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What went wrong? The bad seeds sowed from Bacon to Kant
A brief history of conservatism: Part 4, 1600-1800 A.D.
Fred Hutchison, RenewAmerica analyst
August 15, 2013

Originally published June 25, 2007

According to traditional conservatism, a large part of our wisdom comes to us from the past. According to Christian conservatism, man is a fallen creature, and all the works of man have within them the seeds of their own destruction. Our challenge, therefore, is to weed out the falsehoods and follies that have been sown in prior generations – while we embrace the brilliant cultural heritage of the West as a whole.

The first three parts of this series traced the development of Western culture from 800 B.C. to 1750 A.D. and reviewed the role played by conservative principles in this development. This essay, part 4 in the series, will identify some of the bad seeds sown during the Baroque and Enlightenment Eras (1600-1800 A.D.), which set the stage for a long-term cultural decline after 1800.

A bifurcating culture

Although Western culture developed rapidly during the Baroque and Enlightenment Eras, some streams of culture became more metaphysical, and other streams moved away from metaphysics. This bifurcation of Western culture gradually became a dichotomy in tension – and finally became the schism in society that we know as the "culture war."

Metaphysics (which roughly means "beyond the physical world") pertains to the essence of things or the nature of reality, a reality that is higher and deeper than palpable daily experience. Philosopher Immanuel Kant called the superficial material world we observe with our eyes "phenomena," and he called the true nature of things "noumena." Noumena are concealed beneath phenomena. The unseen reality, or noumena, is in the metaphysical realm.

A spiritual realm that transcends the material world is also part of the metaphysical realm. First principles, final ends, ultimate truth, the universal moral law, natural law, the nature of being, and knowing also pertain to metaphysics. When poets and philosophers speak of "the true, the beautiful, and the good," they are speaking of metaphysics.

Conservatives, liberals, and metaphysics

Most of the branches of metaphysics can find a home somewhere within the several streams of Western conservatism. In contrast, liberalism, as a whole, is anti-metaphysical. When a conservative says "man has a nature," he is making a metaphysical declaration. When a liberal insists that man has no nature other than how society has shaped him or how he has molded himself, his reveals an implicit skepticism towards metaphysics.

The difference in the cultural impact of these two points of view is tremendous. If man has a nature, human culture should only include things that are salutary for man and should exclude things deleterious to man. But if man is pliable clay to be molded by society or the self, anything can be included in culture. If anything goes, nothing is to be considered fallacious, tawdry, mediocre, pornographic, malevolent, or evil, and nothing holy or honorable must be respected.

If man is mere modeling clay, however he is molded he will be a superficial construct – a being who has no value beyond instrumental or utilitarian calculations. But if man has a nature, he has an inner being with intrinsic value. He has innate meaning and is designed for a purpose. Human beings are capable of a rich culture because there are rich depths of human nature for creative individuals to explore.

The culture war is essentially a struggle to see if the West will have a metaphysical culture or an anti-metaphysical culture. An anti-metaphysical culture must give way to nihilism, anarchy, and the upsurge of unchecked evil. Thus, the long-term prospects for the survival of Western Civilization will be determined by the outcome of the culture war.

Metaphysics, faith, and reason

Is there a connection between metaphysics, faith, and reason? Yes. Faith and reason help us to connect with the metaphysical realm. Metaphysics enriches and stabilizes both faith and reason. For example, metaphysical theology and ethics provide boundaries in which faith and reason must operate.

Western metaphysics produced a culture that was both uniquely rational and uniquely welcoming to religious faith. Prior to the bifurcation of Western culture, faith and reason were strongly allied. After the bifurcation, faith and reason were in tension. Today, faith and reason are hostile to one another in some quarters. This current situation is historically abnormal and culturally unhealthy.

Metaphysical music, anti-metaphysical philosophy

During the Baroque era, music took the lead in metaphysical expression and reached a metaphysical summit in the compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Karl Barth said, "God listens to Bach while the angels listen to Mozart."

