A Nonfiction Book

Belonging Again (Part 23)

When everyone turns inward, is anyone “there” to provide “plausibility” to the subjectivities into which people are turning?

‘[Admittedly], themes of crisis, malaise, and decline have been so widely promulgated that one wonders whether this conviction is not also a conceit, for nearly every generation of intellectuals since that time has made the claim that its generation is the decisive one. In one sense it is irrelevant whether the various claims have any basis in reality. Merely the fact that they are made repeatedly and with such passion is significant.’¹

Precisely in being what they are, Modernity and Pluralism fail ‘to provide a stable universe of meaning from which people root their personal identity and significance.’² This isn’t primarily because they declare nihilism as truth, but because all “givens” lose their robustness and are ‘deprived of plausibility’ (meaning ‘plausibility structures’ weaken, as will be discussed).³ Pluralism ‘substantially undermines the credibility of traditional routines and patterns of social life previously experienced as objective facticity’; in other words, Pluralism ‘has a built-in destabilizing tendency which has consequences for all dimensions of human life.’⁴ Consequently, ‘traditional definitions of reality which had previously provided stable coordinates for living everyday life (in courtship, marriage, child-rearing, religious faith and practice, interpersonal exchange and the like) are increasingly fluid, fragmented, and deprived of plausibility.’⁵ ‘The net effect […] is profound crisis of meaning and certainty for the modern individual in which self-identity is perhaps the central problem.’⁶

Audio Summary

As evident by both Brexit and Trump and in line with both Rieff’s and Berger’s thinking, ‘the discontents of modernity can generate cultural backlash in the form of political and social protest movements,’ and ‘the most serious problematic about modernity’s discontents is that they foster a vulnerability to totalitarianism — a political solution to the social-psychological yearning for ‘home.’ ’⁷ ‘[I]n Berger’s view human beings ‘require’ reliable interpretations of reality and personal experience.’⁸ Where subjective reality fails to “fit” with social reality and where society fails to supply “givens,”‘[t]he question for meaning ‘turns inward’ to the depths of human subjectivity.’⁹ To put it another way, ‘[s]ince the assumptions of everyday life are no longer taken-for-granted, in practical terms, modern man is faced with an extraordinary number of choices. Without an objective social order to turn to, modern man ‘turns inward’ to his subjectivity for those answers.’¹⁰ ¹¹ ‘The problem with subjectivization is plain at this point. Who one ‘really’ is, how one ‘should’ live — these reality definitions are subjectively real only in so far as they are continually reaffirmed by others.’¹² If everyone has turned inward to their subjectivities, people are not “there” to provide affirmation and “plausibility” to the subjectivities of those around them. Hence, everyone’s subjectivities fail to provide “robustness” and “givenness” to them, leading to existential anxiety and longings for “home.” ‘Deinstitutionalization and ‘subjectivization’ are, then, the complementary problems of modern society.’¹³

‘Meanings are not experienced simply as legitimations of objective power interests — rather, objective structures are important as they give plausibility to meanings that are a fundamental need of everyday life.’¹⁴ These ‘objective structures’ also provide ‘plausibility structures’ (and are possible thanks to what Berger called ‘mediating structures,’ as will be discussed): the entities in a society that make people feel like what they believe is that which they are justified to believe in, to the point where those beliefs are “given.”¹⁵ Dialectically, Berger argued that ‘objective structures provide plausibility structures for subjective meanings at the same time that meanings provide legitimations for objective social structures.’¹⁶ Without plausibility structures, there cannot be “givens,” which will result in mass “subjectivization” — the only (ostensible) source left of legitimization for the individual. In this state, Berger feared there are ‘strong pressures for authoritarian, counter-modernizing ideologies of right or left which are typically totalitarian.’¹⁷ Strangely this is the “given-less” state of extreme freedom (which Erich Fromm writes about in his Escape from Freedom), a state which ‘tends to become its [authoritarian] opposite [in] leading to a relativism which is psychologically unbearable because of the human need for meaning.’¹⁸ Paradoxically, as Rieff warned, ‘a world in which everything [is] a matter of choice [isn’t] a state of liberation but a state of chaos,’ and where there is chaos there is desire and impulse for an authoritarianism that orders and organizes it.¹⁹ Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor,” tragically, was right.

