Flexibility Is Peak Modernity

Flexibility is viewed as the great virtue of our age. Flexibility may even be the greatest virtue of all Modernity, from the time of Luther onward. Flexibility is not always the term that is used; there are other words—liberal, open, tolerant, libertarian—that have been employed in its place, but ‘flexibility’ is the clearest term with which to encapsulate this prevailing sentiment. Flexibility is a distinctly Modern virtue. It is supremely fitting that so many of Modernity’s great material science innovations—plastic, rubber, tape—are flexible things.To be flexible, to be ‘plastic,’ is the trumpeted pinnacle of all Modern existence.

To explain further, the Modern man is asked to be flexible in his economic situation. He is asked not to expect a steady, lifelong course of employment; instead, he is asked to be content with a flexible employment status, hopping from job to job as economic conditions change, also maintaining a ‘side gig’ or a freelance source of revenue. He is even asked to work multiple jobs, even multiple full-time jobs, in order to make ends meet. He is not to expect the post-employment security of a pension or a reliable retirement fund. Instead, he is asked to fund his life post-work through the flexibility of the stock market, to stake his hopes on an Individual Retirement Account or stock options in the company that has, for a time, employed him.

The Modern man is asked to be flexible in his religion, also. He is asked not to consider his religion’s proclamations and prescriptions as anything lasting and final. He is asked to surrender his claim, as an adherent, that his religion holds a monopoly on the truth—indeed, that there is any truth at all, at least any to be found in religion. He is asked to make way in his churches, his synagogues, even his mosques for those who would claim to believe what he believes without showing forth evidence to support these beliefs; in other words, those who claim adherence while not practicing the religion’s tenets.

The Modern man is taught to view his religion as merely one among many on the Earth, and taught further that, since all of them are equal (equally wrong, from a Modern perspective), they all deserve support and toleration, and no one should be preferred to the other.

The Modern man is asked to be flexible about certain things which his intuition might tell him are fairly inflexible. He is asked to be flexible about the relationship between men and women, and even about what ‘man’ and ‘woman’ truly mean. He is asked to be flexible about greatness—about ideas of what constitute greatness, and about which individuals are truly considered great. He is asked to be flexible in his relations to his family, his friends, and his professional associates, and in their relationships to him.

Flexibility is the mantra of Modernity. This is perhaps why President Donald Trump may be considered the ultimate flexible man—and, correspondingly, the ultimate Modern man. Trump holds fast to nothing save his overpowering urge to make a deal. There is nothing permanent to him, nothing hard and fast, nothing solid and stable. Everything can be given away and abandoned in the interest of making a deal. Even the truth ultimately matters little to him, given his tendency to grant truth and falsehood equal value. He will say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to everything as the times and sands shift. This is flexibility as the pinnacle of that which is Modern.

All of this raises a question of contrast: what unModern, preModern, anti-Modern virtue corresponds to the Modern virtue of flexibility? One is immediately drawn to suggest the opposite of flexibility: rigidity. If the Modern man is flexible, the Ancient and Medieval man was rigid—and insofar as one wishes to conceive of such virtues as those pre-Modern men possessed, rigidity is an excellent notion to keep in mind.

Rigidity is the very essence of the unModern. Where the Modern world posits that things are loose, that all things change, and that there is no fixed truth, the Ancient and Medieval world held that things did not change at all—not in any truly meaningful way. The seasons turned their dances, warm to cold, snow to spring, without fail or ceasing to the end of time. A man would live the same sort of life his father lived, and his father lived, and every father ever fathered had experienced. The commands and demands of God and church and king and family were the same year in, year out until Christ came again in glory. A man had his laws, his rules, and his duties, and transgressed them never, or at threat of life and limb. The whole of the Earth stood stable, solid, static.

This perspective on the world is, as we now know, not something that can be maintained from a neoreactionary perspective. I should posit, however, that a posture of rigidity is of more use in Modernity than one might at first suspect. Something of my position stems from the fact that the Ancients and Medievals, in their rigidity, were more correct than very many Moderns gives them credit for. Some things, indeed, do change, and are not fixed. Yet, by the same token, so many more things change not at all, or change so slowly the alterations make no difference over multiple human generations. Some things, by their nature, are flexible. But many things are rigid, and many more things are effectively rigid, if not absolutely so.

The natural order, for example, containing many elements subjected to progressive machinations, only barely changes and may not change or be changed at all. Thus a posture of rigidity is, in many respects, a posture of honesty. It is a matter of choosing truth over falsehood.

Moreover, rigidity is of potent effect in a flexible world. A stony steadfastness in certain ideas, even in the face of all opposition—an unflinching devotion to one’s convictions at any and all costs—these are the things that make men mighty. These are the things that make geniuses, titans, saints, and legends out of mortals. Consider the long history of great men. Each is distinct and unique from the others in the company, but I suggest they are all united in their rigid devotion to that which they held as true, whatever those various truths might be between them. Rigidity is power.

If we accept the notion that Trump is the pinnacle of flexibility—and, therefore, the ultimate example of the Modern man—might not rigidity have a similar pinnacle, a person who most embodies this distinctly anti-Modern mode of being? Socrates, teacher of Plato and Xenophon, is the archly rigid figure of the West, insofar as he willingly held to his ideals to death, despite being offered a chance to escape execution. Socrates confounds the interlocutors who cross him in the dialogues of his students, those men who are comfortable in their contradiction, their uncertainty, their unreconciled contrasts.

Socrates was inescapably rigid—more rigid than his friends, more rigid than his enemies, more rigid than all the fine men of Athens who would have accepted the implicit offer of exile on the table, rather than death.