Baroque music drew the arts and architecture toward high metaphysics (as discussed in the prior essay). Philosophy, meanwhile, drew the sciences and practical affairs away from metaphysics (as discussed in this essay).

Historians call it the Age of Reason, but that is a mistake. The Baroque Era was a time when metaphysics was challenged by persuasive opponents and when reason began to be gradually eclipsed by experience and feelings.

Western rationalism was developed by Greek, Roman, and European philosophers who used their reasoning powers to explore metaphysical questions. The foundations for reason were undercut when metaphysics came under siege from rogue philosophers in the 17th and 18th centuries. The tide decisively turned against metaphysics among the intelligentsia during the 1750-1800 period. The Romantic rebellion against reason was unleashed during that period – which started the long toboggan ride of reason down to the depths of twentieth-century Existentialism, Postmodernism, and narcissistic nihilism.

Metaphysics and culture

Besides shoring up faith and reason, what does metaphysics contribute to culture? It contributes at least the following:

1) Metaphysics connects us with the cultural past in ways that are more stable, rational, and enriching than memory and nostalgia. One way it does this is to help us appreciate the classical art and literature of our culture.

2) Metaphysics connects us to the noumena of the present world. That is why some artists, writers, poets, and composers are drawn to the "numinous" (spiritually charged) qualities of nature, human life, and civilized culture.

3) Metaphysics gives us hope and purpose, by persuading us of our influence upon a future world and by assuring us that the future matters.

4) Metaphysics encourages the individual by informing him that he has an inherent nature, identity, design, destiny, and value as a person.

5) Metaphysics furnishes a culture with core ideals and archetypal forms from which to fashion a numinous culture that is mindful of those ideals and forms.

The birth of a civilization

Intellectual historian Richard Weaver (1910-1963) said that every civilization must have a "metaphysical dream," or a set of unifying ideals. Every new civilization comes into existence by a united striving of an inspired people to build the kingdom of their gods on earth, or by trying to realize their shared ideals and spiritual aspirations in their communities.

A new civilization must have a powerful faith, a shared vision, and vigorous resources of reason. A shared metaphysical dream makes this possible. European civilization rose unusually rapidly from barbarism (during the period 1050-1100 A.D.), because their faith was robust, their vision was strong, and their resources of reason and metaphysics were deep. They longed to build the kingdom of Christ on earth – which they called "Christendom."

Cultural consequences of the decline of metaphysics

The decline of metaphysics can lead to cultural shallowness and chaos. In such a cultural milieu, it is difficult to sustain the pursuit of excellence or the search for truth, beauty, and the good. A shallow culture can offer no archetypal forms and ideals to inspire literature, the arts, architecture, or philosophy. The present chaos in the arts indicates that the shallow culture offers no shared forms, artistic ideals, or numinous impressions.

A good example of "numinous impressions" is the works of Dutch painters Rembrandt and Vermeer (17th century) and French impressionists Renoire and Manet (19th century). These artists managed to impart a numinous glow into their pictures of people. Rembrandt's portraits have a glow of spiritual and psychological depth. Vermeer bathes us in peace with his quiet scenes of an almost photographic realism. Renoire's pretty scenes of happy young people fill us with a sense of the sweetness of life. Manet somehow brings us into the pleasant ambience of a place and time.

In contrast, the depressing art of modernity lacks a numinous quality. Therefore, many of the scenes feel empty, however much material content is painted upon the canvas. The soulless artists somehow manage to drain the life out of their pictures, so that every scene is implicitly about death. The people in modern paintings often look more like manikins than living persons with souls. In a world swept clean of metaphysics, the artists portray dead men in a dead world.

The image of dead men in a dead world first appeared in the art and poetry of the early nineteenth century during the first great disillusionment with the Romantic movement. When metaphysics retreated, Romanticism filled the vacuum. Romanticism is inherently unstable, and many young Romantics suffered disillusionment during their middle years.

Dead men on a dead sea

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) wrote The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, which described a crew of dead men on a ship drifting on a desolate sea. A ghost ship with Death as her master appeared in the denouement of the poem. Although the love of nature eventually redeemed the protagonist, the real message of the poem was the triumph of death. Dead men on a sea of death was the seminal vision of the artists and poets after their disillusionment with the Romantic movement.

