Embracing the Year Three Thousand in Philosophy and Art

By Alexandra York

From the catalogue for THE LEGACY LIVES:
A Celebration of the World at its Most Beautiful
and Man and Woman at Their Best

An art exhibit that premiered at the Lever House in New York City
on September 23, 1996.

The exhibit was again produced as the centerpiece for the Conference
for Constructive Alternatives symposium “Art and the Moral Imagination”
at Hillsdale College in 1997.


From moon worship to moon walk the path of human-kind has been one of uneven progress, yet the relentless pursuit of it and the levels of progress achieved during certain stunning periods in history have resulted in the raising of our species high and far away from its primitive origins.  Often what we consider primitive today was progress in another day.  Sometimes progress regresses into primitivism, as in the Medieval Era, and then forges ahead again with revitalized vigor, as in the Renaissance. The art produced during any epoch—from Paleolithic cave drawings to the Parthenon—is always an accurate philosophical and spiritual testament to the degree of progress or primitivism of its own time, to the ideas that informed it.  With this in mind, what have we to say about our own artistic testament today?  And what of tomorrow? As we approach a new millennium it becomes imperative to pause, survey, and judge our present context in order to choose which set of values and what forms of art out of our long human saga we shall carry forward as our cultural legacy into the future.  Today, astronauts sail space as ancient mariners sailed seas.  Science will take us where we want to go but only philosophy can tell us what ideas to take with us.  And only art can let us experience those ideas, now, in tangible form.

The twentieth century has been one of nihilism, the iconoclastic destruction of nearly every previously cherished value and art form in Western civilization.  The result is intellectual and artistic anarchy.  But strange as it may seem, this chaos can actually serve us, because it leaves the way out of the ruins open and obstacle-free of ossified preconceptions that might otherwise hinder our judgment.  If we are wise, we will turn the devastation to our advantage, and like the phoenix—that mythical bird of great beauty and self-renewing powers, rising up from the ashes of its own funeral pyre—we can fly to the future on unfettered wings.

But where to start?  From whence we came, nearly three thousand years ago.  Since our calendars pronounce the coming millennium as the year two thousand, we may rightly ask why we should consider it as the year three thousand.  Because “two thousand” is an arbitrary ecclesiastical date made secular, whereas the fundamental values that comprise Western thought originated nearly 3,000 years ago in the epic poems attributed to Homer, which first approached the domain of the philosophy that was to become the cornerstone of what we know as Western civilization.

That philosophy, rooted in reason and individualism, was limned in Homer’s works by stressing the aretē of certain characters; aretē evolved to mean the virtuous man, not only in his warlike valor but also in his proud and courtly morality, nobility of action and nobility of mind combined.  By incorporating this quality into the characters of his heroes, Homer gave the world its first humanistic heroes; they may have been guided (or misguided) by the gods, but they were personally responsible and accountable for their own actions.

Later, beginning with Thales of Miletos (seventh century BC) and other natural philosophers, Greek scholars transformed their own era into a veritable fountainhead of inquiry, a fount to which their intellectual heirs could eternally return for ideological sustenance, a fount that changed the course of history because those innovative thinkers sought to discover—rather than invent—the nature of reality and the nature of man.  They began by observing the world and man empirically.  But they didn’t stop there.  They went on, consciously employing logic, to expand their observations into abstract principles, thereby establishing a means of thinking philosophically rather than mythically, conceptually rather than metaphorically.  Therefore, let us, with an eye fixed firmly on the future, identify the primary ideological and artistic legacy of what some call our Greco-Roman or Judeo-Christian or Euro-American heritage at its true source:  ancient Greece and the first notion of individual excellence, of human achievement and happiness here on earth, of “man at his best.”

