Reason and Romanticism

Reason and Romanticism – by P. K. Odendaal – May 2017.

The world is in a flux of changing moods and fortunes, always ready to balance the extremes originating from animate and inanimate things which are imposed upon it. In fact it is very finely balanced. If you take the forces in the Universe vying between contraction and expansion of it, you will find its equilibrium up to almost sixty decimals! It is not much different in other spheres of the Universe or Creation.
On a more mundane level I notice that the world is divided into two categories on almost all levels. There is the rich and the poor, the haves and the have nots, the needy and the greedy, the learned and the ignorant, the clever and the dumb (sorry - do not take exception), the realists and the delusionals, the realists and the dreamers, the hawks and the doves, the rejected and the accepted, the ambitious and the contented, the good and the evil, the strong and the weak ... almost ad infinitum.
But today I write only about the flux of one of these pairs – Reason and Feeling.
The gap between Rationalism and Romanticism with a small helping of Religion, and the other about the gap between Need and Greed, maybe with a small helping of stocking up.
I think everybody knows or should know the main contenders for the psyche of mankind which is Reason and Romanticism – or better known as the conflict or war between the brain and the heart, but for that we have to start at religion.
The world was held under the spell and sway of Catholicism for more than a millennium up to the year 1517 – the year of the Protestant Reformation. The spell of Catholicism was mainly the oppression of mankind in order to serve the delusional power politics of the Popes. Yes, there was a small spin off of the Christian faith where people could learn something about God, but that was more incidental than instrumental.
The Catholic Church became more and more oppressive and abusive as the centuries went by and it all ended up in a situation where no-one could think what they wanted to, say what they wanted to or write what they wanted to. It was all fully controlled by the Pope and his cronies – even today. In days of yore people were killed if they tried to read, translate or interpret the Bible or think, talk or write about the Universe – and many other things, but somehow Reason has now diminished that grip.
Let us say that before 1517 you had to obey the Pope in a strictly religiously controlled morality and that Death and Hell visited you if you did not. This imbalance could not last forever. On a more humorous and realistic note – maybe Hell and Death would indeed visit you if you did.
The example I wish to dwell on follows the principle of a pendulum. The Universe can be seen as a pendulum which swings with very small amplitude between these conflicting opposites, trying to satisfy its temporary imbalance by swinging slowly and with small amplitude to the opposite side. However, when this pendulum is pushed too far away from its central balance to one side, it will seek the opposite side with speed and power swinging violently to the other side with great amplitude. It is like a swing we all know.
Catholicism has pushed this swing out much too far and the resultant return to the other side was violent during the Reformation.
But that is just by way of introduction to illustrate how and why we got to Reason. I am not trying to get at the Pope – I am trying to get at the principle. Today is not my day for Popes.
However, if we look at the Reformation in isolation, we will make a big mistake, because the Reformation was only one part of the Renaissance. From about 1500 AD the world started to wake up from the Dark Ages and this waking up was on all fronts – let us say an explosion of intellect and reason:
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) – all threatened with death by the Pope with Giordano killed by the Pope and Galileo placed in house arrest until his death.
Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Art: Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519), Michelangelo (1475-1564), Raphael (1483-1520), Bellini (1430-1516), Borromini (1599-1667)
Palladio (1508-1580)
Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), John Locke (1632-1704)
The list can go on – all men of fame.
What was the result of the Catholic era, an era of conformism, blind faith, persecution, inquisition, oppression and unreason, so to speak? The dawn of a new era.
The next era was therefore (not unsurprisingly) known as the era of Reason, in turn followed by (not unsurprisingly) an era of non-conformism, called the Romantic era. The pendulum has really swung wide – and both eras of Reason and Romanticism could not last for long. Both had to swing far back.
The scientific discoveries of the first half of the 17th century undermined traditional explanations of the Universe. Newton and Locke provided the basis for the sustained critical movement, popularized by a group of French writers known as the philosophes who spread the ideas of the Enlightenment in France and other parts of Europe. The consensus was that the combination of Reason and personal experience could discover the rules underlying the workings of Nature. Miracles and religion dependent on divine revelation was rejected as mere superstition and Deism came in its place. Deism is the concept that God created the Universe, but is not interested in the activities of mankind – how absurd.
Thomas Paine argued for Reason in place of Revelation. Since the vast majority of Europeans remained uneducated, the number of those influenced by the Enlightenment was very small.
In the second half of the 18th century the Enlightenment faced growing competition from irrational movements. The reaction against Reason was expressed most forcefully by Jean Jacques Rousseau, arguing that natural instinct was the best guide. Individual Feeling, not universal Reason was what mattered and the subsequent era of Romanticism swept over Europe.
So we have come from superstition via Reason to Feeling. Is that not what is still happening today, in the world and in our lives?
If we go back to history, we will see that Reason, Religion and Feeling alternated as the driving force between the philosophies and politics of mankind. What is new?
How are we affected by this in our personal lives and relationships? Exactly the same – we are in our micro environments which add to the macro economy, politics and philosophies of the world. Who amongst us do not waver between religion, reason and feeling to try and find a balanced approach? And how often are we not ruled by only one of these to our own detriment – and we call it radicalism or fundamentalism? How awkward.
A next time:
·         Need and Greed
·         Pain and Pleasure
·         Religion and Humanism
·         Reason and Revelation

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