"Water, water everywhere, / And all the boards did shrink; / Water, water everywhere, / Nor any drop to drink. // The very deep did rot, O Christ! / That ever this should be! / Yea, slimy things did walk with legs / Upon the slimy sea.// ....Alone, alone, all, all alone / Alone on a wide, wide sea!/ And never a saint took pity on / My soul in agony.// The many men so beautiful! / And they all dead did lie: / And a thousand thousand slimy things / Lived on and so did I."

The fallacies of hope

Disillusionment with the Romantic movement was expressed by many poets and painters. "The Fallacies of Hope," a poem by Joseph Turner (1775-1851) follows Coleridge's motif of inhumanity and horror at sea.

"You angry setting sun and fierce edged clouds/ Declare the Typhon's coming./ Before it sweeps your decks, throw overboard the dead and dying – ne'er heed their chains./ Hope, hope, fallacious hope! / Where in thy market now?"

In order to further illuminate his meaning, Turner painted a picture of a slave ship casting chained slaves into shark infested waters as the sailors prepared for a typhoon.

Another example of the obsession by disillusioned Romantics with hideous disasters at sea was the painting The Raft of the Medusa, by Gericault. In this picture, the dying victims of a shipwreck are wretchedly clinging to a small raft at sea.

Utopias and gilded ages

Why was the disillusionment of Turner and Coleridge with the Romantic moment so agonizing and bitter? The Romantic movement was quasi-utopian, the first of many false utopias that would vex the modern era. The death of a utopia inflicts a deep psychic wound on the true believer.

The preceding decline of metaphysics and accompanying loss of reason and faith left the people without hope. Utopian hucksters filled this vacuum by offering the people false dreams and false hopes.

A shared metaphysical dream strengthens and enriches a rising culture. A hollowed out and declining culture swallows ersatz utopian dreams to fill its emptiness. The inevitable result is bitter disillusionment.

Utopian reformers railed at greedy materialists because of the superficial nature of material wealth. Interestingly, the lures of utopia and the seductions of a gilded age flourished in the same environment – a superficial culture. As people are blinded to numinous realities, they are drawn to superficial glamour. The bright illusions might take the form of the glittery surfaces of wealth that deceived Jay Gatsby, or the ersatz romanticism of utopian dreams. Utopian deceptions and the deceptions of greed are spiritually similar. The human spirit, crying for numinous reality, is fed with cheap substitutes.

Cultural fads such as the Romantic movement, the worship of nature, the Transcendentalist movement, and the New Age movement promised a more intense experience of life as a substitute for the loss of meaning in a shallow culture. New Age guru Joseph Campbell made the bald assertion in a television interview with Bill Moyers that people do not care about the meaning of life, but only care about the "experience of being alive." A fallacious assertion of this kind can only go unchallenged in a culture so shallow that the innate human desire for meaning is effaced.

Fallacies about human nature

In the absence of metaphysical ideas about the nature of man, speculative thinkers could redefine human nature at will. For example, Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), on the strength of a personal mystical experience, asserted that man is naturally good and all human evil and corruption are caused by society. From this false idea about man, Western liberalism was born.

Rousseau's idea was contrary to the accumulated wisdom of Western culture and to common sense. How then could it have been so popular? Reason built on metaphysical foundations can easily see through Rousseau's illusions. That is precisely why Rousseau's deceptions and liberal illusions did not become prevalent in the West until metaphysics was in serious decline. Liberal fantasies are only possible for a shallow flatland culture.

The revolt of the skeptics

Voltaire (1694-1778) ridiculed metaphysics in his popular novel Candide. It was clear to sophisticated readers that the target of his ridicule was Lutheran rationalist philosophers Gottfried Liebnitz (1648-1716) and Christian Wolff (1679-1754). The great popular success of Candide demonstrated the growing hostility of the intelligentsia towards metaphysics. Voltaire was not an atheist. He was a shallow deist and a bitter opponent of the French Catholic clergy who preached faith and taught the meaty metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas. Shallow men choke when they are served strong meat instead of milk.

