Saturday, February 27, 2021

Perennial Principles

Recently I've been pushing the idea that the way forward for Western societies lies in recovering the principles at the heart of the tradition of Christian intellectualism. Only in this way will we be able to see clearly both the problems we face and the solutions we need to work toward. Of course, this calls for education in those principles to internalize them--a reality that has been lost and that is difficult to recover.

Earlier today commenter sawadika, writing on the Professions In A Woke Society post, posed this question:

What you are saying is very true, but if it is a matter of religious philosophy, isn't that ideology and dogma? It just seems so futile--I am looking for a solution in my own life, as it is a very real problem.

This I took to be a clear reference to my discussion and criticism of the notions--expressed in the Daily Signal--of "conservative ideology" and "conservative dogma." For example, I had written:

Many conservatives are unable to actually think or, at least, to express their ideas outside the framework of an essentially subjectivist worldview as enshrined for them in the idea of "natural rights." It goes like this: Everyone is "entitled" to their own opinion. In other words, there's no right and/or wrong, so can't we just get along? Liberals have an answer for that question. It goes like this: We're right and you're wrong; we'll get along once you go along.

Men being men and women being women is neither an 'ideology' nor a 'dogma.' The tradition of Christian intellectualism--'tradition' meaning, handed down through the centuries, is quite capable of addressing such issues in purely intellectual terms on the basis of realist philosophical principles. That was lost with the breakdown of the Christian intellectual tradition under the pressure of Nominalist thought. The classical liberal framework within which so many conservatives live is, on principle, unable to address these issues except as essentially subjective 'dogmas' or ideologies.'

Perhaps this is a good time to explain where I'm coming from, since it's a place that's definitely atypical. My response to sawadika said, in part:

Typically, people understand philosophy and ideology, for example, to be synonymous terms. I do not. I take philosophy to refer to the effort to base insight into reality on the most broadly based and self evident principles. Principles--understood in this Aristotelian and Thomist sense--are explicitly NOT mere postulates or assumptions, as they are taken to be in modern thought: ideologies.


It's true, of course, that our Declaration of Independence also refers to "truths" that are "self evident." But these are words, and men who speak words of this sort have various motivations. It's necessary to carefully question what these men actually mean by such words. My contention is that men who are immersed in the viewpoint of Classical liberalism--whether they call themselves conservative or libertarian or even liberal--come in two main varieties: 1) those who, behind the language of truth and self evidence in fact regard truth and self evidence to be essentially relative, conventional or contractual in a given society, and 2) those who do wish to hold to self evident truths in the full meaning--of objective grasp of reality--but who are unversed in the philosophical principles that would allow them to consciously articulate their convictions. This second group is most likely the largest, but is afflicted with self doubt due to societal pressures.

I believe I've mentioned in the past that I grew up in a house full of books. Those were my father's books, and they included works that people like me regard as classics, but are little known to many these days. Of course I grew up with the works of G. K. Chesterton--in particular Orthodoxy and the more systematic The Everlasting Man. Later, in a similar vein, I read books by C. S. Lewis. These books are in the genre known as "apologetics," but in terms of intellectual level I believe they go beyond that.

My father also had books of pure philosophy, and I especially spent a lot of time reading books by Etienne Gilson. I would single out The Unity of Philosophical Experience as particularly important--a true and enduring classic. Later, I translated another work by Gilson, Thomist Realism and The Critique of Knowledge. While, strictly speaking, this is a more specialized work--on the surface tied to a particular and somewhat narrow point in intellectual history--it is also important for dealing with fundamental issues of human knowledge of reality and the correct philosophical expression of the principles involved in that knowledge. However, the scope of the book remains of particular importance to this day because Gilson is addressing the increasing dissolution of the understanding of Christian intellecutalism itself--under the influence, especially, of Cartesian and Kantian thought. Or "ideosophy", as Jacques Maritain termed it in The Peasant of the Garonne. These currents of thought--especially Kantian--are those that are ultimately behind the modern forms of PC progressive ideology and are responsible for the breakdown of the intellectual foundations of our own constitutional order.

