Tag Archives: First Things

Sophists and Therapists and Politicians, Oh My…God!

The always thought-provoking First Things website has an interesting article, “Managers, Therapists, and Saving Democracy”, by Dale Coulter.  Addressing the question of whether Western society can survive its present moral collapse, he begins with the origins, observing that:

the scientific method translated into the burgeoning role of the social sciences, particularly psychology, and thus gave rise to the therapist. Human flourishing was stripped of a moral center and replaced with psychological well-being. To achieve such well-being, the mantra of “be true to yourself” reinforced the consistent claims of social scientists that non-conformity was the path to self-realization.”

Coulter offers an excellent perspective, especially about the essential sophistry of the politically-created, agenda-driven “social sciences”.  I recommend that you read it. He references several thinkers who have contributed useful analyses. George Marsden, Cristopher Lasch, Reinhold Niebuhr, George Weigel, and the much-missed former-pope Benedict XVI.  I would add two others who have done much to make the current collapse understandable: Eric Voegelin and Philip Rieff.

Voegelin wrote (In The New Science of Politics):   [In contrast to] “the classic and Christian science of man”, [Max Weber assumes] “a social relation between scientist and politician, activated in the institution of a university, where the scientist as teacher will inform his students, the prospective homines politici, about the structure of political reality.”

And in his Plato and Aristotle, “Philosophy thus, has its origin in the resistance of the soul to its destruction by society…The Sophist proclaims his disease (of the soul) as the measure of human and social order.

Another interesting perceptive is presented by Philip Rieff in The Triumph of the Therapeutic:

“Freud taught lessons which Americans, prepared by their own national experience, learn easily: survive, resign yourself to living within your moral means, suffer no gratuitous failures in a futile search for ethical heights that no longer exist – if they ever did….The death of a culture begins when its normative institutions fail to communicate ideals in ways that remain inwardly compelling, first of all to the cultural elites themselves.

“We believe that we know something our predecessors did not: that we can live freely at last, enjoying all our senses – except the sense of the past – as unremembering, honest, and friendly barbarians all, in a technological Eden.”

Voegelin also noted the inherent dishonesty in all this: “When Weber built the great edifice of his ‘sociology’ (i.e., the positivistic escape from the science of order), he did not seriously consider ‘all values’ as equal…In the absence of a reasoned principle of theoretization he let himself be guided not by ‘values’ but by the auctoritas maiorum.”

The difficulty is that philosophy, “the classic and Christian science of man” with “its origin in the resistance of the soul to its destruction by society,” seems powerless against the present disease of the soul in either its political or its sophistic-scientistic forms. The battle must be waged on moral, religious grounds as well. Plato and Aristotle must once again lock arms with St. Thomas Aquinas.  The Catholic Church under John Paul II and Benedict XVI was putting up a good fight; but now we seem to have a Pope who is all too often “guided by the auctoritas maiorum“.

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Pope Francis’ Eminence Grise ?

I have found that Maureen Mullarkey often says what many others are thinking. A blogger on the excellent First Things website, she has recently published a searing criticism of what appears to be Pope Francis’ strong predilection for left-wing politics expressed in religious garb.  Read it here: “Francis and Political Illusion”. It is appropriate to give a new voice of the church a chance to define himself before we react.   But so far Joseph has done little to reassure, and much to worry those who see the Church as the prime bulwark against a world losing all sense of order, morality and purpose. As I have said in the past (on my blog benfiniti.com), for me the first alarm was raised by his relationship with Cardinal Maradiaga of Honduras, a classic Latin American Marxist “liberation theologian” (and anti-Semite, but that’s a post for another day) as well as Pope Francis’ close confidant (appointed to head his Vatican Reform Commission).

Maradiaga’s thoughts are clear (and familiar): He rails against “the neoliberal dictatorships that rule democracies” and advises that “to change the system, it would be necessary to destroy the power of the new feudal lords.Continue reading