Philosopher David Hume (1711-1776), was even more skeptical than Voltaire. He agreed with John Locke that sense impressions are imprinted on the blank slate of the mind, but denied that the intellectual concepts we cobble together from those impressions have any validity. His extreme pessimism about what we can know bordered on epistemological nihilism. Hume, who was admired by Voltaire, was influential in convincing the intelligentsia of the West to scuttle metaphysics.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) corrected Hume's fallacies about the reasoning mind, but reinforced Hume's rejection of metaphysics. Kant reaffirmed that noumena is really out there, but denied that man can ever have knowledge of it. Therefore, metaphysical reasoning cannot lead us to the truth. Kant's arbitrary restrictions on how the mind can know things forced him into this impasse.

For the last two hundred years, radical skepticism has slowly eaten away at the vitals of Western culture. The children of Hume are with us today, ventilating radical skepticism in all its malice and stupidity. Attempts at intelligent discussion on the college campus are often quickly dissolved in the acid bath of know-nothing skepticism.

Now let us consider philosophers Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes, their skepticism, and their implicit hostility towards metaphysics.

Francis Bacon starts anew

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) laid the indispensable empirical foundations of Western science, enabling science to become the glory of European culture. He also introduced a handful of logical fallacies in which many Western scientists still believe.

Bacon was the father of Western skepticism. He greatly damaged Western culture by providing philosophical grounds for brushing aside the cultural and intellectual heritage of the West.

Bacon made a fortune as a lawyer and subsequently had a great career in government during the period 1613-1620. He rose to be Chancellor of England and ruled the nation while the king was out of the country. He had a brilliant mind, was a great writer, and was a political genius – but was also proud, greedy, and inordinately ambitious. The king removed Bacon from power in 1620 because he was convicted on charges of corruption.

Bacon started life anew as a private citizen. He turned to science and philosophy and proposed that everyone should follow his lead. If he could not rule a kingdom, he would rule in the realm of the human intellect.

Bacon's expurgation of the past

Bacon proposed that we should cancel all the knowledge of the past and start from scratch, using a method for acquiring knowledge that he would teach us. We should expunge from our minds of all preconceptions, prejudices, assumptions, theories, and old knowledge. He claimed that all knowledge brought forward from the past is tainted and should be expurgated.

This alone should have made Francis Bacon public enemy number one to all conservatives from that day forward. However, Bacon's contribution to the empirical foundation of modern science was so great that he has generally escaped the censure of future generations. Yet, even Bacon's most important contributions were laced with fallacies. The man who would cure all our old fallacies was a great sower of new fallacies and new myths.

Western culture after 1800 A.D. declined in direct proportion to the extent to which Western man cut himself off from his cultural past. Those who were most persuaded by Bacon and his philosophical heirs went the furthest in cutting themselves off from the Western cultural heritage. Great thinkers such as Descartes, Locke, Rousseau, Diderot, and Hume were among Bacon's heirs and gave weight and momentum to his program of cutting us off from the past and building a new world on the ashes. They agreed that we must construct new foundations, but they all had different ideas about what those new foundations should be.

This is the same dilemma that brought the campus rebellion of the late 1960's to a hopeless impasse. "Let us destroy the established system and build anew on the ashes...but what then shall we build?"

Bacon's poisoned skepticism

Skepticism is a two-edged sword – for skepticism can be good or bad. Certain professions such as scientific research, law, medicine, detective work, auditing, and journalism require "professional skepticism." A professional person in these fields must not jump to premature conclusions, but must prove every hypothesis with factual evidence. This is good skepticism. In contrast, Bacon's radical skepticism was foolish and misanthropic.

Bacon said, "[W]hat is now done in science is only a whirling about, a perpetual agitation, ending where it begins...." Not only science, but all human knowledge has been tainted, according to Bacon. "Human knowledge as we have it is a mere medley and ill-digested mass, made up of credulity and mere accident, and also of childish notions that are first imbibed."

