The Politics of Unreason

Far too many today confuse reason with rationalisation. This is not just true of the reactionary right either.

Reading through the various articles posted and published on the internet, I find Anders Behring Breivik described variously as a “right-wing Christian fundamentalist terrorist,” a “Judeo-Masonic terrorist,” a “pro-Zionist terrorist,” a “conservative terrorist,” a “free market liberal, anti-Muslim Zionist terrorist,” a “Christian jihadi,” or a “nationalist terrorist.” I’m quite sure there are others, including some terms Breivik used for himself.

Breivik has become something of a Rorschach inkblot for all sorts of people to read themselves into, pro or con. And reading his manifesto you can indeed find justification for every one of those descriptions (and more). He characterised himself, after all, in many of those same terms. He even modeled himself very closely after Osama bin Laden and his organisation, in both aims, methods, and purposes. But the one you privilege may, in the end, be more autobiographical than it is a completely adequate characterisation of Breivik.

(And if you haven’t already had the opportunity, please read Kenan Malik’s great article on this ironic similarity between Breivik and Bin Laden: “The tragic ironies of Breivik’s terror.”)

I’m content to use the term “reactionary”, which is as applicable to men like Bin Laden as much as it is to people like Breivik. The term should be completely unobjectionable and proper for those who understand what it means — except to those who somehow find excuses or rationalisations for Breivik’s act, which stamps them, too, as reactionaries or radical conservatives.

But don’t expect the reactionary type to be frank and honest about who and what they are, because like the fascists of early times, they have appropriated the language of progressives and now twist it and pervert it to serve their own ends and ideology. Reactionary “new right” conservatives now perversely describe themselves as the true “revolutionaries” or “progressives,” impossibly distorting and pre-empting the authentic political discourse, just as earlier fascists appropriated the language and meanings, (thus pre-empting the possibility of authentic political discourse), of the German socialists by twisting it to serve reactionary ends. By war’s end in 1945, there were so many German words that had become impossible to use rationally that linguists were speaking of the “destruction of the German language,” while the Austrian dissident novelist and one of the most famous authors in his day, Stefan Zweig, committed suicide in 1942 because he didn’t feel he could write  honestly and authentically in German any longer.

I know something about this pre-emption and short-circuiting of dialogue, and the misappropriation and perversion of sterling values through the process of propaganda. I spent two years in university, here and in Germany, studying the history and technique of Nazi and fascist propaganda. So, I know something of the tactics and methods of political reactionaries, which is why I often insist on clarifying the origin and history of certain key words whose authentic geneaology has often been deliberately mystified or obfuscated in order to deliberately obstruct and confound our reason and discourse.

(By the way, if you want to know something about how the German language was perverted during the reactionary period, and then struggled to recover afterwards, George Steiner’s collection of essays in Language and Silence has some wonderful insights on this. Much of this is happening again today when reactionary politics is now becoming mainstream or “new” conservatism, and is freely and shamelessly employing disinformation, distortion, falsification, and spin to pervert the possibility of genuine political dialogue, the essence of democratic process. Glenn Beck’s deranged description of the kids killed on Utøya Island as being a “Hitler Youth” is one particularly outrageous example).

This is what I call “the politics of unreason,” and I’m reluctantly coming round to Nietzsche’s view that the only response to its radical perversity and nihilism is suppression.

(Although, I’m willing to entertain contrarian views on that).

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8 responses to “The Politics of Unreason”

  1. InfiniteWarrior says :

    the only response to its radical perversity and nihilism is suppression.

    Unsure what you mean by “suppression” here. Can you elaborate?

    The only caveat that occurs to me right off the bat, is that any action toward it other than exposition may lend it an air of legitimacy it doesn’t deserve.

    • Scott Preston says :

      You might be right. Persecution of a church or religion may actually save that church or religion. One might surmise the same of the reactionary right. Although Nietzsche believed that suppression was the only response to unreason, Rosenstock thought ridicule and mockery were the appropriate response. And both were thinking of what would be the appropriate response to reactionaries, because both were potential victims. Even Ghandi didn’t believe, apparently, that his civil disobedience against the British Empire would be equally effective against fascists or Nazis.

      In his manifesto, Breivik states that “the time for dialogue is over” (although the hypocrite never really engaged with dialogue with anyone, as far as I can tell). There’s no option in that case but suppression. After all, why should our responses to so-called “conservative Christian” terrorism be any different than our responses to reactionary Islamist terrorism?

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        Although Nietzsche believed that suppression was the only response to unreason, Rosenstock thought ridicule and mockery were the appropriate response.

        I’ll stick with the expositioners. Unmask it and there’s nothing left to hide behind. As much as there is a struggle between past and future, there is a struggle between interior and exterior.

        And both were thinking of what would be the appropriate response to reactionaries, because both were potential victims.

        Ay, there’s the rub. The old “victim mentality.” None of us are “victims”…until and unless we allow it. There’s an old saying. “Conventional” wisdom or not, it remains true: “No one has power over you unless you give it to them.” Again: End of story.

        why should our responses to so-called “conservative Christian” terrorism be any different than our responses to reactionary Islamist terrorism?

        They shouldn’t, but neither should they be one extreme or the other. Enough is enough.

        • Scott says :

          Nietzsche and Rosenstock didn’t have “victim mentalities” themselves, which contributes to paranoia, but they were sober and realistic enough to know where they stood.

          Enough is enough.

          Ideally. After the Oklahoma City bombings, the right-wing survivalist militia and paramilitary movements in the US sort of petered out. Perhaps this Oslo attack may have similar results, (but I’m not betting on it presently).

  2. InfiniteWarrior says :

    Nietzsche and Rosenstock didn’t have “victim mentalities” themselves

    Thankfully, indeed.

    the right-wing survivalist militia and paramilitary movements in the US sort of petered out

    Unfortunately, I think they’re still thriving and perhaps even growing due to the violent “Tea Party” rhetoric, but so is a renewed sense of community, responsibility and reprioritization that fortunately, I think, has nothing to do with ideology (political, economic or otherwise) and everything to do with common decency and the innate human desire for healthy interaction and interconnection.

    The “atomization” of culture has been extraordinarily successful, but when the chips are down, it apparently doesn’t hold much sway.

  3. amothman33 says :

    Osams bin Breivik or Breivik bin Laden are the same.The question is bad faith v. good faith. The culture of lying must be fought by a culture of truthfullness. I agree the fight is through expostion .

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes. I’m beginning to see, too, how ideology is the contrary of faith and even a substitute for faith. Jean Gebser mentioned that, too, in his book EPO, where he remarked that nothing is more anachronistic than Christian sects today posturing as ideologies. And I have indeed noticed that also in a lot of mainstream conservative commentaries. Very much like Breivik, they only conceive of this Christianity as a “moral platform” (and an ideology) rather than a spiritual practice. That is, they reduce the issue of faith and practice to a set of mere inhibitions … the “thou shalt nots”.

      It thus becomes not a spiritual practice, but an ideology and a technology of social control.

  4. amothman33 says :

    Osams bin Breivik or Breivik bin Laden are the same.The question is bad faith v. good faith. The culture of lying must be fought by a culture of truthfullness. I agree the fight is through expostion, unless he meant by suppression, suppression of bad faith in oneself

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