November 28, 2017


Romano Guardini's Diagnosis of the Modern World (Jeremy A. Kee, 11/28/17, Imaginative Conservative)

In a relatively few pages, Guardini traces the evolution of human nature itself from being focused on God and His order, to being about man and his disorder. In his furious attempt to transcend his own natural limits, man has imposed upon himself a metaphysical exile. He is adrift in the cosmos, having repudiated his natural home, which is to say his very nature. Living in discord and disharmony, believing himself to be master over nature, man walks upright with a false air of freedom and liberation. As Guardini writes,

This positive experience, however, was countered by man's loss of his objective sense of belonging to existence. With the breakdown of the old world picture, man came to feel now only that he had been placed in a life of strange contradictions.... Modern man awoke to that anxiety which menaces him to this day, an anxiety never found in the medieval world.

While the tide of medieval man's anxiety was turned easily enough away, owing to his awareness of his place in a limited universe, a belief in transcendence, and a still higher order than his own, modern man has since divested himself of all such beliefs. Guardini continues,

Modern anxiety... arises from man's deep-seated consciousness that he lacks either a 'real' or a symbolic place in reality. In spite of his actual position on earth he is a being without security. The very needs of man's senses are left unsatisfied, since he has ceased to experience a world which guarantees him a place in the total scheme of existence.

Man, in other words, has by his own choosing entered into a self-imposed existential exile. His view of what was natural shifted with his view of himself. No longer was nature something within which man lived by which he was defined; rather it was now something man created, directed, and to which he offered definition. What was once his highest faculty was now his contempt. What was "natural" was "whatever was given immediately to the mind and sensibilities of man... all those things which existed in the world prior to anything man did to them." Thus, man's more basic drives were taken as natural, and therefore as good, by simple virtue of being natural.

Writes Guardini,

Although man is intrinsically bound to nature in both body and spirit, as soon as he disposes of nature by coming to know nature he rises out of his natural milieu. He then places nature opposite himself as something completely 'other.' In the process of separating himself from nature, man underwent that second experience crucial for understanding the import of modern life. He underwent the experience of subjectivity.

Having placed himself in opposition with nature, man now opposes himself, the result of which is an incurable anxiety never to be solved save by a return to the old order, from which he so desperately wants to be free. Man is now homeless in the cosmos. 

Posted by at November 28, 2017 8:17 AM