Dictations

"This Strange Disease of Modern Life"

How long have we been modern men, living in modern times, experiencing the trials of modernity and modernization? What self-obsession! Although the people of any brilliant age—Elizabethan England, France under Louis XIV, Augustan Rome—lend to exercise their bragging rights too freely, none of them went on, generation after generation, talking about itself in this way.

What does it mean to be modern, anyway? The clue is to be found in the word "modernization," the process by which men left the plow or put down the adze and went to town to take up work in a factory, abandoning their religion in favor of a trade union, movies, and a daily newspaper, and dreaming of the day they could pack the whole thing in—wife, kids, job—and live off Social Security in Florida.

To be modern, in other words, is to be rational, rootless, and above all restless because modernity is always redefining itself. It is idle to speak of anything as "postmodern" because the irrationalism and ethnic or gender yahooism of the postmodernists is easily absorbed by modernity. As Chesterton said of progress, modern is "simply a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative."

Etymology tells the tale. Late Latin modernus, formed from modo ("presently," "now," or "lately") on analogy with hodiernus (from hodie, "today")...

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