"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Leibniz And Progressive Idealism - There Is No Such Thing As A Better World

Three hundred years ago the German philosopher Leibniz stated that the present world was the best of all possible worlds, coming to this conclusion through pure logic.

  1. God has the idea of infinitely many universes.
  2. Only one of these universes can actually exist.
  3. God's choices are subject to the principle of sufficient reason, that is, God has reason to choose one thing or another.
  4. God is good.
  5. Therefore, the universe that God chose to exist is the best of all possible worlds.

Image result for images leibniz

This of course does not mean that our world is good, but that it is as good as it will ever get.  Leibniz, however was a mathematician and logician, but had he chosen to look historically rather than logically, he might well have added a qualitative codicil – the  world has never been good, but one of perpetual suffering with man as the prime engine of its misery.  

There can never be a heaven on earth. Life is what it is, conditioned by human enterprise, need, and ambition, stunted and limited by its own arrogance and presumptuousness, and destined to remain in the same watery, unpleasant trough in which it has always floundered. 

The greatest Christian theologians and logicians like Augustine and Aquinas, logicians in their own right, were quite convinced that the world is not a very good place, that man is indeed the vehicle through which the devil’s evil is spread, and that a better world can exist only by the grace of God and in his celestial paradise. There can be no such thing as a human engineering of life’s pathways to make a better world.  Every new gully, piste, byway, road, and highway will lead nowhere unless it has one and only one destination, a spiritually ordained place of order.

Image result for images augustine

Nothing has changed since the time of Leibniz;  but surprisingly there are those who are still convinced that a qualitatively better world can exist; and with a commitment, effort and good will it can be achieved. Today's progressives believe that despite Augustine, Aquinas, and Leibniz, the perspective of millennia of human history, decades of perpetual war, mayhem, civil strife, territorial aggression, and unbridled selfish, nationalistic interests, there  can be a peaceful, verdant, inclusive, and wonderful world if only we gird ourselves for the long struggle to attain it.   Where did this idealist notion originate? Where in the long saga of humanity are there suggestions that this might be true?

Some historians point to the Pax Romana, the two hundred year period of peace presided over by the Roman empire; yet others say that such hiatuses between wars are either conditions of political parity or total domination.

The short 50 year period of peace during the Cold War of the Fifties was a product of such parity – the United States and the Soviet Union matched each other missile for missile, silo for silo, nuclear submarine for submarine; and since neither was willing to risk annihilation, peace reigned.  Pax Romana resulted because of military conquest and canny geopolitical management.  The unwritten contract between the Ptolemies, Cleopatra, and Octavian assured Egyptian grain in exchange for Roman protection, and only until the Battle of Actium did Egypt militarily challenge the Roman Empire.  The same contractual arrangements were concluded with other fiefdoms along the African Mediterranean, Palestine, and Europe.

Image result for images pax romana

In other words, peace was either a by-product of imperial territorialism and administration or of mutual military stand-off.  Other than that, it has been only a vain and idealistic hope.

Why is this? Social anthropologists have arrived at the obvious answer - there is and ever can be such a thing as a better world let alone a best one because human nature has been governed, propelled and determined by an ineluctable, hardwired mechanism that since the first human settlements has ensured survival and has had nothing to do with compassion, consideration. or selflessness.  Every Christian-seeming, generous, eleemosynary sentiment has been an expression of self-purpose.  Economics and the contractual agreements between parties, be they nations or families, have always ruled.

American conservatives have adopted this principle as their own.  Progress has no moral value – there is no such thing as better or worse worlds, only change which is a function of competition, not social engineering,  The same Darwinian principles that govern the evolution of species – the survival of the fittest – govern human evolution.  Competition between opposing economic, social, and cultural forces will result in the emergence of strongest, the most prevalent, the most appropriate and compelling.  Social progress, like Darwinian evolution, proceeds in small, incremental steps, but it always proceeds. 

Image result for images darwin

The classic cases of failed social engineering are within recent memory.  The Russian Revolution of 1917, the rise of the Bolsheviks, the ultimate rise to power of Marxists, Leninists, and Trotskyites and the establishment of a socialist, communist regime were doomed to failure from the start.  There was no way that human individual enterprise, freedoms, and energies could ever be subsumed within the state. 

The Maoist  era, like that of Josef Stalin, was an equally failed attempt to impose state control on a population which had for generations profited by individual enterprise, intelligence, and opportunity.  Maoist spinoff states have met the same unhappy demise.

Image result for images lenin

The continued utopianism of American progressives is, given all the evidence to the contrary, very surprising.  What is it that encourages and justifies such illogical conclusions?  How could a political movement be based on such impossible fantasies?

It is no surprise that fantasy is more appealing than reality , for Hollywood, Disney, daytime soaps, and Turkish dizis always trump Wall Street and Washington.   Given the daily slog, Hobbes’s ‘short, brutish’ appraisal of our ugly life, death and taxes, and endless, pitiless misery, why not?

Image result for images thomas hobbes

Besides, it simply feels good to do good.  Endorsement of and engagement in a progressive cause seems far more worthwhile in a short, brutish life than a beer, a beach, or a chaise longue.  It’s like the agnostic – there probably is no God, but just in case, how can a few Hail Marys hurt?

Conservatives are in a far better place where no hedging of bets required.  There is no such thing as progress and there is a God, so why worry?

Progressivism will persist because faux happiness is better than none at all.  Belonging, even if the causes which one endorses are febrile and passing, is better than a life alone.  Lion tamers, trapezes, clowns, and dancing bears are far more appealing than the dark hole of inevitability.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.