The world often cannot abide such rigid men. The world found Socrates inconvenient. For his unwillingness to yield, his unwillingness to be flexible, he was killed.

In dying to the world, Socrates grasped eternity. Socrates, and those he taught, have forged the world in which we now live. And they will forge it still, long after we are gone. For his rigidity, for his unwillingness to be flexible, Socrates was rewarded with immortality, and he will be remembered long after Trump and all his golden towers have collapsed into an everlasting dust.

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16 Comments

  1. Another cheap shot at Luther. Luther was not flexible. If Luther were flexible there would be no divisions among early Protestants but he stold Zwingli to stuff it at the Marberg Colloquy on the subject of the real presence.

  2. Luther is a great test case because, like all revolutionaries, he was both very flexible and very rigid, but on different subjects. The same is true for feminists, progressives, anarchists, Marxists of all kinds.

  3. Please stop measuring Modernity from the time of Luther. The real beginning is Machiavelli. Modernity could care less about religion. Modernity is about being successful in this life.

    1. “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts not only because of their historical development—in which they were transferred from theology to the theory of the state, whereby, for example, the omnipotent God became the omnipotent lawgiver—but also because of their systematic structure, the recognition of which is necessary for a sociological consideration of these concepts. The exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology.”- Carl Schmitt

      Part of the horror of modernity is contained in its inability to understand its own causes and circumstances, which are religious. Everything is about religion, including Modernity; everything is about God, either for or against Him.

      1. Doesn’t nominalism predate Luther? And isn’t nominalism the origin of modernity as we know it?

  4. Jesus is another obvious example. He was rigid until death and founded an eternal kingdom.

  5. It seems to me that this flexibility occurred earlier than Luther, indeed, was a hallmark of the Renaissance and the so-called open-mindedness that was “supposed” to characterise the Renaissance Man who imbibed the (not so) new ideas.

  6. I don’t think it’s too useful to debate exactly when human civilization went “wrong.” The answer to that can be found in the Garden of Eden. There are no utopias this side of heaven. I believe there was a very good piece here on Social Matter decrying the propensity of the right to engage in a kind of “reverse Whig history” that should probably be avoided.

    As far as modernity and its defects go, I think the most direct origin point can be found in late scholastic nominalism, as others have pointed out. Luther was strongly influenced by nominalistic thinkers, but was not the origin of these ideas. Nominalism in the middle ages was a revival of similar ideas that existed in the time of Socrates in the form of the sophists; indeed many of Plato’s dialogues have Socrates debating with someone who puts forward some version of nominalism. So it is a temptation that will always be with us.

  7. Very true about Socrates/Plato – they are near immortal in terms of fame. And I think he was rock solid – in fact ‘Stasis’ or stillness or constancy is pretty much his definition of Justice – When each part of the whole is doing its job properly (and only his job) then the Whole remains the same – stationary at the level of the Whole (although movement might occur and the level of the Part).. In a similar vein the Dao De Jing advises us to…

    “Empty yourself of everything.
    Let the mind rest at peace.
    The ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches their return.
    They grow and flourish and then return to the source.
    Returning to the source is stillness, which is the way of nature.
    The way of nature is unchanging.
    Knowing constancy is insight.
    Not knowing constancy leads to disaster.
    Knowing constancy, the mind is open.
    With an open mind, you will be openhearted.
    Being openhearted, you will act royally.
    Being royal, you will attain the divine.
    Being divine, you will be at one with the Tao.
    Being at one with the Tao is eternal.
    And though the body dies, the Tao will never pass away.

    1. > hen the Whole remains the same – stationary at the level of the Whole (although movement might occur and the level of the Part)

      Or, in attempted mathematical formalization, Coherent Extrapolated Volition.

  8. Stat crux dum volvitur orbis.

  9. This article seems to confuse Modernity and Post-Modernity.

    Modernity, which began in circa 1500 and effectively ended in the 1950s, was nothing but ‘flexible’. It presented the world as governed by some ‘immutable’ scientific laws, whether those of increasing state power / economic development (the Hobbesian / Lockean Modernity), class struggle (the socialist /Marxist Modernity) or racial struggle (the Social Darwinist Modernity), which were to be uncovered by ‘objective scientists’ and then followed to their logical ends. Any Modern ideology was just as jealous of its claims to ultimate truth as its pre-Modern religious counterpart. And of course, the very notions of a ‘life-time employment’ and ‘secure pension’ are Modern, as no existing society had had such until the social security reforms of Prince Bismarck, a quintessential Modern statesman.

    Pre-Modern societies had the notion of one’s (generally) immutable social status. If one was ’employed’ by someone else, he was regarded as subservient to that latter. But of course, sometimes such slaves / dependents, whether male or female, would rise to the power greater than the one accorded their ‘free’ (nominal) superiors (e.g. Roman and Byzantine freedmen / eunuchs of the Imperial court, or the ‘court Jews’ of the 18th century German petty princes).

    1. You’re right. This is one interesting summary:

      https://meaningness.com/modes-chart

  10. For its part, Post-Modernity is a form of the ultimate degeneration of the Lockean and Marxist forms of Modernity, with the focus on ‘diversity’ (while Modern societies promoted uniformity / conformity as their foundational value) and individual rights as a thing-in-itself. Of course, the two phenomena are connected between each other, but I don’t think that the past forms of Modernity can be seen as all leading to the current state of Western societies (just as not all forms of Christianity, which had after all been a revolutionary religion of the marginalised social groups in the Roman world, might lead to the current secularised and egalitarian post-Christianity).

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