Turned “inward” and “too free,” Berger believed moderns are especially prone to revolutionary tendencies to restore order and to make their subjective realities “fit” again with social reality to the point where moderns (re)establish their subjectivities as “given,” regardless the fact or unaware that, ‘[a]s Wittgenstein said, reviving a tradition is like trying to repair a spider’s web with your bare hands’ (this logic applies to “plausibility structures,” “givens,” and the like).²⁰ If the “traditionalist revolutionists” fail, perhaps the consequences will be similar to what Burke predicted about the French Revolution.

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Notes

¹Making Sense of Modern Times. Edited by James Davison Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay. The Modern Malaise by James Davison Hunter. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc., 1986: 76.

²Making Sense of Modern Times. Edited by James Davison Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay. The Modern Malaise by James Davison Hunter. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc., 1986: 86.

³Making Sense of Modern Times. Edited by James Davison Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay. The Modern Malaise by James Davison Hunter. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc., 1986: 92.

⁴Making Sense of Modern Times. Edited by James Davison Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay. The Modern Malaise by James Davison Hunter. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc., 1986: 81.

⁵Making Sense of Modern Times. Edited by James Davison Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay. The Modern Malaise by James Davison Hunter. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc., 1986: 92.

⁶Making Sense of Modern Times. Edited by James Davison Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay. The Modern Malaise by James Davison Hunter. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc., 1986: 93.

⁷Making Sense of Modern Times. Edited by James Davison Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay. The Modern Malaise by James Davison Hunter. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc., 1986: 97.

⁸Making Sense of Modern Times. Edited by James Davison Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay. The Modern Malaise by James Davison Hunter. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc., 1986: 92.

⁹Making Sense of Modern Times. Edited by James Davison Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay. The Modern Malaise by James Davison Hunter. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc., 1986: 92.

¹⁰Making Sense of Modern Times. Edited by James Davison Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay. The Modern Malaise by James Davison Hunter. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc., 1986: 81.

¹¹It should be noted that it is impossible to truly grasp what this means until we experience it: the divide between “reading” and “experiencing” must surprise us.

¹²Making Sense of Modern Times. Edited by James Davison Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay. The Modern Malaise by James Davison Hunter. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc., 1986: 93.

¹³Making Sense of Modern Times. Edited by James Davison Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay. The Modern Malaise by James Davison Hunter. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc., 1986: 81.

¹⁴Making Sense of Modern Times. Edited by James Davison Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay. Excursus: The Problem of Freedom by Donald L. Redfoot. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc., 1986: 106.

¹⁵Making Sense of Modern Times. Edited by James Davison Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay. Excursus: The Problem of Freedom by Donald L. Redfoot. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc., 1986: 106.

¹⁶Making Sense of Modern Times. Edited by James Davison Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay. Excursus: The Problem of Freedom by Donald L. Redfoot. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc., 1986: 106.

¹⁷Making Sense of Modern Times. Edited by James Davison Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay. Excursus: The Problem of Freedom by Donald L. Redfoot. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc., 1986: 108.

¹⁸Making Sense of Modern Times. Edited by James Davison Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay. Excursus: The Problem of Freedom by Donald L. Redfoot. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc., 1986: 108.

¹⁹Making Sense of Modern Times. Edited by James Davison Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay. Excursus: The Problem of Freedom by Donald L. Redfoot. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc., 1986: 113.

²⁰Scruton, Roger. “Is Sex Necessary?”. First Things, December 2014:
http://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/12/is-sex-necessary

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O.G. Rose

O.G. Rose

Iowa. Broken Pencil. Allegory. Write Launch. Ponder. Pidgeonholes. W&M. Poydras. Toho. ellipsis. O:JA&L. West Trade. UNO. Pushcart. https://linktr.ee/ogrose