Truth and practicality

With the abolition of the vita contemplativa and its transcendent order of nature, being, and truth, thought inevitably becomes a mere instrument of action. The distinction between a theoria that seeks to understand reality and a practical reason aimed at the achievement of some practical good all but disappears, leaving a void that is inevitably filled by politics, the science of power, which is as dominant in the Church as it is in the rest of modern life. Truth, being, and nature in their traditional, metaphysical sense are replaced by the functional truths of the sciences and what Machiavelli called the effectual truth (verità effettuale) of politics: what is needful for securing and maintaining power or even for achieving some legitimate good, such as the unity of the Church. What really matters within this paradigm, then, is control over institutions and personnel, influence over public policy, and, above all, message control and skillful management of the media. Images become more important than reality, seeming more important than being. The stage is set for a culture of falsehood long before there is ever a secret to conceal and before the time of trial arrives to test the virtue of men.

Michael Hanby, “A False Paradigm,” First Things magazine, November 2018.

I work for a large corporation and I see this all the time. Influence over public policy, message control, media management, images more important than reality. It’s a great company in some ways, led by people who I really think are decent and well-meaning. But you just can’t do business in a big way without this sort of functional and effectual, i.e. non-transcendent, truth. And the Church has fallen into the same trap. You get in the habit of “managing the message” and thinking in those terms, and what happens to truth for its own sake?

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