Alienation And Ideology: A Civilization In Decline Digs Its Own Grave

As we said at the beginning of our entry “Centesimus Annus; The Hundredth Anniversity of Rerum Novarum”,

“This website focuses on the technical aspects of Lonergan’s macroeconomic dynamics. However, we have also pointed out that the science of economics must accept its rightful place within the broader culture consisting of technology, economics, and politics.  And this culture itself stands within a hierarchy of values. Further, we have emphasized the need to achieve The Good of Order.  (Also, Click here; and see CWL 12, 496-7)”

So, we now add a general perspective on alienation and ideology. In conjunction with the excerpts to follow, we recommend the reading of  two sections in CWL 3: Individual Bias (CWL 3, 218-22/244-47) and Group Bias (CWL 3, 222-25/247-50).

 A civilization in decline digs its own grave with a relentless consistency. (CWL 14, 55/ )

The term, alienation, is used in many different senses.  But on the present analysis the basic form of alienation is man’s disregard of the transcendental precepts, Be attentive, Be intelligent, Be reasonable, Be responsible.  Again, the basic form of ideology is a doctrine that justifies such alienation.  From these basic forms (of alienation and ideology) all others can be derived.  For the basic forms corrupt the social good.  As self-transcendence promotes progress, so the refusal of self-transcendence turns progress into cumulative decline. (CWL 14, 55) ftnt “I have elaborated this point in Chapter Twenty of my book, Insight.  The practical problem of deciding who is and who is not alienated comes up in this book (CWL 14) in the chapter on Dialectic.)  pp 243, 247, 249, …

The presence  or absence of intellectual, or moral, of religious conversion gives rise to dialectically opposed horizons.  While complementary or genetic differences can be bridged, dialectical differences involve mutual repudiation.  Each considers repudiation of its opposites the one and only intelligent, reasonable, and responsible stand and, when sufficient sophistication is attained, each seeks  a philosophy or a method that will buttress what are considred appropriate biews on the intelligent, the reasonable, the responsible.  ¶ There results a babel.  (CWL 14, 247/)

Now, however, our interest is not in dialectic as affecting theological opinions but in dialectic as affecting community, action, situation.  It affects community for, just as common meaning is constitutive of community, so dialectic divides community into radically opposed groups.  It affects action for, just as conversion leads to intelligent, reasonable, responsible action, so dialectic adds division, conflict, oppression.  It affects the situation, for situations are the cumulative product of previous actions and, when previous actions have been guided by the light and darkness of dialectic, the resulting situation is not some intelligible whole but rather a set of misshapen, purely proportioned and incoherent fragments. … Finally, the divided community, their conflicting actions, and the messy situation are headed for disaster.  For the messy situation is diagnosed differently by the divided community; action is ever more at cross-purposes; and the situation becomes still messier to provoke still sharper differences in diagnosis and policy, more radical criticism of one another’s actions, and an ever deeper crisis in the situation. (CWL 14, 358)

Human science … wants to be a science of prediction.  It does not want to be a moral science that would exhibit to free men their choices, the alternatives that lie before them, and leave them to choose.  It wants to conceive men as atoms, find out the forces that move them, and predict what they will do whether they choose or not.  There can result estrangement of man’s world from man.  Man sets up an inhuman order because he conceives man as a component in a machine and man hates the machine.  Such hatred is far more apparent in Europe than in America.  In America there is still plenty of room to move about, but in the old, densely populated civilizations and cultures of Europe, this hatred just leaps right out – a profound hatred of the modern world, the estrangement of man from the world.  The whole world, the whole social setup, is something alien to man.  This hatred is expressed in neurotic art, in a sense of frustration, of hopelessness, of ‘no use trying.’ ¶ That has to do with the objective aspect of the order.  But there can be alienation, a loss of order within a man, the negation of ethical value.  One is just a drifter; he makes no choices; he does not want to be a center of intelligent, rational, free, responsible choice.  Insofar as he makes a choice at all, it is a choice to be like everybody else, to be one of the crowd, to conform, to be other-directed.  And insofar as the number of drifters, conformists, other-directed people increases, there is called forth the complementary type with the will to power, the social engineers, the hidden persuaders, who dominate the drifting masses and do so in a way that has nothing to do with their intelligence, reasonableness, freedom, or responsibility.  They are controlled without their knowing it – the propaganda ministry of the totalitarian state.  And there can be its equivalent in the advertising setup, big institutions for control of people’s choices without their knowing it. ¶ In the third place, there can be negation of religious value, estrangement from God, secularism, the negation of the idea of sin, complete and full self-assertion. …  (CWL 10, 45-6)

