The Meaning of “the West”, II
In the last post, I attempted to show that “the West” as used by politicians and punditry (including and especially, perhaps, neo-conservatives like Niall Ferguson or Samuel Huntington) is really a fatal confusion — one that tends towards an absolutist, totalitarian politics in its very conception. This is, in essence, the “dictatorship of reason in the West” that is the thesis of John Ralston Saul’s book Voltaire’s Bastards and The Unconscious Civilization.
I attempted to show, following Rosenstock-Huessy’s approach, that what is called “the West” isn’t a unitary entity or civilization at all, but a more or less stable equilibrium of four, more often than not, contradictory streams of influence — the Tribal, the Greek, the Roman, and the Judeo-Christian (Abrahamic), and that these influences persist in the form of social archetypes — the Poet, the Philosopher, the Politician, and the Priest, or in the institutions associated with these types.
To a certain extent, these types map to the “species of consciousness” (Seth) or Jean Gebser’s “structures of consciousness” or civilisational types as a) archaic consciousness b) magical consciousness c) mythical consciousness or d) mental-rational consciousness, and reflect the reality of “the fourfold human”, as William Blake understood that in his model of the four Zoas — the human form as (ideally) an equilibrium (or homeostasis) of thinking, feeling, sensing, and willing or, as is sometimes represented in other terms — mind, body, soul, and spirit.
Therefore, another way of thinking about the “integral consciousness” anticipated by Gebser and Blake (and modeled also in Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”) is as a dynamic equilibrium of these aspects, or “homeostasis“.
The history of conflict in the West is a reflection of their struggles for dominance or hegemony. Today, in secular society, that takes the form principally of ideology. Liberalism, conservatism, socialism, environmentalism are the “moods” of these streams, these “moods” having been massaged and translated by the mental-rational structure of consciousness into ideological terms native to its mode of cognition and perception. In mythological times, these “-isms” took the form of the Titans or the gods or beings simply called “the Powers”.
Now, these “powers” are what William Blake calls the Zoas, and the Zoas are represented in terms of the Poetic, the Prophetic, the Philosophical, and the Experimental, as previously discussed.
The Poetic — oriented towards origins, the past
The Prophetic — oriented towards destiny, the future
The Philosophic — oriented towards the subjective, the contemplative
The Experimental — oriented towards the objective, the “natural”.
In that sense, Blake’s “Zoas” are not only aspects of the fourfold human, but a cosmological model as well — they are the powers of space and time. Blake’s human form is also the form of the cosmos.
Our politics is fourfold because the human is fourfold, as a being of thinking, feeling, sensing, and willing. This fourfoldness of the human form and the cosmos is what is represented in the early Christian mandala called Agnus Dei in which Jesus on the cross is depicted as a lamb surrounded by the four evangelists — Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John — in their zoomorphic forms.
Or, as illustrated in the Book of Kells
The four revolutions that established the Modern Era or “the West” — the Lutheran, the English Civil War, the French Revolution, and the Russian Revolution — have their unlikely roots in the four Gospels (as we discussed extensively in the former Dark Age Blog). Contemporary political ideologies began life as theological schisms, sects, and controversies in the Reformation period as attempts to translate the Gospels into secular categories, ie, in terms intelligible to the emerging mental-rational consciousness.
What disintegrated was the unum necessarium or “vital centre” or “quintessence” (the fifth element) which is represented as “Christ consciousness” or the Logos. This loss of the unifying centre is equally the theme of Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” and of Nietzsche’s death of God and his remark that “since Copernicus, man has been rolling from the centre toward X”. This clash of apparent competing or contradictory powers is ancient, and was represented in Greek thought as the conflicts of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.
The four evangelists represent these four elements equally. The Gospels famously contradict one another on the life and message of Jesus, as has been noted and lamented by the disillusioned. They do contradict each other, for a good reason: the human form as a whole can only be represented fully in terms of man’s fourfold character as thinking, feeling, willing, and sensing. Without “the Logos” or quintessence, they fall apart — loss of equilibrium, loss of homeostasis (which is the current definition for “death”). What is called “the Christ” as the Logos is the unity of opposites maintained in dynamic equilibrium. It’s the same principle that we find represented in William Blake as “Albion”, and the same principle we find in Rosenstock-Huessy as “the synchronisation of antagonistic distemporaries”. Christ consciousness is the coincidentia oppositorum, which is why John called him the Logos in response to Heraclitus.
Now, you may note something peculiar about this story and the image of Christ on the cross surrounded by the four evangelists. It is the same legend as we find in Buddhism — that the Buddha, upon his enlightenment, was presented by the Guardians of the Four Directions with the gift of their own begging bowls, but which the Buddha, “for the sake of the dharma” united with his own. These “Guardians of the Four Directions” are the same as Blake’s “four Zoas”, and are the same as the classical four elements, and are the same as the four evangelists of Christianity, and probably the four nafs of Sufism. It is the man or woman in Sioux legend who “speaks from the centre of the voice” — from the centre of the Sacred Hoop with its four directions North, South, East and West. They are, in short, thinking, feeling, willing, and sensing.
And in political society, in secular, mental-rational society, they have become liberalism, conservatism, socialism, and environmentalism (or neo-paganism) in dissociated or disintegrate state, looking for their unum necessarium or quintessence, or claiming themselves to be the essence and entirety of the true human form. When they do this, they become totalitarian and fascistic — the image of Blake’s savage and false god “Urizen”.
“Man” is a multiform being — a being of thinking, feeling, willing, and sensing. Integrity is a matter of maintaining these functions in dynamic equilibrium, which is called “the sacred balance”. That has certain implications for how we think about society more generally. “Integral consciousness” is this dynamic equilibrium.
We live in odd times, disintegrate times: Chris Hedges fears the rise of “Christian fascism” while Ralston Saul fears the “dictatorship of reason”, while still others protest the tyranny of “cultural Marxism” or “illiberal liberalism” and so on.
Is there not something mad about all that? The four “diseases” of social order described by Rosenstock-Huessy — reactionary decadence, revolutionary terror, nationalist war, and economic anarchy — seem to be our permanent state in “liquid modernity” — the signs of our civilisational and personal disintegration. Eric Kahler is right to call it “the breakdown of the human form” in his book The Tower and the Abyss.
So, effectuating “integral consciousness” — consciousness of dynamic equilibrium, the quintessential consciousness — has become a matter of survival for us. We will need all our resources of thinking, feeling, willing, and sensing to survive ourselves.
Liberalism, conservatism, socialism, or environmentalism: the truth does not lie in any one position or point of view, but in the hidden relation between them, the recognition that they are reflections of the fourfold human — of thinking, willing, feeling, and sensing — who grapples with a fourfold cosmos, too — of two times (past and future) and two spaces (inner and outer) that need to be balanced, ie, synchronised and coordinated. That which accomplishes this synchronisation and coordination is the holistic or integral consciousness.