The Modern Ideal
One of the things I have discovered lately (to my great joy in fact) as I continue my study of the history and the dogmas of fascism and Nazism — this whole reactionary period — is how one core or root principle informs other “democratic” ideologies that is absolutely and categorically denied in the practice and ideology of fascism, and which exists in the current so-called “democratic” ideologies mainly as a contradiction to their actual practice. For they seem to have forgotten it themselves.
That value or ideal is “the free development of the personality”, and it exists as the original common ideal that informs conservatism, liberalism, and socialism equally. What they really dispute amongst themselves is the means to effectuate the social conditions and institutions necessary for that ideal to be realised and made concrete.
This principle of “the free development of the personality” is otherwise called “self-determination” and is moreover the implicit, if unstated, liberal objective of “the rational pursuit of self-interest”. My insight into this shared core value came via a coincidental reading of a sympathetic essay by George Orwell on Oscar Wilde’s utopian socialism along with a speech by the conservative post-war German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer of the German Christian Democrats (CDU), who used remarkably similar language to describe their respective ideals.
Adenauer’s speech called “Hope for Europe” of 28 August, 1948 to the CDU Party Committee was a bit disingenuous and even hypocritical, as many CDU conservatives had played a facilitating and enabling role in Hitler’s ascension to power, but were now anxious and eager to distance themselves from the suggestion and the scrutiny that they may have served as “useful idiots” themselves — a common enough though hypocritical charge conservatives often make against the (Russian) liberals (generalising from that to all liberals) who facilitated and enabled the Bolshevik path to power — their own aiding and abetting Hitler’s “Machtergreifung” (seizure of power) supposedly notwithstanding.
(I found this critical examination of Adenauer’s speech, and scrutiny of Christian Democratic rhetoric generally, online for anyone interested. Needless to say, if the “free development of the personality” is the core conservative concern, as Adenauer gives, and is more than mere lip-service, the self-contradiction in assisting into power an ideology that specifically denied this “free development of the personality” as a desirable value or ideal requires some explaining — and not just a rationalising and explaining away of the embarrassing self-contradiction. In fact, a skeptic like myself might conclude that the celebrated Chancellor Adenauer’s appeal to end denazification, to let bygones be bygones, leave sleeping dogs lie, and to “move on”, as it were, was an evasion uttered as a plea to avoid scrutiny and self-critical assessment of the actual conservative record in facilitating the Nazi rise to power, under the self-deception and delusion that the conservative elite could “control Hitler”).
This ultimate value and ideal of the “free development of the personality” itself needs to be assessed as to its adequacy as a universal goal. But more importantly, as the telos, goal or destination of contemporary democratic ideologies, as end it allows us to assess the effectiveness or defectiveness and deficiencies of those ideologies in working toward that end and that goal. For it is by no means a given, with Fukuyama’s announcement of “the end of history,” that we have attained the social conditions which would allow for this free development of the personality. I think, rather, the opposite, and that “the end of history” was either a massive right-wing delusion or a great con-job.
And their record is not very good, whether it is liberalism, conservatism or socialism. For it must not be forgotten either (which it has often been) that for Marx this same “free development of the personality” was the ultimate goal of socialism, too (which is what Orwell’s essay on Wilde wishes to remind us). What Marx objected to in liberalism and conservatism was that these ideologies merely paid lip-service to the ideal of the free development of the personality while denying this right and this goal to a huge class of industrialised “wage slaves” or “cogs in the machine” called “the proletariat”. He was, of course, quite right about that. Privileges of birth and class barriers effectively served to inhibit, prevent, and repress just this right to “the masses” to a share in the ideal and destiny of civilisation. In effect, the goal of socialism was not collectivism or “Vermassung“, as is said in German — massification, collectivisation, quantification, or mere aggregation. This was the social condition of millions already as they found it. The first goal of socialism, as an emancipatory programme, was liberation of the proletarian (and ultimately everyone) from the condition of collective false consciousness and the condition of mere massification so that all, and not just a privileged few, could participate equally in this project or destiny of the “free development of the personality”. That is, in fact, the gist of his terse remark about the communist ideal,
“In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.” — The German Ideology (1845)
Needless to say, this is not how it has turned out in practice. The exact opposite in fact. But the self-contradiction (ultimately self-negating and self-destructive) between theory and practice, or the ideal and the real, is just as much characteristic of all the other democratic ideologies, even though they all profess the same goal. The self-contradiction lies in the fractious but also totalising nature of partisanship and ideology itself, which are power-seeking and hegemonic, and therefore drive towards social domination thereby, in effect, self-negating the very value and ideal they ostensibly exist to effectuate and realise.