We may recall well Husserl’s account of the situation in the human sciences, where we find a constant multiplication of specialties, the acceptance in each specialty of merely conventional criteria, and no possibility of any unification, integration, or overall significance.  This shows a frivolity in man’s thought about man, a frivolity which seems to me to be connected with estrangement from God, alienation from God, secularism.  (CWL 10, 48)

Decline has a still deeper level.  Not only does it compromise and distort progress.  Not only do inattention, obtuseness, unreasonableness, irresponsibility produce objectively absurd situations. Not only do ideologies corrupt minds.  But compromise and distortion discredit process.  Objectively absurd situations do not yield to treatment.  Corrupt minds have a flair for picking the mistaken solution and insisting that it alone is intelligent, reasonable, good.  Imperceptibly the corruption spreads from the harsh sphere of material advantage and power to the mass media, the stylish journals, the literary movements, the educational process, the reigning philosophies.  A civilization in decline digs its own grave with a relentless consistency.  It cannot be argued out of its self-destructive ways, for argument has a theoretical major premise, theoretical premises are asked to conform to matters of fact, and the facts in the situation produced by decline more and more are the absurdities that proceed from inattention, oversight, unreasonableness, and irresponsibility. ¶ (Again,) The term, alienation, is used in many different senses.  But on the present analysis the basic form of alienation is man’s disregard of the transcendental precepts, Be attentive, Be intelligent, Be reasonable, Be responsible.  Again, the basic form of ideology is doctrine that justifies such alienation.  From these basic forms (of alienation and ideology), all others can be derived.  For the basic forms corrupt the social good.  As self-transcendence promotes progress, so the refusal of self-transcendence turns progress into cumulative decline. ¶ Finally, we may note that a religion that promotes self-transcendence to the point, not merely of justice, but of self-sacrificing love, will have a redemptive role in human society inasmuch as the love can undo the mischief of decline and restore the cumulative process of progress. (CWL 14, 54-55/  )

As common meaning constitutes community, so divergent meaning divides it,  Such division may amount to no more than a diversity of culture, a stratification of individuals into classes of higher or lower competence.  The serious division is the one that arises from the presence and absence of intellectual, moral or religious conversion.  For a man is true to self inasmuch as he is self-transcending.  Conversion is the way to self-transcendence.  Inversely, man is alienated from his true self inasmuch as he refuses self-transcendence, and the basic form of ideology is the self-justification of the alienated man. (CWL 14, 357/)

There are needed, then, individuals and groups and, in the modern world, organizations that labor to persuade people to intellectual, moral, and religious conversion and that work systematically to undo the mischief brought about by alienation and ideology.  Among such bodies should be the Christian church and to it in its contemporary situation we now turn. (CWL 14, 361/)

A civilization in decline digs its own grave with a relentless consistency. (CWL 14, 55/ )

2 thoughts on “Alienation And Ideology: A Civilization In Decline Digs Its Own Grave

  1. rdmounce

    Agree with the general idea that ideology limits freedom (and therefore responsibility), but some examples for the two dominating ideologies, collective versus individual, would be useful. How exactly does self-justification work as the basic form, for example? In any case, part of this post is duplicative, with a couple distracting typos, and some justification is recommended for this claim that, “Man sets up an inhuman order because he conceives man as a component in a machine and man hates the machine. Such hatred is far more apparent in Europe than in America. In America there is still plenty of room to move about, but in the old, densely populated civilizations and cultures of Europe, this hatred just leaps right out – a profound hatred of the modern world, the estrangement of man from the world.”

    Reply
    1. Functional Macroeconomic Dynamics Post author

      Thank you for your interest and comments. I won’t be expanding on what is contained in the post; it would take me too far afield. However, I hope interested readers will, on their own, seek elaboration by consulting the sources I quote. This website is a massive project; I do it all alone, all the while wishing I had more time to devote to it and to improve upon it. I changed “purely” to “poorly” and “premiss” to “premise”. Webster gave “premiss” as an acceptable spelling, so I left it as originally printed in CWL 14. Thank you again for your interest and valuable comments. I hope that readers will purchase Lonergan’s CWL 3, CWL 15, and CWL 21 for their enlightenment.

      Reply

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