[Renaissance, Science and God: Paradox of Modern Western Education—VII] Individualism and Decline of the West

The modern world is abnormal in character as it is founded on a purely negative principle, that there is no superhuman principle
"This writeup constitutes the sum and substance of what Rene Guenon’s has argued in great detail. While only the articulation and presentation are mine, some notes have also been added from various other sources."[Representational Image]
"This writeup constitutes the sum and substance of what Rene Guenon’s has argued in great detail. While only the articulation and presentation are mine, some notes have also been added from various other sources."[Representational Image] Special arrangement

This write-up is in continuation to what has previously been written about the post-renaissance humanistic-individualism. I intend to base this writeup on what has been argued in The Crisis of the Modern World, a book written by Rene Guenon wherein the author states that the modern Western civilisation, due to its exclusive materialistic-rationalism, is bound to fall.

He argues that the Western civilisation is based upon so many faulty foundations of which individualism is the most prominent and dangerous one. Individualism, which we have tried to understand in one of the previous issues of this series is the characteristic feature of the materialistic renaissance humanism.

Actually, humanism and individualism are merely different names of the same thing with an anti-traditional outlook which lies at the root of modernism which has now overrun the whole world through the profane outlook of the Western education.

This writeup constitutes the sum and substance of what Rene Guenon’s has argued in great detail. While only the articulation and presentation are mine, some notes have also been added from various other sources.

The modern world is abnormal in character as it is founded on a purely negative principle — absence of principle — that there is no superhuman principle. Hence it is the individualism which is becoming the decisive cause of the present decline of the West because it is the mainspring for the development of only the lowest possibilities of mankind which develop only when it is assumed that there is ‘no God’, and which can only expand freely if every superhuman element be absent, since they, as a matter of fact, stand at the opposite sides of all spirituality and genuine intellectuality. This view makes the modern world a sort of a huge ugly building.

Individualism in the first place is the negation of intellectual intuition which is essentially a very important source of knowledge. Intellectual intuition is metaphysical – knowledge or belief obtained neither by reason nor by perception, and individualism essentially negates metaphysic things.

Due to its aversion to anything superhuman, what individualism understands as metaphysic is nothing but rational structures or imaginative hypotheses, purely individual conceptions, most of which, belong to physics or nature.

The problems of individualism in research and scholarship can be gauged by the fact that individuality by its nature demands “originality” which means fame and renown lie in putting your name to a “thing” i.e., it is exclusively your own creation.

Hence the desire to be original, even if truth should have to be sacrificed to this originality, means to invent a new error than by repeating a truth which has already been expressed by others for in fact, a true idea cannot be “new”, because truth is not the product of human mind; it exists independently of us and all we have to do is to get to know it. therefore, whatever is out of it is mere error. Although this form of individualism is most apparent in philosophers, it is to be found also in modern scholars and artists.

If seen deeply, even Protestantism was a form of individualism against the Catholic tradition. Although this general statement needs some explanation which may be made in some other writeup, let’s understand here one important thing about Protestantism, as this is what the modernist hermeneutics intend to do even with the traditional understanding of the Qur’ān.

In one way Protestantism denied the authority of the organisation of the qualified to interpret legitimately the religious tradition of the West and in its place claimed to set up “free criticism,” that is to say interpretations resulting from private judgement, even of the ignorant and the incompetent, and based exclusively on the exercise of human reason.

Although Protestantism cannot deny religious tradition, but by subjecting revelation to purely human interpretations, it reduces religion to next to nothing. Hence most of the moderns who persist in calling themselves religious are in actuality nearer to the negation of religion although they may not realise the fact.

The “originality” notion of individualism is in contradiction with a traditional civilisation where it is unthinkable that a man should claim an idea as his own. If he claims so, it would be regarded as a fantasy for if an idea is true, it belongs equally to all who are capable of understanding it, and if it is false, what is the credit of inventing it? But, for the sake of their originality, do the moderns care for the truth? Here again, as logical outcome of the modern deviation, the illusion of individualism changes the real meaning of words. The contemporary pragmatist “great” and “genius” men have misappropriated the very meaning of “truth”.

Let’s think of the consequences of individualism in the field of philosophy. The philosophers denied intellectual intuition and set reason above everything else. This constituted rationalism, whose real founder was Rene Descartes (1596-1650), a French philosopher and a seminal figure in the emergence of modern philosophy and science. Since all, individualism, naturalism and rationalism inevitably imply that all that lies beyond nature is, out of reach of the individual, as such, all these isms are one—negation of religion.

As reason is itself relative, it has given rise to “relativity” in all forms, whether it be “criticism” of Kant, that only rational beings are thought to be capable of making moral decisions, or the positivism of August Comte, that we should not go beyond the boundaries of wat can be observed. Because it concentrates on principles or rules, Kantian ethics is doomed to be either empty and formalistic or rigidly uniform in its perceptions, and because human beings are capable of thinking, Comte’s positivist approach is inappropriate for the study of society. Thus, as relativity is the only logical outcome of rationalism, it brings about its own destruction.

So, in this way, Renaissance and Reformation, the first great manifestations of the modern outlook, completed the breach with religious tradition which, starting from the fourteenth century, gave birth to the modern world, all of whose characteristics could be summed up in one—opposition to the traditional outlook which is again the same as individualism. Thus, what Protestantism did to religious tradition, rationalism did to philosophy.

This is in agreement to what has already been said in the previous issues of this series that since it is religious metaphysical doctrine that binds every traditional civilisation to its principle, once the principle is denied, everything that really merits the name of tradition is destroyed at once. We have already seen how this process worked with regard to science.

Coming to religion itself, like philosophy, rationalistic individualism opened the door for all kinds of discussions, divergencies and deviations. As a result, a large number of denominations came into being, which at times were nothing but private opinions of certain individuals. This in turn resulted in the dissolution of doctrine and disappearance of intellectual elements from religion. What remained was not religion but “religiosity”—vague sentimental aspirations unjustified by any real knowledge. At this stage a limited God becomes more advantageous than an infinite God. It is actually this stage of “religiosity” that has invited people like William James to formulate theories such as that of “religious experience” which ultimately can make people believe that religion is a human construct.

 To be continued…..

Dr Nazir Ahmad Zargar, Coordinator, Department of Religious Studies,  Central University of Kashmir, Ganderbal

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