We have only to look at the sculpture from the apex of that seminal period of Classical Greece to comprehend in an instant the unprecedented phenomenon of man at peace with himself, his body and the physical world in which he lives.  Man able to move, able to act; man unafraid and unashamed.  Here, for the first time in human history, we encounter the combination of mental and physical health brought into perfect balance by a fusion of the real and the ideal, portraying human beauty in all its grandeur.  Here we are presented for the first time with consummate images of human sovereignty, yet always in harmony with human nature itself as well as with the natural world.  Thus, the great Greeks introduced the unique idea of a physical world and of human beings qua human as knowable, of science as a reliable methodology and human nature as a serious study.  Here we are introduced conceptually to scientific inquiry not as “technology” devised to solve existential problems of agriculture, architecture, war or navigation but as an interdisciplinary system for the purpose of understanding the universe, the world and man’s place in it.  Here we find defined for the first time our mental faculty of reason.

Reason.  Health.  Humanism.  Individualism.  Beauty.  The predominant values of Western civilization.

There is no desire here—nor any need—to romanticize the Greeks or Greek society.  Yes, women were viewed as subordinate, slaves were owned, mystic cults co-existed alongside philosophical growth, and bloody wars were fought over a variety of governmental systems vying with each other for preeminence.  Yes, the Golden Age was a tumultuous period.  So was the Italian Renaissance.  Benvenuto Cellini’s autobiography is as much about papal and political intrigue (and street scrapes) as it is about sculpture.  Nevertheless, through applications of new knowledge of Greek philosophy—especially Aristotle, though Neoplatonism was well represented—and Roman art, that era became one of a rebirth of humanism (combined imaginatively with Christianity) that produced some of the most ingenious and important art in Western civilization’s history.  So is our present period tumultuous.  The failed aspects of any era are secondary to its positive achievements, if the achievements are significant enough to outweigh the failures.  Yes, Americans, too, once held slaves, but what is significant is that the country split itself to shreds, brother fighting brother, until slavery was abolished.  Even more crucial, for all its faults America is the only country whose government was founded on and consciously designed to protect individual liberty.

Politically, America began near the top, but unfortunately, we have followed a downward track toward collectivism for most of the twentieth century.  Why?  Ultimately for the same reason the nation could not sustain progress in the arts.  Eschewing serious philosophy, Americans have traditionally relied on good old common sense in the ethical realm and an insatiable voracity for a quantity of material gratification that deflected them from any development in the spiritual realm, an area where idea-generated art (regardless of the validity of the ideas) would naturally flourish.  But common sense is not enough.  And at this late date, now that reason has been virtually booted out of the educational system, even common sense has gone by the way, leaving us lost in a void barren of any value system whatsoever to guide our behavior or to help us judge either our materialism-cum-spiritualism or our present, predominant “art.”  To further complicate matters, by exploiting the value-confusion generated after two World Wars and Vietnam, the promulgators of the “Age of Aquarius” have led us ever deeper into the troubled waters of subjectivism.

Far from being a “New Age” as we stumble uncertainly toward the next millennium, American culture is suffering the throes (hopefully the death throes) of the most irrational primitive beliefs of all now made grotesquely modern.  The contemporary artistic enshrinement of the ugly, the frightening, the freakish, the drug-induced, the occult, the hedonistic and the violent remains dominant throughout our entire society.  Witness the increasingly hysterical efforts to sensationalize every form of so-called “art,” from performance pornography to “music” events, the latter of which have become alarmingly similar to the rites of tribal ritual.  This state of affairs is predictable and inevitable in any culture that abandons its value system.  Without values that stimulate genuine emotions, individuals are reduced to a perceptual stage of existence and must turn to sensory stimulants to feel anything at all; hence, the escalating need for ever more harsh excitation.  Witness, also, the raw sex and violence in movies, which only assist in mobilizing a lazy populace toward continuous nonstop distraction, simultaneously immobilizing their brains.

Add to this primal art scene the forced institutionalization of tribalism through the euphemism of “political correctness” in newspaper “reportage” and TV news, government, corporate and university policies—and even the court system, where justice may give way to tribal sway on any day.  Twentieth century tribes of color, creed, gender, gender preference, age, et al. band together too seldomly for the proper purpose of redressing genuine abrogations of individual rights.  They seek too often to establish themselves as power centers formed not for the sake of individual survival (such as that which impelled the formation of extended-family tribes in prehistory) but for the clout of political privilege.  If the fraud of these last vestiges of twentieth century primitivism in art and politics—and the philosophies that spawned them—does not soon expire on the altar of subjectivism, the doomsayers may well have their way.  These modern manifestations of primeval behavior must, of course, at some point self destruct for the same reason that communism as a political system did—because, in the end, they are incompatible with civilized survival.

