It took a couple of centuries these philosophical ideological systems to become popular. Revolutionary ideas need the support of social, economic and political change to gain a foothold, “to catch on”. After all, the above philosophies would else remain just ideas.
Firstly, the ties which bound people together in the traditional Western society of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were gradually destroyed. The legal and social ties which bound the higher ranks of society to care for the lower ranks were slowly cut, one by one: the Church and Tradition, the binder of those ties, the protector of the poor and lowly, lost almost all power by the end of the 17th century. Although the very deeply-entrenched traditional Western Culture slowed the implementation of scepticism and relativism and their implications in their personal lives, scepticism and relativism certainly entered into the economic and political life.
Now freed from the authority of the Church, Parliaments now dominated by the moneyed men and no-longer-bound-to-custom nobility joined to force the peasants from their land and livelihood. The population of the countryside decreased, and the urban working class were now exploited through the demands of the Industrial Revolution. The sheer acceleration of wealth in Western Europe through the late 18th and early 19th Century, focussed the minds of the intelligentsia.
The ties that bind had to be destroyed, one by one. Why? because wealth and economic power and Progress needed the freedom to run through Custom and Tradition. The great restrictions placed on the growth of economic power by the forces of Custom and Tradition had to go. In the depths of Western Culture and Tradition was intertwined Natural Law: the binding traditions of family life, the extended family, the trading and craftsmen guild’s binding of employer to employee and apprentice, the laws against usury, the binding of family with the land, the binding of the local lord to his tenants, the “democracy of the little man” in his locality against the faraway State.
Secondly, the intelligentsia relied on the revolutionary beliefs of the new philosophies to undermine Tradition and the binding power of Nature. Nature now was open to the forces of Rationalism: Progress demanded the freedom to treat Nature as a physical phenomenon to be studied and catalogued, to be uncovered by Man Outside of Nature. The independent “Free-thinker”, and the physical scientist, whose main fruits were the growth of technology and industry, the heroes of Progress. And so, also, the application of reason to politics and economics: the new invention – Political Ideology.
From Rationalism was borne Political Ideology – the “isms”: Liberalism, Socialism, Communism, Nazism, Progressivism, the Left and the Right, Environmentalism, Multiculturalism. From the old Christian culture, one abstracted the belief in Rousseau’s “goodness of man”, and the brotherhood of man, the idea of the dignity of man and his freedom. From the remaining old Christian cultural milieu of 18th Century French nobility we abstracted the cultured “polite” society, the good manners, the assumed standards of morality. We mixed it all up into a very popular set of Ideological slogans: freedom, brotherhood and equality. Liberty became the watchword to defend Progress against the forces of “obscurantism” and “superstition”; and most of all to fight privilege – the very enemy of equality.
So why were these ideas so successful and so popular?
Freedom gave people material prosperity. The powers of the State released by Modern ideas were extended way beyond the powers of even the most so-called “absolute” monarch of the 17th and 18th centuries. The Absolute Monarch was limited by the universal respect for tradition and custom. The Modern State is now able to organise any personal, social and political unit at any time, in any way – totally – as long as the voting public see an economic advantage.
Each “person” – I put this word in italics because the Modern does not really believe in persons – is but an economic unit, a tax number, a voter, a Social Security number. Government is by numbers, and units making up the greatest number. To be a person just means having political “rights”, rights being defined by and for the State.
Of course, at present, there are still cultural and traditional pressures to place limitations on what the Modern State may not do: personhood and rights may be manipulated according to the demands of Modernity.
So, you say. Look! Look at the vast world of happiness that the Moderns have brought us. People are free to “shop till they drop”, to swim, to travel in comfort where they will, to holiday on luscious beaches. People live longer, and more productive lives. The death rate is much lower, people live longer. Modernity has brought us great health. We look after the sick and elderly, and the dispossessed. We live comfortably.
And look at our hopes: that the Modern world will find a way to spread Modernity to all around the globe; the ups and downs of economic life will be levelled out; and those who now are suffering will one day suffer no more. All we have to do is to find solutions for the poor and dispossessed. Inequalities will disappear. Once we rid the world of the greedy, the religious fundamentalist, the tribal loyalist, the remnants of traditional morality, and rid ourselves of political strictures, raw capitalists, their cronies, and any propaganda from capitalist media, all will be well.
And what will be left after one ideological structure is destroyed, but another! Another ideology, another political form of Modernism. Greed and the will to power are endemic in human nature. Once all those cultural restraints of our past disappear, hell will break loose. A “nice” hell. A hell of being ruled by moral and social guardians unbound by any considerations other than polite “niceness” which changes according to the dictates of the powerful.
At present, the hearts of love, of compassion, which guide our beliefs about how we should care for each other, have been deeply engraved in our laws and institutions from non-Modern ages past. The aim of Modernism is to imitate the cultural remains of Christianity without the dogma. The French and Russian Revolutions tried to simulate those traditions, but without success – contrived and at base, heartless.