Here are remarks on “Enlightenment & Sacrifice — Remarks on Joseph de Maistre” by Thomas Bertonneau, which I urge you to read in full. Bertonneau is reading de Maistre’s Elucidation on Sacrifices, in which is a dialogue, of which the most interesting part for us is this:
Take the Noachic Deluge, one of the topics in the Second Dialogue. Whereas, Maistre gives it to the Count to say, “We know very little about the time before the Flood,” yet “only one consideration is of interest to us.” The Count has in mind that “punishments are always proportional [to crimes] and crimes are always proportional to the knowledge of the guilty — so that the Flood presupposes unheard of crimes and these crimes assume knowledge infinitely1 higher than we possess today.”
This must be so. Consider that Satan does not doubt the existence of God, as we uncivilized people do. Satan’s knowledge of God, of right and wrong, is, as Maistre might have said, infinitely higher than ours. Satan must know that he requires the existence of God for himself to exist, especially since he (Satan) is an entirely immaterial creature. Yet Satan still rebelled. His punishment must be concomitantly proportional.
Eve did not doubt, nor did Adam. Nor did the people in Noah’s time. We doubt, we disbelieve. They knew. Yet still they rebelled. What an astonishing crime! It would be like if you said, “What the Hell”, and went on an elimination spree, cutting the throats of intruders disturbing your peace. You would know, in advance, what punishment you’d get, but it wouldn’t stop you. You’d show authority your back side. You know best.
Yet now we don’t believe, we doubt, we don’t know. It seems to follow our crimes are less, since our knowledge is less. And so too our punishment? Maybe it’s as Nicolas Gomez Davila said: “The modern world will not be punished. It is the punishment.”
This is only a minor observation on how far we have fallen. Read the rest of the essay for more. And then put your mind to the question of how far we have yet to go. What would define a bottom? How about when man declares all of mankind god, and when a first among equals is seen to be the embodiment of this spirit.
(1This use of infinitely was once common. It was not used in a numerical sense, but as of an order incomprehensibly higher. It is always well to speak of infinity as incomprehensible.)
This theory of lost knowledge links itself to the concept of supernatural enlightenment. Noah and his family, Maistre through the Count argues, must have honored a knowledge that they possessed while everyone else must have flouted the same knowledge so as to bring on themselves a cosmic enormity. In respect of the theory of knowledge, Maistre believes that modern epistemology suffers from a defect. The ancients, Maistre asserts, could see effects in causes. The modern epistemologist, by virtue so to speak of his egoistic limitation, can only “rise painfully from effects to causes”; or, what is even worse, he concerns himself “only with effects.” He therefore misjudges the ancients to the degree that he cannot imagine the spontaneity and fullness of original knowledge. The Count says that, “Plato, speaking of what is most important for man to know, suddenly adds with the penetrating simplicity natural to him: These things are learned easily and perfectly IF SOMEONE TEACHES THEM TO US.” How did the generations after Noah and his family rebuild their world? Was it by a painful beginning from the degree zero? Noah, possessing knowledge, taught it to them; and on that basis they rebuilt their world. Whence gleaned Noah that knowledge? Noah was privy to a primordial revelation. Maistre cites the Greco-Roman myth of the Golden Age, during which men governed themselves morally, and the legend of Manu, the lawgiver of the Hindus, as parallelisms. “Wise antiquity,” Maistre writes, “will tell you that the first men…were marvellous men, and that beings of a superior order deigned to favour them with the most precious communications.”
The lost knowledge was that communicated to man directly from God (or the gods), a reliable and necessary form of induction.
Maistre’s critique of modern epistemologists is sound. We have gone so far, in many case, as to deny knowledge of cause, a disease introduced by Hume and communicated orally ever since. To grasp an effect in a cause is to understand the power and nature of the cause, and these powers and natures are doubted or denied.
We do sometimes rise from effects to causes, but in the wrong way, as with much of statistical analysis, which ascribes occult causes to probability, powers which somehow—nobody knows how—act on parameters of probability models. Readers who got through this paper will understand this critique. (And if you haven’t read it, why not?) Cause is not direct in this way, but wiggles or is fuzzy. It is a bizarre view.
Effects also are perfectly compatible with probability models, which can always be agnostic on cause. But while predictions from these models might be useful, they are not revealing of nature. They are too often just a way to make a buck. It is the weakest form of science.
Noah, presumes Maistre, and conditional on accepting The Flood we have to agree, must have taught his descendants what he knew, what he learned directly from God and his messengers. Noah’s ancestors (the ones not guilty of sodomy, like Ham), in turn would have passed on what they learned, and so on down to us.
This process must have been, from simple observation, like the game of telephone carried on far too long. We have all but forgotten about the transcendent. Even those who remember it find it nearly impossible to live according to that knowledge, surrounded as we all are by scoffers.
This leaves open the possibility of God re-teaching ancient wisdom. But why would He? And if He doesn’t how far removed from Truth do we have to get before God declares and End to all?