History repeats itself?

Like Linda Richman, of Coffee Talk!, those who read Jose Ortega y Gasset have been "discuss(ing) amongst ourselves" for some time (since 2000 when Barzun told us to in From Dawn To Decadence).  His outlook is very much recognizable today.  Here is Ortega, in 1923 (from The Modern Theme):

"Such a disassociation between standards and their permanent translation into action would never have come about if we had been taught, together with the imperative of objectivity, that of self—consistency, which comprises the whole series of vital imperatives.  It is necessary that at all times we should be sure that we do in fact believe what we presume we believe; that the ethical ideal we accept "officially" does in fact interest and stimulate the deeper energies of our personality.  If we had been in the habit of so clarifying our inward situation from time to time, we should have automatically exercised due selection in culture and eliminated all such forms of it as are incompatible with life, utopian, and conducive to hypocrisy.  On the other hand culture would not have been continually relegated to increasingly remote distances from the vitality which creates it, nor condemned at last, in a ghostly isolation, to petrifaction.  So, in one of those phases of the drama of history, in which man needs all his vital resources to preserve himself from catastrophic circumstances and needs most of all those which are nourished and stimulated by faith in transcendental values, that is, in culture, it happens that, in such an hour as that which is passing over Europe, everything fails him.  And yet junctures like the present are the experimental test of cultures.  Facts have brutally imposed on Europeans, through their own indiscretion, the immediate obligation to be self—consistent, to decide what they authentically believe, and they have discovered that they do not.  They have called this discovery the "breakdown of culture."  It is obvious that there is nothing of the sort: something had broken down long before, and that was the self—consistency of Europeans; the breakdown is that of their own vitality."

That quotation absolutely defies paraphrase, and Ortega's insights in The Modern Theme cannot be distilled into a brief of a few sentences.  But I will say that Ortega identifies acidic fraternal twins at work — rationalism and relativism.

For Ortega, rationalism breaks all it touches into an endless digression of systems, categories, and compartments down to the atom.  It is eminently valuable (and miraculous, if you will) as a tool for science — for the maximization of the uses of matter.  When applied exclusively as a tool for the actualization of human capacity it results ultimately in the "bow strung to the highest tension," the description Ortega used for Bonaparte.  The army of rationalists sought an Emporer, not the other way around.  Ortega knew what was soon to come in his century.

Relativism for Ortega was a universalist fool's errand, striving to be expansively humane to the point of denying the existence of "vital values."  We're he alive today he would find the expression, "It's all good," maniacal.

The twins in league labored to surgically remove Sincerity from Truth, Emotion from Goodness, and Joy from Beauty; to elevate conceptual abstracts over what is human.  Ortega writes provocatively, "

It is illogical to guillotine a prince and replace him with a principle."

Today one merely needs to replace Europe and Europeans with America and Americans in the passage excerpted above.  We are now the outpost and the vanguard.  If we don't accept and believe this we will be the remnant.

I'm guilty, so many but not all are guilty, of often confusing myself and my fellows for walking autonomous bundles of personal prerogatives.  I'd been told that this is rational and tolerantly humane, and believed it against my upbringing and better judgment.  For such "indiscretion" history has and always will intervene.  It is "faith in transcendental values" that sustains a culture, binds a nation, and engenders a vital individual life; not the economy, or fashion in all it's iterations, or even (I'll pay for this one) "progress," stupid.

I hear Ortega the Spaniard, in two current, very unique, and particularly American voices.  Gerard van der Leun  and Peggy Noonan  have a "deeper energy."

Stephen Shields   3 31, 2006

Like Linda Richman, of Coffee Talk!, those who read Jose Ortega y Gasset have been "discuss(ing) amongst ourselves" for some time (since 2000 when Barzun told us to in From Dawn To Decadence).  His outlook is very much recognizable today.  Here is Ortega, in 1923 (from The Modern Theme):

"Such a disassociation between standards and their permanent translation into action would never have come about if we had been taught, together with the imperative of objectivity, that of self—consistency, which comprises the whole series of vital imperatives.  It is necessary that at all times we should be sure that we do in fact believe what we presume we believe; that the ethical ideal we accept "officially" does in fact interest and stimulate the deeper energies of our personality.  If we had been in the habit of so clarifying our inward situation from time to time, we should have automatically exercised due selection in culture and eliminated all such forms of it as are incompatible with life, utopian, and conducive to hypocrisy.  On the other hand culture would not have been continually relegated to increasingly remote distances from the vitality which creates it, nor condemned at last, in a ghostly isolation, to petrifaction.  So, in one of those phases of the drama of history, in which man needs all his vital resources to preserve himself from catastrophic circumstances and needs most of all those which are nourished and stimulated by faith in transcendental values, that is, in culture, it happens that, in such an hour as that which is passing over Europe, everything fails him.  And yet junctures like the present are the experimental test of cultures.  Facts have brutally imposed on Europeans, through their own indiscretion, the immediate obligation to be self—consistent, to decide what they authentically believe, and they have discovered that they do not.  They have called this discovery the "breakdown of culture."  It is obvious that there is nothing of the sort: something had broken down long before, and that was the self—consistency of Europeans; the breakdown is that of their own vitality."

That quotation absolutely defies paraphrase, and Ortega's insights in The Modern Theme cannot be distilled into a brief of a few sentences.  But I will say that Ortega identifies acidic fraternal twins at work — rationalism and relativism.

For Ortega, rationalism breaks all it touches into an endless digression of systems, categories, and compartments down to the atom.  It is eminently valuable (and miraculous, if you will) as a tool for science — for the maximization of the uses of matter.  When applied exclusively as a tool for the actualization of human capacity it results ultimately in the "bow strung to the highest tension," the description Ortega used for Bonaparte.  The army of rationalists sought an Emporer, not the other way around.  Ortega knew what was soon to come in his century.

Relativism for Ortega was a universalist fool's errand, striving to be expansively humane to the point of denying the existence of "vital values."  We're he alive today he would find the expression, "It's all good," maniacal.

The twins in league labored to surgically remove Sincerity from Truth, Emotion from Goodness, and Joy from Beauty; to elevate conceptual abstracts over what is human.  Ortega writes provocatively, "

It is illogical to guillotine a prince and replace him with a principle."

Today one merely needs to replace Europe and Europeans with America and Americans in the passage excerpted above.  We are now the outpost and the vanguard.  If we don't accept and believe this we will be the remnant.

I'm guilty, so many but not all are guilty, of often confusing myself and my fellows for walking autonomous bundles of personal prerogatives.  I'd been told that this is rational and tolerantly humane, and believed it against my upbringing and better judgment.  For such "indiscretion" history has and always will intervene.  It is "faith in transcendental values" that sustains a culture, binds a nation, and engenders a vital individual life; not the economy, or fashion in all it's iterations, or even (I'll pay for this one) "progress," stupid.

I hear Ortega the Spaniard, in two current, very unique, and particularly American voices.  Gerard van der Leun  and Peggy Noonan  have a "deeper energy."

Stephen Shields   3 31, 2006