David Berlinski – On the crisis of historiography-Uncommon Knowledge and what is admissible to consider


The City of God,  manuscript at the NY Public Library

The something lost?  The City of God                                     [manuscript at the NY Public Library]

Here is some more of David Berlinski being interviewed by Peter Robinson on the contrast of St Augustine’s reinterpretation of history, watching the fall of Roman civilization from across the Mediterranean versus the poverty of our own intellectual position in the early 21st watching the fall of our own civilization on the internet:

[Berlinski] The point is, we do live in a society where the house of intellect is coordinated with only a finite number of microphones, and those microphones are connected with the academic world and with a certain part of the journalistic world.  I think that is true in the United States, it’s true in Canada, England, France, throughout Europe.  There is a doctrine, amounting to a dogma.  And, according to the doctrine, the dogma, this way of thinking [Augustine’s City of God] no matter what [the last Pope] Benedict says, or what the rabbis in Israel say is not part of the interpretable cannon.  It cannot be introduced.  Should it be introduced?  would it make more sense?  have we lost something of tremendous value in our culture?  Don’t forget, we are part of a Judaeo-Christian culture.  My answer is yes, of course, of course.  We have lost something of value; we cannot think in those terms any more.

Robinson]  We cannot attain the truth of the catastrophe… I don’t even want to prejudge it.  We cannot attain to the truth of the times in which we live…

Berlinski]  It is difficult and it is getting progressively more difficult for a very simple reason, those who are in a position to know the 20th century from the inside, where the horror really lay, are dying.  [pause]  Which means for historians to look at the 20th century, they will have to look at the 20th century the way we look at the Napoleonic era now.  And, the natural human bonds of outrage, sympathy, and horror will be sundered.  This is very alarming.  It means that the whole part of the 20th century which could have been the center piece for a reinterpretation of human history is destined to disappear without a trace… the real meaning.

Berlinski and Robinson were talking specifically about Augustine, the second sack of Rome in 410 by the Visigoth Alaric, and how Augustine rejected the stochastic, pushed-from-behind by the random walk of history and instead chose a theological reinterpretation of history which yielded The City of God, one of the cornerstones of our civilization, which centuries later with the reemergence of civil polity to Europe and a reintroduction of pagan materialism to the intellectual cannon in the form of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura eventually lead, by laborsome declensions, to the Great Enlightenment and what we now call modernity – us.

The question that remains for us is how to: revivify, revitalize, and reinvent our present day civilization and make of it the next great thing when we systematically exclude from the cannon of what is admissible to discuss that very human apprehension of that Mystery of which know not what name that lays before us in the future, and from which we draw all of our real spiritual aspirations?

So this is what Berlinski is really lamenting: “We have lost something of value; we cannot think in those terms any more,”  the narrowing of our intellectual horizons to a narrowly intellectual horizon because that narrows our experience of ourselves and our world to a rather hellish present.

~ Visin

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