Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Walker Percy's Twentieth Century Thomism

"Political Thought"

In this section Lawler compares Thomas Jefferson's view of man with Percy's view. Percy thinks that if Jefferson's view was true, most Americans would be happy, but they are not. Lawler states the modern world has been replaced by a postmodern one. He notes Percy's view of this world: "our century has not been the coming of 'universal peace and brotherhood,' but a time of war, self-destruction, deranged, violent eroticism, and angry, self-hatred. The world human beings have created for themselves is for angels and pigs--abstracted, unempirical beings that are absolutely transcendent or absolutely immanent. It is a world for those who live wholly as scientists or wholly as consumers; it is not for human beings" (95). Percy and Thomistic thought places the human being between angels and beasts. Percy notes often in his writings how man often falls either in the transcendent or immanent realm.

Lawler states that "Cartesian Scientists often speak of the "autonomous self," or the individual who has complete mastery over his self or transcendence similar to the scientist. Lawler thinks the theory of the autonomous self has led to most of the cruelties in our modern world. He says because the autonomous man believes in nothing, he is often caught in the clutches of ideology. Pascal said that man who takes himself to be an angel will often act like a beast. Percy and Flannery O" Connor connected modern sentimentality to cruelty. C. S. Lewis also wrote about the problem of the autonomous man in The Abolition of Man. Peter Kreeft has written about the connection between this work and Percy's Lost in the Cosmos.

"Percy's Self-Help Book"

Lawler notes, "Percy's self-help is a scientific explanation for the apparent misery of Americans in the midst of prosperity, their dislocation, angry self-hatred, and derangement" (97). Why is man sad in good environments? Why was the twentieth century was one of the most violent centuries in history? Percy's "longest piece of prose in that book is a theoretical 'intermezzo of some forty pages,' where Percy presents his Thomistic science, his theory of evolution and of man as a languaged being by nature" (97). Is this the heart of the book? Percy in this prose section analyzes "the impoverishments and enrichments of a self in a world are not necessarily the same as the impoverishments and enrichments of an organism in an environment" (97). Percy says, "the self in a world is rich or poor accordingly as it identifies its otherwise unspeakable self, e. g., mythically, by identifying itself with a world-sign, such as totem; religiously, by identifying itself as a creature of God" (97). Percy thinks this is the reason "that, for Americans, 'The pursuit of happiness becomes the pursuit of diversion' (98). This is because man does not want to know what he is. Lawler notes, "The diverted self cannot be explained rationally or scientifically by the Cartesian expert." "The diverted self is closer to the truth" than the Cartesian scientist. Ultimately, all diversions end in failure. Man must come to failure before he will seek God. This is similar to the Book of Ecclesiastes.

Lawler concludes this section by noting: "There is some pride and joy in knowing the truth about the mystery of the self, and the search for that truth is better than depression or diversion. If the search cannot eradicate the mystery of the self, it can at least make clear what makes one self lovable to another, the foundation for human community" (99).

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