There is a great anecdote about Karl Marx, relayed to us by Engels, which claims that upon hearing of the abuses to which his work had been employed by his followers, the Old Master responded, “je ne suis pas Marxiste.” Looking about the Catholic world today, I wonder sometimes if St. Thomas of Aquino wouldn’t find a similar reason to turn to his modern followers and declare “I am not a Thomist.”
This thought came to me recently when I found myself engaged in a debate with a knowledgeable and devout priest on the topic of immigration. My contention was that natural law—the rule of reason which governs the universe—does not require unlimited immigration and, in fact, allows for a complete halt to immigration, if it is for the good of the commonwealth. The priest, whose orthodoxy and virtue lend nothing but credit to his great vocation, seemed to offer the opposite. The natural law in fact renders national borders all but illusory; and applied to particulars, the modern Muslim invasion of Europe follows as a matter of course. A very shocking result, this: the thousands upon thousands of martyrs who gave their life at the gates of Vienna not only died in vain; but if I’m to believe what I’m told of that most horrendous sin of “racism,” those men are actually in hell right now for their defense of a racist regime against the noble and oppressed Turks, whose right to participate in the “common good” of Vienna was apparently immutable.
This is a conclusion so insane I could hardly believe it. What good has twenty centuries of Christian scholarship done for us if we can’t agree that a Muslim seizure of Vienna is, all things considered, a bad thing? What is the explanation we members of the erudite Church Militant plan to give to the Church Triumphant regarding our acquiescence to one of Christ’s great enemies? No one outside the liberal era could have conceived of bowing to such a stupid notion as this.
I’m sure Father’s logic was impeccable in leading to such a conclusion—my amateurish Thomism is certainly no match for him. But I’d venture to say the heart of our dispute lay not in application or logic, but in our first terms. The elemental precept of natural law, “that good is to be pursued and done, and evil is to be avoided,” obviously relies on what we determine to be bad and good, and to analyze what is good for man, we have to first agree on what man intrinsically is; without agreement on this, there is no point in engaging in further reasoning. And the way we define that featherless biped is not a matter of vacuous philosophizing. In the our anti-Christian, post-human era, whether we see man as a being good in and of himself, or whether he is little more than a cell in the social organism, makes all the difference in assigning what is good for him, and what the meaning of the accordant common good will take. Our first terms are more important than any application of logic or the specious application of moral precepts.
It is for this reason (Lord have mercy on me) I’ve come to believe the modern Christian might be better off if he spent more time with Bronze Age Mindset than St. Thomas’s Summa. Thomas of Aquino is not the saint we need in the times of ideology—at least not for the reasons so many use and abuse his supreme work. The Heavenly Doctor, who lived so fully and richly among ideas, is not the emblem of virtues we need to endure the modern rule of ideology. St. Thomas’s grand intellectual edifices, most notably his notion of natural law, can be used to defend all sorts of calumnies and evils if we do not start from the same point of nature. We must have some notion of what “man” is before we can identify what is good for him. And for this reason, a self-proclaimed pervert comes off as more orthodox than many modern Christians.
For all the problems one may have with the particulars of reinvigorating the Bronze Age Mindset (the nudism, if nothing else), BAP’s central project is to build up a renewed conception of man, in all his beauty. It is unfair to compare the Bronze Age Pervert’s first book and the masterpiece of Western thought (though for what it’s worth, I was trying to read Lucretius’ On the Way of Things around the same time I read BAPbook, and I feel I got much the same insight with much more wit from BAP). But BAPbook is above all things an attempt to revive the Classical Man in a liberal world. The classical man and the liberal man—or as BAP calls him, the Bugman—cannot coexist. It is the classical man, and the classical man alone, on which Christ can work His transformation. We have to learn how to be men again before we can be Christians.
In the modern age, the liberal (i.e. the bugman) is the Christian’s worst enemy—though one would be surprised to learn this given the fact that the pagan and “paganism”are still the preferred whipping-boys for the Christian. Whatever their politics or degree of orthodoxy, few Christians are able to resist the temptation to place paganism as the supreme antipode to the Church. This is outdated nonsense, proof that the Christian does not understand his enemy. The pagan is opposed to the Church, but his opposition is couched in the overruling claims made by his own selfhood; the bugman wants his selfhood eviscerated on the altar of social consensus and the zeitgeist. The pagan bows his head to the rule of Nature; the bugman sees his self created by Demos, and his morality and self-hood dependent on sociality. The pagan still adheres to the ideals of classical man; the bugman is transhumanist, and adores the fact that we already live in a functionally post-human era, where the body is thought of as a nuisance to the pleasure-center which modern man takes to be his soul. The classical man can see his ideals reflected in the bosom of Greece and Rome; the bugman longs for the world of Oriental despots and nihilism.
