Liberation, and Cosmopolis
Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J.
8.3 Alternatives of the
What is the subsequent course of the longer cycle generated by the
general bias of common sense? In so far as the bias remains effective,
there would seem to be only one answer.
The totalitarian has uncovered a secret of power. To defeat him is not
to eliminate a permanent temptation to try once more his methods. Those
not subjected to the temptation by their ambitions or their needs, will be
subjected to it by their fears of danger and by their insistence on
So in an uneasy peace, in the unbroken tension of a prolonged
emergency, one totalitarianism calls forth another. On an earth made
small by a vast human population, by limited natural resources, by rapid
and easy communications, by extraordinary powers of destruction, there
will arise sooner or later the moment when the unstable equilibrium will
seem threatened and the gamble of war will appear the lesser risk to some
of the parties involved.
If the war is indecisive, the basic situation is unchanged.
If it is totally destructive, the longer cycle has come to its end.
If there results a single world empire, then it inherits both the
objective stagnation of the social surd and the warped mentality of
totalitarian practicality; but it cannot whip up the feverish energy of
fear or of ambition; it has no enemy to fight; it has no intelligible goal
Common sense, on the other hand, has no use for any theoretical
integration, even for the totalitarian integration of common-sense
practicality. It will desert the new empire for the individual or group
interests that it understands.
This centrifugal tendency will be augmented by the prepossessions and
prejudices, the resentments and hatreds, that have been accumulating over
the ages; for every reform, every revolution, every lower viewpoint
overstates both the cast: in its own favour and the case against those it
would supersede; from each generation to the next there are transmitted
not only sound ideas, but also incomplete ideas, mutilated ideas,
enthusiasms, passions, bitter memories, and terrifying bogies.
In this fashion, the objective social surd will be matched by a
disunity of minds all warped but each in its private way. The most
difficult of enterprises will have to be undertaken under the most adverse
circumstances and, under the present hypothesis that the general bias of
common sense remains effective, one cannot but expect the great crises
that end in complete disintegration and decay.
Still, on the assumption of emergent probability, nothing is
inevitable. Indeed, the essential logic of the distorted dialectic is a
For dialectic rests on the concrete unity of opposed principles; the
dominance of either principle results in a distortion, and the distortion
both weakens the dominance and strengthens the opposed principle to
restore an equilibrium.
Why, then, is it that the longer cycle is so long? Why is the havoc it
wreaks so deep, so extensive, so complete? The obvious answer is the
difficulty of the lesson that the longer cycle has to teach.
Nor are we quite without hints or clues on the nature of that lesson.
On the contrary, there is a convergence of evidence for the assertion that
the longer cycle is to be met, not by any idea or set of ideas on the
level of technology, economics, or politics, but only by the attainment of
a higher viewpoint in manís understanding and making of man.
In the first place, the general bias of common sense cannot be
corrected by common sense, for the bias is abstruse and general, and
common sense deals with the particular.
In the second place, man can discover how present insights and
decisions influence through emergent probability the occurrence of future
insights and decisions; as he can make this discovery, so he can use it,
not only in shaping individual biographies and educating children in the
image of their parents and of the state authorities, but also in the
vastly more ambitious task of directing and in some measure controlling
his future history.
In the third place, the longer cycle of western civilization has been
drawing attention repeatedly to the notion of a practical theory of
It was conceived in one manner or another by Vico in his Scienza
nuova, by Hegel, and by Marx.
It has exercised a conspicuous influence on events through the liberal
doctrine of automatic progress, through the Marxian doctrine of class war,
through the myths of nationalist totalitarianism.
In the fourth place, a remedy has to be on the level of the disease;
but the disease is a succession of lower viewpoints that heads towards an
ultimate nihilism; and so the remedy has to be the attainment of a higher
As there is
evidence for the necessity of a higher viewpoint, so also there is some
evidence on its nature.
insight are facts that underlie mathematics, empirical science, and common
The refusal of
insight is a fact that accounts for individual and group egoism, for the
psychoneuroses, and for the ruin of nations and civilizations.
The needed higher
viewpoint is the discovery, the logical expansion and the recognition of
the principle that intelligence contains its own immanent norms and that
these norms are equipped with sanctions which man does not have to invent
Even in the
sphere of practice, the last word does not lie with common sense and its
panoply of technology, economy and polity; for unless common sense can
learn to overcome its bias by acknowledging and submitting to a higher
principle, unless common sense can be taught to resist its perpetual
temptation to adopt the easy, obvious, practical compromise, then one must
expect the succession of ever less comprehensive viewpoints and in the
limit the destruction of all that has been achieved.
of the Longer Cycle
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