Why Only Cultural Reactionaries Would Rebuild Notre Dame

Why Only Cultural Reactionaries Would Rebuild Notre Dame

Notre Dame’s fate is a reminder of the ravages of utilitarianism. What is the purpose of civilization if not the creation and preservation of timeless beauty and transcendent grandeur for posterity?
Sumantra Maitra
By

The scenes of black smoke and the burning, collapsing spire of the Notre Dame Cathedral looked like a scene from the apocalypse—the collapse of civilization itself, like a Thomas Cole painting. It was the symbol of France as the central empire of Europe, le gloire of the greatest of powers to defend the frontiers of what used to be known as the Christendom for centuries. It was a testament of time that stood the Hundred Years’ War, one of the darkest revolutions in human history, Napoleonic hegemony, and both world wars, brought down by what essentially was human incompetence and indifference.

For years, Notre Dame was underfunded, a security risk, and ignored by the powers that be: petty humans who were more interested in their petty squabbles over who lords over which piece of land, what warning sign should be where over which beverage, which dating app one should use, and how many calories one should consume.

But there were also signs of hope. As our eyes in Europe were transfixed on the television screen, random masses of patriotic French men and women, of different skin color and origin but bound by a common sense of purpose, kneeled in front of the statuettes singing “Ave Maria,” a visual that was not as much a sign of defiance, as after every single terror attack, but a symbol of grateful submission to the unknown.

Things can get a lot worse. The firefighters who heroically fought the inferno to save the Holy Crown—the burned but not destroyed husk of a structure from the 12th century that stood within the imposing hall—almost involuntarily bowing before a glowing cross, and the miraculously untouched Rosace. Nothing can explain what saved it, other than a sheer miracle.

Notre Dame means Our Lady. The Judeo-Christian values that shaped Western civilization and the Western canon are there in every molecule of air one breathes in Europe. It seeps through, and it was visible in front of Notre Dame in the masses of people praying and singing. When all sense of rationality fails during an unexpected catastrophe, faith, and a sense of community and belonging, are the only things that give us hope.

Ben Shapiro was correct in stating that if one needs to rebuild society, one needs to see what holds it together in the first place. The reactions to the Notre Dame fire were predictable. I refuse to give them any more publicity than they already are clamoring for, but there were tweets saying that the hysteria over this destruction of one of the greatest representations of human endurance was uncalled for, because people didn’t die, because there are other cathedrals, and because Flint doesn’t have clean water.

Most of these people, for those of you wondering, are born and brought up in the West, products of our times. What’s with all the wailing — like, chill dude!

It’s an abhorrent idea that art, beauty, architecture, religion, literature, cathedrals, and statues do not matter, but it is also wholly understandable. This is what individualism looks like; no one can see the greater good. Is this tragedy affecting me directly, or corroborating my deeply held political and philosophical beliefs? No, therefore mourning it is meaningless and ultimately irrelevant. There’s no common dream, hope, or loyalty to anything.

What good is a fresco drawn by Michelangelo, compared to 700 toilets that could have been built with the same money? After all, Notre Dame is the symbol of everything that modern education teaches us to hate; it is Euro-Christian, and therefore supposedly predicated on racism, sexism, and conservative social hierarchy.

This is the logical end game of Rawlsian liberalism, the rationalist utilitarian strain of thought that permeated society since the Enlightenment, only to be kept at bay by bouts of reaction. It sees nothing beyond temporal emoting of a narcissistic self. It worships no selfless sacrifice, no virtues, no duty. Everything is predicated on utility—and therefore economics.

In their odes to enlightenment, our modern saints of the Church of Humanist Liberalism often forget that there was no single phenomenon called the Enlightenment. In fact, timeless creations from Caravaggio to Chopin, Samuel Taylor Coleridge to George Chambers, are often the products of reaction. One might not remember Justin Bieber 200 years from now. One would still remember Lord Byron’s “The Curse of Minerva,” or Bach’s “St. Matthew’s Passion.”

“Anguish over the decline of civilization is the affliction of a reactionary,” Nicholas Davila wrote, “the democrat cannot lament the disappearance of something of which he is ignorant.” Civilization cannot last without unity of purpose, a common cause or sense of solidarity, and reverence for righteous hierarchy, that there are causes and feelings greater than individuals. Without order there is chaos, and nothing is a surefire recipe for disorder than unchecked hyper-individualism. We don’t realize what we have, but we will miss it when it is gone.

Why would your neighbor go to war for you—or for your country—if you cannot even agree that a cathedral that stood for more than 900 years is a testament of joint history and civilizational legacy, and not some misplaced eyesore reminder of the so-called “Dark Ages”? It’s ironic that what the liberal rationalists call the Dark Ages gave us Notre Dame and Westminster Abbey. What do we seek to conserve now and leave for our future generations to marvel at? Where’s the Colosseum of our age? Who will paint “The Ninth Wave” of our times?

The art, literature, and music of our time does not revere divinity or beauty anymore, due to relativism. Our supposedly enlightened class considers graffiti in South London to be equal (or better) art than “Orpheus and Eurydice” painted by Peter Paul Ruben. What will we be remembered as a civilization for, other than the individual brilliance of a handful of prodigious men and women of science?

I am far from being religious. But I live in the heart of the West, and if longing for classical Western canon makes me a reactionary, I’ll gladly accept that.

I didn’t get to see Notre Dame as it was, unfortunately, but my parents did. And I hope for the sake of humanity that France rebuilds it, with the help of the world, so I can visit at the first opportunity. For what is the purpose of civilization if not the creation and preservation of timeless beauty and transcendent grandeur for posterity?

Sumantra Maitra is a doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham, UK, and a writer for The Federalist. His research is in great power-politics and neorealism. You can find him on Twitter @MrMaitra.

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