Fortunately, there are early signs that this demise may come sooner rather than later because the ideas (all being anti-ideas, as in anti-reason, anti-responsibility, anti-technology and anti-values) responsible for inculcating apathy or anger and alienation into our modern world are beginning to show symptoms of having run their course; even the most devoted advocates of a return to the jungle in the humanities cannot run backward at high speed forever.  The novelty of the anti-life philosophy that fueled a reincarnation of primitivism in the arts at the dawn of this century is wearing thin, undoubtedly because we are becoming numb to arousal by shock.  Still, even though certain religions have attempted to remain a positive moral and ethical force in our society, only a change in philosophy can be broad enough in scope to effectively redirect the arts so that the arts in turn—think of the power of television!—may then encourage meaningful cultural reform.

Because art acts as a shortcut to our most deeply-held premises (whether they be good or bad), it possesses irresistible vitality and puissance.  Through an aesthetic process of bypassing our consciously-held value system and going straight to the “heart” of our unconsciously held premises, art makes our most deep-seated ideas accessible to us in physical form.  If our stated values accurately reflect those in our subconscious, the emotional impact can be one of supreme affirmation.  If a mental conflict exists, our emotional responses to art will also be in conflict.  Because art shows us our abstract ideas, lets us see them, touch them and hear them.  Great art is a vision of values that shows us possibilities—as Aristotle said, “a kind of thing that might be.”  But as ennobling as art can be, so, as we have observed, it can also abet fear, evil, and destruction.  Because of the impoverishment of most twentieth century art, there are many among us who have given up hope altogether and claim that we are a culture in irreversible decline.  But if we look closely, this, demonstrably, is not true—Yet.  And the reason we may know it is not true is because fundamental questions are finally being raised.  The value of values, as such, is being argued.  The tiresome haranguing we have heard for decades over the implementation of worn-out conventions is abating.  The call for abnegation of all values rings hollow.  The futile attempts at impossible syncretism have been revealed as just that.  Too many Americans have finally become so drugged, decadent and dependent that those others who do not look to the government to solve all our problems, are finally starting to search for long-term legitimate ways out of the morass.  The currency of conversation among thinking people today is not an itemization of what is wrong in our culture but a reflective analysis of why it is wrong, a query that if pursued logically, will lead to the creative part of that intellectual equation:  What is right?  What philosophical system can make human life and the culture we live in better?  And what kind of art can give us palpable evidence of what that kind of world and those kinds of human beings might be like?   

With honest answers to questions such as these we may absolutely halt the otherwise inescapable descent into another Dark Age and stand, instead, on the brink of a new age of humanism, the leitmotif of every genuinely progressive age in history.  Why is humanism so important?  About the first Renaissance, J. Bronowski and Bruce Mazlish stated the following in The Western Intellectual Tradition (Harper & Brothers, 1960; reprinted, Dorset Press, 1986):

Human nature has been believed to follow intelligible laws, just as physical nature has...  Secularization, then, is one facet of that advancing humanism which the Renaissance introduced and to which, in some way, every witness.  It is not an affront to traditional values, but a desire by the human spirit to examine itself.... In each have had before them a single vision:  the vision of their own humanity.  This above all is what the Renaissance did—to inspire men with a feeling that there is a picture of man, the essential man, to which they themselves aspire.  The Renaissance made ideas a new prime mover which could shape men and their societies, and the men then went on to reshape the ideas.  In this historical circulation, one of the most important ideas has been the idea which man has had of himself...

