Monday, February 25, 2013

Profound falsehood of liberal autonomy theory

Whatever the problems with the Catholic Church at the ground level, there are still some interesting things being said on the upper levels.

Back in December, Pope Benedict addressed the Roman Curia on the issue of family. In his speech he attempted to do what I try to do at this site, which is to draw out the consequences of liberal autonomy theory.

This theory means that liberals think of human "being" in terms of an abstracted individual who does not have given qualities that give a direction to his life, but who radically determines or defines his own self. This is at the heart of the liberal understanding of human freedom.

But what does such a concept of human freedom mean for the family? Pope Benedict believes that it has seriously negative consequences:
The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper.

While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality.

According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society.

The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.

According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply.

No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will.

The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed.

But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being.
So if the liberal understanding of freedom is wrong, what is an alternative understanding? Personally, I like the one given by Signorelli and Salingaros. They criticise modern thought for
the misunderstanding of freedom as liberation from essence rather than perfection of essence.


  1. If God created me, I inherit some dignity as a creation of the one who inherently has dignity. If I create myself, then I can only inherit dignity from myself, a form of circular reasoning that implies that I have no dignity. I cannot derive dignity from one who has inherent dignity, I cannot derive it from myself, and I have no logical claim to inherent (un-derived) dignity.