Worse than this is the liberal who clothes himself in Christian vesture—the Christian bugman. This is a creature who uses Church teaching not as a way to complete himself, but as any other manifesto to be employed towards this decade’s attempt at Utopia. The Christian bugman superficially avows Christian teaching, but as a kind of statutory allegiance, not one that adheres to his heart’s core. The Christian bugman has ingested the notion of man created in the Enlightenment and the ensuing liberal eras: that man’s morality and selfhood are created and dependent on sociality, and he has no independent being outside the social body. The liberal bugman is a bigger threat than the pagan ever was, particularly because there are so many working within the Church. Hence, before there can be any Christian recrudescence in the West, we must first reclaim the classical man.
I like Diedrich von Hildebrand’s definition of the classical man from his great Liturgy and Personality. “The classical man… is the spiritually healthy man, the man who stands in full primal relation to spheres of life, who knows the world in its true dimensions, whose response to values possesses inner plenitude, and is heroically unconditional.” The classical man does not see himself as a dependent variable in some inscrutable social equation. He acknowledges the greatness and culpability of his own soul, and his ability to act freely according to his soul’s desires. His actions and beliefs are affected by the social context he finds himself in, but he knows his mind and soul exist independently of these social factors. The recognition of one’s independent self-hood and completeness is critical. Only when we recognize the distinct nature of our own self-hood can we fully engage with other beings, and ultimately engage with Being Himself.
Christian doctrine presumes and perfects the classical man: presumes in the sense that doctrine presupposes it is dealing with a creature prone to all the strengths and weaknesses—the pettiness, jealously, greed, pride, honor, love—which we encounter in pagan literature. Perfects, because doctrine moderates man’s strengths and diminishes his weaknesses, and exposes to him the true plane on which he is waging his earthly battles.
Hildebrand’s magnum opus, Transformation in Christ, is an encomium to Classical Man. Hildebrand is brilliant in laying out not only Church teaching, but the nature of the man Christ presumed to be working upon. The Christian’s purpose in life is little different from the pagan’s: to respond accordingly to the objective values presented in the world around him; to consider the specific logos of whatever object he is faced with and respond with due effect: to glory according to measure of the rule God appointed, and to commend objects that God commends.
Hildebrand gives us a description of the man who alone can be transformed by Christ.
“’Conscious man,’ and he alone, avoids being submerged beneath things or living among them in the interstices of reality, as it were: he incorporates everything in the objectively valid order of ultimate reality. The measure in which someone lives in the light of the Christian revelation, maintains it continuously present, and keeps in continuous awareness of it at all moments, determines the degree of his real consciousness.”
The pagan errs in thinking his conditions are confined to the natural world. As Hildebrand states, “Only the Christian can be truly conscious in the full sense of the term. For he alone has a true supernatural realm, from which everything derives its ultimate meaning.” Both the pagan and the Christian realize the sanctity of his own soul, which relies on the autonomy of his will and his ability to engage with the world around him.
Yet the bugman does not see himself in control of his own soul, and is not fully engaged with his own self-hood. This leaves the bugman with no worthy sacrifice to God, and no worthy receptacle for the wonders religious experience might otherwise provide him. Hildebrand describes him as the “unconscious man,” but it is clear the term “liberal bugman” fits just as well:
“‘Unconscious’ man entrusts himself to the flow of events, without setting them at a distance; therefore he is incapable of surveying them. Though he may have single impressions of great intensity, no single fact will reveal itself to him in its full significance and purport, for each lacks connection with the other, and above all, with the primal cause of being and the ultimate meaning of the world. His life is wrapped in a cloud of obscurity. Perhaps such a person will receive, time and again, a strong religious impression, and in its consequent grasp, for a moment, the metaphysical situation of man; but he fails to ‘awaken’ once and for all, and no sooner in his mind distracted by some other impressions than the sphere of ultimate reality has again vanished from his sight.”
The bugman’s conception of himself is entirely subjective. Elsewhere Hildebrand describes the fundamentally corrupted nature of liberal man, who depends on psychoanalysis and social morality as his astrolabe of right action, who depends on the zeitgeist for his tastes and moral notions, and in lacking any real moral character on which he can base himself, he winds and withers as the world turns. This is why bugmen are so obsessed with politics and pop culture. Their inner conception of themselves is dictated by the progress of social life.
