The Doxa [illusion] is the source of disorder; renunciation of Doxa is the condition of right order, Eunomia. When man overcomes the obsession of his Doxa and fits his action into the unseen measure of the gods, then life in community will become possible. This is the Solonic discovery. At the core of Eunomia, as its animating experience, we find the religiousness of a life in tension between the passionate, human desire for the goods of exuberant existence and the measure imposed on such desire by the ultimately inscrutable will of the gods…He passionately loves the magnificence and exuberance of life; but he experiences it as a gift of the gods, not as an aim to be realized by crooked means against the divine order. Through openness toward transcendence, the passion of life is revealed as the Doxa that must be curbed for the sake of order. ~Eric Voegelin, The World of the Polis
Shortly after this passage in World of the Polis describing Solon’s idea of Eunomia, Prof. Voegelin perceived Solon’s conception of the polis in Plato’s Republic, where the order of the polis “embodies the Eunomia of the soul.” As Voegelin sees the development of the idea of order in Athenian history, the union and balance between passion and order, Doxa and Eunomia, that Solon had conceived “dissociated into the passions of the demos and the order that lives through the work of Plato.” (p. 199)
I would venture to add that Prof. Voegelin perceived in this dissociation of passion and order the failure of Athens, which is its preference for the Doxa and so its basic departure from the eternal order, the perception of which fundamentally distinguished a people from those who viewed the world in predominantly temporal terms.
The idea of the eunomia of the soul remained a compelling one in our Christian civilisation, even if the term eunomia itself was not necessarily applied, and its political application continued into at least medieval times. Mortification of the body, the curbing of the appetites, the subordination of passions, and the self-emptying imitation of the ascetic who cuts his own will to do the will of the Lord: all these separated life from its vanity to its natural simplicity and ordered them aright. It is the monastic and later the medieval priority on the life of the spirit and the conception of the world as sub specie aeternitatis, which moderns find so frustrating and irritating about the ancients and medievals, that once again united passion and order by purifying and reorienting natural passions towards their proper end, namely the service of God. It is because moderns do not perceive time in terms of permanence, myth or order, but in terms of change and history, as George Grant pointed out so well in his Time as History, that they find themselves invariably in rebellion against that order and the Author of that order.
Russell Kirk, who incorporated some of Voegelin’s conceptions into his own reflections on eternal verities and their significance for a moral society, once wrote: “The great line of demarcation in modern politics, Eric Voegelin used to point out, is not a division between liberals on one side and totalitarians on the other. No, on one side of that line are all those men and women who fancy that the temporal order is the only order, and that material needs are their only needs, and that they may do as they like with the human patrimony. On the other side of that line are all those people who recognize an enduring moral order in the universe, a constant human nature, and high duties toward the order spiritual and the order temporal.”
Referring back to the aforementioned dissociation in democratic Athens between passion and order, it seems fairly clear that Prof. Voegelin also saw that those whom he would have described as recognising the enduring moral order had been effectively marginalised on account of the demos’ political supremacy. The fifth and fourth century antinomy between eunomia and isonomia was the solidification of this dissociation. Doubtless, not everyone who invoked eunomia was necessarily concerned with an eternal order, but in the partisan opposition to democratic isonomia the ancient Greek aristocracies reflected a commitment to a society not premised on passions but one of order. For the past three centuries we have progressively suffered waves of indulgences in passions at the expense of public and moral order, as the contemporary craze for invoking liberty shows once again. Without an eunomia of the soul and the restraint this implies, there is no real liberty, yet what most people mean and have meant by liberty is willfulness and passion. The tragedy of modern societies is the complete inability to recognise this sort of liberty as a serious flaw.
It is not too much of a reach to suggest that today we see Western, and all modern, societies embracing as true the position that the temporal order is essentially the only order. The contemporary preference for democracy is based less on the demonstrable truth of democratic claims of popular sovereignty or more virtuous or honest government (dubious in themselves) and more on its potential for providing services for needy political consumers–it is in this sense that democracy aims at liberty, where liberty is precisely not freedom from passions but the embrace of them. The average Iraqi, if he is sympathetic to the “democratic” crime being perpetrated against his country, likely envisions elected governments as somehow being equivalent to enjoying prosperity and acquiring benefits for himself–indeed, one might seriously question his sanity if he did not base his decision on these things. This is not a debased or elementary democracy, but the common denominator of all democratic regimes. The average Yushchenko voter, if he believes he represents the “democratic” element in the Ukraine, is no more interested in the integrity of elections or the will of the people than are the foreign investors expecting to reap some benefits under a Yushchenko regime: the satisfaction of desires is their motivation. Perhaps it is an unavoidable flaw of human affairs, but not one that needs to be embraced or celebrated as progress. How much less must we celebrate the type of regime that glorifies such motivations as good for the welfare of the community?
This embrace of the temporal is reflected by, among other things, the prevalence to frame discussions in terms of “values,” “preferences” and “choices.” This language frames decisions in relative terms at every level, individualises them and deprives them of lasting significance. Where volition once possessed meaning and moral power, it now possesses a shifting value to be determined wholly by circumstances. If someone has “values” or “good values,” this tends to mean that he is supposed to have made the sorts of choices with which the audience in question agrees. By the same token, to say that someone “shares your values,” as we are drearily informed every election cycle, is to say nothing more substantive than that he also happens to prefer the same sorts of foods or music that you do.
As the Fathers teach us, choice is not moral or natural, but a sign of our corruption and fallen state. By extension, a conception of morality that sets choice as an important standard is corrupt as well and suffers from a lack of discernment. This is not to deny the importance and necessity of practical reason, or to suggest that particular circumstances are not more important in some ways to making moral judgements than general ‘absolutes’, but to reject the sort of language that leads us to imagine that eternal standards of virtue do not still instruct us through the voices of our ancestors, prophets and saints. It is not an order that can be understood through reason alone, nor should it be understoodly abstractly or in ways divorced from everyday experience, but one that must be perceived as an intelligible reality revealed in numerous particular forms.
Preference or opinion, which are other conventional meanings of the word doxa, presupposes some neutral field of play to which the moral and intellectual order does not apply, when there is no such field, only a space where the definitions of that order are subjected to relentless barrages of dissolution. The devotee of the temporal order, if he is honest, cannot really imagine the existence of truth, nor can he accept the claim that there is an unchanging human nature, and so cannot imagine virtues that fashion the excellence of that nature.