There was one little book in my father's library that served as an overall introduction to philosophy for me. In my later years I acquired a copy of it for myself, partly out of nostalgia, but I then realized its enduring value. This was a book by Kurt F. Reinhardt, many of whose books remain in print. Reinhardt was one of a group of German Catholic intellectuals who were concerned by the modern crisis of the West, and sought in his writing to address that crisis but, perhaps more importantly, to offer basic education in the lost intellectual tradition of the West. The book in question was published in 1944, and was written very much from the perspective I've described. The title alone should suggest that perspective:

A Realistic Philosophy: The Perennial Principles of Thought and Action in a Changing World

For those who are interested in educating themselves in those perennial principles of thought and action in our world of today--a world in an ongoing crisis, the origins of which are no different than when Reinhardt, Gilson, and Chesterton were alive and writing--I certainly recommend this book. If it's not available through Amazon, it's available online from sources like this one. At the link I just provided you can read the introduction--or the whole thing--and get a good idea of what the book is truly about.

To give you some idea of the comprehensive nature of the book, here is the table of contents:



I The Concept of Being . . . . . . 27

2 The Analogy of Being . . . . . . . 29

3 The First Principles of Being . . . 32

4 The Transcendental Attributes (Properties)

of Being . . . . . . . 34

5 The Categories (Predicaments; Modes) of Being . . . 39

6 The Categories, Viewed Individually . . . . 41

7 Essence and Existence . . . . . . 55

8 Matter and Form . . . 58

9 The Law of Causality . . . 63

10 The Different kinds of Causes . . . 65

II The First Cause or the Origin of Being . . . 71

12 The Demonstration of God's Existence . . . 77

13 The Nature of Man . . . . . . . . 90



14 Thinking and Doing (Metaphysics and Ethics) . 108

15 Order in Human Action. . . 111

The Supreme Value and the End of Ends. . 113

17 Human Freedom. . . . . . . . 123

18 Values and Free Choice . . . . . . . 130




19 Man and Society . . . . . . . . . 141

20 The Law of Nature and the Moral Law . . . 147

21 The Natural Law and Human Rights .... 152

22 The Nature of Justice . . . . . . . . . 159

23 Man and the State ............ 162

24 The Commonwealth of Nations . . . . . 200

25 War and the Moral Law . . . . . . . 209




26 Economics and Ethics . . . . . . . 217

27 The Dignity of Labor . . . . . . 221

28 Rights and Obligations of Ownership . . . 229


29 Man - World - God . . . . 237

Glossary · ·

Bibliography . . . . . .

Index . . . . . . . . .

As you can see, the contents are truly comprehensive in covering the scope of human thought and action. The book is written, however, for the general reader. Try it out at the link above. Browse topics that interest you. When you see those phrases in this context--"Thomist Realism" or "A Realistic Philosophy"--what is being communicated is the reality of man's ability to attain, through diligent and humble reflection, an objective knowledge of the order of being and, in particular, of human being in the world. The ability to attain to an adequate grasp of meaning in history, which is where we live out our time on earth. A knowledge of the principles of being, of knowledge, of human nature is what will give us a way forward. Even in these dark days I believe that there are many who are looking for meaning, but feel that their avenues of inquiry have been shut off--as, indeed, they have been, by progressive control of education and of the public square. People need education of this sort that goes well beyond the politics and controversies of the day.


  1. The challenge, as Schall and Deneen have pointed out, is in implementing a political solution congruent with an Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophical foundation.

    As soon as one mentions "right order," the fur begins to fly in Conservative circles and heads explode in Liberal-world.

  2. I welcome this post: after what just happened to our country, I find it hard to just spring right back and watch CPAC. Need time to regroup.

  3. Thank you for these words.