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  • Fr. Paul A. F. Castellano

The Struggle is Real! Of What is Critical Theory, Critical? Pt. 2.

In our first installment of this series, we briefly identified some of the issues CT/CRT/Wokism (henceforth simply CT) have with "modernism/post-modernism." If you need to now would be a good time to quickly scan the first blog.

With that in mind, my intention here and in this series is not to address each point of CT and refute it, but to attempt to show the root influences, how those influences were articulated in their own context, how CT understands those influences, and THEN analyze it all in relation to Christianity. I might not be successful but I'm going to make the attempt.

CT at its core is reacting to "modern theory" or, basically, "The Englightenment;" or, as it was/is sometimes called, "The Age of Reason." Now I'm not going to delve into a protracted discussion of the Enlightenment; I'm simply going to touch on the main ideas that come out of the Enlightenment in order to draw a line, as it were, from there to here - or from them to CT. If you're seriously interested[1] in the who and how's of the Enlightenment I'd commend to you, either Ernst Cassirer's work, "The Philosophy of the Enlightenment," or Peter Gay's comprehensive 2 vol treatment, entitled simply "The Enlightenment: An Interpretation."


All intellectual movements, in some way, are reacting to something else and the Enlightenment is no different. Drawing on its intellectual forerunner, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment began to articulate concepts such as pursuit of happiness (sound familiar?), reason combined with, the senses as the primary sources of knowledge, and of course, the sovereignty of reason itself. All of these, if you’re familiar at all with the Middle Ages, would run counter to monarchial reign and rule. One, in this juxtaposition, can’t have two sovereigns – reason and a king.


From this was derived the ideals of personal liberty, individual and societal progress, social and especially, religious toleration, the ‘brotherhood of all men,’ governments run by constitutions not monarchs, and the ever-confused concept of separation of Church and State. The Renaissance provided much of this early leg work for the Enlightenment.

Dating the Enlightenment can be equally as complicated; some date it from René Descartés’ “Cogito ergo Sum” (I think therefore I am), in 1637. Others date it as late as 1687 with the publication of Newton’s “Principia Mathematica.” And then there’s the French involvement claiming it began with Louis the XIV’s death in 1715, and so on. For our purposes let’s simply say the 17th and 18th centuries saw the development of Enlightenment ideas.


From this very quick summary, you can see that the ideas formed during this time would’ve challenged the existing world structure at their foundation. Government is altered if a constitution is the source of authority and not a monarch; if the church and state are separate, then the authority of the state is arbitrary at best; personal liberty removes one from the strictures of royal personal social expectations; and, the real wedge, if reason is sovereign, we not only don’t have a sovereign “human” monarch, but we also don’t have a sovereign divine monarch.[2]


This turn from external organizational structures and the imposition of divine right on the society, led to what has been called “The Age of Revolutions.” One only need begin with the American and French Revolutions and follow the consequences from there. The Absolute Monarch became an endangered species.


The idea of religious liberty and tolerance, particularly in France, was pitted against the concept of the divine right of an Absolute Monarch and established unyielding Church Dogma. From dogma, there was a move to “scientific method” (though, what that actually is cannot be absolutely – pardon the pun – determined even to this day) and questioning the very notion of the authority of religious orthodoxy.


It should be dawning upon you by this point, that Descartés rationalistic philosophy formed the foundation for Enlightenment thinking. Current Enlightenment scholar, Jonathan Israel identifies two forms of Enlightenment thought: moderate – Descartés where the idea was to seek an accommodating reform between the traditional systems of governmental power and faith; and radical – following Baruch Spinoza who pushed for complete democracy, individual liberty, freedom of expression, and the total eradication of religious authority. The first resulted in a type of deism and the latter the virtual elimination of religion completely save for moral precepts.


The one interesting outliner in this was the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant whose thought, to this day still challenges philosophers, me included. Kant (and those following him, such as Hegel, with whom we’ll address in the next entry of the series) was, in his own estimation, attempting to save religion from the radical skepticism of the empiricists, particularly David Hume.


Science becomes a key concept during this period. Rational inquiry, empirical research and analysis, sharp observations were to drive men to “knowledge,” or, “truth.” Science became such a prominent intellectual force that private academies and societies virtually supplanted university science departments. It was said that “universities passed on knowledge” while “societies created knowledge.” In France, the scientific drive resulted in the development of a deterministic understanding of science and, what we now call “metaphysical materialism.” Or simply materialism for short.