Bacon's blanket skepticism was malicious and arrogant. His egoistic presumption and condescension were egregious. However, he was a very persuasive writer, and many people were taken in by him on the first reading.

Bacon's implicit hostility to metaphysics

When Bacon swept aside the entire cultural and intellectual heritage of the West, he rejected a rich metaphysical tradition. The radical skepticism he advocated would be used by Voltaire to laugh at metaphysical ideas.

Bacon's methodology for gaining knowledge started with an implicit defiance of metaphysics. He claimed that all true knowledge begins with examining the material details of phenomena – while ignoring numina.

If all knowledge can come from careful examination of material evidence, as Bacon claimed, then the world must be no more than an empty material shell. Thus, Bacon threw away the succulent fruit of metaphysics and left the dry surface shell for future philosophy students to feed upon. That is why many students have complained that philosophy is dry and abstract – and why reason fell out of favor.

Bacon's epistemological imperialism

Bacon claimed that his method of empirically-based inductive reasoning was the only way men could obtain true knowledge. No other method could yield reliable information, he asserted. Modern scientists, who are the heirs to Bacon's empiricism, often make the same claim. They routinely claim that their knowledge is the only kind of knowledge worth having. This epistemological imperialism has narrowed the minds of many scientists.

Scientists boldly claim that everything that they do not know, they eventually will learn. They are echoing the exaggerated claims of their father, Francis Bacon. But contrary to his claim to unlimited possibilities of knowledge, Bacon's method has sharply limited what science can learn. While promising all knowledge to his protégés, he has taken away some of the keys of knowledge.

Bacon's reduction of man to one narrow method of obtaining knowledge contracts and distorts human nature. If man is designed to know things in several ways and he is only be permitted to learn and to know in one way, he suffers an unhealthy privation. When students are given a dry rind, and told it is the only true knowledge, they get psychological indigestion in the short run and intellectual malnutrition in the long run.

Bacon's scientific myths

The principal myths in Bacon's empirical philosophy are these:

1, The myth of starting with the facts, and the first myth of neutrality

Bacon proposed that we start with the observation of facts and follow where they lead. No scientist has ever done this, because it is impossible to do.

Scientists always make a hypothesis that guides them in planning their research, selecting the objects to observe, and defining what they are looking for as they examine the facts. Without a hypotheses, no systematic research can be performed, and no intelligent selection, observation, and interpretation of facts can be made. However, scientists persist in making the strange claim that they start with the facts and follow them to see where they lead. This is one of the standard myths of science.

We are told that if we start with the facts, our research will be neutral and free from bias. But we cannot start with facts, we must start with a hypothesis. Since a hypothesis is grounded in theory and analysis, a hypothesis introduces a personal agenda. There is no such thing as a neutral and unbiased agenda. Facts can refute a hypothesis, of course. But the way the facts are selected and examined in a research project and the method of interpreting the facts are based upon a plan to support the hypothesis. Such bias is unavoidable.

Scientists argue that they attempt to falsify a hypothesis. To the extent this is actually done, science can be redeemed. However, no one puts forward a hypothesis and designs research hoping the hypothesis will fail. The belated attempt to falsify a hypothesis is like closing the barn door after the horses have run out of the barn.

2. The myth that the facts speak, and the second myth of neutrality

In the last installment, we briefly considered John Locke's concept that the human mind is a tabula rasa (blank slate). He borrowed this idea from Bacon and developed it. Sense perceptions make impressions on the mind. These impressions are the building blocks of knowledge, they presumed.

But this is absurd. Intangible objects are passive. They cannot actively intrude upon a passive mind. The mind is active and oversees what is written upon it by passive sensory data. Kant said that sensory perceptions are stage-managed by the mind. The mind interprets these perceptions on its own terms and using its own methods. Therefore, there is no such thing as a neutral perception or a neutral interpretation of a perception.

