Delsol asserts that modern man has given up on hope; “that hope today consists in doing without hope.” Do you agree with her? What evidence would you use to support her assertion or to argue against it?
Delsol describes those living without hope and expectations as a “the society of well-being alone” who are locked into a material world that “makes of us the sad heroes of emptiness.” What alternative does she offer to living in such a state? Do you agree with her diagnosis and prognosis? (page 4)
Delsol describes the “new culture” in which we find ourselves as “late modernity.” Why does she not use the more commonly employed term – “postmodernity”? (page 5)
She cites Plato as stating that “every institution ends up dying through the excess of its own principle.” She explains in following chapters how 19th century ideologies (principles) failed in the 20th century (excess) leading to the current “new culture.” How would her argument related to Francis Schaeffer’s assertion in How Should We Then Live that there is a flow to history? How far do you think we have to go back in time to understand our own identity, values, culture? (page 6)
Consider this question/comment from the text: “But can the principle of personal dignity be maintained and secured without the cultural world that justifies and sustains it? This principle, the fulcrum of human rights thinking , is not an isolated and insular belief, a concept that can simply stay afloat and find sustenance in nothingness.” (page 8) How does this question assertion echo Nietsche’s madman speech in The Gay Science? (see video below)
Do you agree with Delsol when she says, “The dignity of man as a unique being without substitute is a postulate of faith, not of science.” (page 8) Why, or why not? How might this argument be employed as part of a “taking the roof off” apologetic?
Delsol writes, “The ideas of human dignity depends upon an inherited cultural world. Indeed, it was by destroying this heritage that Nazism and communism pulverized it.” (page 8) In what ways did communism and Nazism attempt to destroy an inherited cultural world? Do you think that this strategy is being employed by some ideologues today? How? We make a distinction between western civilization and the western heritage and that of the rest of the world. Does that mean that those who are not part of the Western World do not believe in human dignity?
Delsol writes, “Because dignity is a distinction, the philosophy of human rights rests upon anthropocentrism: no man can have dignity if Man himself is not King of nature.” (page 12) Can you give examples of man being treated as one without dignity (poorly, inhumanely) due to the denial that man is distinct from the rest of nature? How does this relate to historical attempts to deny human status to certain people groups by denying that they have a soul or referring to them as “animals” or “monkeys”?
In the “enlightened” world in which we live, are there remaining attempts to deny human status (personhood) to anyone? How does this discussion relate to the moral philosophy of Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University? (pages 14, 24)
How does euthanasia, abortion, forced sterilization, infanticide, and eugenics fit into this discussion? (pages 14, 24)
Delsol writes, “Scientific progress was able to sweep away the certainty that the human species is unique because science found itself in charge of establishing certain criteria and definitions after religious messages had lost their legitimacy. Scientism, not science, disunites humanity, and scientism operates through the despotism of a rationality placed above all else.” (page 15) What is the distinction that Delsol is making between science and scientism? Are Christians anti-science?
Delsol argues that 20th century totalitarianisms were the logical result of the desacralization of humanity; “if humanity is no longer sacred, everything becomes possible, from hatred to mass assassination.” (page 21) This argument moves beyond that of Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamozov, “If God does not exist, everything is permitted“; not only is God necessary for morality but the idea that man is special to God – created distinctly in the imago dei. Do you believe that Delsol’s additional step is required as a basis for morality?
Delsol writes, “And perhaps the biblical tale does indeed represent the only guarantee against the temptation to displace the human species. It is nothing more than a story one might object. Yet dignity does not exist without this story, for dignity was discovered or invented along with it, and all our efforts to establish other foundations have turned out to be poor substitutes.” (page 21) Sartre posited a morality based not on an antropocentrism of derived dignity as Delsol describes, but on an antropocentrism that results from a “doctrine of action.” Do you think that Existentialism is one of the “poor substitutes” Delsol is referencing? What about Kant’s categorical imperative? To what other substitutes might she be referring?
She continues, “The creation story which bestows meaning, guarantees human dignity better than any form of reason ever could. For the problem is not to ensure that human dignity exists: this is the only certitude that we have. We do not need to prove it since we hold it to be above any proof.” (pages 21-22) Do you think that most people believe as Delsol does that the dignity of man is axiomatic (self-evident, unquestionable)? Do you think that the moral argument for the existence of God is persuasive? For whom in the “new culture” would it not be persuasive? (Further reading: The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis)
Delsol writes, “An offense against the good is always accompanied by a rejection of the true, and since Plato, philosophy has known that justice and truth walk hand in hand.” How might today’s moral relativity be considered the result of failed (or rejected) epistemologies? (page 27)
How might the following comment of Delsol be applied to the study of late modern history? — “It is not enough to have lived through experiences to enter into the future. They must also become the objects of our consideration. They need to be observed, translated, pondered, brought forward with us, so that the future can become more than just the passage of time.” (page 28)
Do you agree with Delsol that the failed totalitarianisms of the twentieth century were attempted utopias built upon the myths of self-creation, self-foundation, and self-sufficiency of mankind?
Delsol writes, “Egalitarian utopia undoubtedly represents the most ancient social dream, having been longed for for centuries.” (page 35) What examples might she give to support this claim?
Delsol repeatedly speaks of “the events of 1989”. (pages 36, 48) To what is she referring?
Delsol talks of belief (ideological commitments) becoming an identity that cannot be renounced “without committing a kind of symbolic suicide.” (page 36) What are the consequences of this for those who are committed to failed 19th century mythologies of utopia or progressivism?
What does Delsol mean by “the logic of resentment”? (page 37) How serious an issue do you think this is in terms of American public policy?
Delsol describes the hypocrisy that occurs when someone refuses “to suffer the catastrophic consequences of his ideology, but he is too proud to publicly abandon it. He leads an upper middle-class life, but relentlessly disparages the middle class; he runs things as though he were a free-market advocate, but jeers at free market ideas; he enrolls his own children in demanding, even austere schools, while preaching indulgence for delinquency in schools attended by the children of others. In other words, he continues to propagate the utopia he no longer lives by and attacks the moralism of those who simply put into words what he himself is doing.” (page 37) Can you think of examples of this in public life? Delsol goes on to claim that such a person salvages their honor at the expense of “a diminished life for everyone else.” Do you think the general public is aware of this hypocrisy and its results? If so, why does it allow it to continue?
Delsol claims that derision and sarcasm are extremely effective cultural change agents employed by those embracing failed utopian ideologies and those committed to progressivism. (pages 38-40) Do you agree?
Delsol writes, “The ideology of progress equates happiness with ‘maturity’, or replaces happiness with ‘maturity’ as a criterion of the good. Maturity means a distancing from childhood. The more society differentiates itself from the past, the better it will be.” (page 50) How does her comment relate to what C.S. Lewis says about “chronological snobbery”?
What do you think that Predrag Matvegevic means when writing, “The dissident is a hostage of truth.” (page 50)
Delsol writes, “The heaven’s were closed by magistrate’s order.” What does she mean? (page 51)
“Due to lack of interest, tomorrow has been cancelled.” If asked what this means, you would probably respond that it is a reference to modern apathy. Why is apathy prevalent in the “new culture”?
MORE QUESTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION
In what ways might the radical behaviorism of B.F. Skinner be considered a continuation of failed 19th century utopian ideologies.
Delsol writes much about the communism of eastern Europe and the USSR but has little to say about China. Why do you think this might be?