“The history of modernity, insofar as it has been a series of social and political liberations and emancipations from arbitrary and oppressive rule,” Alasdair MacIntyre writes in his latest book, “is indeed in key respects a history of genuine and admirable progress.” Twitter user @areyousurebruv brought this quote up as a challenge to traditionalists who make use of MacIntyre’s critique of modernity, but would not see a series of liberations in its history.
The traditionalist could respond by saying that modernity did not begin as a movement of liberation against arbitrary power. On the contrary, it began as a movement for arbitrary power: the movement that brought about the modern state, with its violent understanding of sovereignty (cf. A.W. Jones’s Before Church and State). Only in a secondary dialectical moment did it become a movement for liberation from absolutist state violence. But that secondary moment preserved many of the problems of the absolutist modernity against which it rebelled. And both in its totalitarian and in its liberal guises it brought about societies no better than the ones it overcame. The Reign of Terror and Stalinism were worse than the Bourbons and the Romanovs respectively. And liberalism is worse than the Stewarts.