What has been accomplished before can be accomplished again, now, and by the same method: by making “ideas a new prime mover.”  We hear the word Renaissance popping up all over the country, and popping out of our own mouths, too.  Well, a Renaissance can happen.  And it may happen.  But we who would foster a rebirth of life-serving art and ideas must be not only diligent but patient as well.  No one can begin a Renaissance in the middle; we must start from where we are.  We do have models to which we can repair for guidance, however.  If we look carefully beneath the ashes of twentieth century burn-out, we can catch a glimmer of the still-glowing embers from those other paradigm eras.  It is a small flame but a constant one that, because of the scientific knowledge we now have in our arsenal, may be ignited anew to light the way to a more advanced and exciting epoch than has ever existed before.  Those faintly flaming embers are the art and ideas that have preserved the best of our Western heritage.  The legacy of an unending search toward the betterment of humankind has survived, and it is being revived here and there across the land in sparks of beauty and life-affirming ideas that may forge their combined energy into a blazing torch to illuminate the next millennium.

A fair amount of the art being produced in America right now (although largely ignored by most critics and intellectuals, who lag behind the times) actually confirms this.  Driven underground by academics, critics and artists of avant garde art for decades and largely untaught in any of our learning institutions, the crafts of representationalism in painting and sculpture have continued to be taught by a handful of artist/teachers who refused to let their art forms perish.  We owe these men and women—now in their seventies and eighties—a debt of gratitude for safeguarding the techniques passed down from Greece through the Italian Renaissance to nineteenth century Europe and then on to them here in America in the early twentieth century.  It is their students—now professional artists in their own right—who are presently coming of age to lead the current resurgence of interest in these art forms, which are based in established Western art traditions.  Novelists, poets and composers, too, are reaching back to the past for techniques that will help them contemporize the everlasting verities of life with bracing relevance to our own time and place in history.

The crafts of the great arts of Western civilization are surfacing everywhere in America.  But what of ideas?  Many artists, today, succeed in capturing reality, but how many of them create a heightened reality, one that not only brings into sharper focus selected aspects of life through compelling aesthetics but also communicates ideas?   Without authentic relevance to the fundamentals of the contemporary human condition, art becomes either decorative or banal.  Without ideas informing it, art becomes a pretty pastime without further value.  Most artists are not philosophers; they are, rather, more sensitive souls who intuitively incorporate value premises into their work.  Great artists, however, whose work reverberates with meaning forever, are fully conscious of the ideas permeating their work; they, in fact, use form and aesthetics for the express purpose of communicating—beautifully—the content of their art.  For these superlative artists, nothing is accidental; they select and include in their art only the requisite elements necessary to communicate their themes.  Such artists distill the essence of one image or one fleeting moment (or in the case of literature and music, one finite time-experience) for their own sake first; they make it “stand still” so they can experience and return at will to the quintessence of that moment for renewal.  Then they pass their vision on to us for further contemplation of the beauty and the values inherent in the work.  In this regard, great art is a continual source of inspiration; we can revisit it time and again, always discovering something new and something deeper as we, ourselves, develop.  Then, as a result of our own self-realization, we may appreciate not only what the work offers on its own but also what it stimulates in us as our minds grasp insights that the artist himself has merely glimpsed, or as we formulate new connections of thought perhaps not even intended by the artist but which, nonetheless, enrich our lives by result of our own creative process.  Good art challenges the mind; it makes us think.

Art is not for enjoyment alone; it does not exist just to make us “feel good.”  Great art opens a passage not only to our inner selves but also to the outer world.  It implicitly teaches us structure and coherence through its design at the same time it encourages us to “see” both nature and all living things, including ourselves, more perceptively.  A landscape painting made of morning light arching into the colors of a rainbow that hovers over an apple-green orchard may guide our vision the next time we tarry in the countryside.  A flower painting of scintillating colors and luscious textures can whet our senses to appreciate the fragility and translucent wonder of petals soft, defined and fragrant, not to mention give us pause to consider the transience of all life, including our own.  A cityscape can augment our respect for the soaring imagination and technological skills of architects and engineers.  A novel can transport us to different places and introduce us to different people, whom we are thrilled to know.  A nude of a male or female sculpture can cause us to marvel at the inherent beauty of the human body—the temple of our soul.  Great art does far more than bring us pleasure; it can be a seductive tutor in that by emphasizing selected facets of reality for our scrutiny it whispers,  “Look.  Listen.  This is important.”  By our interaction with great art we hone our own sensibilities to live out the details of life ever more fully.  Art, like a person, has a spiritual center where mind and matter are united to become one.

