#9: Procession In The Fog

Oehme.jpg

Procession in the Fog, Ernst Ferdinand Oehme – 1828

God: A Process Perspective

One of the most interesting aspects of the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead is his notion of God. Sometimes obscure, his conception of a supreme being does not seem to perfectly fit into any traditional theistic or philosophical beliefs on the nature of such a being. The most startling fact about Whitehead’s God to anyone approaching it for the first time is that it is not omnipotent. Whitehead referred to God as a mere “accident of creativity. For Whitehead the ultimately real, that beyond which we can go no further in our investigation, which just is, is the reality of Creativity. From this conception all else flows, even God. To some, however, the idea of God is so tied to omnipotence that conceiving of him without this trait is not possible – God is either omnipotent and omniscient or he is not God. Thus, some have claimed Whitehead was mistaken in naming his supreme being God at all. I disagree. These people are still looking at Whitehead’s God through the lens of the traditional western philosophy, deeply tied to the legacy of Aristotle.

According to Whitehead, expanding on a concept from Plato, being is equated to power, and power comes from the ability to act and be acted upon. Thus, the greatest being would be one which has the greatest possible relation and interconnection to all actual entities. Aristotle’s unmoved mover, which sets the world in motion and watch it unfold, is inferior to the process God, which holds ultimate creativity, being interrelated to every actual entity and influencing their action with the intent of realising objectively good ‘subjective aims’. Of course, actual entities retain their own creativity, and are thus free to disobey God and not pursue their divinely imbued subjective aim.

This seems to reflect the traditional theistic answer to the problem of evil. Evil exists because beings are free to disobey God and pursue selfish aims. In this traditional solution however, we seem to lack an explanation of ‘natural’ evils, such as the existence of debilitating physical diseases which seem to afflict without prejudice, inflicting suffering on everyone including the virtuous and children. “Bone cancer in children, how do you explain that one?” the atheist demands of the believer. Whitehead’s metaphysics gives us a more satisfactory answer. All of reality is the interplay of actual entities, which each contain a smidgen of  creativity and free will. The lion that attacks the village, the cancer cells that refuse to obey orders and thus cause their holder, the water in the flood, all contain a freedom which cannot be wholly made subject to God’s will.

Whitehead’s God is both immanent and transcendent. Thus, Whitehead has been described as a panentheist, as his God is present everywhere in the world but is not limited to it. God has an immanent nature, dubbed by Whitehead as his ‘consequent nature’. This is the aspect of God just spoken of, which ‘prehends’ all actual entities and engages in a continual process of communication with and attempted influence of each actual entity. God, through his consequent nature, strives to draw all actual entities closer to him, in a process similar to how the Hindus describe each soul being reborn until it eventually achieves union with it’s source, the Godhead. However, the qualities of God are not exhausted by his consequent nature, he also has a ‘primordial nature’, which would traditionally be termed his transcendent quality.

The primordial nature of God is especially improtant in Whitehead’s organic philosophy, as it contains the ‘Eternal Objects’, Whitehead’s conception of platonic ideas, objects which exist irregardless of their actualisation in the actual world. Thus Whitehead echoes the Neo Platonists, who place all platonic ideas as ultimately being contained in ‘The One’. The primordial nature of God is understood by it’s intimate relation with the idea of potential. It contains the envisagement of all possibilities, all possible worlds, and holds in being the eternal objects of which the actual entities which make those possibilities take their being. However, were the primordial nature of God his only nature, he would be static, perfect, unchangeable being which is not actualised. It is only by the action of his consequent nature, working in process with actual entities, that God’s primordial nature is actualised and turned into real being, which is only possible in a state of process.

Thus, the consequent and primordial nature of God are intimately linked and ultimately inseparable, without the primordial nature there would be no ‘being’ for the ‘becoming’ of actual entities to enter into. Likewise, without the consequent nature there would be no ‘becoming’ to give the conceptual realities of eternal objects an actualised reality. This sentiment of being and becoming’s interdependence is echoed by Whitehead, when he writes

“It is as true to say that God is permanent and the world fluent, as that the World is permanent and God is fluent.

It is as true to say that God is one and the World many, as that the World is one and God many.

It is as true to say that, in comparison with the World, God is actual eminently, as that, in comparison with God, the World is actual eminently.

It is as true to say that the World is immanent in God, as that God is immanent in the World.

It is as true to say that God transcends the World, as that the World transcends God.

It is as true to say that God creates the World, as that the World creates God.”

Thus, God is not, as in Neo Platonism, perfect being which corrupts itself by entering into imperfect process. Rather, God maximises his being by sharing in creativity with a multitude of actual entities.

