THE RISE & TRIUMPH OF THE MODERN SELF;
CROSSWAY BOOKS; 2020
I have been reading Carl Trueman’s The Rise andTriumph of the Modern Self – Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism and the Road to Sexual Revolution. (Crossway. )I could hardly put it down. It is a weighty, clear, and thorough treatment of its theme, the modern understanding of one’s self. Throughout the book, the author seems to be in control of his material, and has a clear, commanding style. He is a historian by profession, and a Conservative Protestant. A treatment of this kind of analysis on contemporary culture makes the book pretty unique.
This book can be thought as a study of a history of ideas, or of human culture, and in the influence of its elements on our contemporary world , the world of human values and priorities of its culture. In theological terms, then, the book is an exercise of anthropology, the doctrine of human beings, involving an estimate of some of its current expressions. Some of these data are psychological, others from poetry, and in the arguments political philosophy. If you stick to the text, my guess is that you will learn a lot. Trueman’s style is clear, and his contents are highly organised. He is highly proficient in the mores of our non-Christian neighbours, to adolescent children, and agenda of the media. There is a welter of material, but to his diligence and clarity, his readers will usually know where they are in any place they come to.
The key to what follows in the book is the thought of Philip Rieff (1922-2006 ), an American sociologist, whose view of the modern Western culture is that its dominant feature is what he calls the ‘plastic’ view of the self, joined Charles Taylor, the Canadian philosopher, (1931 – ) whose books Sources of the Self, and The Making of the Modern Identity, strongly concur in the character of our culture, though not knowingly, They have arrived at different times and places of a similar outlook.
The third influence is Alasdair Macintyre, (1929 – ) the philosopher, who is the author of a number of books, of which After Virtue (1985). Their interest to Trueman lies in versions of psychological views of human nature…… . Each of Taylor and Macintyre are Roman Catholics. Macintyre has argued for many years the view that ethics in the modern world is emotive, (nothing but expressions of emotion), as a result of which moral argument and modern ethical objectivity, and the ideas of virtue and vice, have become impossible.What once views and intuitions were settled as matters of fact, and of the law, they now are matters of choice. People are free to pursue their own projects. Other influences are Romantic English poets such as Percy Bysshe Shelley, and William Blake, Neo-Marxism and the influence of Nietzsche and Karl Marx, and Darwin.
What do this rather different trio of Rieff, Taylor and Macintyre have in common? I think it is fair to say that Trueman treats them as sources of the reimagining of the human self. The three thinkers do not concur, and certainly have not collaborated, But their approaches overlap, each providing materials which can provide elements of the modern view of the self. In this situation argument regarding matters of sex is futile. No doubt Trueman could have given his readers other examples. What interests his interest is the LGTBQ+ community, and their birth and variety, from it.
It is my plan here to introduce the book through its first two chapters ‘Reimagining the Self’, and ‘Reimagining our iCulture’ set the basis of the book, its given. And chapter 2 will give the interested reader a slice of Trueman’s scope, and a brief taste of the chapters that follow, ‘Reimagining the Self’, and ‘Reimagining Our Culture.” ‘Reimagining’ is Taylor’s word for the newly discovered of the human self, He sees such ‘reimagination’ currently having its public culmination in the ‘sexual revolution’,’the radical and on-going transformation of sexual attitudes and behaviours that has occurred in the West since the 1960’s’( 21) The self has to do with the level of self – consciousness which emphasises a level of inwardness as the criterion of who a person is, his loves and hates. So inwardness is shaped by its territory, by fixed do’s and don’t’s basic to themselves. It is only in a situation in which the do’s and don’ts have weakened from the self’s traditional sense at vanishing point that the modern sexual revolution could occur. That revolution is not only of the sexual changes of this idea of the self, but it is at least this. Another criterion of the character of the self is what makes a person happy. So it is a paradox that two views which are different but cannot be argued for their truth or falsity may contribute centrally to the view of the self that is regarded as true, indeed, as part of a person’s view of him or herself. Gay marriage and transgenderism, for example, are now legitimate, deep and intuitively true, obvious to very many in our culture as a result of these cultural changes, as divorce in marriage became general in an earlier era.
The Central Argument
The central argument of the book in Part 2, chapters 3, 4 and 5, takes the reader into the eighteenth century, to Rousseau and into English poets such as…William Blake and Percy Miss Shelley, who as part of their Romantic outlook had an antipathy of the straitjacket necessarily imposed by Christian Holy Matrimony. Trueman shows this by reviewing developments associated in Romanticism in poets including William Blake and Percy Bysse Shelley who inveighed against society’s ‘Christian sexual codes and particularly with the normative status of lifelong, monogamous marriage’. (27) To this mix is to added Macintyre’s advocacy of emotive ethics, which makes rational argument about a moral issue difficult if not impossible.
So, there three identifiable elements, foundations of in Trueman’s account: (1) the appearance of new general descriptions of the self, and generalisations over the new caste and activity of human consciousness:, and the impossibility of ethical argument, due to emotivism and subjectivism: (2) facts about changing behaviour, and particular over sex; especially of cohabiting, homosexuality and transgender: and (3) The disparagement of monogamous life-time marriage between the sexes, which presents fundamental problems for Christians.
In these chapters Trueman shows himself to be at home in various relevant historical epochs bearing on his topic, and then to their contemporary bearing in Nietzsche, Marx and Darwin. At the end of the book, Trueman, has some comments of a general kind to Christians. In this vein, In this, the climax of the book, I shall add a little to what he says.
The attractiveness of the Sexual Revolution is its lawfulness. Homosexuality and Christian matrimony law. As views of gender and sexuality have widened the law was changed, because certain acts were illegal. Now it is the novel views that have the preservation of the law. So, you might say, this leaves the Christian in a position of what the law permits. If that were so it may live and live and let live. But it is not so easy. So, increasingly, the orthodox Christian views are outlawed. They are not exclusive. In the days when Christian orthodoxy had the preserve of the law, the church, particularly the church established by law. The privileged position of the Church of England was taken for granted, and non – conforrmity trailed in its wake. How were the rising generations treated? Was the newly-dawning libertinism avoided? For example, were the children of Christians warned and instructed? It was taken for granted that Christian orthodoxy was the view of everyone. Anything other life-style was not even talked about. The idea that Christians have a unique mode of life was forgotten.
The times had changed or were changing. As for the New Testament, the times were changing. Jesus warned the Pharisees and Sadducees ‘You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times’. (Matt. 16.4) But now there are groups riding a coach and horses through Christian teaching, and we did not seem to care.
This reference to such a text as ‘endure hardness’, (Paul’s advice to Timothy) reminds me that the American conservative Christian and author Rod Dreher was invited to write the Foreword of Trueman’s book. The theme of Dreher’s own book might be said convey the apostolic advice to Christians, to ‘endure hardness’ (or to ‘get real’). It is hoped to review Dreher’s book Live Not By Lies: A Manuel for Christian Dissidents, (Sentinel) in our the next blog.
POSTED BY PAUL HELM, formerly professor of the philosophy of religion at the University of London on his blogsite, HELM’S DEEP; Dec. 1st 2020.