26 May 2024

Chestertonian Realism as the Cure for Modern Insanity

Chesterton followed in the footsteps of Aristotle and the Angelic Doctor in his realism, but he is far more accessible than his mentors to the average reader.

From Crisis

By Kennedy Hall

The Modernist denies fundamental truths of reality. To resist it we must embrace a Chestertonian realism.

Having written a book on Modernism—still in the editing process—I have, at this point, become something of an expert on the subject. I do not relish in this fact, as Modernism, being the “synthesis of all heresies,” is a web of insanity and confusion. Perhaps you have seen one of those police dramas or thriller shows with that classic trope of the detective who stays up all night piecing together evidence on a display board; in the morning, his colleagues come in to find him—hair disheveled, coffee cups everywhere, ashtrays filled with cigarettes—and he says, “I did it! I figured out who killed him!” The poor man has solved the case, but he has almost lost his mind in the process; it is very dangerous to enter into the mind of a killer in order to catch him.

I can relate to this man in the story because it has been quite an unnerving process to study deeply the mind of the Modernist, who is, in many ways, as or more deranged than the murderer. You see, a murderer is probably saner than the Modernist because the murderer is a realist. The murderer believes in life and death—thus, he kills his victim; the murderer usually believes in right and wrong—thus, he kills the victim because he believes he has been wronged by him; the murderer believes that justice is real—thus, he runs from the law; sometimes the murderer is even a moral man who believes in sin—thus, he confesses his crime to the police in order to alleviate his conscience.

Modernists believe—if we can say they believe anything—that reality has been bifurcated into a dualist Cartesian theater of the interior and exterior life that are independent of one another. Descartes said cogito, ergo sum—I think, therefore I am—and turned reality upside down, making himself the starting point for reality, thereby relativizing all exterior truth. The mad Modern philosopher who adopts Descartes’ dualism takes his cold, hard subjectivism as a cold, hard fact, not realizing the futility of adopting subjectivism objectively. 

Kant took Descartes’ dualism and turned it into a whole philosophical school based on the notion that active and vital experience of things was a measure of the truth of a thing. Kant was not an objectivist, but he was, in a sense, logically consistent in a world of illogicality and positive subjectivism. Hegel followed in Kant’s footsteps—if they really were footsteps because there would be no way of knowing if Kant had objectively stepped—and applied the evolutive aspect of a proto-Darwinian metaphysics wherein thesis and antithesis smashed together as opposing forces to synthesize opposites into a composite of solidified contradiction. For Hegel, truth began in the subjective, but it was objectively synthesized by the active process of a Hegelian synthesis. 

Henceforth, all truth, to use the term loosely, became an evolutionary process governed by the blind laws of nature that had neither telos nor common sense. The metaphysical evolutionist became the biological evolutionist, and reality became ever more absurd. Not only did the interior life of man govern reality based on his changing personality and self-actualization, but the physical underpinnings of live reality were no longer solid or stable. Evolution in metaphysics destroyed reality as it had always been understood. Chesterton said as much in Orthodoxy

[Evolution] means that there is no such thing as an ape to change, and no such thing as a man for him to change into. It means that there is no such thing as a thing. At best, there is only one thing, and that is a flux of everything and anything. This is an attack not upon the faith, but upon the mind; you cannot think if there are no things to think about. You cannot think if you are not separate from the subject of thought. Descartes said, “I think; therefore I am.” The philosophic evolutionist reverses and negatives the epigram. He says, “I am not; therefore I cannot think.”

This madness was picked up first by the Protestants—which should be expected, considering heretics always believe strange things—and was adopted by Modernist Catholic scholars. Pius X’s crusade against Modernism was fierce; but, in a sense, it had come too late. This is not to criticize the holy pope but only to admit that reality had been destroyed long before the Hammer of Modernists was given the opportunity to define the greatest heresy in the history of the Church.

Modernism is the greatest heresy because it is more than one heresy; it is a meta heresy, a Platonic Form of heresies. For the honest heretic of yore, detestable as he was, he was at least an honest man, if we can say anything good about him. Arius was a proud devil, but he believed in devils. The Albigensians were bastard dualists, but they believed in dualism. Calvin damned mankind with his double predestination, but he damned real men to a real Hell. Luther was a maniac and an idiot, but he really believed everyone else was an idiot but him.

