Review by Dr Pravin Thevathasan
Rise And Triumph of the Modern Self
Trueman draws on the works of three scholars in particular: Philip Rieff, Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor. According to the sociologist Rieff, a secular Jew, we have achieved the Triumph of the therapeutic. If it feels good for you, it must be the right choice. According to MacIntyre, there has been a collapse of moral discourse since the Enlightenment. We have now become emotivists: ethical inquiry is nothing more than personal preferences. In a similar vein, Charles Taylor argues that modern man sees nature as the stuff to be shaped according to our personal preferences. Rieff, MacIntyre and Taylor all argue that modern man has rejected a transcendent moral order.
This is actually nothing new. Rousseau believed
that human beings are born in a state of grace. Moral corruption occurs
only because humans live in a depraved society. If he goes back to
nature, all will be well. The Romantic poets believed in the sanctity
of the inner self. They blamed society, including religious
institutions, for human corruption.
The author notes that Nietzsche believed Christian
ethics to be infantile. He had no time at all for virtues like
humility. For Karl Marx, religion was a mere aspiration, a dangerous
fantasy distracting us from material reality. For Darwin, human beings
are nothing more than chance products of evolution.
Freud reduces the self to sex. Little wonder that his disciple Wilhelm Reich is described as a Father of the sexual revolution. From all of these intellectuals, we come to the conclusion that the modern self is nothing more than pure consciousness, not limited by any ethical constraints.
A man may decide that he is a woman. If there is no transcendent moral order, there is nothing stopping him. If I tell him that he is in fact not a woman, I am hurting him and denying him his right to exist. Therefore my right to free speech needs to be suppressed, even though I am not in any way inciting violence or hatred. But in our woke culture, my right to free speech has to be suppressed so that a man can call himself a woman. This is what is happening now. The collapse of metaphysics has meant that we have entered a moral chaos. We cannot even speak about male and female in any meaningful way. As Rod Dreher has put it so well in the forward to this book: "Because men have forgotten God, they have also forgotten men. That is why all this has happened."
It is good to read a splendid work by a conservative Protestant, with a forward by a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy and a commendation by a convert to Catholicism. Perhaps this is the way forward, as far as ecumenism is concerned. In fact, the convert to Eastern Orthodoxy is a lapsed Catholic. Let us pay that he will return to the Church.
Like Paul Vitz before him, Trueman has ably
demonstrated that our contemporary culture of chaos is a natural
consequence of our rejection of a transcendent moral order.