The West has lost its roots

Sep 25, 2021 by

by Paul Kingsnorth, UnHerd:

There has never been a perfect human culture, and any attempt to create one has reliably led to tyranny: to the gulag or the gas chamber, the guillotine or the mass grave. Humans are fallen, or just flawed, and the world is nailed together from our crooked timber. From revolutionary France to 21st century Afghanistan, those who thought they could draw up a rational paradise once the slate was wiped clean have always been violently disabused.

But though there has never been a human culture that is anything but flawed, all lasting cultures in history have been rooted. That is to say, they have been tied down by, and to, things more solid, timeless and lasting than the day-to-day processes of their functioning, or the personal desires of the individuals who inhabit them. Some of those solid things are human creations: cultural traditions, a sense of lineage and ancestry, ceremonies designed for worship or initiation. Others are non-human: the natural world in which those cultures dwell, or the divine force that they worship or communicate with in some form.

We need these roots. We need a sense of belonging to something that is bigger than us, across both space and time, and we underestimate that need at our peril. In her book The Need for Roots, written in 1943, the French philosopher and reluctant mystic Simone Weil puts the case like this:

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