Reclaiming Progress From The Left

Reclaiming Progress From The Left

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Written by Elias Priestly. Find all his previous articles on the Australian Natives Association website and more of his content on 𝕏 @Aussie_EliasP

We all know what progress is, right? Since our youth, with the advent of every new sexual identity, the excitement of new scientific ideas or technological achievements, and the loss of former “prejudices” and “bigotries,” we’ve been told that society is “progressing.” We were never really told what we were progressing towards, but people were confident that whatever it was, it was better than what we had in the past. In this article, I want to tackle the concept of progress lying behind this narrative, untangle some ideas that have been misleadingly tied together, and propose a new paradigm of progress that reflects traditionalist ideas.

So, what is progress? Basically, I think that when most people hear this word applied to society they think of a vague combination of scientific and technological advancement and an idea of ever-increasing individual liberty and expression. These two aspects of progress should be dealt with separately, as there is nothing that actually objectively brings them together. Furthermore, the quite apparent technological advances are used to legitimise and, so to speak, “smuggle in ” the ideas of liberalism. For this reason, I will begin by dealing with the topic of science and technology before I turn to discussion of social progress.

In his book, The Metaphysical Foundation of Modern Science, the historian and philosopher of science Edwin Arthur Burtt explained the key idea that led to the birth of modern science and the decline of Medieval Aristotelian science. This idea was not careful observation as opposed to dogma, for Aristotle was, himself, a scientific empiricist. No, what led to modern science was a recovery of the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition of mathematical mysticism. Before any new observations were made, Copernicus had already established heliocentrism as superior to Ptolemaic geocentrism based purely upon the superior mathematical simplicity and harmony of his model. This model was then adjusted and improved through the observations made using a new technical apparatus, in this case the telescope. The important point, though, is that in modern science the observations come after the mathematical projection of nature, which is specified in particular scientific hypotheses depending on the field.

If modern science was based upon mathematical mysticism then how did it come to be associated with a secularising rationalism? The new experimental science arose in the context of the turbulent times of the English Civil War and the Restoration, when religious “enthusiasm” ran rampant and challenged the stability of the realm. The Royal Society, given royal charter soon after the restoration of the monarchy, suggested using science as a means to attack mysticism and religious fanaticism through the promotion of a naturalist and empiricist epistemology. Whether or not Francis Bacon, who inspired many of the founders of the Royal Society, himself wished to subvert the traditional Christian worldview in his utopian New Atlantis is a debated topic, but his followers were certainly not great friends of religion. In 1667, Thomas Sprat published The History of Royal Society, which proposed that experimental science could be a cure for “the late extravagant excesses of Enthusiasm.” In this way, science became positioned as the adversary of religion, rather than as an outgrowth of the Western Christian Platonist worldview found in, for example, Marsilio Ficino and Nicholas of Cusa. At this point, it is hopefully evident that there is no element within modern science itself that estranges the field from a traditional world order, and that on the contrary, modern science should naturally be linked to a Platonist worldview – but what about technology?

Technology, as Heidegger noted in The Question Concerning Technology, is closely linked to science. According to Heidegger, the ancient Greeks saw the work of the artisan, or techne, as a mode of revealing the world in its possibilities. For Heidegger, it is actually technology that precedes science because of two points that we have already covered above: first, that in modern science the mode in which world is revealed or projected is as fundamentally mathematical; and second, that science is always caught up with its technical apparatus and develops as that apparatus improves. Furthermore, he sees modernity as having gone further in revealing the world not just as a conflux of extended objects and physical forces, but as simply a source of energy and material to be extracted, with humanity itself becoming “human resources” for extraction and circulation in the modern world order. This is a result of both the tendency of mathematical reductionism inherent to natural science, but also the ideologically materialist stance attributed to it in its deployment against religion.

What, then, is the solution to the technological worldview that reveals the world simply as energy to be extracted? As I have already hinted in my comments on Nationalist Ecology, the solution is to restore to the mathematical element drawn from the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition its complementary organic idea. The world cannot be reduced to merely the mechanical movement of matter because the world as a whole is one living organism or ecosystem reflecting the good intentions of God for His creation. This is a vision of a true cosmos, literally a “beautiful order,” which is the complete opposite of the modern tendency towards atomism and the rule of chance. Rather, all things are always already integrated in the mind of God and there is no hard separation of the worlds of thought and bodily extension, reflected in the contemporary divide between “social construction” and nature in the sphere of the human sciences.

