Two sides of the modern era

The modern era, with its Baroque or Enlightenment beginnings, soon developed two frames of mind. Opposing in some ways, they proved to be more complementary than oppositional. Often discussed separately, they actually overlapped, challenging one another and feeding one another. But both frames of mind were thoroughly modern—believing in progress, in reason, and in objective and complete access to truth.

These frames of mind have acquired various labels. They have been called classic and romantic, rational and emotional, head and heart, even Apollonian and Dionysian. While many people have favored one and spoken against the other, most individuals contain aspects of both in their outlook and in their daily lives. In the arts, the classical expressions are generally regarded as earlier and the romantic expressions as later, as if the romantic artists challenged the classical artists. But both continued to be expressed, to be enjoyed, and to be imitated throughout the modern era right up to the present time.

In music, Mozart represents the classical mindset, and Beethoven represents the romantic. In literature, Shakespeare writes in the classical style, and Goethe writes the romantic way. The contrast can be found in visual arts, in historical studies, and even in theology. Among Lutherans, the contrast is sometimes phrased as “dead orthodoxy” as compared to “pietism.” The former refers to faith as expressed through correct doctrine and formal, traditional worship; the later emphasizes faith as a personal relationship with the Lord, felt in the heart and not merely in the mind. Clearly, value is found in both; they do not have to be an either/or (although often they are described as either/or, one correct and one incorrect). Among Anglicans, the contrast is sometimes phrased as High Church vs. Low Church, or as Episcopal vs. Methodist.

It might seem that the classical mindset is more open to science and technology, but people with the romantic mindset also willingly benefit from the benefits of science and technology. In fact, a romantic mind might explore “what if” questions that lead to scientific or technological breakthroughs that would not come from a purely classical mindset.

Others might relate classical and romantic mindsets to conservative and liberal attitudes. But the contrasts vary in different dimensions. Both classical and romantic people might be conservative, wanting to keep things the way they are; both classical and romantic people might be liberal, wanting to improve things, assuming that they can be better than they are. Conservatism and liberalism both belong to the modern world in a way that does not relate as neatly to pre-modern thinking or to post-modern thinking.

Every human institution found it necessary to adapt to modern thinking. The Church, the governments, the schools, the workplaces, even the families were affected by modern thinking. Classical and romantic contrasts increased the turmoil of the transition. But probably no change was more earthshaking than the technological changes that are described as the Industrial Revolution. J.