Globalisation, Universal History, and the Global Soul
The construction of a universal history of the human experience after the First World War was felt by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy to be the most urgent task of the present time. He called it the “transnational revolution” with the task of “synchronising antagonistic distemporaries.” He applied himself to that task, but only paved the way for others to follow. His pioneering approach was (and is) still promising. It is, nonetheless, true that the absence of a full universal history of the human experience, which would also be the self-consciousness of human fellowship, is the main reason we have so many problems today with both “multiculturalism” and “the clash of civilisations,” as well as the degradation of the biosphere. One can equally appreciate cultural historian Jean Gebser’s work, particularly in his Ever-Present Origin, as being equally a prelude to a broadly encompassing universal history appropriate for the Planetary Era.
Integralism, holism or ecology are but other terms for “universal history.”
But it may have been Nietzsche in whom the first glimmering and prescient consciousness of the problem of the global human future first arose. “Be true to the Earth!” was his first urgent imperative addressed to his contemporaries and successors. This call for us to prepare for the global future was misunderstood in his time. (It is, arguably, misunderstood today still). That imperative is not unconnected with Nietzche’s corrollary imperative “Become what you are!”
When these two related imperatives are taken together, as polar aspects of one and the same dynamic process of self-realisation through self-overcoming, the implications are profound. They form the contours of the path leading to the transhuman. You cannot today go wrong by taking these as your two guiding principles, even if you knew nothing else of Nietzsche (which wouldn’t necessarily be such a bad thing).
“Globalisation” has many aspects along with presenting many disruptive social problems quite apart from the economic ones to which the meaning of globalisation is usually (and blindly) reduced. Multiculturalism, clash of civilisations, and global climate degradation are even more urgent problems than the bumpy and ill-conceived neo-liberalism of global market liberation — (“Free the Market!” is just as much infantile sloganeering as anything else). We are still grappling, albeit unconsciously, with problems that emerged in consequence of the First World War which took the form and became, in effect, a global civil war and world revolution. The very name “World War” implies Rosenstock’s notion of “transnational revolution.” This is still not fully understood. It was earlier understood by Rosenstock-Huessy, even as a German officer in the trenches of the Western Front. Nietzsche grappled with the problems of the future before the walls of Metz as a medical orderly during the Franco-Prussian War; Rosenstock-Huessy in the trenches during the World War.
Take note, you “conservatives.” War often does that. And all war today in the Planetary Era is global civil war and world revolution. In this context, “winning” and “losing” have become one and the same.
Belatedly, it has now been noted by other historians that all our present pressing political, social, and cultural problems have their origin and source in the World War as its consequences, as does the whole problem of post-modernity itself. Not “nation-state” and not “Modern Era” represent the present matrix of our being and existence, but the planet itself as a whole is our new matrix. This changes everything. It’s like a football field that has suddenly, unexpectedly, expanded to infinity in front of the players. That can be quite disorienting.
Ironic reversal is characteristic of ages in decline, and the term “ironic reversal” is just another way of describing, with Nietzsche, the process of nihilism: “all higher values devalue themselves”. The mill that grinds them down is the process of ironic reversal, which is enacted as hypocrisy. Ages and eras and civilisations deface and erase themselves. Ironic reversal has the same meaning as “perverse outcome,” “revenge effect,” “blowback,” or “unintended consequence.” When winning and losing become one and the same process, you have ironic reversal. Ironic reversal goes by other, more esoteric names too: coincidentia oppositorum (“coincidence of opposites”) and enantiodromia.
Here’s how ironic reversal and enantiodromia now plays itself out at our “end of history”.
I have argued before that delusive thinking leading to inappropriate and inadequate responses to world events is the real threat to human well-being, not some external boogey-man like “Islamicism” (as some of our leading politicians like to inflate for political effect). Delusive thinking and “false consciousness” is virtually inevitable and habitual during times of ironic reversal to minds steeped in a deficient dualistic reasoning and therefore not accustomed to appreciate the amibiguities and paradoxes that emerge during times of rapid historical (and that means “revolutionary”) change. Such minds, mired in “legacy thinking” received from the past are fated to misperception of the true confluence and configuration of events, and, in consequence, to equally untruthful (and that means, self-destructive) responses. This describes ironic reversal.
Let’s examine one instance of ironic reversal from history by way of example.
