“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.
Andrea Carroll as Susanna
There are two ways of staging The Marriage of Figaro. There is the old-fashioned way, as a comedy; and then there is a regietheater way of staging it as a tragedy. Both ways are legitimate. As I once wrote, “Mozart’s (and Da Ponte’s) Così fan tutte and Le Nozze di Figaro sparkle with comic brilliance on the surface, but under the surface is a deep sadness, and an unbearable pain.” To stage it as a tragedy one has only to take the background sadness and bring it into the foreground. A brilliant example of such an approach is the 2006 Salzburg Festival staging by Claus Guth with Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting. It is a wonderfully sad and moving performance and completely riveting. Like all regietheater, however, it is meant for an audience that already knows the opera well. It would be a pity to be introduced to Le Nozze through that performance. For first time listeners, the old-fashioned approach is better. Continue reading
In discussing “spiritual worldliness,” the most recent Ratio Fundamentalis for priestly formation speaks (among other things) of “obsession with personal appearances,” and “a merely external and ostentatious preoccupation with the liturgy.” Anyone who has moved in clerical circles knows that the description is not without fundamentum in re. One can recognize the type that Dumas père describes in Aramis: Continue reading
Taking a walk after Mass today, I noticed a dead fox by the roadside. Apparently hit by a car, but still beautiful. I composed the following rhyme for poor beast:
Your cunning was no match, poor fox,
For the speed of the iron box.
Ban cars. Bring back cart and ox.