onsdag den 11. marts 2009

Scruton om den nye og gamle humanisme

Den engelske filosof Roger Scruton har skrevet en række anbefalelsesværdige artikler i The American Spectator. Her et uddrag fra den seneste artikel The New Humanism:


The British Humanist Association is currently running a campaign against religious faith. It has bought advertising space on our city buses, which now patrol the streets declaring that "There probably is no God; so stop worrying and enjoy life." My parents would have been appalled at such a declaration. From a true premise, they would have said, it derives a false and pernicious conclusion. Had they wished to announce their beliefs—and it was part of their humanism to think that you don't announce your beliefs but live them—they would have expressed them thus: "There probably is no God; so start worrying, and remember that self-discipline is up to you." The British Humanist Association sees nothing wrong with the reference to enjoyment; it seems to have no consciousness of what is clearly announced between the lines of the text, namely that there are no ideals higher than pleasure. Its publications imply that there is only one thing that stands between man and his happiness, and that is the belief in God. Take that belief away, and we can run out into the garden of permissions, picking the fruit that we wrongly thought to have been forbidden. The humanists I knew as a young man would have reacted with disgust at this hedonistic message, and at a philosophy that aims to dispense with God without also aiming to replace Him.

BUT THE BUS adverts fit the spirit of modern Britain, and not even the Muslims complain about them. One Christian bus driver has refused to drive his bus, and a few hundred people have written to the Advertising Standards Council, which has rejected their complaint, but that is as far as the protests have gone. When, in the light of this advertising campaign, I look back at the humanist movement that I encountered as an adolescent, one thing above all strikes me: that the old humanism was not about deconstructing God; it was about constructing man. It was a positive movement, devoted to seeking things worthy of emulation and sacrifice, even if there is no God to promote them. Its principal fear was that, deprived of religious belief, people would let go of their ideals. Hence it urgently sought a new basis for moral restraint in the idea of human dignity.

The old humanism was not a pleasure-seeking, still less a pleasure-loving philosophy. It took its inspiration from Enlightenment philosophers, from Milton, Blake, and D. H. Lawrence, and from the legacy of Western art. The humanist who most influenced me at Cambridge believed that in no works had humanity been more blessed by true ideals than in the St. Matthew Passion of Bach and the Tristan und Isolde of Wagner, the one a work of Christian devotion, the other a work that makes no mention of God or gods, but simply dwells on the exalted nature of erotic love when tied to mutual sacrifice. Although I was skeptical toward that kind of humanism, I never doubted its nobility of purpose. It was devoted to exalting the human person above the human animal, and moral discipline above random appetite. It saw art, music, and literature not simply as pleasures, but as sources of spiritual strength. And it took the same view of religion. Humanists of the old school were not believers. The ability to question, to doubt, to live in perpetual uncertainty, they thought, is one of the noble endowments of the human intellect. But they respected religion and studied it for the moral and spiritual truths that could outlive the God who once promoted them.

Observing the new humanism from my old perspective I am struck not only by its lack of positive belief, but also by its need to compensate for this lack by antagonism toward an imagined enemy. I say "imagined," since it is obvious that religion is a declining force in Britain. There is no need to consult the pronouncements of the Archbishop of Canterbury: the response to the bus campaign abundantly proves the point. But a weak enemy is precisely what these negative philosophies require. Like so many modern ideologies, the new humanism seeks to define itself through what it is against rather than what it is for. It is for nothing, or at any rate for nothing in particular. Ever since the Enlightenment there has been a tendency to adopt this negative approach to the human condition, rather than to live out the exacting demands of the Enlightenment morality, which tells us to take responsibility for ourselves and to cease our snivelling. Having shaken off their shackles and discovered that they have not obtained contentment, human beings have a lamentable tendency to believe that they are victims of some alien force, be it aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, capitalism, the priesthood, or simply the belief in God. And the feeling arises that they need only destroy this alien force, and happiness will be served up on a plate, in a garden of pleasures. That, in my view, is why the Enlightenment, which promised the reign of freedom and justice, issued in an unending series of wars.