The Fearful Descent

The Tory Anarchist

Richard M. Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences, published in 1948, was one of the books that (so it’s often claimed) helped define postwar American conservatism. Today the title, which wasn’t even Weaver’s — he planned to call the book The Fearful Descent, but his publisher insisted on something less pessimistic (see also Kirk’s Conservative Mind, which was originally to have been The Conservative Rout) — is a cliche among movement conservatives, many or even most of whom have never read Weaver’s succinct, 190-page book.

How much of a relationship is there really between Weaver’s thought and latter-day conservatism? Perhaps a pretty strong inverse relationship. My host last week when I spoke on “Where the Right Went Wrong” at North Carolina State University was a very principled student named James Lawrence. Although I didn’t recognize his name immediately, I was familiar with his work from long before my…

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Fast facts for fasting

Praying for Peace in Syria

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis has called for a day of fasting and prayer tomorrow. And to help people prepare, the U.S. bishops have posted a quick guide on what fasting entails:

For the two days of the year when the Church requires fasting of Catholics (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday), the parameters of the fast are given as: “When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal. Two smaller meals may also be taken, but not to equal a full meal.” Catholics may, of course, eat less, but this is considered the minimum required.  

View original post 354 more words

Fast facts for fasting

Praying for Peace in Syria

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis has called for a day of fasting and prayer tomorrow. And to help people prepare, the U.S. bishops have posted a quick guide on what fasting entails:

For the two days of the year when the Church requires fasting of Catholics (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday), the parameters of the fast are given as: “When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal. Two smaller meals may also be taken, but not to equal a full meal.” Catholics may, of course, eat less, but this is considered the minimum required.  

View original post 354 more words

Kristeva’s Declaration of Dependence: On JP2

Cosmos the in Lost

The only thing better than exposing famous atheists as believers as I did with Sartre and Camus is enlisting the help of atheists in unpopular ecclesial causes.  I sense the tide has turned, especially for Neo-Cons, on John Paul II.  Their attempts to baptize capitalism and every American war with the aid of JP2 have fallen short.  A surprising number of them now busies themselves taking the same sorts petty pot shots at Wojtyla they once hated from liberal Catholics (I won’t stoop to linking their attacks).

I would argue being in the crosshairs of both sides of the theological spectrum is a good place to be.  But don’t let me make the argument.  I’ll let Julia Kristeva, an atheist, feminist, and psychoanalyst make it for me. (She also appeared at the 2011 World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi.  You can read her call for peace…

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The Glimmer of the Eschaton in Van Gogh

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait, 1861.

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait, 1861.

Today I leave you with two richly evocative quotes from God After Metaphysics: A Theological Aesthetic by Greek Orthodox theologian John Panteleimon Manoussakis (previously excerpted here) accompanied by relevant paintings..

Van Gogh, Potrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin , December 1888.

Van Gogh, Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin , December 1888.

“How, or rather, what do I see when I see you? A body? Isn’t it the case that I see only you in your body? Are you totally exhaustible by your body? Then, what is a gesture? The tone of your voice? Posture? The same questions can be asked concerned painting. What makes this painting a Van Gogh and not a Rembrandt? What is the style? Is it in the painting without, however, being the painting. It is the unapparent, the aphanes, that somehow appears visible? For what is visible in a painting–the colors, the shapes, the strokes of the brush–is precisely not the style. It is never the eye (as a physiological organ) or the ear that sees and bears but ‘I’–this ‘I,’ however cannot be seen, heard, or touched. That is why it (the I) can see and hear and touch what is called here the unapparent. This is not to deny embodiment and the flesh–on the contrary. The ‘I’ does not float in the air, it is always embodied–incarnate–in my body (as style is in the painting), but it is not completely exhausted by the body understood as a physical, measurable, that is, objectified thing. What would dare to say the I is a thing? (That is, who else but Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza?).”

 Van Gogh, Potrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin , August 1888.

