Canadian political philosopher Shadia Drury, a long-time critic of the late neocon guru Leo Strauss has a very interesting piece in the latest issue of Free Inquiry, which is published by the Center for Secular Humanism. In “Against Grand Narratives” (sorry; not available online), she argues that “Since the triumph of Christianity over the pagan civilizations of Greece and Rome, the West has suffered from the inability to affirm life in the world without an overarching purpose to give it meaning and make it worthwhile.” The Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Muslim provided such grand narratives as part of an effort to “destroy the pagan view of life as an endless cycle” and replacing it with “the cyclical view of history with a linear view that has a magical beginning, an arduous middle, and a very splendid finale.” In the aftermath of the Enlightenment, reason ended up replacing the religious narratives with “an array of secular, but equally grand tales — liberalism, Darwinism, and communism are heirs to the grand narratives of monotheism,” according to Drury. “All assume that human history is not static or cyclical but linear,” with human history being “a meaningful drama moving slowly but surely toward a climax.”
Drury argues that there John Stuart Mill’s liberalism, with its progressive view of history as a march toward freedom helped lay the foundations of Western imperialism, and by extension to contemporary neoconservatism.
Unhappily, Americans can escape from neoliberalism (the Democratic Party) only to fall into the grip of neoconservatism (the Republican Party). They have no genuine conservative alternative. In contrast to neoliberalism and neoconservatism, classic conservatism was less optimistic about the trajectory of history, and this made it more sober in its political expectations. For example, Edmund Burke was an outspoken critic of British imperialism. Even though he believed that God was guiding history, he did not pretend that eh knew where history was going, and he certainly did not believe in the inevitability of human progress. He was rightly skeptical about grandiose social engineering projects. For him, culture was a delicate fabric that took thousands of years to develop. Imposing an alien culture on a foreign people and expecting it to blossom like a plant was unrealistic and could only become the source of unnecessary suffering. Whatever its shortcomings, classic conservatism eschews grand narratives.”
Drury promises to explain in her next piece “why grand narratives must be transcended in favor of a return to pagan sobriety.” She sounds very much like British philosopher John Gray who has been challenging both contemporary conservatism and Social-Democracy.