The Paradoxes of Modernity

We had long lived with the ideal of a new era of freedom, and now we find ourselves in a century of new enslavement. In politics, it is the age of genocides, totalitarianisms, discriminations. Even in pluralist democracies, democratic ideals of participation and openness coexist with manipulation of public opinion, the reign of various lobbies, formal citizenship, constant diminuation of public participation, etc.

In ethics, where freedom fought all moral taboos in favor of the liberation of the individual, we are faced with the dramatic situations of family break-up and the loss of a sense of sacredness of human life. Though total individual autonomy is more and more of a reality, it has brought unexpected and negative results: loneliness, the problems of marginalized and senior citizens…The severe fall in birthrate affecting industrial countries makes generation replacement impossible. Might not individual autonomy, as we have conceived it, be a threat to the very survival of society?

In order not to draw out a sufficiently long list, let me finish by mentioning the crisis of “totalizing” knowledge. This is not only a crisis of the ideologies which tried over a whole century to draw up a global project for man and society, but the crisis of all attempts to synthesize particular sciences. One after the other, the different disciplines which flattered themselves with being “global” have set themselves more modest tasks. We now live in a universe of fragmented knowledge and, especially, in a universe where the different domains of this knowledge have no link with the only values capable of identifying what is legitimate and what is not.

We live in fact in a civilization devoid of any ultimate meaning: the first civilization, to quote Malraux, which has not been capable of building either a temple or a grave. The first one which fails to provide a commonly accepted answer to the question What is the meaning of life, what is the meaning of death? [Francois-Xavier Guerra, Religion and Modernity, ed. Ralph McInerny (Notre Dame and London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994), pp. 20-21

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