This is not the man on whom the transformation of Christ can operate. The bugman has at best a severely compromised belief in his own free will, and he hasn’t any belief in his own autonomy, but rather sees himself and everything else under the sun as amalgams of social forces and biological necessities, Euclidian points registering infinite movements all beyond the bugman’s comprehension or control; a creation of social factors, of racism, sexism, psychological hangups, and Darwinian imperatives. The bugman is he for whom all true sacrifice is impossible; for to take up the cross of Christ presumes a body and soul which can carry and suffer under the weight. The only worthy sacrifice man can offer God is his own soul. And it is only when man realizes the objectivity of his own soul and the world around him that a proper sacrifice can be prepared.
Unlike his secular, sodomitical counterparts, the Christian bugman yet adheres to Christian teaching. But this teaching does not engage his personality; it cannot, no more than an object can rest upon air. The Christian bugman still nominally opposes, say, sodomy, but he does not hate them with the kind of fiery hatred such a grotesque sin deserves. The Christian bugman shrugs de gustibus non disputandum about sins once recognized as calling out to heaven for vengeance, which even infidels like Jefferson saw as deserving of castration. To the bugman, the objective gruesomeness of such acts is palliated by their popularity, and thus God’s will is not a sin striking at his heart, but a mere regulatory matter between the administrative God and his vassals. The sodomite is no longer recognized as the moral monster he is, but as someone akin to a jaywalker or litterbug—an offender, sure, but not one whose offense stabs at the heart.
The problem with the bugman’s conception of life becomes all the more clear when we start applying the precepts of the Church to the way he conceives of the world, that is, socially. For the Church’s moral precepts only work if we apply them to the individual; if we presume, from the start, that we are dealing with individuals with individuals proclivities and desires rather than a tabula rasa and a completely malleable society full of such nitwits.
On a society-wide scale, Our Lord’s admonition that to lay aside both cloak and coat is a demand for socialism; in truth, it was a personal plea directed towards selflessness, individual sanctity, and an understanding of the transitory nature of material goods. Our Lord’s admonition to turn the other cheek is, on a society-wide scale, a call for pacifism, as well as the rape, murder, and pillage this entails; in truth, it is a personal admonition to show mercy, which is only meaningful given man’s natural proclivity, desire, and recognition of the need for just retribution. The celibate state is higher than the married state—this has been taught since the earliest days of the Church. But celibacy, as a principle, cannot be imposed society-wide, lest that first generation of monks and nuns be the last, and Christianity succumb to the hatefulness of Oriental nihilism, which envisions that the only way for society to continue is for a multitude to live in a spurious notion of sin.
Modern liberalism, with its roots in the Protestant Revolt, is largely an attempt to effect Christian practice while denuding it of personal morality. In the judicial system, mercy is replaced by statutory lenience; in the economic sphere, alms-giving is replaced by socialism; in the domestic sphere, regard for women is transformed into feminism. All these sacrifices presume a departure from the rule of nature and justice—this is precisely why, on an individual level, they are acts of charity. But to impose them on a society-wide basis foists a kind of exterior Christian revolution on the social body, largely obviates the need for personal transformation in a way such that true Christian sacrifice is unnecessary or impossible.
Such liberal changes presume weakness rather than strength as the rule; they presume, paradoxically, that man’s soul is too weak for real sacrifice, but that his backbone is strong enough to bear the brunt of tyrannical government, and his nature is so pliable as to be perfectible through the right social policy; they presume that man is so deeply bad that personal transformation is vain, and yet that the universe is not a cruel and hostile one, which we must fight and conquer in order to be made bearable to men, but one which has a kind of benevolence is written into its fabric if we will only craft social programs to realize it.
This is the kind of thinking Nietzsche very aptly called a “slave morality.” Nietzsche did not understand the inherently masculine quality of Christian sacrifice, that it actually takes greater strength to submit ourselves to charity and deny ourselves justice. But that son of a Lutheran pastor greatly understood the liberal Christianity which, by denying any inner life in man and looking only upon the outward effects of Christian teaching, raises weakness into a virtue in itself. Yet this is all wrong. Christianity exists to make men great, not to make men small. If a Christian makes himself weak and humble, it is only to participate in Strength Himself.
