Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.
William Butler Yeats, Second Coming
Jenny Teichman, a Cambridge philosophy professor, in her new book, The Philosophy of War and Peace, takes upon herself the challenging task of providing her readership with a concise and abbreviated disquisition on the philosophical foundation of war and peace. The success of the book is predicated on the author’s rather impressive comparative knowledge best illustrated by her examinations of a multiplicity of cultural elements, including: religious, political, philosophical, and historical perspectives relating to the subject.
Citing freely from the ancients, medievalists, contemporary novelists, social critics, priests, and philosophers, Professor Teichman lunges into the 20th century with a perfervid intensity seldom experienced in books written by academics. She invites the reader to analyze the conflagrations of the 20th century, perhaps as examples of the deviations and distortions of a world consumed by a “pathological derailment,” the roots of which are firmly planted in the fecund loam of the Enlightenment. This “derailment” is exemplified as the loss of the understanding of the order of being—the egophanic revolt that toppled the old order, destroyed the pre-Reformation consensus, and obliterated the metanarrative. The misanthropic horrors of Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, and Adolf Hitler and a plethora of epigones were the result of the “breakdown of philosophy in modern Western society” where reason and revelation are forever divorced.
When man is unable to realize his true humanity within the concinnity of reason and the divine ground, explicated within the metanarrative, his being experiences “a disturbance of noetically ordered existence.” There is, also, the phenomenon of modernity’s most pernicious perversion, parousiastic gnosticism, whereby man destroys the order of being and comes to fruition as the immanent Superman.
All of which sets the foundation for the distortion of reality and the resulting perversions, mayhem, and murder. The abattoir that occurred during the 20th century was historically unique in the sense that man now possessed technos, which exacerbated the horrific slaughter, but the aberration itself has been repeated throughout history. The inimical “appearance of reason,” which permeates contemporary philosophy, is the result of Western man abandoning his search for wisdom, distorting his “philosophical vocabulary,” and “pervert(ing) the meaning of the noetic symbols.”
Professor Teichman’s criticisms, in many instances, are true insights predicated on a classical analysis. She has succeeded in achieving a mode of “resistance” to the “climate of opinion”—the philosophical deformations of modernity—in her discussions of Sigmund Freud, contemporary philosophy, and her overall historical descriptions, even her critique of Allan Dershowitz.
But her analysis breaks down and she goes a little wobbly on us in her examination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (a third-rate politician), Fidel Castro (a murderous thug) whose policies and thinking represent the disorder of the age, and the United Nations, that pusillanimous, politically correct, harbinger of all things third world. Moreover, her comments about Georgetown University professor, Father James V. Schall S.J.; i.e. that he was at odds with certain Vatican II pronouncements concerning his position on nuclear deterrents and her allegation that “it is thought” that he coined the slogan “Better Dead than Red” (he did not), strike me as rather an excellent illustration of a philosopher grappling with the order of being within the tension of unbelief and faith. The question is: does she seek, noetically speaking, what Father James V. Schall has?
However, that which does excite me about Professor Teichman’s exegesis, acuity, and close analysis of things, is the realization that we may be entering, as Eric Voegelin argued not long ago, into another epoch which should provide philosophers, real philosophers, the opportunity to develop the philosophy of history by a thorough examination of “phenomena in its global breadth and temporal depth.” She appears to be one of those philosophers who are truly engaged in the philosophical process of “wondering, questing, and seeking,” best illustrated by her “radical” pronouncements and her acquiescence to the question. She appears to have rejected the false reality of the philosophical system, and understands that the consciousness of reality is a historical phenomenon.
In his essay, Reason: The Classic Experience, Professor Eric Voegelin explained that “reason” was not an “idea” but rather “the process in reality in which concrete human beings, the ‘lovers of wisdom,’ the philosophers as they styled themselves, were engaged in an act of resistance against the social disorder of their age. From this act there emerged the nous as the cognitively luminous force that inspired the philosophers to resist and, at the same time, enabled them to recognize the phenomena of disorder in the light of a humanity ordered by the nous. Thus, reason in the noetic sense was discovered as both the force and the criterion of order.”
Professor Teichman has the potential to be one of those philosophers so prized by the polis, yet there is an ambiguity about her predicated on an understanding and faith in the nous, which is the “capacity to seek episteme (knowledge) under the guidance of attraction toward the transcendent.” Knowledge, alone, is not enough; there is no self-salvation, and in order to be “saved” one must reject the self.
Plato gave us his own illumination when he spoke of the opsis, “the revelatory aspect of the mutual participation of the divine and human in each other,” the revelation of the “fundamental order and direction of the process of reality.” It is within this wisdom that the concrete human being, the searching philosopher, begins to exist.
Republished with permission from the author.
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Editor’s note: The featured image is by Jorge Royan and is licensed under creative commons 3.0.