I once pointed out the irony of using Charles Taylor to defend Christopher Ferrara (which I had been doing up to a point) given the radically different intellectual worlds which they seem to inhabit. So it was with some surprise and delight that I noticed that Ferrara’s latest book has a blurb from–of all people–John Milbank. Somehow one doesn’t picture the left-leaning, Anglican theologian à la mode Milbank actually reading the sort of American trad. polemicist who actually writes for The Remnant. Apparently, Ferrara also quotes Milbank a good amount in the book itself. Excellent, Sancrucensis says to himself; the strategy of uniting the anti-liberal insights of the 19th century popes with that of those intellectuals “on the left and the right [who] have all taken their cue from [...] Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue” (to borrow a phrase from Mark Lilla) is one that has my approval.
At one point in his Kenyon College Commencement Speech (embedded above; transcript here) David Foster Wallace describes in brilliantly vivid detail the frustrations of standing in line in a supermarket. Our default setting, he says is to burn with impotent rage against the dreariness, misery, and stupidity of the situation. But this is not the only option: Continue reading
A Secular Age by Charles Taylor
Cross-posted from Goodreads. Rating: 4 of 5 stars
It takes a long time, and a certain amount of patience, but it is possible to finish Charles Taylor’s long, heavy book A Secular Age. And it’s really worth it. Taylor’s is in many ways the most insightful account of the genesis of modernity that I have ever read. For it is more than an examination of the “conditions of belief” in our age; it’s an examination of the way moderns see and imagine themselves and society and the universe, and how this way of seeing and imagining came about. A lot of goodreads reviews have complained about the sheer length, the meandering, and the repetitiveness of this work, but I found the length necessary to make his case, and the repetitions helpful to avoid getting lost. The meandering hesitating style seems to me to be used for rhetorical reasons. It a trifle irritating at times, but it allows Taylor to make his conclusions really plausible without having to prove them strictly. Continue reading
To attack the French Revolution as a Catholic might seem a bit too easy. But then Hillaire Belloc was famously a great defender of the Revolution, and even Aelianus of Laodicea seems to agree with him up to a point. The French Revolution, it would seem, is a bit complicated. Continue reading
Venuleius of Ius Honorarium has posted a mixture of praise and contempt for Christopher Ferrara’s polemics against “Americanism.” I haven’t read Ferrara’s book, but I can guess what it’s like; after all, in my undergraduate days in the USA I was in the business of quoting Diuturnum Illud and Notre Charge Apostolique to bash the founding principles of that proud republic. Venuleius gives Ferrara qualified praise for slamming John Courtney Murray-style attempts at showing that the American founding principles are the cat’s meow, and ought to be adopted root and branch by Catholic social teaching. But Venuleius argues that Ferrara overstates the evils of the American project: Continue reading
In trying to explain the changes in the “conditions of belief” from the pre-modern to the modern (secular) age Charles Taylor makes a distinction between what he calls the “porous self” of pre-modernity and the “buffered self” of modernity. He distinguishes them in terms of the locus of “meaning;” for the buffered self “meaning” exists only in the mind not in external reality, whereas for the porous self meaning is already there in reality and can impinge on us from without. To clarify the distinction Taylor brings up an intriguing example– different views of melancholy: Continue reading