Those apparent concessions to weakness—turning the other cheek, humility, the Almighty becoming flesh—are not meant to make us worship weakness, but to position ourselves before the God, Agios ischyros, from whom all our terrestrial strength comes. There is no virtue, anywhere in the universe, to weakness per se. The strength in turning the other cheek comes from submitting ourselves to the will of God, who is higher and stronger than any of our tormentors.
The rule of the universe is strength. We adore Christ because he made Himself weak who was Strength itself; but if strength were no different from weakness, if honor were akin to degradation, then Our Lord’s sacrifice was no sacrifice at all. There is no feat in the universe that does not require strength on earth or in heaven.
One would hope such consolation could come from a Catholic. But the average Catholic, since the Second Vatican Council, is largely enamored with liberalism and its slave morality as your average heretic. An anecdote: I once quoted Our Lord in a tweet, “The king of God is within you,” and was accused of being a Nietzschean. Part of this was ignorance, of course, but this cannot be the whole story. The notion that Christian teaching is meant, first and foremost, to effect a personal transformation in men’s hearts is so foreign to so many modern Christians that Gospel quotes seem positively Zarathrustrian to them. And yet, to be fair to Nietzsche, Christians do seek to become a kind of ubermensch, albeit one characterized by universal charity rather than narrow allegiance, by bearing the cross, and sometimes the sword, rather than merely the sword.
Too many modern Christians believe that our disagreement with the pagan is about fundamentals. This is not true. The noble pagan is fundamentally right about nature and man; Christianity only asks that he finish the thought, to carry his pleasures and virtues a step further into the celestial sphere, to keep encouraging his strengths and to extend them to their limit, which is beyond the earthly realm. The sun is a divine thing to the pagan; it is to the liberal that the sun is a kind of superfluity, if it cannot give him a tan or warm his solar panels. The pagan is at least facing in the right direction. The majesty of the sun is worthy of Apollo; but Apollo is not worthy of God.
None of this is to deny that Christians are called on to seek the common good of society. But whether this common good is instructed primarily by the men who make up the society, or man who is merely a skincell of the social Leviathan, is the entire question. The “common good” for Stalin and Mao—or Andrew Cuomo—could include the violent removal of the weak; the “common good” for the good priest I mentioned above meant the surrender of Vienna, and the rape and destruction which must follow. So it goes.
The first crucial question bubbles up: whether individual man is nothing but a cell in the social organism, or whether man is a being good in and of himself. If we adhere to the former version of man, Christianity supports the claims of that good priest: That it is, in practice, a death cult. In the cosmos of pure ideas, his logic was sound. It is only when we measure our ideas relative to human beings, rather than aloof precepts and notions, that we see how grotesquely inhumane Christian philosophy is when we ignore the primacy of the human being, and have him bow to vague notions of society or the “social good.” This is the problem with so many of so-called “integralists.” They trust in the wisdom of the Church’s teaching, but they fundamentally adhere to the liberal notion of man. The result is a kind of Christian version of the Soviet Union than a commonwealth of virtue.
Christian teaching cannot save society. Only Christ can save society. Christ functions through the inner transformation of our own hearts, not in raising the Vatican flag over statehouses and courts. The West is already full of governments and individuals nominally given to Christ. It is increasingly bereft of men—at least men with chests.
Truly, the most important role the Church can play in the modern world is not the guarantor of Her immortal teachings (though, of course, this is eternally important). The most important thing the Church can do in the modern age is confirm the dignity, indispensability, and strength of individual man, pagan or otherwise. Have all the “Catholic social teaching” you want; if you have no men in which this can be realized, it profits us little. Christ’s teachings operate on the classical man; they do nothing for the bugman. No Christian can hope for salvation if he is merely a cog in a social machine, even a Christian one; he must will himself to be a disciple of Christ.
The Church provides man’s greatest defense, not in its books of codes or endless obscure encyclicals, but in the Eucharist, the emblem of unchanging humanity and divinity. Since I began by criticizing the Heavenly Doctor, it serves you and me well to remember that St. Thomas’s greatest contribution to the world, from the standpoint of the average Catholic through the ages, was not his intellectual work, but his Tantum Ergo, the ode to the Eucharist so simple and sincere that it has largely survived the wreck and ruin of Vatican II. “Lo! o’er ancient forms departing, Newer rites of grace prevail; Faith for all defects supplying, Where the feeble senses fail.” We rise to our fullest potential as men qua men in submitting to the Eucharist, before which we are reminded that our logic can never be wisdom if it leads us somewhere inhumane, or cause us to despise the manhood which Christ thought fit to bless.