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Find the cost of freedom

“The burden of freedom, the responsibility of finding—or creating—one’s own purpose and meaning without the guidance of authoritative inherited creeds and values, is too heavy for all but a few. The rest of us cannot endure for long the tensions of uncertainty. We must, at some point, stop questioning, quiet our doubts, turn away from moral and metaphysical inquiry and toward life. Untrammeled skepticism ends in paralysis. That is true of societies as well as individuals. No purely rational justification can be offered for trust and self-sacrifice. But without them, social life is chaos, a war of all against all. Until a few hundred years ago, this problem scarcely existed. The authority of communities and traditions, though often enough evaded or defied, was rarely put in radical question. There were sinners, doubters, even heretics, but dogma and hierarchy, as the foundation of individual morality and social organization, were unchallenged. Then modernity happened. Beginning in fifteenth-century Europe, a critical, experimental, libertarian spirit began to flourish, which came to be known as ‘humanism.’ A crescendo of scientific discoveries, artistic innovations, geographical explorations, and political reforms ensued until, at the end of the eighteenth century, Kant hailed ‘humankind’s emergence from its self-imposed minority’ and baptized it ‘Enlightenment.’ At the same time, the prestige of the sacred and the supernatural, of what the Grand Inquisitor called ‘miracle, mystery, and authority’ and declared indispensable to ordinary people’s happiness, was correspondingly diminished. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, humanism’s luster was tarnished. First came the blight of early industrialization, then colonial brutality, totalitarian repression, and the technologies of extermination in concentration camps and global wars. Even after these horrors passed, in the midst of unprecedented prosperity, an epidemic of spiritual emptiness descended: alienation, consumerism, and the loneliness of mass society. Perhaps, as a minority of modern thinkers have always believed, we cannot live by reason alone. Perhaps modernity is a mistake.” – George Scialabba, “The Wreck of Western Culture”

Published inGeorge ScialabbaLit & Crit

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