Whitehead never offers an argument for the existence of God. Like much of his metaphysics, it is not supported by any logical deductions or philosophical arguments. Rather, Whitehead presents God as a necessary aspect to his metaphysics. Whitehead presents his speculative view of reality, which conforms to all known fact, then let’s the readers decide for themselves if it offers a better understanding of reality than all other available options. If one is to accept his viewpoint, God is a necessary addition. Whitehead’s God is necessary for without him their would be no order to reality, and in a sense one could extract an altered version of the design argument from Whitehead. Actual Entities require an ordering power to structure their interactions, while ‘Eternal Objects’ require an ontological ground, which is offered by God’s primordial nature. Thus, God offers order amid what would otherwise be a well of chaos, in which any actualised state of being is impossible.

Perhaps Whitehead, through his abstract and at times obscure cosmology, sought to defend ‘the God of the poets’ against a sustained attack from the impersonal and wholly abstract ‘God of the philosophers’. Though Whitehead’s God completes his complex conception of reality, he is more in line with the layman’s understanding of God than the likes of Spinoza or Bradley. God is not some impersonal absolute which simply is, but never becomes, which is every action, but doesn’t act. Rather, God is an intimate, immediate reality, present in every being, attempting to influence them in a loving way, but never through force or coercion. There is a place for mystical experience, as mystics enter into a loving relationship with the equally loving God. There is also a place for free will, as described above, and even prayer, as subjects enter into communication with the ever present consequent nature of God, petitioning a positive influence on their lives, which can be influenced through the subjective aims given by God. However, our aims and the objectively good aims sought by God are often mutually exclusive, and so the role of God in aiding us could better be understood as influencing us to see the good, and deal with whatever sturggles we may face along the way. Of course, Whitehead never expresses these sentiments, but the important point is that Whitehead rebels against the philosophical abstraction of God and returns to a loving, action oriented being.

 

#8: River Landscape with Cows

CuypCows.jpg

River Landscape with Cows, Aelbert Cuyp – 1645/50

#7: Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne

nap.jpg

Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne, Ingres – 1806

#6: The Incredulity of St. Thomas

st.jpg

The Incredulity of St. Thomas, Caravaggio- 1602

Russell Kirk’s 10 Conservative Principles

rk.jpg

Being neither a religion nor an ideology, the body of opinion termed conservatism possesses no Holy Writ and no Das Kapital to provide dogmata. So far as it is possible to determine what conservatives believe, the first principles of the conservative persuasion are derived from what leading conservative writers and public men have professed during the past two centuries. After some introductory remarks on this general theme, I will proceed to list ten such conservative principles.

Perhaps it would be well, most of the time, to use this word “conservative” as an adjective chiefly. For there exists no Model Conservative, and conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order.

The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata. It is almost true that a conservative may be defined as a person who thinks himself such. The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects, there being no Test Act or Thirty-Nine Articles of the conservative creed.

In essence, the conservative person is simply one who finds the permanent things more pleasing than Chaos and Old Night. (Yet conservatives know, with Burke, that healthy “change is the means of our preservation.”) A people’s historic continuity of experience, says the conservative, offers a guide to policy far better than the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers. But of course there is more to the conservative persuasion than this general attitude.

It is not possible to draw up a neat catalogue of conservatives’ convictions; nevertheless, I offer you, summarily, ten general principles; it seems safe to say that most conservatives would subscribe to most of these maxims. In various editions of my book The Conservative Mind I have listed certain canons of conservative thought—the list differing somewhat from edition to edition; in my anthology The Portable Conservative Reader I offer variations upon this theme. Now I present to you a summary of conservative assumptions differing somewhat from my canons in those two books of mine. In fine, the diversity of ways in which conservative views may find expression is itself proof that conservatism is no fixed ideology. What particular principles conservatives emphasize during any given time will vary with the circumstances and necessities of that era. The following ten articles of belief reflect the emphases of conservatives in America nowadays.

First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.

This word order signifies harmony. There are two aspects or types of order: the inner order of the soul, and the outer order of the commonwealth. Twenty-five centuries ago, Plato taught this doctrine, but even the educated nowadays find it difficult to understand. The problem of order has been a principal concern of conservatives ever since conservative became a term of politics.

Our twentieth-century world has experienced the hideous consequences of the collapse of belief in a moral order. Like the atrocities and disasters of Greece in the fifth century before Christ, the ruin of great nations in our century shows us the pit into which fall societies that mistake clever self-interest, or ingenious social controls, for pleasing alternatives to an oldfangled moral order.

It has been said by liberal intellectuals that the conservative believes all social questions, at heart, to be questions of private morality. Properly understood, this statement is quite true. A society in which men and women are governed by belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honor, will be a good society—whatever political machinery it may utilize; while a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society—no matter how many people vote and no matter how liberal its formal constitution may be.

