Confessions of a Revolutionist
I am a revolutionist. I am a revolutionist as a matter of necessity, not for any arbitrary reason. What currently passes for “authority” is an ass. It’s pure stupidity and the ongoing “march of folly”. It’s decadence. I know that, if we continue along this pathway from mere inertia, this planet is doomed.
I am, in that sense, at war with “history”, or what is known as “the mainstream” or “the conventional” or “the common sense” or “the majority opinion”. What passes today for history — the prevailing narrative of our passage through time and the imagination of that passage — is only “the march of folly”, as historian Barbara Tuchman correctly calls it, and a trance-like state.
What does it mean to be a “revolutionist”?
My instructors in the art and science of revolution have been the poet William Blake, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and the sociologist Rosenstock-Huessy. Nietzsche’s “revaluation of values” is, after all, the heart and soul of what we mean by revolution. Revolution is a disease, yes, but it is also the cure for another disease, which is decadence. So, we need to understand the real meaning of decadence before we can appreciate the meaning of revolution as the cure and corrective for decadence. Or, as Rumi puts it, “the cure for the disease is in the disease”.
Decadence is one of the forms of nihilism. The former Dark Age Blog, The Chrysalis’ predecessor, pretty much focussed on diagnosing the disease, and concluded that Fukuyama’s “end of history” was identical with decadence and a disguised nihilism. The Dark Age Blog was an autopsy (maybe a vivisection) of the Modern Era and a chronicle of its decay. With The Chrysalis, I moved into “revolutionary” mode, as it were. I wanted to emphasis more the potentialities of revolution in the midst of all the decay, detritus, and debris we call “Late Modernity” or “post-modernity”. Decadence is the disease of Nietzsche’s “Last Man”.
Rosenstock-Huessy described decadence as the disease of “lip-service”. It’s one of the four “social diseases” that, unbridled, threaten to dismantle society, along with war, anarchy, and revolution itself. In the disease of decadence, homage is paid to “higher values” and “principle”, even as these values are negated in practice. This has the same meaning, in effect, as what the Archdruid refers to as “the Era of Pretense“, (or, “faking it“, as the title of one book puts it). Decadence is the meaning of Nietzsche’s formula: “all higher values devalue themselves”. Lip-service is paid to “higher values” even as these values are decaying from their orbit. There is an almost complete dissociation of word and deed, that parallels the dissociation of mind and body.
Decadence means, lack of inspiration. It means to be unable to reach the future in body, mind, or spirit. “Without vision, the people perish” is another way of putting this lack of inspiration. Revolutions re-inspire and revivify the corpse. They restore to society a future in the form of a “great destiny”. They are, in effect, a revaluation of values that have been emptied of life, and restore to those values, in new terms, new life and renewed powers to inspire. “All that is old is made new again”, as the Bible puts it, is in essence the principle of revolution.
The Dark Age Blog, and to some extent The Chrysalis also, chronicled the decay of the “higher” values (or what Nietzsche called “noble” values and virtues) from their orbit, and the need to rescue these values from their corruption and perversion and from the pressures of reductionism, fundamentalism, and quantification. These things are the symptoms of what Gebser calls “the mental-rational consciousness now functioning in deficient mode”. And for all intents and purposes, “deficient” means “decadent”.
Also, for all intents and purposes, Blake’s “the universe in a grain of sand”, “Heaven in a Wild Flower”, “Eternity in the our” and “the infinite in all things” are a reference to this discernment between what we call “the higher” and the “lower”. In effect, “cleansing the doors of perception” is also rescuing these higher values — and reality — from their enslavement to appearances and the confusion of the greater with the lesser, if we may put it that way. The task for the life of the mind and soul, is not to demote the higher to the lower in a kind of reverse alchemy of turning gold into lead, which is cynicism. The task for the life of the mind and soul is to promote and elevate the lesser to the higher. This is “revaluation of values”, or the alchemy of turning lead into gold, or, if you like, the “quantum leap”. Or, if you prefer, we may speak of “higher” and “lower”, or of “greater” or “lesser”, or of “noble” and “ignoble” in terms of inclusion or exclusion.
If people today are concerned about the future of the “open society” or about “the closing of the mind”, it is because of the threat of decadence. Open means, open towards the future, open towards a new inspiration. Society in all its members remains “mutable”. This is the significance of Rosenstock-Huessy’s formula for a new science of society — respondeo, etsi mutabor — “I respond, although I will be changed”. And in the current context and times, that’s the motto of a revolutionist, or what Rosenstock calls a “prejective” type. That is to say, to be prepared to hurl oneself into the unknown, or what the existentialist theologian Paul Tillich once described as “The Courage to Be“.
The decadence of the higher or “noble” values, much of it attributable to the abuse of speech in propaganda and perception management, has been devastating for our self-understanding and for our world. I have already pointed to the confusion of the terms “whole” and “total”. They are not synonyms. From that fundamental confusion comes a host of other confusions or reductions — most especially, a confusion of “integration” and “assimilation”. This is particularly acute in these times of globalisation, since it means the difference whether this process should transpire in peace or in war, or imperialism. But this is the critical folly, even stupidity, of our times that these values are confused as being identical in meaning.
This is a critical point to observe about revolution. It is, as Rosenstock-Huessy notes, the invention of a new language. It begins as changes in the patterns of speech after the old language of values has decayed into cliche, formula, cant, rote, propaganda, etc and no longer has the power to move or inspire the historical act that determines whether a decaying social order has a future or not. It is in grammar, in speech, that we look for signs as to the fate of society, just as much as a handshake can provide your physician clues about your prospects for longevity. “The energies of social life are compressed into words”, states Rosenstock. And so are the lack of such energies.
The 2007-2008 market meltdown was a direct consequence of Margaret Thatcher’s pronouncement of the end of society: “there’s no such thing as society”, she proclaimed. “I see only individuals and families”. Fukuyama seconded that terrible judgement with his “end of history” thesis, which led to the absurdity of Richard Perle and David Frum announcing “an end to evil“. These belong to the symptoms of decadence. Folly following upon folly. Society isn’t something you see, it’s something you hear. It’s the daily circulation of speech. Thatcher was completely deaf to that because she was an ideologue. “The lady’s not for turning”. People expressed admiration for that and for her “TINA” principle (“there is no alternative”) without appreciating the dire consequences that such an attitude would bring with it. It’s mind-boggling. And still today, the dominant ideology refuses to admit the direct connection between Thatcher’s denunciation of “society” and the pillage, rapine, and libertinism of Wall St or Bay St or “The City” in London. That state and the corporate sector have essentially adopted an adversarial position and stance towards “society”.
The death of society and its dissolution into “individuals and families”, or atoms and molecules, is part of that decadence and nihilism — the “disintegration” as diagnosed earlier by Jean Gebser. It’s radical disintegration, and no one should be surprised by the inevitable consequences. It’s the real “extremism” at work here. But that also is perspectivising consciousness now functioning in “deficient” mode. It’s not so much blind as it is deaf.
That decadence is the same issue as poetically expressed in Simon and Garfunkels’ song “The Sound of Silence”
“People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening.”
That is a very perceptive understanding of the disease of decadence. And against all that, and the modern era’s descent into gibberish and baffle-gab, I set my face.