In effect, therefore, this destiny, value, or ideal of “the free development of the personality” must contend with what I have been calling “the foreign installation”, which seeks at the same time to subvert and prevent this “free development of the personality”. This is the self-negating character of Late Modernity that has equally been described as “post-modernity”. In fact, the whole thrust of “education”, propaganda, advertising, mass communications, perception management and so on is precisely to prevent this “free development of the personality” from happening at all for, in fact, power elites (whether liberal, conservative, or socialist) are very much afraid of this “free development of the personality” even while they pay plenty of lip-service to it.
This self-contradiction at the heart of Late Modern society will have serious consequences. Institutions are functioning effectively where they facilitate the aspirations for this free development of the personality. But they are deficient when they represent obstructions of hindrances to this free development of the personality. When long-standing institutions become hindrances to the free development of personality (which is called or experienced as “repression” or “oppression”) then, as Seth once put it, the psycho-dynamics of the soul are such that it will rise up and destroy those encumbering institutions in order to clear the way for new growth and expression. And that, in a nutshell, is the secret source of social revolution.
This is, of course, the principle theme of The Matrix — at least, the first movie in the series, for the theme gets progressively lost in the second and third installments, which are much inferior in conception than the first one.
Political freedoms exist, not as ends in themselves, but to buttress and support this one ultimate value — the free development of the personality. Where these freedoms are perverted or repressed, the goal becomes obstructed or frustrated. The attempt today called “economism” to reduce all human activities or aspirations to economic drives and all human interests to economic ones alone represents one such perversion.
This “free development of the personality” as a universal ideal implies a clear and free consciousness, however — the famous “self-examined life”. And I see in the public discourse of the day worrying trends working to prevent that from ever happening — distractions, diversions, seductions that are pushing and pulling us in the exact opposite direction. Those trends are fascistic, and they are the same kinds of trends so cogently presented in dystopian novels, too, like Huxley’s Brave New World or George Orwell’s 1984. It’s no great problem of propaganda or other like technologies of social control to persuade people that they are freely choosing the elements of their personality even as you prevent them from doing so, or are preventing them from gaining insight into the psychic or mental obstacles that are holding them back, and therewith frustrating their self-realisation and self-fulfillment (which are really the main issues of this “free development”). This “foreign installation” is also called “false self”.
This “free development of the personality”, which is also called “self-determination” or “self-realisation” or even “self-expression” is a worthy measure of the healthy functioning of a democracy and was, moreover, the original inspiration for democracy. But it stumbles on the problem of self-contradiction, and it can make no progress until it resolves the knot of self-contradiction or impales itself upon the horns of the dilemma. This is the most valuable lesson I have learned, for example, from my study of fascism, which does not honour the individual except as a cog in the machine, a cell in the “body politic”, an atom in the molecule, or as little more than a programmable construct in the Matrix. For the authoritarian or nationalistic type, this “free development of the personality” or real individuality suggests anarchy and they instead insist on “self-sacrifice”, which has one valid meaning in a religious context, but a totally separate and different meaning in a political context. In fact, fascism is best described, perhaps, as a pseudo-religion and a surrogate religion that attempts to substitute for “the death of God”.
But more on that later.