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You Can't Fight Hegel With Hegel
[Below is an excerpt from an article I recently wrote for Sovereign Nations. Sovereign Nations is doing great work educating people about the times we live in, and thereby providing them with the means necessary to exercise discernment when approaching social, political, and economic issues. Click here for the full article.]
It is clear to many Western Christians that there is a well-timed, strategic, cultural war being waged against the very foundations of Western civilization. However, it is not as clear to many of them that their enemies are positioned not only on the left, but also on the right. Admittedly, the idea is hard to accept, especially when those on the right are professing Christians of high stature. Yet this is what has been taking place for many years, and is now doing so at an accelerated pace, in a much more nuanced manner. Sadly, truths derived from general and special revelation that serve as the basis of Western civilization are now being targeted by conservative Christians as the cause of the West’s decline.
Whereas those familiar with the subject consistently trace identity politics in general, and sexual identity politics in particular, to the works of postmodern philosophers utilizing key concepts derived from anti-Enlightenment thinkers like Karl Marx, G.W.F. Hegel, and Jean- Jacques Rousseau, popular Christian conservatives have begun to blame classical liberalism for the West’s decline. These conservatives have taken to arguing that identity politics has not sprung from Marx and his predecessors and successors, but from Enlightenment thinkers who placed too much emphasis on man as individual, rational, and autonomous. For them, individualism is primarily at fault as it tended to undermine man’s moral obligations to others, consequently resulting in the fragmentation of society and the dissolution of its institutions. Laissez-fare capitalism (i.e. capitalism) is also thought to have expedited the fragmentation of society via individualism by playing to the individual’s self-interest and not the “common good.”
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Among Christians, the foregoing analysis of the West’s decline has been propagated most consistently, perhaps, by Carl R. Trueman. In his past cultural commentary and academic writing over the span of several decades, Trueman has made the same arguments laid out above. 1 More recently, Trueman has been in the spotlight for his 2020 book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution. In it, he claims to be giving a genealogy of the “modern self,” and doing so in order to help Christians have a better understanding of our current age’s obsession with identity in general, and sexual identity in particular. To the reader unfamiliar with Trueman’s past writing, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self may seem to present a compelling case. However, one need only examine Trueman’s writing from over a decade ago to see that his book is reiterating the same arguments mentioned above, arguments he has been making for over two decades.
The problems with Trueman’s book are manifold, but in particular it is his identification of individualism as the root cause of woke identity politics, as well as his “Christian” solution to individualism that are most problematic. This is because his “Christian” solution is neither Christian nor a solution to the West’s cultural demise, but is the same Hegelian, Marxian, Postmodern, and Roussuean philosophy of the left dressed in church clothes. Just as one cannot fight fire with fire, one cannot fight Hegel with Hegel. Unfortunately, however, that is precisely what many Christians are trying to do. Thus, while the left and the right appear to be in conflict over essentials, they are, in fact, united by a common social anthropology and political philosophy that is ultimately derived from the same sources.
Given the popularity and influence of Trueman’s book, as well as its potential to subvert the good intentions of its anti-woke readers by presenting them with a false problem (namely, individualism) and urging them to implement a false solution (namely, an anthropology and a political philosophy rooted in the thinking of the right’s actual opponents, e.g. Rousseau, Hegel, Marx, and Foucault), in what follows I will give considerable attention to The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. However, I will also refer to other popular Christian authors who are presenting the same ideas as solutions to the West’s decline, and only making the situation worse for all Westerners in the process.