Theological Variations   /   Summer 2023   /    Thematic: Theological Variations

Beyond Progressivism

Toward a Personalist Metaphysics of History

John Milbank

Triad VI (detail), 1980, by Clinton Adams (1918–2002); National Academy of Design, New York, USA/Bridgeman Images; © 2023 Tamarind Institute, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

We remain at the end of history, and the only question remains how exactly this ending will end—in the end, finally. The world is everywhere dominated by a mutation of Western modernity, of technologism and a voluntarism of unchecked will both of the individual and of concentrated collective power that recognizes no objective and substantial good. This may be blended with revived yet still-decadent versions of non-Western civilizations, including those of China and India, yet that is but a detail.

At the same time and with seeming irony, the West itself is encouraged to hate its own past in its entirety: with less than coherence to scorn variously and even all at once Greek philosophy, Roman law, the Bible, Christianity, the cult of Romantic love, the rise of Science, Enlightenment, overseas Empire, and the Industrial Revolution.

Therefore, though only one world civilization survives, this civilization is not only in a phase of extreme decadence—unmoored from its core religious and mythical roots—but has also succumbed at its geographic core to a fashionable and feckless self-hatred.

Yet in the name of what, precisely? Only of the most decadent version of its own lingering yet all-pervasive identity, the dominance of which seems at one with the leakage of its own decay, like the oozing body of a suppurating giant. The name of this authorizing and entitling mutation is liberal progressivism: the final version of the West, because it is the name of its perpetuation for an indefinite perpetuity, paradoxically through disintegration.

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