I submit that only by adopting values based in rational humanism can artists begin again an earnest spiral upward toward a cultural growth that will eventually enrich the lives of every person who will look and listen.  Ideas:  From philosophy to the artists, from artists to the world.  Happily, many artists in our country are imbuing their work with values that elevate the spirit by providing reflective content.  Palengenisia (Greek for a new beginning) is within reach, because the search is on, philosophically and artistically.  Such a quest for earthly beauty and life-serving values—and the art it inspires—is still in an embryonic stage in America.  But it does exist.  An art exhibit subtitled “A Celebration of the World at its Most Beautiful and Man and Woman at Their Best” is part of the proof that it exists.

Let us now shun primitivism in all its forms and contemporize, instead, the nucleus of ancient Greek thought in order to re-energize the helix of progress begun by those noble minds of antiquity.  Let us support modern philosophical ideas based on the same premises but brought up-to-date in our present space age.  Let us restore the ageless values that engender true progress and the art that concretizes those values in order to usher in what we may term an “Age of Eudaemonia” in philosophy and “ROMANTIC REALISM” in the arts.  We can narrow those values down to the same five fundamentals mentioned earlier:  reason, health, humanism, individualism, and beauty.

1) Reason: our mental faculty of intellection:  identifying, evaluating, and integrating information provided by our senses, also including the ability to form concepts from percepts and to employ logic (non-contradictory thought).

2) Health:  soundness of body and mind.

3) Humanism:  a concentration on human interests, human nature and human culture.  Often misunderstood, humanism does not mean a religion of self worship, nor does it mean self interest at the forfeit of others or of the planet on which we live.  A philosophy based in humanism concerns itself with the secular world of life here on earth—the universals of life common to all human beings regardless of color, creed or personal circumstance.  Human beings, like all other living entities, have a fundamental nature that is inborn and does not change.  Our primary attributes are free will and the ability to reason. It is upon these premises that humanism is based. 

4) Individualism:  a concept of the individual as a self-determining entity, free to pursue individual happiness through the use of free will and rational means and responsible and accountable for personal thoughts and actions.

5) Beauty:  both an identification and an evaluation.  As an identification: unity and harmony in variety.  A perfection of form through a fulfillment of potential that brings pleasure to our senses.  As an evaluation:  pleasurable or approving response to the qualities of an entity or an idea—“beautiful” meaning that which we judge to be “good.”  (Both aspects of beauty function together in art, as it is the appeal to our senses that draws us to art in the first place, followed by the personal confirmation or rejection of the value content that either holds that attention rapt for blissful contemplation or sends us running in the opposite direction.)

A steadfast pursuance of these basic values can turn the coming millennium into an “Age of Eudaemonia.”  The term Eudaemonia—from the Greek “good demon or spirit”—was used by Aristotle to describe human happiness as that abiding inner state of contentment achieved by virtue of living a life of reason.  In his Nicomachean Ethics, interpreted by Friedo Ricken in Philosophy of the Ancients (University of Notre Dame Press, 1991), Aristotle’s depth of point was concisely this:

The end or good of human beings lies in the activity that the rational soul [mind] of human beings exercises due to its highest capabilities and in its best condition.  Happiness consists, not in having or receiving, but rather in being active.  Happiness requires effort.  It is a function that human beings must exercise.  The higher the exercised capabilities are, the more intense the experience of happiness will be.

“Happiness,” then, is not “I feel good” but “I feel good because I am good,” meaning “I am the best I can be.”  Epicurus concurred with Aristotle’s moral ideal as the definition of enduring happiness.  In addition, by holding the evidence of the senses as the foundation of all knowledge, he also verified concepts as formulations of abstract thought allowing us to universalize percepts and went on to identify emotions as being the criteria of value judgments.  Although Epicurus viewed feelings as purely physical reactions to pleasure and pain, his connection of emotions to value judgments opened the door to a further understanding of the psycho-physical phenomena of emotional pain or pleasure as being value stimulated.  This understanding leads to an explanation of why we respond so intensely to art; by sensorily experiencing our deepest philosophical values, we are emotionally “feeling” our intellect.