3. Inductive reasoning, and the third myth of neutrality

Bacon proposed that we examine facts and use inductive reasoning (reasoning from specifics to generalities) to draw conclusions. However, any number of inductive calculations can be based upon a fact and the way that fact is interpreted. The facts themselves cannot guide the researcher as to how to frame his inductive analysis. Since the researcher can frame his interpretations and his inductive reasoning to advance his agenda, all inductive reasoning contains an element of bias.

4. The myth of the staircase of induction, and the fourth myth of neutrality

Bacon proposed an ascending staircase of induction. The conclusion of each step of induction is the foundation for the next step of induction. One starts with facts at the bottom of the staircase, and after a series of steps of inductive reasoning, concludes with general principles at the top of the staircase. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a neutral ascending stairway of induction leading straight from a fact to a general concept. This is another myth of science.

An unguided chain of inductive reasoning will follow a random course. Any computer programmer knows that. In fact, an unguided chain of induction might go in circles like a computer caught in a loop.

The only way an ostensible chain of induction can lead straight from specific facts to general principles is if it is rigged by the researcher. In order to construct the chain he is looking for, he must reason in a top-down manner. He must start with the general principle he wants to prove and carefully reason down to the facts. As he works downwards, he must look for the facts he needs to support his predetermined conclusion. This is not an ascending chain of induction. It is a descending chain of deduction that is rigged to look like a chain that ascends inductively from the facts. Ah, the routine frauds of science!

Bacon thought that if researchers ascended the staircase of induction in a slow, careful, methodical way, they could avoid sweeping generalities – involving flying up to general concepts while skipping steps on the staircase. In this careful way, bias could be avoided, he believed. However, since the staircase must be rigged by the researcher, bias is built into every step.

Descartes begins anew

Rene Descartes (1596-1650) became disillusioned with scholasticism and metaphysics. However, he had confidence in mathematics. He invented the Cartesian coordinate system of geometry.

Descartes noticed that mathematical axioms were developed from "self-evident truths." Such truths cannot be proven, but cannot be doubted, he believed. By an "intuition of pure reason," one understands a self-evident truth of mathematics. By starting with these truths that cannot be proven, mathematicians can prove other concepts that are not self-evident.

If we are to reject the presuppositions of scholasticism, as Descartes wanted to do, can we find a replacement for them in self-evident truths? Descartes intended to look for such truths through a program of doubt. He proposed to doubt everything – until he could find a proposition he could not doubt.

Descartes' program of doubt required a skepticism more thorough and more systematic than Bacon's skepticism. Descartes made possible the nihilistic skepticism of Hume a century later.

"I think, therefore I am"

Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) pertains to being. It is an ontological statement by Descartes. But is it good metaphysics? No, it is a stinker.

As Descartes systematically tried to doubt everything, he found that he could not doubt that he was thinking. If he indubitably thinks, he must exist. Right? No, this is scrambled logic.

Who is doing the thinking? Who is aware of the thinking? Who is "I" in "I think therefore, I am." Descartes seemed to think that his mind was both thinking and observing the thinking. He seemed to think that he and his mind were the same entity – the "I am." All these assumptions are highly dubious.

The mind observing itself is like a cog in a clock trying to observe the system of gears. It would be absurd for a cog to proclaim it had realized a self-evident truth about the gear system. A cog is so close to the system, it can know nothing of the system as a whole. Only an observer detached from the gear system can view the system as a whole.

In like manner, only a human faculty separate from the mind can observe the mind as it thinks and be aware of that observation. The observing faculty can say "I observe thinking," but it cannot say "I think." By definition, what I observe another entity doing is not what I am doing. Therefore, the "self-evident truth" that Descartes was not able to doubt is an absurdity.

A better ontological statement would be "I am a spirit being, I have a mind, and I dwell in a body." If I am a spirit being with consciousness, I can observe my mind as it thinks and be aware of the observation. This must be so in order for me to be morally responsible for my thoughts.

An impossible dualism

Starting with a false foundation, Descartes built an impossible dualism. He claimed that the mind is a spiritual entity and the body is a material entity. Unfortunately, a duality of kinds of being cannot exist in nature. A unitary entity cannot be radically divided. Indeed, Descartes never found a convincing explanation for how the incorporeal mind communicates with the corporeal body and commands the body to take action.

