The tyranny of pluralism

A good article by John Rao: “Why Catholics Cannot Defend Themselves: The Religious and Cultural Suicide of a Conquered People”. Or at least one that’s helpful to me. Before I was a Catholic I wrote a couple of things on liberalism and pluralism that are in line with Dr. Rao’s views, but he develops the issues with reference to the situation in the contemporary Church.

The article does an excellent job of describing the hole we’ve fallen into through the acceptance of pluralism as the standard for all actions that are not strictly private. It’s especially good in showing how pluralism becomes an unquestionable absolute beyond all discussion. To doubt it is to lack faith in God and his Church, not to mention the Pope, the human person, and what not else. Pluralism, it turns out, isn’t plural. Instead, it’s monolithic and — as Rao says — fideist.

It’s also patently anti-Christian. The Incarnation made God a public reality in this world rather than a matter of private interpretation. That’s why Christ spoke with manifest authority, and that’s why he was crucified. It’s also why the apostles went out to convert the world and the martyrs died rather than sacrifice to Caesar. How can any of that make sense if “free to be you and me” is the ultimate truth of things?

Rao seems to overstate the importance of America in the triumph of pluralism. The pluralist position has a compelling logic that didn’t need America to win out: once “God is dead” — once transcendent standards are rejected — then “good” can only mean “desired.” Since desires conflict, one must nonetheless have a way to choose among them, and since there are no goods beyond desire the criterion cannot appeal to the notion that some desires are better than others. That leaves two choices: (1) simply giving preference to the desires of certain people, or (2) establishing some procedure for aggregating, reconciling and arbitrating among desires that in principle gives the preference to none and so is strictly formal. The latter approach seems more rational — since all desires are equally desires, and the good is simply the desired, it seems that all desires should have equal power to define “good.” That’s pluralism, though.

I also like Rao’s proposed solution, return to the “Whole Christ” — reappropriation of the life of the Church through the ages. That, I think, is what traditionalism should be. To view it as a matter of “going back to the 50s” is to trivialize it.

6 thoughts on “The tyranny of pluralism”

  1. The timing of this article

    The timing of this article coming back out in print is providential.

    Pluralism causes mental insanity, contraception, and homosexuality. Brilliant! This article removes the scales from one’s eyes.

  2. John Rao
    One minor point. Rao objects to Pluralism’s presentation of itself as “open,” “inclusive,” “pragmatic,” “reasonable,” “compassionate,” “just,” and so on.

    This is just typical marketing, and if anyone takes it seriously they have no one to blame but themselves. These terms are mere projections of the delusions Pluralists have about themselves. Pluralists like to think they are wonderful people, with a wonderful product, and they project these delusions with terminology that is self-flattering in an almost juvenile way.

    No human being is simultaneously open, inclusive, reasonable, pragmatic, just, and compassionate; neither is any human institution or government. In contrast, many human beings THINK that they are these things. But then, this is just one more symptom of an idealist ontology (Christians used to call this kind of self-delusion “sin”).

  3. John Rao
    I just read Rao’s article. Too long, too windy, but its central thesis is correct (and not only for Catholicism).

    I haven’t read any other pieces by Rao, but my complaint about this article is that it attacks Pluralism for its results (which, in the article, are asserted but not definitively demonstrated) without a decisive thrust at its heart, which, as I have said before, is its idealist ontology (which is internalized by moderns, and therefore accounts for the “fidest” nature of modern fanaticisms like Pluralism).

    In contrast, a writer like Plantinga goes directly to the heart of the modernist spiritual disease. Pluralists are wrong because their ontology is wrong, which in result produces an incoherent empistemology (in which we all suffer). Direct and lucid criticism of the Pluralist ontology also demonstrates that the claim to “pragmatism” made by Pluralism is a hoax and a fraud.

    Rao’s appeal to the “whole Christ” is, I think, his partially conscious effort to move away from an idealist ontology back to reality, and his emphasis on Church history shares that impulse.

    But study of the “whole Christ,” or of Church history, would be meaningless for a modern, so long as the modern man is bound within an idealist ontology (which, for most moderns, is wholly unconscious, and is therefore expressed, as Rao notes, in irrational outbursts and fits of “the Spirit”).