The beginning of the High Middle Ages is marked by the figure of Parsifal (Percival). The fool who becomes an aristocratic knight of the Round Table is almost a precise map of the emergence of the High Middle Ages from the Low Middle Ages. But how does this era of the High Middle Ages end? It is in the figure of don Quixote — the knight who becomes a fool once more. Don Quixote’s behaviour and conduct is almost a perfect example of “legacy thinking.” Parsifal and don Quixote are one and the same process of rise and fall. Don Quixote’s life is the reversal of Parsifal’s, and these two figures bookend the beginning and end of the High Middle Ages.
Every civilisation, every era, that has undergone ironic reversal has similar figures. In the case of the Modern Era, it is Prometheus (forethought) who stands at the beginning, and it is his brother, Epimetheus (afterthought) who marks its end. “Afterthought” might even be the appropriate term for post-modern and “post-Enlightenment”. Epimetheus is our sign of ironic reversal. As image, he even embodies that which Jean Gebser called “deficient rationality”. As don Quixote stands to Parsifal, so Epimetheus stands to Prometheus as emblems of ironic reversal.
The ironies of our time are such, that while people fret and fuss over the loss of national definition and identity (boundaries, sovereignties), they nonetheless promote neo-liberal globalisation and “free markets” which necessarily challenge and apply pressure to those same boundaries, definitions, and sovereignties. One of these is in the form of immigration. Globalisation also means the free movement across boundaries of goods, peoples, and ideas, too, which puts extreme pressure on the boundaries and borders of the nation-state and national identities. There’s a certain irony in the fact that politicians (and much of the public) fret about “Islamicism,” while old Marxists (like Slavoj Zizek) and the Catholic Church actually fret less about Islam than about Buddhism encroaching upon Western minds.
This discrepancy in perceived “threat” is interesting, but has not been properly interpreted or perceived. Universal history is now actually being forged in the streets, not in academia, formal parliaments, congresses, or privy councils. The seemingly chaotic confluence of different traditions, histories, cultures, and world views is the real truth of globalisation and multiculturalism. The unfortunate aspect of this is that the process of the world’s peoples getting together is mostly through blind trial and error. It is not yet a self-conscious process of integration. It lacks adequate guidance, coordination, and synchronisation. The various formal attempts at instituting “global dialogue” (United Nations, Interfaith Dialogues, etc) are often flailing and faulty efforts because the essential problem on the threshold of the Planetary Era is not understood. There can be no Planetary Civilisation without a corresponding Universal History of the full human experience that gives it coherence.
This is a problem of times, not of spaces and geographies. For the most part, technologies of communication and transportation and their mutual coordination have abolished the problem of spaces and distance. It has left the problem of time and the necessary synchronisation of different human histories and traditions untouched, however. It is, therefore, not space that is the central issue of globalisation and the planetary era (as it was with the Modern Era), but time. And this focus on the central problem of time is the very notable issue we find in the works of (amongst others) Rosenstock-Huessy and Jean Gebser, too. This concern with time might also mark these trends in though as “transmodern” (rather than post-modern).
The failure of political leadership today (and of “multiculturalism” as presently conceived) is the failure to facilitate the creative and positive process of universal history-in-the-making that we are muddling towards largely in the streets — sometimes literally so. Largely it is also because of a confusion about the meanings of “assimilation” and “integration”. The word “assimilation” means “to make same”, while “integration” means “to make whole” or “to mend”, “to heal”. This confusion which results in deficient responses to multiculturalism is a result of a still reductive “legacy thinking” that has outlived its shelf-life, yet persists like a zombie and the undead in the form of reactionary politics. The completely unintelligent confusion of values that makes “assimilation” synonymous and identical in meaning with “integration” is why we have bizarrely recidivist and reactionary (and ultimately self-destructive) notions of “neo-imperalism” with a concommittant reactionary devaluation of the principle of universality, along with manifold hypocrisies about “human rights”.
If multiculturalism is a “failed project”, as many claim today, it is because it was never properly understood in the first place. It’s not even a policy choice in the global era. It is the inevitable condition of the global era and must be addressed, not dismissed.
The managed transition from Modern Era to Planetary Era and “the Global Soul” requires more intelligence, imagination, and creativity than is presently being demonstrated or applied.
There also seems to be a deliberate attempt to erect obstacles to the realisation of an authentic universal history, born of the recognisable “three evils” described in Buddhism: greed, malice, and delusion. Having become institutionalised, these obstacles are going to be much harder to overcome, but can be overcome by courage, goodwill and clarity.
Nobody said it was going to be easy. But the true “global soul” is not the global jet-setter forever crossing borders and passing through airports like a day-tripping tourist, but the soul that embraces all human history as its own autobiography. And that global soul, which is the integral consciousness, is the essential issue of “universal history” and who manifests that universal history as it’s own autobiography.