Chesterton tells us that modern man suffers from insanity, and he is correct; but Chesterton was writing to men of Modernity who were just becoming Modernists. In our day, we would be so lucky to be around mad modern men. How much easier it would be to discuss philosophy and religion with a maniac; this would be quite the luxury. However, we are now in post-Modernity, where Modernism is passé. 

In post-Modernity, men can no longer be called insane because for a man to be called insane he must first be called a man! Post-Modernists, the chimeric off-spring of the old Modernists, have grown so tired of reality that even the unholy trinity of Descartes, Kant, and Hegel are too intolerant. 

Descartes is too restrictive because he called himself “I,” which is intolerant to those who prefer to be called “they.” Kant is too bigoted for the post-Modernist because his nominalist categories of external realities presuppose that anything can be categorized, which is probably racist. Hegel’s Darwinian metaphysics is unacceptable to post-Modern Man because it is a philosophy of violence; the notion that the fittest idea could survive the metaphysical evolutionary process is really a form of intellectual colonization that is reminiscent of the tyrants who gave savages running water and indoor plumbing.

Notwithstanding the post-Modern world that went beyond sanity and insanity like Nietzsche went beyond good and evil as he ventured into his aged imbecility, the cure for this meta-madness is the same as Chesterton’s prescription for the madness of turn-of-the-century England: “Every remedy is a desperate remedy. Every cure is a miraculous cure. Curing a madman is not arguing with a philosopher; it is casting out a devil.”

But how do we cure a race of men who do not believe in cures or madness?

Well, as crazy or beyond crazy as our race has become, the cure is still the same. The cure for anti-realism is realism. Funnily, we can find common ground with the old Modernists who now seem like conservatives and appeal to experience. Modernists are heretics about experience because they believe the experience of religious feelings is the measure of religious truth, but it is not experience itself that is heretical.

To exorcise the devil of post-Modern foolery, we must go medieval. I do not mean that in the colloquial sense of the term where the era of Christendom is seen as a dark age of ruthless incivility, but rather, in the sense that the Middle Ages were a time of realism and beauty. 

We need to unplug from rationalism and fill our souls with heavenly and beautiful things. Have you ever noticed that styles of art that are called Modernist—in the aesthetic and not theological sense—are just as ugly as their theological counterpart? The great unnamed saints of history who built cathedrals and palaces did not accomplish what they did because they were experts in computer science or algorithms; they created the greatest architecture the world has ever seen—or will ever see—because they built for the sake of beauty.
The Gothic cathedral is only a building after it was first a dream. Modernists cannot build Gothic cathedrals because they cannot dream of cathedrals; nay, Modernists cannot even really dream, they can only analyze dreams. They cannot truly create because they can only produce; they cannot truly live because they can only experience vitality.

Lest anyone suggest that the pursuit of beauty is impractical, we should compare the longevity of the aqueducts and Notre Dame to the shelf life of modern buildings that are ugly and always being repaired. Our ancestors built for God; consequently, what they built will last until the consummation of the world.

Modern man has lost all sense of beauty, especially natural beauty. This can be seen plainly in the grotesque vestments modern priests wear. Rather than wearing drab green cloaks during “Ordinary Time” that look like they are made from polyester curtains, traditional priests wear silken chasubles during the Time After Pentecost that appear as summer fields turning from shimmering green to shining gold. The loss of the sacred has meant the loss of beauty. Therefore, if we desire to recapture the sacred, we must chase after that which is beautiful.

Ditch modern music and its syncopated rhythm and allow the heaven-sent flittering of Baroque crescendos to recalibrate your spirit. An afternoon spent in a sunroom with an espresso and Vivaldi will do more to rid your soul of Modernism than almost anything. A walk through a crimson forest in October will teach you more about Creation than any theologaster blowhard lecturing you about theistic evolution. The smell and feel of an old Chesterton novel will satisfy your soul more than any viral video. The touch of a transcendental vintage to your lips will teach you more convincingly why Puritans are heretics than any apologist could hope to.

You may think that studying the inner workings of the Universe will show you the Divine Hand and may provide some insight, but we do not call God the Mathematician or Architect like the Freemasons; He is the Author of Creation, and His great work is a poem and a song. Chaucer and Dante will guide you through the heavens more than any physicist. 

Chesterton said it best in Orthodoxy

Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess players do… Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion… The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.

Free yourself, dear reader, from Modernism by purifying yourself of the unholy intellectual and artistic milieu that birthed this monster. Modernism is from Satan, and Satan is a dragon and must be stabbed in the heart and beheaded. Take up the sword of St. George, and amputate this gangrenous growth from your soul once and for all.

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