Second, the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity. It is old custom that enables people to live together peaceably; the destroyers of custom demolish more than they know or desire. It is through convention—a word much abused in our time—that we contrive to avoid perpetual disputes about rights and duties: law at base is a body of conventions. Continuity is the means of linking generation to generation; it matters as much for society as it does for the individual; without it, life is meaningless. When successful revolutionaries have effaced old customs, derided old conventions, and broken the continuity of social institutions—why, presently they discover the necessity of establishing fresh customs, conventions, and continuity; but that process is painful and slow; and the new social order that eventually emerges may be much inferior to the old order that radicals overthrew in their zeal for the Earthly Paradise.

Conservatives are champions of custom, convention, and continuity because they prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t know. Order and justice and freedom, they believe, are the artificial products of a long social experience, the result of centuries of trial and reflection and sacrifice. Thus the body social is a kind of spiritual corporation, comparable to the church; it may even be called a community of souls. Human society is no machine, to be treated mechanically. The continuity, the life-blood, of a society must not be interrupted. Burke’s reminder of the necessity for prudent change is in the mind of the conservative. But necessary change, conservatives argue, ought to be gradual and discriminatory, never unfixing old interests at once.

Third, conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription. Conservatives sense that modern people are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see farther than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time. Therefore conservatives very often emphasize the importance of prescription—that is, of things established by immemorial usage, so that the mind of man runneth not to the contrary. There exist rights of which the chief sanction is their antiquity—including rights to property, often. Similarly, our morals are prescriptive in great part. Conservatives argue that we are unlikely, we moderns, to make any brave new discoveries in morals or politics or taste. It is perilous to weigh every passing issue on the basis of private judgment and private rationality. The individual is foolish, but the species is wise, Burke declared. In politics we do well to abide by precedent and precept and even prejudice, for the great mysterious incorporation of the human race has acquired a prescriptive wisdom far greater than any man’s petty private rationality.

Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence. Burke agrees with Plato that in the statesman, prudence is chief among virtues. Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away. As John Randolph of Roanoke put it, Providence moves slowly, but the devil always hurries. Human society being complex, remedies cannot be simple if they are to be efficacious. The conservative declares that he acts only after sufficient reflection, having weighed the consequences. Sudden and slashing reforms are as perilous as sudden and slashing surgery.

Fifth, conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety. They feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems. For the preservation of a healthy diversity in any civilization, there must survive orders and classes, differences in material condition, and many sorts of inequality. The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law; all other attempts at levelling must lead, at best, to social stagnation. Society requires honest and able leadership; and if natural and institutional differences are destroyed, presently some tyrant or host of squalid oligarchs will create new forms of inequality.

Sixth, conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability. Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. Because of human restlessness, mankind would grow rebellious under any utopian domination, and would break out once more in violent discontent—or else expire of boredom. To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things. All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk. By proper attention to prudent reform, we may preserve and improve this tolerable order. But if the old institutional and moral safeguards of a nation are neglected, then the anarchic impulse in humankind breaks loose: “the ceremony of innocence is drowned.” The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell.

Seventh, conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked. Separate property from private possession, and Leviathan becomes master of all. Upon the foundation of private property, great civilizations are built. The more widespread is the possession of private property, the more stable and productive is a commonwealth. Economic levelling, conservatives maintain, is not economic progress. Getting and spending are not the chief aims of human existence; but a sound economic basis for the person, the family, and the commonwealth is much to be desired.

Sir Henry Maine, in his Village Communities, puts strongly the case for private property, as distinguished from communal property: “Nobody is at liberty to attack several property and to say at the same time that he values civilization. The history of the two cannot be disentangled.” For the institution of several property—that is, private property—has been a powerful instrument for teaching men and women responsibility, for providing motives to integrity, for supporting general culture, for raising mankind above the level of mere drudgery, for affording leisure to think and freedom to act. To be able to retain the fruits of one’s labor; to be able to see one’s work made permanent; to be able to bequeath one’s property to one’s posterity; to be able to rise from the natural condition of grinding poverty to the security of enduring accomplishment; to have something that is really one’s own—these are advantages difficult to deny. The conservative acknowledges that the possession of property fixes certain duties upon the possessor; he accepts those moral and legal obligations cheerfully.

