Peter Escalante on genealogizing about modernity

Peter Escalante doesn’t have a blog, but he has in the past, and he ought to. I’ve learned a great deal from him and Steven Wedgeworth about church history, and if you want to hear more of the kind of comments below, hang out at Wedgeworth’s blog for a while.

I found this comment from Escalante particularly interesting. I can’t think of a way to summarize it that wouldn’t reduce its profundity, so I’ll just paste it in total:

On genealogizing: recommending the genealogies which have made illative sense to you is not, I’m afraid, an argument- remember, I’ve read all those same books, but have come to very different conclusions. On “modern consciousness”, which so preoccupies you, I can show that mechanistic philosophastering existed in antiquity (Lucretius, Chinese Legalists, and Kautilya, at least practically speaking). The only really distinct trait of “modernity” consists in the imagination that there is such a thing- and even that mental move has earlier exemplars. Every age has its own configuration of prudential results from available patrimony; depending on the decrees of Providence and the works of human freedom with its feats and failures, some times are happier than others, though there is no single scale- there are rather myriads. There is no unique historical “fall” in early modernity. But once more, if you want to connect the dots, there is a much stronger case to be made that the present political atheism owes much more to the Popes’ long war against the temporal power, from the Boniface VIII through Bellarmine and up to the present. If the State is to have a distinct existence (and since it would be enormously inconvenient for the clerical hierarchy to directly run everything, it is convenient that the State exist), but if that State cannot directly recognize Christ (being, as Bellarmine and Maritain both say, incompetent to do so- which is simply a way of saying that the people are incompetent to do so, since the magistracy is representative of them), than every commonwealth is by definition blind to the transcendent. That is thoroughgoing modern secularism. But in any case, presupposing a uniquely problematic “modern” generates the search for a fixed and ideal premodern political form, just as skepticism, if it recoils from full nihilism but keeps its skeptical stance, searches for ideal certitude in gnostic illumination. Modernism is marked by the imagination that the chimera of the “modern” is real, and then counter-modernism, that school of shadow-boxing, in reaction to the specter seeks refuge from it in equally chimerical idealized redoubts.

This comment is part of a discussion about Protestantism, Catholicism, and politics that has spanned several posts, with one more projected. Really fascinating stuff if you’re at all interested in theology, politics, and/or church history, which I assume most readers of this blog are.