Philosophy against Misosophy



Essays by Me

Essays by Others

Bias, Liberation, and Cosmopolis

Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J.

8.5 Culture and Reversal 

In the third place, there is culture. 

The dramatic subject, as practical, originates and develops capital and technology, the economy and the state. 

By his intelligence he progresses, and by his bias he declines. 

Still, this whole unfolding of practicality constitutes no more than the setting and the incidents of the drama. 

Delight and suffering, laughter and tears, joy and sorrow, aspiration and frustration, achievement and failure, wit and humour, stand not within practicality but above it. 

Man can pause and with a smile or a forced grin ask what the drama, what he himself is about.  His culture is his capacity to ask, to reflect, to reach an answer that at once satisfies his intelligence and speaks to his heart. 

Now if men are to meet the challenge set by major decline and its longer cycle, it will be through their culture that they do so. 

Were man a pure intelligence, the products of philosophy and human science would be enough to sway him. 

But as the dialectic in the individual and in society reveals, man is a compound-in-tension of intelligence and intersubjectivity, and it is only through the parallel compound of a culture that his tendencies to aberration can be offset proximately and effectively. 

The difficulty is, of course, that human aberration makes an uncritical culture its captive.  Mario Praz in The Romantic Agony has found that depth psychology throws an unpleasantly penetrating light upon romanticism. 

Nor is the ooze of abnormality anything more than a secondary symptom, for the expanding social surd of the longer cycle is not matched by a succession of less comprehensive viewpoints without the services of a parallel series of cultural transformations. 

Opinions and attitudes that once were the oddity of a minority gradually spread through society to become the platitudes of politicians and journalists, the assumptions of legislators and educators, the uncontroverted nucleus of the common sense of a people. 

Eventually, they too become antiquated; they are regarded as the obstinacy of an old guard that will not learn; their influence is restricted to backwaters immune to the renewing force of the main current of human thought and feeling. 

Change succeeds change.  Indiscriminately, each of the new arrivals rests upon the good it brings, upon the opposite defects of the old, and upon a closer harmony with the fact of the social surd. 

In the limit, culture ceases to be an independent factor that passes a detached yet effective judgment upon capital formation and technology, upon economy and polity. 

To justify its existence, it had to become more and more practical, more and more a factor within the technological, economic, political process, more and more a tool that served palpably useful ends.  The actors in the drama of living become stage-hands; the setting is magnificent; the lighting superb; the costumes gorgeous; but there is no play. 

Clearly, by becoming practical, culture renounces its one essential function and, by that renunciation, condemns practicality to ruin. 

The general bias of common sense has to be counterbalanced by a representative of detached intelligence that both appreciates and criticizes, that identifies the good neither with the new nor with the old, that, above all else, neither will be forced into an ivory tower of ineffectualness by the social surd nor, on the other hand, will capitulate to its absurdity. 

Marx looked forward to a classless society and to the withering of the state.  But as long as there will be practical intelligence, there will be technology and capital, economy and polity.  There will be a division of labour and a differentiation of functions.  There will be the adaptation of human intersubjectivity to that division and differentiation.  There will be common decisions to be reached and to be implemented. 

Practical intelligence necessitates classes and states, and no dialectic can promise their permanent disappearance. 

What is both unnecessary and disastrous is the exaltation of the practical, the supremacy of the state, the cult of the class. 

What is necessary is a cosmopolis that is neither class nor state, that stands above all their claims, that cuts them down to size, that is founded on the native detachment and disinterestedness of every intelligence, that commands manís first allegiance, that implements itself primarily through that allegiance, that is too universal to be bribed, too impalpable to be forced, too effective to be ignored.

Next: Cosmopolis

Preceding Section

Primary Lonergan Page