Category Archives: Modernity

Absolute

Huysmans dismissed him as a pompous fanatic. Baudelaire acknowledged him as his intellectual tutor. I think Joseph de Maistre is worth reading as an antidote to deconstruction.

The problem with deconstruction is that it has come to be associated with a knee-jerk liberalism that finds hysteric fault with every manifestation of authority and, therefore, tends toward a paralytic anarchist cult of consensuality and victimhood. To me, this is a deconstruction afraid to pursue its logic to the end, which ought to be its self-nullification. What deconstruction should reveal, ultimately, is the indispensability (as opposed to lamentability) of violence and privilege in the construction and maintenance of effective civilizational myths.

This is what Maistre does. And he does it by ruthlessly judging high-sounding ideas of emancipation by their outcome. Rather than attempt an impotent philosophical demolition of rationalism and the incipient bourgeois democratic ethos, he ties them to the bloody disorder ushered by the collapse of the Ancien Régime. And ultimately, he puts his faith not in the rhetorical power of his words but in the social and spiritual calamities that attend the destruction of the old patriarchal order. The people “have only seen the Revolution; they must feel it and enjoy, so to speak, its bitter consequences.”

Enjoy.

Lamentable Identities

The Democratic Party has lost its ability to pose as the party of labor and the middle class. Firmly controlled by Wall Street and California billionaires, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) strategy of identity politics encourages any identity except that of wage earners. The candidates backed by the Donor Class have been Blue Dogs pledged to promote Wall Street and neocons urging a New Cold War with Russia.

They preferred to lose with Hillary than to win behind Bernie Sanders. So Trump’s electoral victory is their legacy as well as Obama’s. Instead of Trump’s victory dispelling that strategy, the Democrats are doubling down. It is as if identity politics is all they have.

Michael Hudson

Actually, there is no “as if.” Identity politics is all the Democrats have. The problem is that by now, it is readily apparent that the liberal notion of “inclusion” operates strictly in favor of the advancement of the already privileged: “underpaid” and “underrepresented” Hollywood actors, corporate execs held down by glass ceilings, administrators and bureaucrats eager to convert their “marginal” status into promotional entitlement. Identity politics plays well with hipsters and sentimentalists who vote with their “feelings.” But liberal identity politics have helped coalesce a counter, illiberal identity politics, a right-wing mirror image rooted in nativist ideology. This is hardly surprising. Nationalism begats nationalism and identity politics was merely liberal cover for various forms of tribal separatism used to obscure more fundamental divisions of class. The United States is now itself susceptible to the sort of tribal conflict it has fostered abroad, most notably in the Middle East. In 2008, the day of reckoning seemed to have arrived for capitalism, but it has been deferred in favor of a potentially more barbaric conflict between various deluded identity groups. At a press conference in 1974, Lacan predicted the future “triumph of religion” as a reversal of modernity. Some 50 years later, what seems to be coming to pass is the triumph of tribalism, which is perhaps the most fundamental form religion can assume.

In Praise of Dogma

The vice of the modern notion of mental progress is that it is always something concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting away of dogmas. But if there be such a thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions, into more and more dogmas. The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty. When we hear of a man too clever to believe, we are hearing of something having almost the character of a contradiction in terms. It is like hearing of a nail that was too good to hold down a carpet; or a bolt that was too strong to keep a door shut. Man can hardly be defined, after the fashion of Carlyle, as an animal who makes tools; ants and beavers and many other animals make tools, in the sense that they make an apparatus. Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined scepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.

—G.K. Chesterton, Heretics