Over the past few months, there has been an ongoing debate in South Africa about the legitimacy of an Afrikaans Christian university. As expected from a country that has been secularizing nearly the fastest in the world over the last decade,1 most people, including most of those who claim to be Christians and their church leaders, are opposed to the idea.2 This is one of many tragic proofs that the Afrikaner people, who until late in the twentieth century remained arguably the most religious of the Western nations (partially due to the nationalist policies of apartheid), have finally been swept away by the wave of secularization that hit the rest of the Western world about half a century ago.
In an era where South African churches and academics are virtually consumed by liberalism, and where contemporary Afrikaans literature, much like Afrikaans church services, is of little to no value, it is indeed a fresh breeze to read a sound Christian defense of traditionalism from within Afrikaner circles. Danie Goosen, a philosopher from the University of South Africa, was initially a defender of deconstructionism,3 but he experienced a radical transformation at the turn of the century to the extent that he is, to my knowledge, the greatest contemporary defender of (philosophical) orthodoxy in the Afrikaner community. Furthermore, Goosen is also committed to the Boer people’s struggle for liberation and a homeland.4 In 2011, he wrote an article for the Journal of Humanities in South Africa entitled “The Theoretical Life – Perspectives from Tradition,”5 in which he specifically addresses the nature of universities and the influence of modernism on them. This article is an excellent read, and I highly recommend it for any Afrikaner wanting to form a solid traditionalist, Christian view on universities in particular, but also on tradition in general.
In an abstract of the article, Goosen summarizes what he intends to convey:
It is argued that the traditional emphasis on the importance of theory presupposes an ecstatic ontology that tends to view being as an ecstatic journey reaching from the particular to the universal, from the parts to the whole, but also from the practical to the theoretical. The modern preference for the practical presupposes a radical shift in ontological focus: in modernism being is continually reduced to the lowest common denominator. This ontological plummeting has had a dramatic effect on our understanding of the relationship between theory and practice: Henceforth theory as a guide in our search for wisdom is done away with, while the practical is reduced to nothing but a pragmatic, utilitarian, or power-driven tool in order to control being.
In this abstract, Goosen already shows modern universities’ alliance with Cartesian epistemology, since it can be argued that Descartes’s motivation for the establishment of a universal science was to establish man’s lordship over reality. I saw living proof of this mentality in a recent status-update on the Facebook page of the University of the Free State (whose rector is an outspoken enemy of Christendom6), describing an educated people as “easy to govern but hard to enslave.” This is, of course, absolute Marxist rubbish – presupposing the modernist sentiment that “knowledge is power,” only to be attained for the practical assertion of lordship and not, as traditionalism sees it, for the sake of sapientiae and virtus. Because of this undue stress on power, we have the contemporary philosophical emphasis on human rights rather than human virtue. True liberty exists only in a sanctified state; education, separated from godliness, leads only to further enslavement.
Goosen begins by pointing out that discussions about universities today rarely focus on the theoretical life, but reduce everything to the practical: “for this reason, questions about their profitability, accessibility, international structure, competitiveness, strategic management, outcomes, public image, and the establishment of networks receive so much attention from universities today.” These aspects all aid the agenda of cultural Marxism through the university as arguably its most effective weapon against the youth of the faithful today.
Goosen then proceeds to explain what he means by the traditional life, that life which was earlier regarded as the chief end in classical academics, the medieval monastery, and the western university. He addresses how the “decline of the theoretical” at modern and postmodern universities is the result of the reduction of the theoretical to the practical by modernist philosophy, claiming that the modern “economic university” is a result of the modernism where “reality itself is always reduced to the lowest common denominator” (pp. 2-3).
The theoretical life refers to two distinct but cohesive aspects, the intellectus and the ratio. The intellectus refers to that element of thought which in itself marvels in an intuitive-meditative way and opens up the “that” aspect of reality. The ratio, in turn, refers to the aspect of thought that reflexively bows back and actively asks the question of being, i.e. the “what” (nature, essence) of the “that.” In traditionalism, the intellectus and the ratio, with regard to creation, never coincide in complete simplicity. The “that” is always more than the “what,” and between the two there exists an unbridgeable gap. Thus, what marks the theoretical view of man is that he is essentially an inhabitant of the space between the intellectus and the ratio. Traditionalism, therefore, in junction with traditional thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, regard the theoretical life, i.e. the cultivation of the inhabitance of the space between the intellectus and the ratio, as man’s highest good. Goosen points out that the reason for tradition’s preference of the theoretical over the practical life is its view of the actual reality – the Good for Plato, the Unmovable Mover for Aristotle, and God for Aquinas. This actual reality, referred to in traditional thought as the esse intensivum, is characterized by the fact that its movement is brought about wholly by itself with no external factors. And, as perfect and self-sufficient Act, it is the actual reality. There is no distinction between intellectus and ratio when it comes to the esse intensivum. Goosen explains:
A typical example of this is the goodness of God. With mortal, created beings a characteristic such as goodness doesn’t coincide with the existential ‘that’. Because of the fact that man is an inhabitant of the space in between the ‘that’ and the ‘what’, he rather demonstrates a shortage with regard to it. With God as the actual reality it is different. Due to His simplicity, there is no break between God and his goodness, in fact, God Himself is goodness. The same is true for the other essential characteristics [of God] such as truth and beauty: God is always completely one with these things. . . . Aquinas . . . describes the theoretical life as one that corresponds to the actual reality on one important point. The point of conformity relates to the simplicity of reality. The practical life, in comparison to the theoretical, shows less simplicity.
