The New Barbarism: The Contest Between Classical Humanist Culture and Techno-Economic Pragmatism
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Today, the threat of a new barbarism looms over the West. “Barbarism” is here understood as the ignorance or forgetfulness of the classical ideal of culture. The historical origin of this crisis can be found at the very dawn of modernity when Sir. Francis Bacon gives to knowledge a new aim. For the classics, and in particular for Aristotle, wisdom has its own proper excellence, as does the theoretic life devoted it. From this claim followed the Greco-Roman hierarchy of the arts which subordinates technology (from τἐχνη) to true culture (παιδεία). True culture - philosophy, poetry, and music - are noble and good in themselves, while technical activities are tools, merely useful for other, practical ends. Bacon however re-conceives of knowledge not as an intrinsic value, but as a ripe instrument of human power. Bacon’s new science would lay bare the dormant secrets of nature, unleash the potencies of technology, and uplift the material conditions of human existence. The project to establish the primacy of technology and economics was carried forward by moderns with relentless energy. Who can doubt that the Baconian revolution has radically overturned the classical hierarchy? The liberal arts today are subordinated in favor of pragmatic technological and economic skills serviceable for Bacon’s “relief of man’s estate.”. Lost is Greek παιδεία, which aimed neither at economic acquisition nor at technical mastery, but rather at educating man’s intellectual, moral, and aesthetic faculties to perceive beauty and truth. We face in short, the eclipse of what is properly human.
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