“ROMANTIC REALISM” in art has similarities to but is not synonymous with Romanticism.  The similarities are to be found in the emotional content of the art:  A “romantic” artist charges an artwork with his or her own value system to a higher power, investing the work with a personal passion that, if the values match, mirrors our own and expresses it in such a sensuous, dramatic and poetic way as to magnify our own responses.  But Realism qua form ties subject matter to real life (even if the subject is a fantasy) because the forms are communicable through the representation of recognizable images; therefore, universal artistic “languages” are established within each art form—note that all art forms except those based in written or spoken language are understandable to all peoples, regardless of background or individual context.  Classical elements in realism project universality of beauty and reason.  Ideal elements project the fulfilled potential of natural or mental and physical excellence possible at the highest level in the physical world and in real life.  Romantic elements exploit the subjective and often rely on the exotic, the historical or foreign settings to provide extra stimulation.  While incorporating all of the other combined elements of Classicism (universality), Idealism (potential fulfilled), and the best of Romanticism (subjective passion), Romantic Realist artists reject the Romantic’s “call of the wild” and bring their content home by focusing on the here and now without diluting the charismatic spin of personal style and temperament.  The balance and integration of all these elements is delicate and difficult to achieve, especially because it requires objective restraint of subjective ardor.  Self expression by some Romantics—as certain artists in the nineteenth century, for example, and many of their contemporary offspring—can become too subjective, to the point where the work loses interest for anyone but the artist and those few others who might be interested in that particular artist’s psychology.  As Eric Newton states in The Romantic Rebellion, published in Great Britain by Longmans, Green and Company, Ltd. in 1962:

Romanticism claims full freedom of individual expression, it asserts that heightened personal emotion alone is worth expressing, that the means of expression must be forged in every case to fit that heightened emotion, and that to follow tradition or...what has been done in the past is to destroy the uniqueness of the individual.... Yet despite the romantic protest against the discipline of law we know well enough that without obedience to law and the traditions that enshrine law no human creative act can be intelligible or eloquent.  The wildest garden must be designed, or it becomes meaningless because chaotic.... Intelligibility demands intelligence, and however deeply the romantic mistrusts the intellect he is lost if for a single moment he loses touch with it. 

This is precisely why great art must be based in ideas.  The techniques of established Western art forms (because of their malleability of form and endless vocabulary of aesthetics) are especially suited to communicate ideas.  There is great compelling evidence—particularly in the work of certain contemporary writers, painters and sculptors—that through not Romanticism but ROMANTIC REALISM, where the romantic impulse is grounded in the real here-and-now world of rational possibilities, reason and emotions are being united harmoniously with form and content to create exhilarating, penetrating, idea-based art that could become the most brilliant of any produced in all of history.  This persuasion of art is still in its infancy, but it does exist.  Technique alone produces cold and sterile work; emotions alone produce psychological purges.  Most artists, today, still remain in one camp or the other.  But when form (physical presentation) and content (ideas/reason) and personal expression (emotions) are successfully integrated in a work of art, the physical/intellectual/emotional impact is so monumental that we know our souls have been touched, deeply and lastingly.

Which brings us back to our starting point: the benefit to one and all that comes as a result of a striving for human excellence, of human achievement and happiness here on this earth, of “man and (now) woman at their best,” feeling their best because they have attained a state of eudaemonia as a consequence of their own efforts.  Experiencing those values and achievements through the emotionally stirring art of Romantic Realism offers us one of the summits of life experiences.  Add to that the human relationships of friendship—both Aristotle and Epicurus made much of the value of friendship—and love (if we can find it), and we will have achieved the highest joys of life.

The efflorescence of these ideas in ancient Greece was not brought forth in full bloom from the head of Zeus.  It was a culmination of energy and ideas from many previous cultures and peoples and experiences joining together in a compatible and timely manner so as to generate a pivotal leap forward in human progress.  Like the biological link that transformed a particular lineage of primates into humans in prehistoric Africa, ancient Greece experienced a mental crossover from metaphors and myth to concepts and philosophy.  The biological and intellectual fundamentals have been established.  But the fundamentals of the spiritual realm are very much open to exploration.  And art in its highest function provides a spiritual experience, so to probe the elements of art (including the philosophy that informs it) is to explore the spiritual realm.

