus and to St Augustine, man is more fallen in the more civilised version. Kain is certainly more fallen than Abel, but he is also more civilised.

One can argue that agriculture which was Kain's profession is more civilised than shepherding which was Abel's. It is certain that Kain founds the first city and that he is ancestor of some talented inventors.

Note, I am not defending Le Contrat Social as a good book. It is on the index, like Émile. Or was while that list of forbidden books existed as Catholic legislation in force. So was Leviathan - indeed everything by Hobbes. So were two named works of Locke, An essay concerning humane understanding, The reasonableness of christianity as delivered in the Scriptures, and an extract from a work not named in the list I have before me.

But singling out Rousseau above Hobbes and Voltaire as a bad author is strikingly disingenious. For Hobbes the ban extends to all of his works. For Voltaire to more numerous ones than for Rousseau.

Singling out Rousseau as underminer of natural law, when he is only following Locke - tabula rasa means all ideas are either personal inventions or misinventions or otherwise cultural acquirements, it means there are no memes that are more natural to man than other memes are.

Singling out Rousseau as underminer of natural law, when Averroës really was so. If there is only one mind, as Averroës said, we can have no adequate conception of the truths known to the one mind. When we are right, we share it, when we are wrong we are not even thinking rationally at all. Hence we cannot individually be sure of anything. Possibly that herdlike adhesion to what the human flock says could help - at least in some cases, when one belongs to the right one. I would say that was worse than Rousseau. And yet R. R. Reilly glorifies the Muslim intellectual culture of one thousand years ago, of which precisely Averroës is a proponent.

Singling out Rousseau as quasi the underminer of the natural law, when his own misapprehension of Aristotle makes - at least as far as the dichotomy we started this review of his essay with

"Aristotle said Nature defined not only what man is but what he should be. Rousseau countered that Nature is not an end — a telos — but a beginning: Man’s end is his beginning."

But to Aristotle, as to Aquinas, the end is there precisely already at the beginning. Nature is to Aristotle not an end to be achieved, it is something we do have already at the beginning. But it is something which, having at the beginning, gives us even before political discussions some fair clue of what ends are licit. Not very far from Rousseau, in his apprehension of human nature as something good. And that already on an individual level.

And when it comes to gay marriage, I think Plato's State book VI (or was it V?) may be worse than anything Rousseau wrote.

So is, still worse, I think, Voltaire. On one occasion Voltaire heard about what happened when an innkeeper served meat during Lent. The people were upset at this breach - recently legalised - of Catholic custom, so they stormed the inn and threw the meat to the dogs. Voltaire wrote: "who but the police can decide what meats are fit to eat?"

I might be more impressed by people singling out Rousseau if they begin to single out Voltaire too. Did Hitler owe all to Rousseau and Nietzsche? Or did he owe something to Voltaire?

This is what was attributed to Hitler in comments under a youtube video: in a speech 26 June 1934, Hitler stated:

"The National Socialist State professes its allegiance to positive Christianity. It will be its honest endeavour to protect both the great Christian Confessions in their rights, to secure them from interference with their doctrines (Lehren), and in their duties to constitute a harmony with the views and the exigencies of the State of today."

He likes religion, as long as it serves the state. Does that strike a bell? Voltaire with his "if God did not exist, one would have to invent him?"

But even Voltaire, bad as he is, is not exactly behind gay marriage. All right, he is behind the lacrymogenous gaz as applied by Manuel Valls against those protesting, but he is not behind gay marriage.

He believed more or less one single chapter of the Bible, Genesis chapter one, with beginning of chapter two. But after that he scorned the Bible, especially from chapter 3 onward. But believing God created man in his image, as man and woman He created them, he would not have proposed gay marriage. Nor would Rousseau have done so.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
Georges Pompidou Library
St Catherine of Siena

Opening quote and all the drift I have otherwise been criticising is from the essay:

Mercator Net : Robert R. Reilly : The road to same-sex marriage was paved by Rousseau

No comments: