Despite this appearing a somewhat rash assessment, it may be fair to say that today’s problems in society are due in large part to the abandonment, towards the end of the Middle Ages and in the early Modern Times, of the idea that ontologically, man is a sociable animal.
From this Aristotelian idea, Europe had derived its civilisation. Man, who is sociable and binary, being man or woman, is in his essence dependent on others. It is a natural necessity for him to live in the Family where love is learnt and developed, beyond in the Village where he can be sustained economically, and ultimately in the City where society is organised politically.
St. Thomas Aquinas explained that this form of organisation is a natural way of being for man, who possesses the natural light of reason in order to direct his actions towards a proposed goal. But he cannot achieve this alone: if he could, he would be his own king, directly under the supreme king, who is God. God’s light would suffice for man to achieve his goals alone. But man is naturally sociable, and it is a natural necessity for him to live in society.
Throwing away this conception of man meant that the political organisation of people, the State, was no longer the embodiment of a ruler seeking the common good for and with the citizens in order to allow them to flourish according to their nature and to ensure the unity of the City. It meant that from Machiavelli (1469-1527) onwards, the State is rather based on a social contract between individuals, who are all seeking their own pursuits, but consenting to a degree of curtailment of their freedoms to have a certain amount of safety.
Modern philosophy followed this new idea that man in a state of nature was entirely self-sufficient and had absolute freedom. The way in which this new kind of man viewed himself and organised human society varied depending on the eras and the dominant philosophy. Vast libraries of books have been written about the history, philosophy, sociology, even literature and anthropology of this emancipation of man. Today’s societies are shaken to their core in their structures, and ultimately, man may well have achieved this state of absolute freedom. Or has he?
One contemporary anthropologist, Arpád Szakolczai, argues that this entire Modern Project from its inception has been about destruction, and that this has meant “waging a systematic warfare against three targets: Nature, God and Tradition”.
We can see it around us: environmental destruction, elimination of the belief in God, and rejection of the ancestral way of doing things. It is important to understand that the Modern Project, the world we live in, is about destruction, and not about building something new to replace an unsatisfactory previous order of things. Modernity is a permanent state of destruction, it is a way of being systematically in transition from one crisis to another, and ultimately it is “destructiveness”.
Observing what is around us, taking stock, and carrying on living with dignity, love and hope is difficult. And more importantly, seeing how rapidly society is deteriorating, we cannot help fearing what the future will be for our children.
And yet. God always provides, sometimes in the most delicate and unlikely ways amidst the most terrifying realities. As though to tell us that Life is really about Beauty, Love, Hope, and that these are found in the most fragile things around us. This is the paradox.
Today, one of those delicate and unlikely ways to resist the spiral of destruction of the Modern Project is paradoxically with our youth, with the means of European Scouting. The prophetic history of this movement, created in Germany in the aftermath of WWII shows us that God is there with us. European Scouting is rooted in the traditional form of scouting as invented by Lord Baden Powell, but transformed into a Catholic type of scouting by Venerable Father Sevin.
Fundamentally, European Scouting is about restoring man in his original sociable state. It is a method of educating young people, with the cooperation of their families, to allow them re-discover the true way of being a Child of God. It is complete, it addresses all the needs of a child, and it returns to the three foundations of Nature, God and Tradition.