That prodigious challenge clearly falls to us, now.  As European culture was the result of the best of Greek intellectual achievement, and the political formation of America was a result of the best of European intellectual achievement, now let us become intellectual producers ourselves in the one realm left to complete the circle of progress.  Let the clarion call be sounded.  It is our turn to further human progress by advancing the ideological progress that the Greeks began nearly three thousand years ago.  The whole world is scrambling to share in the material benefits made possible via the Western heritage legacy.  Now let us take leadership in the philosophic/artistic arenas and offer an earthly spiritual component to life’s exalted experiences as well.

With our base founded firmly in the best of our Western heritage philosophy—rational humanism—plus the great influx of ideas pouring into our country over the past two centuries from people raised in other lands, an abundance of choice surrounds us.  Let us move beyond the present cultural wreckage and seize this moment to sift mindfully through our riches and select only the best life-serving ideas to add to that which is infinitely worthy in our already-great legacy.  Let us judge the tenets of competing contemporary philosophies according to their internal congruity and their fealty to the following criteria: 1) a rational, humanistic ideology applicable to all individuals at all times under all circumstances and achievable in real life by practical means, and 2) an objective philosophy where the religious of all creeds and the nonreligious, alike, may pursue their own values freely but may not impose them on others, and where people of all colors, backgrounds and beliefs can exist in harmony together by respecting the fundamental “sameness” that we share in common, at the same time tolerating our differences.  Such a core philosophy (and the art it generates) is to be found only within the legacy of our great Western heritage, a heritage that is far wider than any geographical spot on the globe; it is a state of mind that spans all place and all time because it is consonant with the inherent nature of human beings.  The novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand eloquently connected philosophy and art in her 1969 book, The Romantic Manifesto.  Concluding an essay entitled “Art and Moral Treason,” she says:  “ is the fuel and spark- plug of a man’s soul; its task is to set a soul on fire and never let it go out.  The task of providing that fire with a motor and a direction belongs to philosophy.”

Against all odds we must not repeat the past.  The genius of the European Renaissance leaders was that they took the fundamentals of Greek philosophy and made them their own:  David, not Apollo.  It is for us to refine universal truths in light of our own present context and knowledge and to bring consistency to value systems that contain internal contradictions.  We have learned so much more about the wonders and workings of the whole universe and of our own nature than our forebears knew that another momentous leap forward is not just possible, it is probable.  Now, in this brilliant scientific age that permits travel to outer space as routine, the time has come to initiate a journey into inner space—the humanities—to discover a deeper, rational understanding of man as a spiritual creature who needs access to the profound meanings of life, meaning that is made understandable through philosophy and is in turn made manifest through the arts, especially through the objectively intelligible and emotion-evoking power of Romantic Realism in all its forms.  By championing art that promotes beauty and life-affirming values passionately expressed, we champion our own future.

The legacy lives in each of us.  In the best of each of us.  Let us all rise, in Aristotle’s words, to our “highest capabilities” in order to achieve first a personal, inner state of eudaemonia.  Then let our individual achievements become guidelights, giving others the courage to strive for the same in themselves until we have engendered an Age of Eudaemonia—an Age of Excellence—where future generations may inherit the best we have achieved, as we have chosen to inherit the best bequeathed to us from our own ancestors.  It can be done!  Any time of crisis such as we are now experiencing is always a time of opportunity as well.  Let those of us who comprehend the incalculable worth of our philosophical and artistic Western heritage legacy join together to turn our present opportunity into reality.  The time is ripe for it.  Let us become the real-life embodiments of those ideas that will connect the ideological genesis writ large in ancient Greece to our own American revelation writ bold tomorrow.  Let us embrace the challenge of the new millennium with energy and confidence, knowing that the promise of the future depends on life-affirming ideas put into action today.  Let the legacy live.

Copyright © Alexandra York. All rights reserved