The fact that tradition deems the theoretical life higher than the practical by no means implies that the latter is unimportant. Rather the contrary is true: Tradition regards the practical life as a necessary condition for the theoretical. It is, after all, through the exercise of the practical virtue of prudentia that the theoretical life is possible in the first place. This is evident from the structure of the cardinal virtues and, in particular, the practical role of the virtue of prudentia in the mediation of the theoretical life. According to the tradition the theoretical life is nothing but the realization of its highest virtue, namely sapientia (wisdom). At the same time the purpose of the practical life is marked by the realization of its highest virtue, namely prudentia. . . . Prudence is rather an in-between virtue: It applies both to the practical and the theoretical. In order to be truly sapienter, one must also be truly prudenter (pp. 3-5).
Goosen then proceeds to explain that the traditionalist arrangement, particularly the relationship between the theoretical and the practical, was lifted by modernism with its detachment of the practical from the theoretical, thereby completely disrupting the theoretical life. In traditionalism, the ratio presupposed the simplicity and essence of the true reality (God) as a given. In modernism (and particularly postmodernism), everything becomes constructible and flexible. Goosen then quotes Claude Polin as rightly remarking: “It is an indisputable characteristic of the modern man that he understands himself without nature, apart from the nature he himself creates” (p. 6).
The definition of “critical thinking” at the university has undergone a change in meaning:
Instead of being measured in terms of its value for theoretical thought, it is measured according to its value for practical thought. So, for example, contemporary universities are rated according to the utilistic question of whether their profitability can be increased to ensure the highest possible happiness; the formalistic question of whether it grants admission to as large (diverse) a group as possible (previously disadvantaged, minorities , etc.); or the strategic question of power strategies of knowledge and the differing inclusion and exclusion mechanisms that are being employed by the different spheres of knowledge.
Goosen points out that the theoretical life plays no role in either the utilistic, formalistic or strategic questions (pp. 6-7).
In the complete absence of the theoretical life, modernity places all its weight on the practical. By doing this, however, they reduce the practical life to purely instrumental, pragmatical, and utilistic functions. Knowledge, therefore, becomes purely a medium for power, by which reality can be brought under the dominion of man. Francis Bacon was one of the first to view knowledge purely in terms of power (p. 7).
Traditionalism is, unlike modernism, teleologically directed at the highest good, which in Christian traditionalism is, of course, the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). On the contrary, freedom, to the modernist, lies in actually freeing oneself from a teleological purpose to become part of the non-teleological tumble of energies. Goosen remarks: “In short, viewed from the perspective of tradition, the conditions for desire to eventually flourish is destroyed when separated from its transcendent objectives.” It becomes evident how Calvinist ontology is inseparably linked to traditionalism as Goosen continues:
According to Tradition the initiative for participation lies not in the parts themselves. . . . In fact, it is rather the whole itself that inundates the parts in amazement and leads them to erotically reach out to her, as it were, and participate in her. In essence the realization and flourishing of the parts are not a result of their own initiative, but rather the whole that in its beauty, goodness, and truth provokes the parts to participate in it. Thirdly, according to the tradition, the whole should be experienced as excessive abundance. As excessive abundance it always overflows the bounds of thought. We can say that it is always more than what is evident from our thought.
However, herein lies the crucial difference between modernism and traditionalism. While traditionalism views the whole as an excessive abundance, modernism experiences it as a dark abyss from which the subject can protect itself via thought as an instrument of power. This is essentially the perspective of Descartes, Bacon, Hobbes, Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Freud, Marx and Darwin. “They represent a tendency in modernism by which theoretical thought is reduced to a strategic instrument of control over a dark abyss” (pp. 8-10).
