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Friday, June 03, 2005


syncretic promiscuity

from somervell's argument outlining toynbee's "a study of history":

V. The Disintegration of Civilizations, xix. The Schism of the Soul. (5) The Sense of Promiscuity.

this is a passive substitute for the sense of style characteristic of civilizations in the course of growth. it manistests itself in various ways.

(a) vulgarity and barbarism of manners. the dominant minority shows itself prone to 'proletarianization', adopting the vulgarities of the internal and the barbarisms of the external proletariat, until, in the final stage of dissolution, its way of life has become indistinguishable from theirs.

(b) vulgarity and barbarism in art is the price commonly paid for the abnormaly wide diffusion of the art of a disintegrating civilization.

(c) lingue franche. the intermingling of peoples leads to confusion and mutual competition of languages; some of them spread as 'lingue franche', and in every case their expansion entails a corresponding debasement. many examples are examined as illustration.

(d) syncretism in religion. three movements are to be distinguished: the amalgamation of separate schools of philosophy; the amalgamation of separate religions, eg. the dilution of the religion of israel by combination with the neighboring cults, which was opposed with ultimate success by the hebrew prophets; and the amalgamation or syncretism of philosophies and religions with one another. since philosophies are a product of dominant minorities and 'higher religions' a product of internal proletariats, the interaction here is comparable with (a) above. here, as there, thought the proletarians move some way toward the position of the dominant minority, the dominant minority moves a far greater distance toward the position of the internal proletariat. for example, the christian religion employs for its theological exegesis the apparatus of hellenic philosophy, but this is a small concession compared with the transformation undergone by greek philosophy between the ages of plato and of julian.

(e) cuius regio eius religio? the section is a digression arising out of the case for the philosopher-emperor julian considered at the end of the previous section. can dominant minorities make up for their spiritual weakness by using political force to impose the religion or philosophy of their choice? the answer is that, subject to certain exeptions, they will fail, and the religion which seeks the support of force will grievously injure itself thereby. the one apparently striking exception is the case of the spread of islam, and this is examined and shown to be not really as much of an exception as it at first appears to be. an opposite formula, religio regionis religio regis, is nearer the truth: a ruler who, from cynicism or conviction, adopts the religion of his subjects prospers thereby.
toynbee's observations on the disintegration of civilizations make for exceedingly interesting reading when the conditions he identifies in social collapses are readily observed all around oneself. particularly, however, i should like to point out the underlined passage on the syncretic promiscuity of the philosophies of the dominant elite -- the once-creative class that has since stopped exuding the attractive force of leadership and now tries to maintain position by mere administration -- and the religion of the internal proletariat.

this is exactly what we see today in america in the rise of an ostensibly christian right. this new force has abandoned anything like a christian interpretation of events -- indeed perverting the meaning of the word "christian" in the process -- for a neitzschean ethic that makes the self the only source of virtue and compromise of internal ideals a sort of sin. as outlined immedately thereafter, "...the dominant minority moves a far greater distance...", the evolution of western thought from kant to nietzsche was indeed that greater distance -- the readoption of the spiritual and internal by the intellectual class as a reversal of the objective and empirical development that took root in the scholastics and cumulated in the encyclopedists and hume. the two classes, dominant minority and internal proletariat, have now met in the west -- from the fascists and communists of the early 20th c to the neoconservatives which amalgamate the two the the latter decades, faith in the ideal of personal emancipation is the common understanding the dominant minority have with the internal proletariat.

what that says about the disintegration of the western civilization should be clear.

Not directly related to your post, but I thought you might enjoy this:


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that is indeed an excellent article. thanks, anon!

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