Conservatism as Medicine

Nature Versus the State of Nature

What are the basic tenets of modernity? What is the mind and temper of modern man? I would feel rather foolish to try to reply in a few paragraphs if I did not think that the spirit of modernity boils down eventually to only one idea that reappears constantly under an indefinite variety of guises.

This basic principle may be phrased in the following way: Modernity was born when God disappeared behind man (when mankind became the true god, as Auguste Comte would have said), which means when (since there is no reason why a man as a man should be superior to any other) every man thought of himself as a god in his own right. Anyone who doubts that there is flesh to that idea might reflect upon Rene Descartes' avowed ambition: to discard anything he may have learned and, relying solely on his intellect and judgment, all by himself, build a new science, both of himself and of the world, through which he could become an immortal being, master and owner of the whole universe. By and by, that amounted to creating a man and a world anew. Descartes was not deranged —unless all moderns, whether stupid or brilliant, were also, in taking Descartes as a model.

The same attitude is apparent in the widespread idea that every man was born and is endowed with an unfettered freedom, with an absolute right to think and act as he wishes. ("Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains," said Rousseau.) There are no legitimate limits to that freedom...

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