Van Gogh, Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin , August 1888.

“What Kierkegaard calls ‘eternity’s equality’ is not any different from what we mean by eschatology–for, indeed, this likeness, the iconic reflection of the divine in each and all of us, shines more fully at the eschaton, but it has always begun to glimmer in the now. It is this glimmer that the prosopic [person-in-relation] reduction should allow us to see–in other words, what Merold Westphal refers to in one of his essays as the ‘halo’ that we often see emanating from the faces in Van Gogh’s portraits. But in order to see it, we have to hold each person up, so to speak, to the light that shines from a future unknown and unseen, refusing thus to decide about the definite being and the definition of the persons on the grounds of who he or she is or has been. The truth of the other person does not lie in his or her past or present but in the eschaton.”

Van Gogh, Potrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin , April 1888.

Van Gogh, Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin , April 1888.

What I found most interesting is how the “halo” comes through differently in each of these monumental Van Gogh portraits of the same quotidian subject. But is there anything quotidian about the undesirables–the homeless, the undergraduates, and the lawyers–whom you meet in the streets? What’s more, can you bare to look at this aspect of your mailman’s face without averting your gaze?

Electro-Rorty Blows Shatner Out of the Water With His Nihilism

This is the musical supplement to today's post on contemporary philosophy.

This is the musical supplement to today’s post on Kreeft’s list of contemporary philosophy.

To my great chagrin Richard Rorty was one of the most influential philosophers of the late 20th century. He made waves with his extremely influential and quick-selling (usually not good signs for philosophy books) The Mirror of Nature. His book pretty much argued what you see and hear in the video below.

Are you feeling the beats?

TOP 10: Corrections to Peter Kreeft’s Contemporary Philosophy List!

Rembrandt, because I didn't want to use Raphael.

Rembrandt, because I didn’t want to use Raphael.

There are plenty of interesting things on Brandon Vogt’s website. They certainly have given me plenty of food for thought.

For example, I deeply appreciate the G.K. Chesterton video he posted not too long ago. It gave me a new, if somewhat idiosyncratic, vantage point on the always troubled Christian-Muslim relations here (join the conversation).

Brandon also recently posted a list of books that was recommended to him by none other than Peter Kreeft. Kreeft is a wonderful popularizer of classical philosophy and theology. Ancient Athens and Medieval Christendom are where the Boston College philosopher feels most at home. I’d like to argue later that he’s a little bit iffy when it comes to more recent philosophy.

The footnotes in the Summa of the Summa are indispensable.

The footnotes in the A Shorter Summa are indispensable for beginning to understand the Aristotelian-Thomistic idiom. My copy is all marked up. This book is well worth your time.

To see what I mean, take a look at the Medieval lists Kreeft compiled below:

Medieval Philosophy, Basic List:

Medieval Philosophy, Additional List:

"But surely that than which a greater cannot be thought cannot be only in the understanding. For if it were only in the understanding, it could be thought to exist also in reality," say Anselm in the Proslogion. And really, I can't think of the better list than the one given by Kreeft here.

“But surely that than which a greater cannot be thought cannot be only in the understanding. For if it were only in the understanding, it could be thought to exist also in reality,” says Anselm in the Proslogion. And really, I can’t think of the better introductory medieval list than the one given by Kreeft above.

The ancient and modern lists in Brandon’s post are just as solid as this medieval one.

So, I was shocked to read the following list of “contemporary” philosophical texts recommended by Kreeft:

Contemporary Philosophy, Basic List:

Contemporary Philosophy, Additional List

Even the author of Orthodoxy is surprised by this rather unorthodox list.

Even the author of Orthodoxy is a little shocked by this rather unorthodox list of “contemporary” philosophers.

I agree with the choice of Sartre, Marx, and William James for the basic list. Then again, The Varieties of Religious experience is a much more fundamental William James text for both philosophy and the study of religion. In fact, it’s one of the texts that brought serious study of religion back into the mainstream of academic culture. Varieties is still the departure point for most work done in religious studies. It’s the one book you must agree with, or quarrel with.