In terms of human civilisation, overcoming this divide will require the reunion of science and cult, with cult emphasising its agricultural links in the cultivation of the earth. This reunion is to be found in Saint Pavel Florensky’s “concrete idealism“ which was a Christian Platonist appropriation of the Nietzschean critique of modern scientism’s reduction of everything to the “Socratic” man’s Apollonian scientific rationalism. Florensky’s concrete idealism is based on the foundational idea that man’s basic natural activities in the production of tools and the production of concepts find their telos in cultic activity as a union of the human with the divine. Man is the animal that creates tools, man is the animal that speaks, but the unity of these two aspects of man is only concretised in man as the cultic animal. The temple is, then, the technology of the unity of Plato’s two worlds of being and becoming; in theological terminology, the unity of heaven and earth. Nieztsche’s Dionysian cult is replaced with the cult of the incarnate God-Man who re-affirms the original goodness and joy of the created world through His recapitulation of the cosmos, confirming the sacramental presence of the divine in the world. To summarise, it is the cultic telos of tool-making (technology) and concept formation (science) that should orient a traditionalist concept of progress that sees advancement in the integration of both into divine-human unity.

Florensky’s vision, as I have sketched out above, is the vision of the man who lived in a very different form of modernity to the one that eventually came to dominate the 20th and 21st centuries. He was not only a mystic and a platonist, but a Renaissance man who was an expert in several scientific fields and so indispensable to the Soviets in his genius that they even allowed him to lecture in his priestly cassock. I have discussed his Christian ideas to elucidate a proposed solution to the divorce of science and technology from religion, but for the sake of the broader interests of the nationalist movement I will also just mention here that similar concepts can also be found in the pre-Christian Greek cults of Demeter and Dionysus and in Plato’s vision of the ideal city. Nevertheless, we must now turn from the discussion of progress in terms of science and technology to what is seen as the social side of progress in the advance of individual liberty, with its freedom of identity in relation to ethnicity, sex, and self-expression and the corresponding Platonic solution.

Alongside the materialist and mechanist picture of the world advanced by the Royal Society, there developed a social vision in the ideological foundation of liberalism that posited individual liberty as a key metric of progress. But what is an individual? In divorcing the human person from his ancestral lineage and common biological sex, the individual was posited as essentially a nihilistic void into which no limiting constraints could ever be allowed. Thus, this individual identity appears as the project of progressing into the “outer darkness” in which identity is actually lost through losing all distinctions, since any distinction implies a limitation and all limitation restricts liberty. Furthermore, individualism required the rejection of the previous idea of a common good as the goal of the whole community. This rejection can be found in Machiavelli, who sought to ground politics on human vices and selfishness rather than what he saw as the unrealistic project of building a virtuous community. The disintegration of the person and the community is the complete opposite process to the Platonic ascent to God through integration into communion with your fellow man and with the Divine.

The alternative to this progressive disintegration is a progressive integration towards union with God. As Plato puts it in the Theaetetus (176A – B) in relation to the single person:

…evils cannot be eradicated, Theodorus, for there must always be something in opposition to the good. Neither can they be situated among the gods, but they must haunt the mortal nature and prowl about the earth. So we should endeavour to flee from here to there as quickly as we can, and to flee is to be as like unto god as we can, and to be like god is to become just and holy with the help of wisdom.”

In terms of the society, the orientation to the divine requires more of a focus on the temporal image of divine eternity. In The Symposium it is explained that eternal life through union with God is reflected in the continuity of the human species through reproduction. Therefore, in The Laws (Book Four, 721A – D) the orientation of all things towards the best in the ideal society means that this reproductive image of immortality must be eugenic. We have thus seen two main aspects to human society on this Platonic view of progress: the personal ascent to the divine through the practice of virtue, and the social progress to the best state through policies that advocate eugenic reproduction and the common good.

Through what I have sketched above in relation to science, technology, and human society we begin to see the outlines of a very different concept of progress to that which currently governs popular mainstream thought and culture. The central foundation of this concept of progress is the idea that time “imitates eternity and revolves according to number” (Timaeus 38A). Thus any progress in time must also reflect eternal principles and the One-Good that governs all things according to the Platonic Ideas or Forms of those things. This concept of progress is the foundation of what I have elsewhere called Platonic Futurism. The specific application of this principle may take different forms, and in my case I apply it to my Christian Nationalism in the form of St Pavel Florensky’s concrete idealism, but the important thing is to begin to deploy this as a counter-concept and counter-narrative to the mainstream thoughtless use of the word “progress” for every regressive and dysgenic policy or movement that seeks to disintegrate society and its members.

In conclusion, I must stress that we really do need progress. We need to progress towards that society that best reflects eternal truths. This will involve restoring scientific and technological progress to its natural position within a Platonist paradigm. This will involve supporting movements which promote integration in the state, such as nationalism with its natural unity through homogeneity. In Christian terms, we must grow the firstfruits of the divine garden and build the foundations of the eschatological city in Australia.

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