Goosen continues to point out that it would be a misunderstanding to argue that tradition regarded the parts as unimportant, since it is only through the parts that access is gained to the whole. He writes:
So, for example, the origin of political action precedes its purpose in terms of time, but at the same time the political goal precedes the exertion thereunto, ontologically speaking. Before the politician acts, he must after all have an idea where he’s headed. . . . By this the tradition of course doesn’t mean to say that action is unimportant. But other than what modernism purports, it is not as much action that makes the noble life possible, but the noble life that makes action possible (p. 10).
In traditionalism, therefore, the purpose of knowledge lies in the desire to attain the highest good and not to reduce all things to the lowest common denominator, so as to bring them under the practical dominion of man – the purpose of modernism. Modernism essentially sees the whole as an obstacle in the way of the liberation of the parts:
Consequently it is not anymore the parts that are understood from the whole, but rather the whole from the parts. If the whole was previously understood to be the condition for the parts, it is now viewed as a function of the parts. A typical example of this is the modern ‘individual’. In accordance with modern reduction the individual is isolated from his ecstatic participation in the greater whole of things (family, town, city etc.) and called out to be an autonomous, self-sufficient reality. . . . As autonomous agent the individual is rather experienced to be the creative origin of the whole itself . . . . In accordance with modern reduction everything is forced downward to the lowest common denominator within an ontological free-fall (pp. 12-13).
By rejecting traditionalism, therefore, modernism was enabled to interpret the eternal from the mortal and the heavenly from the earthly, thereby making geological uniformitarianism and deism their epistemological presuppositions for empirically “proving” natural evolution. It further enabled modernism to view the higher from the lower, the beautiful from the horrendous, and the mature from the adolescent, thereby promoting racial and gender egalitarianism. The pursuit of virtue was interpreted to be a pursuit of power, which gave birth to the modern liberal democracy, feminism, anti-racism, and the sexual revolution. Finally, the constant and meaningful was understood in terms of the fluctuating, and the complete viewed from the potential, which paved the way for modern biblical criticism and the “living document” theory. All of this, of course, for the sake of disregarding Christ’s Lordship over creation in favor of its sinful neo-Babelist agenda.
In conclusion, Goosen returns to the issue of universities. He observes that it is notable that
academic scholars still – and in antipathy for the theoretical life in the traditional sense of the word – in unheeded moments call upon the theoretical life. ‘A university surely doesn’t do this’ or ‘students aren’t supposed to act like this’ or ‘a lecturer’s task is this or that’ is uttered in these unheeded moments. . . . The critical question is whether universities are going to exalt to theme and regard as directional these unthematized presuppositions concerning the theoretical nature of the university. Or is the university, by virtue of an unqualified preference of the practical, to oust and ignore the traditional emphasis on the theoretical even further? . . . Without a connection to the theoretical, it [the university] will still be able to describe itself as a productive part of the knowledge industry, but hardly as a ‘university’ (p. 16).
In all the debates I have read concerning the question of the legitimacy of an Afrikaans Christian university, this modernist reduction has implicitly been at the forefront of denouncing the idea. And, although our enemies will never admit it, the real danger an Afrikaans Christian university holds for them is a return to the theoretical life of traditionalism, the consequent freeing of education and knowledge from the power struggle to which Marxism has bound it, and the use of the university as a sanctifying means of Afrikaner people unto the highest virtues. It is for this reason that they make the absurd claim that an exclusive Christian university is by definition an oxymoron, while it is Western Christianity that gave birth to the university in the first place. On the contrary, the university is by definition irrevocably connected to Western Christendom, while that which the modernist calls a university is in fact no such thing.
Modernism took its hold on Western Civilization when Christian scholarship ceased to have dominion over the university, among other institutions of education, and created a void for the former to fill. Since then, they have caused nothing but destruction to our heritage and culture. The need to return to radical traditionalism has never been greater. I would go as far as to say that if Afrikaners fail to establish a Christian university as a means to sanctify our people in the near future – it would spell the end of Christianity in southern Africa.
- http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/Fewer-religious-people-in-SA-survey-20120810 ↩
- http://kerkbode.co.za/?p=1557 ↩
- http://af.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danie_Goosen ↩
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEvvmUfDyDw ↩
- The Afrikaans title is Die Teoretiese Lewe. Perspektiewe vanuit die Tradisie. It was published in the Journal of Humanities, year of study 51 No. 4: December 2011. The translations of the passages quoted in this piece are my own. ↩
- http://www.beeld.com/Rubrieke/JonathanJansen/Die-universiteit-hou-gevaar-in-20120904 ↩