Pascal belongs in the modern list, whereas C.S. Lewis does not belong at all. Lewis is a first-rate popularizer, but he does not belong on a list of basic or supplementary “contemporary” philosophical texts. This means I’ll have to nominate two replacements for the basic list of contemporary authors. Actually, make that three, because Nietzsche is much more deserving of a position on such a list than Sartre.

  • Nietzsche: You might as well dive into the Nietzsche Reader if you want to understand his influence on key modern thinkers like Sartre, Heidegger, but also upon contemporary theology. The selections in this collection are first rate and Hollingdale writes a mean introduction.
  • Heidegger, Being and Time: Pure and simple, it’s the most important philosophical treatise of the 20th century. What’s even better? Heidegger borrows half of his concepts from theology–and then tries to unsuccessfully conceal them. You may not ignore this book and I must finally read it in its entirety!
  • Henri de Lubac’s The Mystery of the Supernatural is, hands down, the most obvious replacement for Lewis. This tome is perhaps the single most influential theology book of the 20th century. It helped to disentangle theology from modern philosophical adulterations of Thomism. De Lubac shaped the agenda for both Vatican II and the critiques of its implementation with this book and several others.
The Mystery of the Supernatural has influenced you even if you know nothing about it.

The Mystery of the Supernatural has influenced you even if you know nothing about it.

Mill is probably the only second stringer on Kreeft’s additional list that deserves to definitively remain there. We can feel the deleterious effect of his philosophy upon every aspect of our lives. The others, not so much.

Kreeft seems to go on an unjustified binge of analytical philosophers whose books are not terribly important. Chesterton is a figure on the fence–there really are more important books out there, but his philosophical standing is on the rise. So let’s say that leaves us with about four replacements:

  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations: Wittgenstein totally revamped the conclusions he reached in the influential Tractatus in the Investigations. What’s more, he has played an important role in reinvigorating theology as Fergus Kerr has argued in his Theology After Wittgenstein, which, by the way, contains one of the most creative and convincing arguments against abortion.
  • Gabriel Marcel, The Mystery of Being, which is divided up into Volume I and Volume II. This unjustly ignored mid-century Catholic existentialist philosopher might turn out to be more pivotal to the history of philosophy than some of the other thinkers mentioned in these contemporary lists. His influence is so ubiquitous, especially among Catholics, that it’s invisible.
  • Kierkegaard, A Kierkegaard Anthology: Kierkegaard, because if you haven’t wrestled with Kierkegaard, then you haven’t wrestled with modern philosophy (and the opportunities it holds for theology).
  • Hans Urs von Balthasar, Glory of the Lord volume I: This book inaugurated a series of reflections that brought beauty back into the fold of both theological and philosophical reflection. It’s in a virtual tie with the de Lubac book I mentioned in the main list for “contemporary” philosophers. On another day, they could switch sides. Karl Barth’s The Epistle to the Romans could also substitute for either one of these books given its immensely positive historical influence.

Now that’s more like it!

As you can see, we’ve culled out most of the analytical philosophy, which is the philosophical and existential equivalent of a glorified New York Times crossword puzzle.

However, if you insist on reading some philosophy of language then you must buy American. Charles Sanders Peirce has been called “the American Aristotle” by Fr. Oakes in a First Things piece that can be found here. It’s best to dip into his selected philosophical writings.

Viola!

Viola!

Finally, Pierre Hadot’s Philosophy as a Way of Life is a book that anyone interested in the discipline must read. It will totally transform your vision of what ancient philosophy was and what philosophy ought to be.

Don’t miss out on the other TOP 10 booklists on this blog: one on religious living poets, one on living religious novelists, one on books about heaven and hell, and finally, one on recent theology books.

Before you get too deep: