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Fernando Cervantes Progress and Tradition: Christopher Dawson and Contemporary Thought In 1932 christopher dawson senta copy ofhis newly published The Making ofEurope to G. K. Chesterton.With it he enclosed a letter voicing his fear that the book might "fall between two stools—being too popular for the academic public and too abstruse for the general reader."1 The enormous success of The Making of Europe completely belied such misgivings and only confirmed Dawson 's reputation as a scholar offormidable range and erudition who could communicate with refreshing clarity and elegance.With hindsight , however, Dawson's concern has proved almost prophetic ofhis work as a whole. For it cannot be denied that few general readers nowadays could hope to get through any ofDawson's works without considerable intellectual effort, while few modern academics can avoid being puzzled, if not openly irritated, by Dawson's apparently cavalier way of sweeping through centuries, cultures, and disciplines with an almost complete disregard for the scholarly conventions offootnotes, bibliographies, and theoretical frameworks that have become so important to the modern scholar. Dawson's apparent disregard for these conventions is sometimes attributed to his lack of professionalism or to a mere old-fashioned LOGOS 2:2 SPRING I 999 CHRISTOPHER DAWSON AND CONTEMPORARY THOUGHT eccentricity. But the real cause lies much deeper than this. It concerns Dawson's preoccupation with a widespread inability among professional academics to realize that the way in which their disciplines were developing was symptomatic of a dangerous cultural, and indeed philosophical, malaise. Indeed, the scientific assumptions that modern academic disciplines—and especially history and sociology—claimed to rest upon seemed to Dawson not only questionable but fundamentally inconsistent. It is true that he never asserted this in so many words, buthis awareness ofthe problem can be detected in the way in which his serene style remained resolutely alooffrom contemporary fashion and convention, as well as from many ofhis reflections on related issues. In Progress and Religion, for example, he observed that modern Europeans possessed a peculiar "historical sense" that distinguished them quite profoundly from peoples of other ages and cultures. By this Dawson meant not the universal human instinct to preserve the past in some form and for a particular purpose, but rather the ability to re-create the past and to enter with imaginative sympathy into the lives and thinking processes ofpast ages and diverse peoples.Whereas time and history were"without ultimate value or significance"in the literatures and philosophies of most non-European peoples, they were "the very foundation" ofthe European "conception ofreality." Now the problem was that this peculiar historical sense was nowhere reflected in the movement ofscientific rationalism that Europeans claimed as the pinnacle oftheir intellectual inheritance. Philosophers and scientists explained the universe as a mechanical system, "a closed order ruled by mathematical law, rather than as the manifestation ofliving spirit ." In order for the peculiarly European historical sense to fit comfortably into this scientific setting, historians would have to follow the example of their eighteenth-century predecessors, who concentrated on facts and events and accumulated masses of detail "without giving any heed to the informing spirit, which alone can give significance to the material circumstances."2»Í 86LOGOS Consequently the historical sense that characterized modern European culture derived from a source that was very different from the tradition of scientific rationalism. Dawson located it in the nineteenth -century reaction against the French scientific enlightenment that ushered in the movement of German romanticism. It found its best representatives in literature in Schiller and Goethe, in music in Mozart and Beethoven, and in philosophy in Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Schleiermâcher and, above all, Hegel. It is true that the original inspiration for the movement came from the French enlightenment, but die spirit which animated it could not have been further removed from the French cult of clear and distinct ideas. The ideal of knowledge advocated by the German romantics was not rational analysis but, in Dawson's words, "that direct intuition ofreality by imaginative vision which unites the mind with its object in a kind of vital communion."As Goethe had put it: "My thought is inseparable from its objects—my intuition is itselfa thought and my...


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