Many are the voices suggesting there has been a failure of vision by the intellectual class, that there is currently a lack of vision to guide culture forward, out of this period of intellectual and cultural chaos. Towards what might one direct one’s efforts in pursuit of a renewed embrace of the True and the Good? Neither theory, nor paradigms, nor assertions will alleviate, provide, or save us. We must direct our attention to Hope itself.
Our greatest hope is in knowing that death isn’t the end, that what awaits on the other side is love, goodness, the embrace of the Divine. But there is also hope for this life, right now. It is one that provides meaning, direction and purpose, and thus avoids chaos. And yet what could that meaning and direction be founded upon that makes sense? It is not too much to say that the past few centuries (some say since the eighteenth, others suggest the Renaissance) have been the attempt to ground hope in something other than the transcendent. All failed. Only a transcendent Ideal can be a lodestone, can provide ontological direction, can give grounding for Hope: the Unbroken Beauty.
Beauty, tragically, was rejected at least two centuries ago; the story of that rejection has brought about a culture that looks chaotic. How bad is the chaos? Pick up any collection of essays by Theodore Dalrymple, an inner-city and prison psychiatrist. Dalrymple evidences again and again stories of horrific tragedy and vapid indifference. Perceptively, he seeks links between ideas and actions. Dalrymple repeats several themes: in cultures of choice, choice is king; Ignorance is evil and reduces the possibility of even being able to grasp alternative choices; foolish ideas promoted by the intelligentsia have tragic results.[i] Dalrymple cites Havelock Ellis as an example of a “sexual pagan” who wrote, “I foresee the positive denial of all positive morals, the removal of all restrictions. I feel I do not know what license, as we should term it, may not belong to the perfect state of Man.”[ii]
What Dalrymple sees, in part, is a familiar story, a part of the Modern worldview. The past is rejected for the new with an implicit confidence that the new is better. When the tragedies of that rejection surface, few suggest retreat. Notably, he often writes on art and literature and finds, as one would imagine, the same trend. He examines the long-standing value among some artists to break taboos, to abandon restraint and standards; what Dalrymple brilliantly exposes is that when artists call for the breaking of taboos in art, it leads to the breaking of taboos by everyone. “A taboo exists only if it is a taboo for everyone and what is broken symbolically in art will soon enough be broken in reality.”[iii]
And indeed things are broken and chaotic. Many Christians would suggest that this brokenness has spilled over into the church.[iv] From whence this tragic and chaotic outlook on life? Chaos is but the manifestation of a flawed understanding in regards to the source for the unbroken, for Hope, which is also the source of Truth and Beauty. A lack of ontological clarity leads to error; a lack of understanding that there is anything transcendent towards which one might aspire can only lead to chaos and hopelessness. The only way out is Unbroken Beauty; the only source of hope is Unbroken Beauty. Hope presumes something in which one may hope. What is the perfect thing to hope in: transcendent beauty and goodness. Plato suggested that love is the desire to possess beauty. Christians call this Beauty by name, Christ.