Descartes had a purely mechanistic view of the body. His mechanistic views generally have prevailed in science and medicine, resulting in an impersonal and dehumanizing view of the body. As metaphysics fades, Western man has become more impersonal and amoral about the human body.

Impossible alternatives

Thanks to Descartes, most modern people think that their only choice is either a dualism of mind and body, or a purely material mind. Both alternatives are impossible.

A purely material mind is deterministic and eliminates the possibility of reason, free will, conscience, and consciousness. But that is absurd. The idea of a purely spiritual mind floating in the ether and unable to communicate with a purely material body is equally absurd.

Notice what is at stake. To a purely physical being, metaphysics is nonsense. We are automatons. We are dead men sailing upon a dead sea.

If the spiritual mind is cut off from the material body, the metaphysics that my mind can enjoy is irrelevant to my body. Physical life on the earth is cut off from the realm of purpose and meaning. As our dying bodies float about like the raft of the Medusa, cut off from meaning as we drift on a dead sea, we can detach ourselves from our physical and cultural predicament and have the "consolation of philosophy," which Boethius had in jail. We might live in abstract thoughts – as Descartes did – and forget the body and the problems of culture.

How then shall we live?

"I am a spirit, I have a mind, and I live in a body." As a spirit, I have consciousness and a conscience. Unlike my body, my spirit is imperishable and can know God. Contrary to Bacon and Kant, my spirit can know things beyond what my mind can know. The spirit can intuitively sense the numinous realm that can inspire cultural expressions like poetry, literature, and painting.

Although the spirit and the body have different natures, the body is not an exile on a raft in alien seas. The psyche is a hybrid being of spirit and body that continuously intermediates between spirit and body. The body is not cast adrift on the "raft of the Medusa." The body remains on the mother ship with its spirit. The spirit needs the body so it can find the noumena within the phenomemon, as did Rembrandt, Vermeer, Renoire, and Manet. This world is lush with numinous life for the enjoyment of living people.

"I am a spirit, and I have a mind." I can observe my mind thinking because I am a spirit. I am responsible for what I think because I am aware of it, and I have a conscience and a free will.

The mind appears to be a hybrid being of spirit and brain. Therefore, the mind is not cut off from the body. But the mind can rise to the realm of metaphysics because it is partly spirit and because it is connected with the incorporeal human spirit. Therefore, the mind is not limited to the dry rind of metaphysics. It has access to the luscious juicy fruit inside.

Finally, Christians who believe in the incarnation of Christ must know that spirit and body can be united – for Christ is both God, a spirit being, and He is man, a physical being. Therefore, Christians should dismiss out of hand assertions that man is, of necessity, entirely material in composition, or that he is an irreconcilable duality.

Next time

In the next essay, we shall consider the new conservatism of modernity. The fathers of the new conservatism were John Locke, Samuel Johnson, Montesquieu, Edmund Burke, Goethe, and James Madison. Stay tuned.

A message from Stephen Stone, President, RenewAmerica

I first became acquainted with Fred Hutchison in December 2003, when he contacted me about an article he was interested in writing for RenewAmerica about Alan Keyes. From that auspicious moment until God took him a little more than six years later, we published over 200 of Fred's incomparable essays — usually on some vital aspect of the modern "culture war," written with wit and disarming logic from Fred's brilliant perspective of history, philosophy, science, and scripture.

It was obvious to me from the beginning that Fred was in a class by himself among American conservative writers, and I was honored to feature his insights at RA.

I greatly miss Fred, who died of a brain tumor on August 10, 2010. What a gentle — yet profoundly powerful — voice of reason and godly truth! I'm delighted to see his remarkable essays on the history of conservatism brought together in a masterfully-edited volume by Julie Klusty. Restoring History is a wonderful tribute to a truly great man.

The book is available at

© Fred Hutchison


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They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. —Isaiah 40:31