As Orthodox Christians just began our new year a few days ago, allow us to extend such greetings and wishes to our rabbinical cousins who begin theirs today.
Bonald has posted a reflection on love and what it means for Christian traditionalists and how it differs from love according to modern liberalism on the Orthosphere: “Christianity, Liberalism, and Love of the Other, Part I” and “Christianity, Liberalism, and Love of the Other, Part II.” Expanding Mark Richardson’s treatment in “Does liberalism allow group survival?,” Bonald defends the conservative insistence on differing levels of moral obligations against the Kantian universalism of liberalism, and he argues that such discrimination accords with the Christian understanding of love. Hence, he attacks liberal Christians’ position at its theological heart.
Even though I find Bonald’s general argument sensible, I have to ponder further Bonald’s assertion that one cannot love an essence. For he maintains that the object of love is always particular. Only with God—the ultimate object of love—does one love an essence, as God’s existence, in Thomist terms, is the same as his essence. I am uncomfortable with that Christian Aristotelian framework, though perhaps I would agree that such is true of God’s creative energies. I am too ignorant of Palamite wisdom, and I do not know how to reconcile or even to translate the Thomist understanding into a metaphysics where God is beyond being rather than being the beingness of beings. If the divine energies are the Thomists’ beingness of beings, then what is the relationship of God’s essence to his energies with respect to how we love God? What exactly is the “object” of that love? We love God, and I am not sure that we can move beyond that mystery. Metaphysics itself is perplexing enough; how are we to understand the unfathomable interactions between creator and creation?
Returning to Bonald’s assertion, is it true, then, that we cannot love justice itself? Or beauty itself? Or wisdom? Bonald argues that our appreciation of those qualities as manifested in men does not imply love for such men but rather esteem. But what about the qualities themselves? I do not think that men speak metaphorically when they state that they love justice. Bonald might be hesitant to accept such love because then he would then have to address the Left’s so called “love of man.” Yet, it seems right to acknowledge that we can love the essence of man. Indeed, if that essence is good, it must be loveable, and so we may not fault the Left for its love of man. Rather, we fault Leftists for their confusion about what that love entails.
What is love? Bonald offers two traditional definitions from the modern Christian debate—that of eros, which desires communion with the beloved, and that of agape, which desires the good of the beloved. It seems silly that one would will the good of an essence; its good is secure. However, one may will communion with that which he loves, and it is in this sense that one loves God, justice, beauty, and the like. Erotic love is a desire for union, which is why human sexual love is such an obvious and therefore useful carnal example of eros. Perhaps a broader, though maybe unhelpful definition of love is the appropriate reponse of a loving creature to that which is good. Love may then be desire disconnected from its self-centered, self-referencing nature.
So, why does Bonald think that we may not love essences? I suspect that the metaphysical stumbling block here is understanding how we relate to essences and to their manifestations in particulars. Platonists and other realists do not understand an essence as simply a generic category into which we group various particulars. It has an integrity on a certain level of being, and it manifests in particular things (“of sights and sounds”), which are simply the showing up of essences in time and space—that rich tapestry of meaning and being that we call the world. Perhaps, Bonald as a semi-realist Christian Aristotelian considers an essence (“apart” from the substances that it informs) as a placeholder only, and, as such, we cannot love a generic man. Thus, Bonald’s contention that we cannot love men generically; rather we love particular men and communities of men whom we know.
Anyway, I recommend Bonald’s short essay. In addition to his points, I think marriage and the bond between parents and children illustrate well that our differing levels of obligation and love are divinely ordained. We human beings are limited in time and space; our attention and care have necessary bounds. Familial obligations are such that they could not survive a universal application. As the wise minds at Pixar stated, if everyone is special, then no one is. Similarly, if all space is treated as equally sacred, then every place will be seen as profane. Likewise, if you owe everyone your time and resources equally, then you will not give much of either to any one. Liberal universalism is a recipe for selfishness and atomism; the tragedy of the commons applies just as well to the human heart.
Last month, I watched the competitions at the London Olympics along with the games’ ceremonial pageantry. I was horrified and dismayed that the British showcased John Lennon’s “Imagine” as their post-Western anthem sung by ethnically diverse children in creepy, quasi-religious hallowed tones. I have a soft spot for Lennon, but “Imagine” is a repellant song. It gives voice to the murderous-suicidal creed of a monstrous ideology, yet its singers seem oblivious to the destructiveness of their words. “Imagine there’s no country.” Imagine that there is no unifying social reality to human life; all that remains is the self and the casual, temporary extensions of the self with other selves, based on nothing but the whim of the self. As I wrote in “Abortion as a Sacrament” and “Nominalism, Nihilism, and the Will,” “modernity is fundamentally an idolatry of the will.” Obligations and realities above the self curtail the absolute freedom of the ego, and, as such, are hated objects of repression for radical, consistent liberalism. Hence, imagine no country, no family, no marriage, no religion, no culture, no ethnicity, no civilization—those “divisive” concrete particularities that can actually serve as an environment within which selves can meet, live, flourish, and love. As Nietzsche noted in On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life, men require a limited and limiting horizon in which to live. Such limitations are like biodomes that divide men from those in other domes, indeed, but they allow for men and their communities to breathe—to survive. Liberal universalism wants to fling every soul into lonely space—as isolated atoms swirling in the black void. All that then remains is the self and whatever adventure beyond solipsism the self happens to entertain—if the self is fortunate to be able to cross the threshold of distance even to encounter another soul. Lennon’s song and its ideology diminish civilization to the appetites of the individual and reduce all communal relations to the level of our decadent contemporary society’s “**** buddies.”