The Shattered Mirror: Preaching Democracy, Practicing Autocracy
I’m toying with the notion of doing a whole separate series on the theme of “the shattered mirror” and posting the series separately. By “the shattered mirror” I intend to be understood the disintegration of the mental-rational consciousness structure. If “the Sacred Hoop is broken” is the tragedy of the magical or shamanistic consciousness, and “times out of joint” was Shakespeare’s experience of the breakdown of the mytho-religious consciousness or Age of Faith, then “the shattered mirror” is this same disturbance for the “reflective” consciousness structure or Age of Reason (or “Modern Era”) and is, moreover, what Erich Kahler means by “the breakdown of the human form” in his book The Tower and the Abyss.
“The shattered mirror” is what lies behind memes like “the multiversity”. And it also makes sense that the state of the mental-rational consciousness structure would be most apparent in the one institution that exists primarily to serve that structure’s constitution and reproduction — the university. As we will see, this institution is not in very good shape today, not only in terms of the disunity of knowledge and “the end of the Grand Narrative”, but of also its core values of conviviality, collegiality, and civility.
In other ways, nonetheless, the “shattered mirror” is another term for “nihilism” more generally — the nihilism of how “all higher values devalue themselves”. The “shattered mirror” can be said to be the “disturbance in the Force” that is dissolution of the mind’s self-understanding, loss of identity, spreading cynicism, and the de-coherence of its “Grand Narrative” as the negation of the principal of universality and of Universal Reason. This, today, manifests as growing “inequality” in all areas of social life.
My concerns in this present post is with its manifestation in the organisation of political life and our political institutions, and that means, for us, the real state of what is called “liberal democracy,” supposedly now triumphant at our “end of history”. It would perhaps be better for our understanding to speak of the condition of “participatory democracy” rather than “liberal democracy”, and contrast participatory democracy with what is called “spectator” or by-stander democracy, which otherwise goes by the euphemism (and oxymoron) “executive democracy” and which is indistinguishable, really, from autocracy. “Executive democracy” is one of those absurd Orwellian constructions — perhaps a coward’s way of dodging the truth as a euphemism for “elective dictatorship” — but which is also used by conservatives to mark out their territory as something distinct from “liberal democracy” and from “social democracy”. “Executive democracy” can also be said to be what is being called “illiberal democracy”, or non-participatory democracy. The term has been used (not disapprovingly by some in the conservative press) to describe, for example, the governing style of Canada’s Stephen Harper, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the UK’s David Cameron, or Hungary’s Victor Orban.
So, democracy is not one thing but at least three, and even four if one includes “totalitarian democracy” to the other flavours of liberal democracy, social democracy, and executive democracy. Even the Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, defined fascism as “ideal democracy” — the nationalistic or ethnic Volksstaat — and every totalitarian state since the First World War has felt compelled to call itself a “people’s republic”.
So, as a political concept “democracy” has fractured, really, into near meaninglessness, and covers everything from the extremes of collectivism to the extremes of anarchic libertarianism and everything in between, too.
There is, nonetheless, an underlying pattern to this fracturing — the “shards” as it were — of the value “democracy” in its four flavours of
1) liberal democracy
2) social democracy
3) executive democracy
4) totalitarian democracy
That pattern lies in what is held to be the central or “true” political unit:
1) liberal democracy — the individual
2) social democracy — the class
3) executive democracy — the family (patriarchate or matriarchate)
4) totalitarian democracy — the people, or le peuple, (“the masses“)
Individual, family, class, or mass are, as they say, “privileged” in regards to competing ideologies. Obviously, each of these represent a truth about our social reality, and each of us participates in every one of these dimensions of the social beast. This arrangement is the quadrilateral of society. One is not truer than the other, yet they vie with each other for dominance. Yet, at every moment, each one of us stands at the intersection or conjunction of 1) the individual, 2) the family, 3) the class, and 4) the people, all four. This is the nature of the “cross of reality”, or of the Sacred Hoop,
Contemporary politics, rather than being the sane exercise of the conciliation of these four political and social units or tendencies, has become a fractious ideological competition between them for domination. This competition for power induces instability and loss of equilibrium. Contemporary politics speaks the language of conviviality, conciliation, justice, civility and of social peace, but it acts in the exact opposite direction because it does not understand itself. And the mind misunderstands itself because its model of thinking and reality is wrong. It is delusional. We are fourfold beings even here, even in terms of our political situation.
So, human beings become divided against themselves in the most bizarre ways, which is reflected in the competition of ideologies, and most especially in the contest of power to control the meaning of the word “democracy”.
The origins of this schism are traceable to the early Modern period, in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. It was during the great religious schism that the contemporary political ideologies of liberalism (including anarchism), conservatism, and socialism had their incipience as various interpretations of the Gospels. Originally, the terms used for liberal was “libertine” and for conservative, “primitivists” depending upon their attitude towards the Church and their interpretation of Scripture (the four Gospels, in particular). The great Schism still persists as today’s secularised hyper-partisan politics, with its religious or theological origins almost completely suppressed.
In William Blake’s mythology, this event is also reflected in the fragmentation of the “Universal Adam” into the four “Zoas”, the fragments of the fallen Divine Humanity. “Adam” was actually redefined as “Universal Reason” in an attempt to find a substitute to hold the human form together. The Mind, rather than the Soul, would become the centre of the person and the principle of unity. This “Mind” is what Blake calls “Urizen”, however, and only one of the Zoas of his disintegrate fourfold human. Urizen is a tyrant because Urizen is not sufficient to represent or account for the totality of the human psycho-spiritual configuration.
The image of “Man” — the meaning of “human” — that has emerged, especially since the First World War, is an inconsistent and confused one. There is, nonetheless, an inherent or emergent pattern in the shards of the image, and one which, it seems to me, to be crying out to be finally recognised. (It’s in the significance of the holographic universe). Nonetheless, the dominant dynamic remains in the opposite direction — towards greater dissonance; towards even more fragmentation and disintegration, which is being referred to as “the paradox of globalisation”.