Eighth, conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism. Although Americans have been attached strongly to privacy and private rights, they also have been a people conspicuous for a successful spirit of community. In a genuine community, the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily. Some of these functions are carried out by local political bodies, others by private associations: so long as they are kept local, and are marked by the general agreement of those affected, they constitute healthy community. But when these functions pass by default or usurpation to centralized authority, then community is in serious danger. Whatever is beneficent and prudent in modern democracy is made possible through cooperative volition. If, then, in the name of an abstract Democracy, the functions of community are transferred to distant political direction—why, real government by the consent of the governed gives way to a standardizing process hostile to freedom and human dignity.

For a nation is no stronger than the numerous little communities of which it is composed. A central administration, or a corps of select managers and civil servants, however well intentioned and well trained, cannot confer justice and prosperity and tranquility upon a mass of men and women deprived of their old responsibilities. That experiment has been made before; and it has been disastrous. It is the performance of our duties in community that teaches us prudence and efficiency and charity.

Ninth, the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions. Politically speaking, power is the ability to do as one likes, regardless of the wills of one’s fellows. A state in which an individual or a small group are able to dominate the wills of their fellows without check is a despotism, whether it is called monarchical or aristocratic or democratic. When every person claims to be a power unto himself, then society falls into anarchy. Anarchy never lasts long, being intolerable for everyone, and contrary to the ineluctable fact that some persons are more strong and more clever than their neighbors. To anarchy there succeeds tyranny or oligarchy, in which power is monopolized by a very few.

The conservative endeavors to so limit and balance political power that anarchy or tyranny may not arise. In every age, nevertheless, men and women are tempted to overthrow the limitations upon power, for the sake of some fancied temporary advantage. It is characteristic of the radical that he thinks of power as a force for good—so long as the power falls into his hands. In the name of liberty, the French and Russian revolutionaries abolished the old restraints upon power; but power cannot be abolished; it always finds its way into someone’s hands. That power which the revolutionaries had thought oppressive in the hands of the old regime became many times as tyrannical in the hands of the radical new masters of the state.

Knowing human nature for a mixture of good and evil, the conservative does not put his trust in mere benevolence. Constitutional restrictions, political checks and balances, adequate enforcement of the laws, the old intricate web of restraints upon will and appetite—these the conservative approves as instruments of freedom and order. A just government maintains a healthy tension between the claims of authority and the claims of liberty.

Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. The conservative is not opposed to social improvement, although he doubts whether there is any such force as a mystical Progress, with a Roman P, at work in the world. When a society is progressing in some respects, usually it is declining in other respects. The conservative knows that any healthy society is influenced by two forces, which Samuel Taylor Coleridge called its Permanence and its Progression. The Permanence of a society is formed by those enduring interests and convictions that gives us stability and continuity; without that Permanence, the fountains of the great deep are broken up, society slipping into anarchy. The Progression in a society is that spirit and that body of talents which urge us on to prudent reform and improvement; without that Progression, a people stagnate.

Therefore the intelligent conservative endeavors to reconcile the claims of Permanence and the claims of Progression. He thinks that the liberal and the radical, blind to the just claims of Permanence, would endanger the heritage bequeathed to us, in an endeavor to hurry us into some dubious Terrestrial Paradise. The conservative, in short, favors reasoned and temperate progress; he is opposed to the cult of Progress, whose votaries believe that everything new necessarily is superior to everything old.

Change is essential to the body social, the conservative reasons, just as it is essential to the human body. A body that has ceased to renew itself has begun to die. But if that body is to be vigorous, the change must occur in a regular manner, harmonizing with the form and nature of that body; otherwise change produces a monstrous growth, a cancer, which devours its host. The conservative takes care that nothing in a society should ever be wholly old, and that nothing should ever be wholly new. This is the means of the conservation of a nation, quite as it is the means of conservation of a living organism. Just how much change a society requires, and what sort of change, depend upon the circumstances of an age and a nation.

Such, then, are ten principles that have loomed large during the two centuries of modern conservative thought. Other principles of equal importance might have been discussed here: the conservative understanding of justice, for one, or the conservative view of education. But such subjects, time running on, I must leave to your private investigation.

The great line of demarcation in modern politics, Eric Voegelin used to point out, is not a division between liberals on one side and totalitarians on the other. No, on one side of that line are all those men and women who fancy that the temporal order is the only order, and that material needs are their only needs, and that they may do as they like with the human patrimony. On the other side of that line are all those people who recognize an enduring moral order in the universe, a constant human nature, and high duties toward the order spiritual and the order temporal.

#5: The Little Street

ls.jpg

The Little Sreet, Vermeer – 1657

#4: Virgin In Prayer

vip.jpg

Virgin In Prayer, Sassoferrato – 1640’s

#3: Silent Dawn

wlp.jpg

Silent Dawn, Walter Launt Palmer – 1919

#2: Modern Rome

mr.jpg

Modern Rome, Giovanni Paolo Panini – 1757