Brague is a conservative in the deepest sense of the word. He is concerned with the conservation of humanity itself, which he takes to be under assault in the modern West. Exhibiting his wit (not to mention his obsession with etymologies and his mastery of the English language) he commits a "deliberate spoonerism" and argues that the civilization-saving conservatism we need is essentially a commitment to conversation--conversation both with the human past and with nature itself.
Modernity is, according to Brague, a type of barbarism, defined as a "refusal to communicate". Modernity refuses to communicate with the past or with nature by way of its mythical conception of self-determination, which denies the need for continuity with what came before, and which promises a future of humanly achieved progress. The driver of this barbarism is modernity's methodological atheism which, while it allows for human beings to describe the world and even to exploit it, can offer no compelling reason why it is good for human beings to exist and to keep existing. Thus, the assertion of human autonomy inevitably results in a type of deep existential malaise. Reason itself must be seen as a product of irrational forces. Rather than grounds for meaningful action, there are merely deterministic causes.
The central move to treat modernity's condition must be a recovery of the notion of the Good in the Platonic rather than Aristotelian sense. If we are to have a reason to live, we must understand the Good not merely as something we do, but rather as the necessary ontological ground of all that exists. Brague argues that the necessity of the Good is implied in the modern (Kantian) concept of ethics as rational action (ie, action rooted in the Being of the subject), and evil as an irrational perversion of this freedom. This is a roundabout confirmation of, not only the Platonic vision, but the biblical creation story, both of which state that the Good is given to us with Being and must therefore be received as such.
According to Brague, the recovery of the necessity of the Good requires a return to a cosmological view of nature--the belief that the universe not only can be described in its present state or reconstructed in the mechanisms of how it came to be what it is, but rather that it is inherently meaningful and intelligible. The cosmos must be seen in terms of logos--communicating goodness to us. Humanity is not a stranger to this good nature (or "creation"), but rather at home in it, part of it. Within this good creation human freedom must be conceived as the freedom to manifest what we are as given by, in, and with nature, and not in some sort of rebellion against it. Freedom is responsive human communication with the goodness of nature. Culture is the byproduct of this communication, a cultic overflowing of praise to God (whether we realize it or not). This means, Brague says, that Christianity, if it is the true religion, is not a culture but rather exists as a conserving conversation with every culture.
The necessity of the Good, and the attendant recovery of premodern notions of nature, freedom, and culture, Brague contends, should lead to a reintegration of both the ancient pagan virtues and the biblical commandments. Virtues are the cultivation of habits that allow us to "do good", to act in accordance with the nature of things. The biblical commandments of the creator God who says of nature "it is good" are never antithetical to this, but rather must always be species of the mandate to "Be what you are!' This rediscovery and reintegration of virtues and commandments can only take place in the family. The modern state and the modern market militate against the family. The former consistently reduces people to atomistic individuals, whereas the latter trains them to be individuals who think of everything as a commodity. But the family is essential for society. The biological bond between parents and children, and the unconditional love that (should) go with it, communicate the givenness and goodness of one's being. The family, or those things founded on the notion of family (like monarchies or the church), are the only institutions that can care about "the very long run". Only they can have a deep sense of responsibility to, and gratitude for, the past, and an existential concern for the future.
Brague's Curing Mad Truths is a radical assault on many of the things taken for granted in modern liberal societies. Nevertheless, as a "conservative" (read: conserving through conversating) project, it does not advocate some impossible return to the past. It calls us to reconnect the branches of truth upon which modernity sits to the metaphysical trunk from which they have been severed. It's a provocative, convincing, and accessible little book (only 115pp., notes and index excluded) by an important scholar, and it deserves wide attention.
I have had a long and rather intimate relationship with Ben Myers. For example: I have lived in his house, slept in his bed, mowed his lawn (or not), driven his car, drank his whisky, and helped raise his dog. In light of all this, I suppose it's not entirely unsurprising that I'm now taking over his blog.
It's not that there was ever anything untoward between Ben and me. It's just that he's one of the most generous people around. I first encountered Ben, not by reading Faith & Theology, but when he read and commented on something I had written online when I was still an undergraduate in California. Then I started to follow him here and on social media, enjoying the open-handed verve with which he pursued theological learning. I noticed that Ben's engagement with texts and ideas was always top-notch, but also that everyone was welcome at his table.
Several years later I started looking into Ph.D. programs in theology. I had my heart set on a big name school in either the U.S. or the U.K. The only thing was, I had no viable way to pay for one of these programs. Desperate, I started praying that Providence would make a way for me. During this period I reached out to Ben Myers on a whim, just to ask if he supervised Ph.D. research. The very next day, we spoke on Skype. Within months I was applying for a doctoral program at Charles Sturt University in Australia. Not only was I accepted, but Ben worked his charm and secured a full tuition waiver for this foreign student.
I arrived in Australia in 2012 when Ben and his family were on sabbatical in Germany. My wife and I spent our first couple of months living in Ben's home and caring for his legendary dog, Kola (R.I.P.). For the next several years Ben's generosity continued. He shared his life with me, taught me how to write, allowed me to teach alongside him, and saw me through to the end of my Ph.D. thesis in 2017. For my wife and me Ben's help was the key that opened the door to one of the most meaningful periods of our lives. We made many friends, we became Australian citizens, and we found our ecclesial home in the Anglican church. Perhaps most importantly, in emulation of Ben we acquired a goofy black Labrador Retriever.
I now live in Washington, D.C. where I minister at a church on Capitol Hill. I love my life here, but I've come to miss the rich theological community Ben creates around him wherever he goes. I want to find my way back into what I saw with Ben by going forward in my own way. Because of this I recently tweeted that I was thinking of starting a blog. Within hours I had a predictably generous message from Ben, offering me Faith & Theology. Everything came full circle today when I once again met with Ben through Skype and he handed me the reins. Like Elisha to Elijah, I requested from Ben a double portion of his spirit. He said that, unfortunately, he had given away .6 of his spirit, and therefore that he could give me only a 1.4 portion.
Faith & Theology is open again. Stay tuned for posts on theology, philosophy, and culture, as well as reflections on scripture and book reviews. I can't fill Ben's shoes. I know this to be true because I've actually worn them before and they don't fit me.
Fourteen years and 2600 posts later, this blog is now closed. It's been a lot of fun. But I don't quite have the heart to keep the blog going after the death of Kim Fabricius. I won't delete the site, but there will be no further posts. Feel free to browse the archives – and thanks to all our loyal readers over the years.