Let’s sort the words first. What I intend to mean here by these words is “the living” and “the dead,” in the sense that the organic is alive whereas the mechanical lacks that strange quality. But, turns out, both words have very similar rootings in the concept of a “tool.” The first comes from the Greek organon, which meant a tool or implement, a musical instrument, and then an organ of the body. Our own organs in churches carry the second meaning to this day. Going deeper, the Greek meaning arose from “that with which one works,” hence the notion of a tool, and organon came from ergon, which means “work.” Mechanical, in turn, comes from the Greek mekhane, meaning a device or a means (to accomplish something).
Now let me introduce what might sound like a non sequitur. The reason why Muslims keep insisting, to the total irritation of our journalists, that Sharia law must be the center of their laws (e.g., in Libya just yesterday) is because Muslim culture is still more organic whereas the older secular culture is mechanical.
It is, of course—especially in modern thought—almost meaningless to speak about the “life” of a culture, much less to suggest that younger cultures may have more life than the older and the more developed. But one indicator that I would offer is the role that religious life plays in each. Where it is still prominent, that mysterious something we call life is still active within it, whereas in highly developed civilizations it is dismissed as non-existent. In a living culture (which the historian Oswald Spengler called Kultur) the intuitive element is strongly active still, thus has a collective presence. In a civilization (a word Spengler only applied to secular periods of developed cultures) the intuitive is altogether absent. In one something transcendent is worshipped consciously; in the other only raw power is acknowledge to have genuine sway; to be sure, it is sentimentalized into the power of the electorate, the people, etc., but in effect this power is centered in the human; nothing beyond it.
In younger cultures humans are created by the divine. In secular cultures life itself is just a region of materiality that spontaneously arises when the right conditions prevail. Not that in our modern culture, all around us, the religious is altogether absent. Far from it. Brigitte and I were just remarking on the many, many churches thickly present all around us. But the religious has lost its sway over the collective. It is no longer actively present in it. The civilization has become mechanical. We speak of laws—and almost never even of the spirit of the laws. The last time that subject was still seriously discussed was in the eighteenth century by Montesquieu—and, notably, he titled his work a defense of the same.
I would suggest that the uproar over Sharia, here in the west, is an indicator. Now, mind you, we dislike many aspects of that law and rightly so. But if we substituted Christian law in its place, the uproar would be the same. The uproar simply signals that we no longer understand a whole dimension of reality. It’s become a lifestyle choice. And minorities within our own borders who still espouse the higher reaches, the intuitive dimension, are regularly subjected to scholarly attacks in our organs (!) of communications.