    Within a fanaticism like Pluralism, neither Faith nor Reason can gain any traction. Traction can be gained only as an outsider, attacking from without, openly and without apology. My suggestion is to attack the fanaticism directly, at its heart, and ignore its symptoms. Such an attack will be met by violent reaction (we are dealing here with an unconscious fanaticism, after all), but perhaps we should have faith in Faith and Reason, neither of which can be claimed by Pluralism.

    • Let 1000 flowers bloom
      I agree that Rao pays more attention to history than ontology, but then he’s a historian. It’s helpful to go over these things from several directions. You could also view them from the standpoint of epistemology, an overly-critical view of human knowledge that makes it impossible for us to know about anything that can’t be generated out of our own experience and formal logic. Or from the standpoint of the loss of faith, which seems to be the best word to describe what’s needed to bridge the gap between what moderns say we can know about and the things needed for an inhabitable world.

      Rem tene, verba sequentur.

      • John Rao
        I’ve read some of Dr. Rao’s pieces, as catalogued at his site. I found this in one of his articles:

        “Modern visions of life have not been constructed upon this same natural and supernatural outlook. They started to change with the Nominalists of the 1300’s, who insisted that everything that seemed solid on the earth and in the heavens could be altered along with the arbitrary will of the omnipotent God. They ended with the various wings of the Enlightenment, which argued that all that seemed permanent could change with the arbitrary will of omnipotent men, who were empowered to “have it their way;” to manipulate the entire universe according to their desires.”

        This is hardly a comprehensive summary of the development, but it hints at the trajectory. He ends his comment with reference to the Enlightenment, but that is hardly the end of the story. Remnants of the Englightenment certainly linger in our society, such as its ritual obesiance to scientific rationalism. But the Enlightenment project is dead, and its continued defenders (like David Stove) are usually marginalized, ignored, or mocked. One need only to read Thomas Kuhn, Alisdair MacIntyre, and Richard Rorty to gain a sense of the extent to which classic Enlightenment categories have been eviscerated. A return to a world bound by the Enlightenment would be a boon in comparison to our present morass.

        Modern man doesn’t believe that (in Rao’s words) he “manipulates the universe according to his own desires.” No, modern man believes he IS the universe, that he literally makes and re-makes it, that he quite literally creates all that is and all that may be subject to his willful manipulation. In other words, the modern believes he is God, or at worst that he has direct access to a “God consciousness” that allows him to participate directly in God’s creativity and love. This is hardly Enlightenment thinking; rather, it is intensely irrationalist, arbitrary, and willful.

    • Faithlessness
      Speaking of the lack of faith within pluralism, I ran across this in a book review by Richard Rorty; the book is “Saturday” by Ian McEwan.

      “The plane turns out to be harmless, but later in the day Perowne thinks, “The government’s counsel—that an attack in a European or American city is an inevitability—isn’t only a disclaimer of responsibility, it’s a heady promise. Everyone fears it, but there’s also a darker longing in the collective mind, a sickening for self-punishment and a blasphemous curiosity.” We sicken for self-punishment because of the guilt that comes from being able to do little and being unable to imagine doing more, either for gutter-sweepers in London or for children in Guatemalan sweatshops. We feel that our world does not deserve to last, because it is so irredeemably unjust.”

      I highlight “we sicken for self-punishment” and the last sentence: “We feel that our world does not deserve to last, because it is so irredeemably unjust.”

      I think this passage reveals some of the desperation, hysteria, and faithlessness inherent in some strains of pluralism. I am particularly struck by the use of the word, “irredeemably.” I suspect the writer is not a Christian, yet he employs Christian categories, such as “punishment,” “unjust,” “guilt,” “irredeemably.” He is caught in a Christian eschatology without a God, and certainly without a redeemer.

      I have found the best antidote against this kind of perfectionist thinking, and the belief that mankind can, and should, create an equal, suburban, affluent paradise for all (and that such a result would constitute “justice”), is Reinhold Niebuhr and his emphasis on the “not yet” in Christian historical expectation. It would, after all, be an easy thing to claim faith if we had within ourselves the power and means to make the world as we would like it to be; it is another thing altogether to live in the real world.

      The quoted passage also underscores modern man’s “world alienation,” in Arendt’s phrase, the objection to existence (as discussed by Mr. Kalb)and an associated aversion to suffering of any kind, the unbearable anxiety and burden of difference and individuality, and the tendency within liberalism toward gnostic solutions and monism.

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