Friday, January 25, 2019

At the End Things

Kurt Schwitters, En Morn (1947). via Culture24.

This is your Brooks on drugs ("Your Loyalties Are Your Life"):
Royce took his philosophy one more crucial step: Though we have our different communities, underneath there is an absolute unity to life. He believed that all separate individuals and all separate loyalties are mere fragments of a spiritual unity — an Absolute Knower, a moral truth.
That sense of an ultimate unity at the end things, shines back on us, because it means all our diverse loyalties are actually parts of the same loyalty. We all, he wrote, “seek a city out of sight.” This sense of ultimate unity, of human brotherhood and sisterhood, is what is missing in a lot of the current pessimism and divisiveness.
The column is a collage composed of scraps from an essay by the Civil War historian Allen Guelzo that ran in First Things in January 2016 (Brooks links it in the first paragraph, he's not trying to hide this), contrasting two great Harvard philosophers of the late 19th century and very early 20th, pragmatic William James and idealist Josiah Royce, and concluding that Royce is "worth remembering today as a moral contrast to the utilitarian viewpoint, a reminder that the good must always be subordinated to the Good" or as Brooks puts it "the philosopher we need today" as opposed to, I guess, next Tuesday.

I believe it's part of a longstanding effort to prove that the progressive Royce was "really a conservative" just like Dr. Martin Luther King (whose concept of the "beloved community" comes from Royce). Guelzo's essay seems pretty lucid on the surface, though if you push inside it reveals itself as a collage in its own right, fragmenting into dada:
“Those who have believed in the being whom they called Christ,” Royce wrote gingerly, “were united in a community of . . . perfectly real and divine Universal Community, and were saved by the faith and by the life which they thus expressed.” In The Problem of Christianity, Royce declared I believe in the Holy Catholic Church to be the “capital article of the Christian creed,” and added that it “should be philosophically expounded and defended.” If you “merely take a cross-section of the social order at any one moment,” it will only yield “the predominantly pluralistic form” of “detached individuals.” The Church “has a past and will have a future,” and “its more or less conscious history, real or ideal, is part of its very essence.” 
Brooks, attracted like a magpie to all these glittering words, builds what we must call a meta-collage out of them and sits in it, like a new living room set, which is pretty much what philosophy is to him, a refined interior décor of the mind in which you will probably be confident and comfortable enough to make less panicky life-decisions, if you ever get it finished. At the end, or at the end things, he's contemplating his work and you can see him falling into a gentle snooze:
Royce’s philosophy is helpful with the problem we have today. How does the individual fit into the community and how does each community fit into the whole? He offered a shift in perspective. When evaluating your life, don’t ask, “How happy am I?” Ask, “How loyal am I, and to what?”
If I tried to squeeze all the possible laffs out of this material it would get pretty tedious before long. Nothing against Josiah Royce, about whom I know very little, but Roger Stone is under arrest and indicted, incoming flights into LaGuardia Airport have been halted because of the air traffic controller shortage caused by the government shutdown and more airport chaos seems to be happening from Atlanta to Newark, and it's going to be a busy day.

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