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Modernity is based on a system of knowledge that starts with logic and clear and unquestionable truths and out of those things claims to construct all we can know. Such an approach to knowledge severely limits what we can recognize as real, and thus profoundly affects our view of what there is and what we should do.

In particular, the restrictions it imposes on knowledge end up driving our beliefs about what’s good and true. Observable facts and events, and our desires regarding them, are immediately and demonstrably present to us in a way that ultimate goods and realities are not. Modernity therefore pays attention to the former and not the latter. That approach has had very important consequences: it has given us modern natural science, medicine, and standards of comfort and productivity on the one hand, and on the other liberty, equality, bureaucratic social management, and “enlightenment” regarding social, political and moral issues.

Modernity has also given those who accept it enormous practical power, so the triumph of modernity is thought to be definitive and final. We are told that you can’t go back, to think otherwise is unrealistic nostalgia, and anyway modernity is better practically, intellectually and morally. Is the impression of invincibility and comprehensive superiority an illusion, though? Modernity simply refuses to recognize things with which it cannot deal. As it becomes more pervasive and absolute, problems caused by ignoring realities for which it has no place are likely to lead to increasingly serious practical problems and eventually to collapse.

Common sense says that when you do some things very well you’re likely to slight others. The dark side of modernity is indicated by Bolshevism and Naziism, the increasingly unbounded nature of power and war, and intellectual, cultural and moral disarray. Such things are denied, minimized, defined out of existence or attributed to special conditions not essentially related to modernity as such—often, to insufficient modernization. Is it believable, though, that the secret of all things has been discovered and resolute enforcement is all that is needed for perfection? Or is it more likely that we have simply been trained to ignore the problems with which modern understandings cannot deal?