Is Realism realistic?

A priestlie friend forwards the review of a beuk about John Senior. (This one.) He was a figure in American religion and pedagogy (died 1999). He was the author of two works that have been extremely influential in a small but persistent circle: The Death of Christian Culture (1977), and, The Restoration of Christian Culture (1983). In a time of what Senior called “The Dark Night of the Church,” he proposed a return to basics — to the Greek and Roman classics, to those of Christendom, to poetry, music, architecture, art, and joy in pursuit of wisdom, centred on the Mass. He conceived of higher education as a glorious boot camp; as the philosophical life restored.

The reviewer calls him “a romantic,” which I think is fey. The original Benedict — not of Option, but of Nursia — would be dismissed by that standard. You assemble your plan, compose your Rule, and just do it. The Word spreads among those who are listening for it, and others copy.

Cutting TV and drugs isn’t actually impossible. Neither is getting up at five in the morning, I’m told, once you get used to it. At Natrun in Egypt they’re still getting monks, having changed nothing in sixteen hundred years. You just keep it up until ISIS arrives to saw all your heads off.

But that is joyful, too. For as Senior explained:

“It is not enough to keep the Commandments, though we must; it is not enough to love one another as ourselves, though we must. The one thing needful, the unum necessarium of the Kingdom, is to love as He loves us, which is the love of joy in suffering and sacrifice, like Roland and Olivier charging into battle to their death defending those they love as they cry, Mon joie! — that is the music of Christian Culture.”

Though one can see how, to the contemporary academic, this might not seem the most prudent advice, or how Senior’s scheme of teaching as if the Truth were knowable (it is, incidentally) might constitute resistance to the Nominalism and Relativism of the established regime. The very idea of a moral compass is taken by these rogues as a moral affront; for the nominalism must be cheap, and the relativism total. To add a reinforcing appreciation for beauty and “poetics” must seem to them absurd; as a gratuitous threat to their malice and ugliness. Of course they will try to suppress you.

But to hell with them all. As Jordan Peterson, a mere psychology professor, has been demonstrating at the University of Toronto, when you are surrounded you make a stand. Marshal Foch advanced on similar principles. (“My centre is giving way, my right is in retreat; situation excellent. I shall attack.”) The enemy may collapse in surprise. For the whole tendency of post-modern education is to tranquilize the brain. They have police, but aren’t ready for any kind of intellectual challenge.

The task of advancing philosophical Realism — and the life of gallant sacrifice it supports — is never quite dead. Like Christ, it keeps popping up again. Even Sartre, I was reminded recently, had a deathbed conversion — according at least to Simone de Beauvoir, who berated him for it. And this after an entire lifetime of constructing defences against such a thing.

Already, in the America of today, there is a network of small, potent universities, graduating people who become priests, monks, and nuns; or if they don’t, become subversives within the liberal and progressive order. The Church herself may be trying to enforce her own decline, but she has no stamina for it. Real, and very traditional Catholicism keeps emerging.