Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Early Modern State, the Catholic Church, and the Sum of Disunities

This article by Arturo Vasquez reminds me of Nicholas Henshall's book, The Myth of Absolutism: Change and Continuity in Early Modern European Monarchy, especially this passage: Only in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were legal customs written down, and even then there was no attempt at uniformity. In the eighteenth century Voltaire remarked that a traveller changed laws as often as he changed horses. (p. 8)

Up until the nineteenth century, people paid homage and loyalty to their towns, communities, their families, their regions or states, their lords and their kings, but hardly ever to their "country." This was especially true in the U.S., where, up until the Civil War, when men spoke of their "country," they were making reference to their state, not to the federal union.

Arturo's reflections here are especially worth pondering:

Modernity in its highest phase thus equals the death of the local. Local accents die, local foods die, local tales are cast into the oblivion of anthropological scholarship. They either die, or they are assimilated into the “national whole”, just as foods and language are changed to “fit into” the ethos of the dominant culture. (American “Italian” or “Chinese” food for example.) This is not so much a “tragic” thing, as an inevitable thing. I am not one to be reactionary for reaction’s sake, nor “localist” just for the sake of romanticist provincialism. After all, every time honored tradition is at bottom an adaptation of something else that has its origin in a not so pristine past.

But neither should we overlook the dangers of this drive to unify everything. Especially in our deepest philosophical and theological beliefs, we cannot disregard the fact that we function under a daily regime where difference is to be stamped out in the name of societal harmony. Even in the most “postmodern”, politically correct acceptances of “diversity”, there is a subtext of totalizing liberalism: it’s okay to be diverse, as long as you are diverse “like us”.

How do these reflections apply to the state of the Catholic Church today? Read the rest here

I leave it to my fellow Orthodox readers to draw conclusions about some attitudes concerning Western Orthodoxy for themselves.

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