Not only science, but governmental theory, law, and economics rose to the fore. Additionally, with Hume’s “science of man,” a type of early sociology was developed. Interestingly, it was this conceptual development of Hume that influenced James Madison (one of the authors of the U.S. Constitution) and Dugald Stewart a student of the great Scot philosopher, Thomas Reid (though Stewart dreadfully misinterpreted Reid). Reid becomes important for those hailing from a Presbyterian background. Princeton, allegedly, followed Reid's "Scottish Common Sense Realism" in epistemology (the theory of knowledge). In actuality, Princeton followed McCosh who was influenced by William Hamilton. Hamilton attempted to synthesize Reid and Kant and was roundly trounced by J.S. Mill. Anyway, I digress. These two (Madison and Stewart), following Hume, would advance the classical liberalism found in Hume’s thought.


Penal theory was beginning to change with the work of Beccaria, who strenuously argued against penal torture and capital punishment.


We cannot move on without mentioning the overwhelming influence of Enlightenment politics. It was during the Enlightenment that the introduction of “democratic” values, as well as the development of, what we now call, “democratic institutions,” came to be. The concepts of ‘the right of the individual,’ equality for all men,’ legitimate political power must be representative,’ and a type of early “libertarianism,” where, whatever isn’t prohibited by law, people are free to do. Locke and Hobbes stand as two of the representative figures in political theory of the day. Locke stated, in his “Two Treatises on Government,” governments were to function according to a “social contract.” Social contract is basically, the government governs based upon consent of the people (the governed). The statement “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property” (sound familiar?) came from Locke. Hobbes argued in his work, “Leviathan,” that, the state of nature, and subsequently man, is such that the only way to keep from perpetual warring, “the state of war against all” as he put it, (he wrote his work during the English Revolution) was for the people to be governed by a strong, undivided government. The point being, that rationality was applied to every problem encountered.


Finally, we come to the question of the Enlightenment and religion. While this might seem odd, religion is crucial in this discussion of CT and Enlightenment/Modernist Theory. The Enlightenment religious thought produced varieties of deism and atheism. For those unfamiliar, deism, simply put, is God started everything and then, permanently left town. Atheism, in its original meaning, was the asserting that there is no God. Today it has taken various forms, i.e., there isn’t enough evidence to make belief in God rational; it isn’t that there is an assertion that there is no God, but, that one doesn’t have a belief in God, and so on. While deism was fairly common, atheism, in its original form, was less so. Even some of the most prominent thinkers of the day, should they be atheists, rarely were vitriolic critics of Christianity. They were opposed to forms of “orthodoxy” as they understood it. What is interesting is that Voltaire stated that, without belief in God, there would be no true punishment for evil and therefore, the order of general society would be severely undermined. Locke argued if there were no God, there was no divine law and resultant anarchy ensues. Man then becomes merely a law unto themselves.


So, how does all of this impact CT and what we're battling today? Well, if you read carefully, what the Enlightenment created was, the priority of rationality, the dominance of science, political theories that were developed by Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries, and a political structure that seemed to be geared toward external possessions. In other words, the Enlightenment emphasized the objective nature of thought and reality and, though not eliminating it totally, appeared to drastically minimize the subjective, personal elements - yes, even with Locke's view of the social contract.


You see, what all this boils down to for the CT proponent is power. Who has it and who doesn't. For them, the power, which is embedded in the Modernist Theory and passed onto us, is in the hands of rich, white, men. There is no accounting for the fact that, these theories were developed in Europe, during a period in history where that demographic was dominant. They only see color, gender, economic status.


What you should take from this is the following: the issue isn't power, the issue isn't even who has the power; the issue is the source of the power! In other words, from whence does one's power derive? Where, for whoever wields the power, do they derive the mandate to exercise that power?


To that, we have to wait until next week, as we delve even deeper into the question of CT and its influences. Here we see against what they're reacting, next week we'll see where their very foundational principles derive. A man named Hegel.

[1] A very handy introduction is a book called, “Introducing The Enlightenment” by Lloyd Spencer and Andrzej Krauze. [2] This last point needs to be teased out because the backlash was against perceived Roman Dogma and abuse of the power of the Church, not “Christianity” in general. Though, once the flood gates were opened….



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