We hang together, or we shall hang together, is the fate of the intellectuals. — E. Rosenstock-Huessay, Speech and Reality
The “end of the Modern project”, the post-Enlightenment or post-modernity, is the story of the First World War. The disillusionment of the intelligentsia was profound. The theme of dystopia became prominent in literature following the Great War. Many retreated from social engagement completely into a private metaphysics, reactionary attitudes, or began to concern themselves with obstruse matters of relevance only to an insular like-minded group. Others became merely courtiers and minions of the power elites. In 1927, Julien Benda complained about La Trahison des clercs (The Betrayal of the Intellectuals — albeit for many of the wrong reasons) and the charge that the intellectuals had abandoned their posts and their responsibilities still echoes down the decades in the critiques of Noam Chomsky, John Ralston Saul, and Chris Hedges. Ralston Saul even refers to the intellectuals as “Voltaire’s bastards”.
And not without good reason.
Rosenstock-Huessy’s warning to the intellectuals follows not only from his massive study of the Age of Revolutions in Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man, but also from his conviction that we were not yet through with the “revolt of the masses” and the Age of Revolutions, for all the reasons given in the previous post as well as in his essay “Farewell to Descartes”. I feel a need to emphasise this because it is also Seth’s warning as I raised in more detail in “The Most Haunting Words in All Literature“, and I will restate it in full here.
Ego consciousness must now be familiarized with its roots, or it will turn into something else. You are in a position where your private experience of yourself does not correlate with what you are told by your societies, churches, sciences, archaeologies, or other disciplines. Man’s “unconscious” knowledge is becoming more and more consciously apparent. This will be done under and with the direction of an enlightened and expanding egotistical awareness, that can organize the hereto neglected knowledge–or it will be done at the expense of the reasoning intellect, leading to a rebirth of superstition, chaos, and the unnecessary war between reason and intuitive knowledge.
When, at this point now, of mankind’s development, his emerging unconscious knowledge is denied by his institutions, then it will rise up despite those institutions, and annihilate them. Cult after cult will emerge, each unrestrained by the use of reason, because reason will have denied the existence of rampant unconscious knowledge, disorganized and feeling only its own ancient force.
If this happens, all kinds of old and new religious denominations will war, and all kinds of ideologies surface. This need not take place, for the conscious mind – basically, now — having learned to focus in physical terms, is meant to expand, to accept unconscious intuitions and knowledge, and to organize these deeply creative principles into cultural patterns…
I am saying that the individual self must become consciously aware of far more reality; that it must allow its recognition of identity to expand so that it includes previously unconscious knowledge. To do this you must understand, again, that man must move beyond the concepts of one god, one self, one body, one world, as these ideas are currently understood. You are now poised, in your terms, upon a threshold from which the race can go many ways. There are species of consciousness. Your species is in a time of change. There are potentials within the body’s mechanisms, in your terms not as yet used. Developed, they can immeasurably enrich the race, and bring it to levels of spiritual and psychic and physical fulfillment. If some changes are not made, the race as such will not endure.
To really appreciate the full meaning of this statement we have to place in the context of Rosenstock-Huessy’s study of the Age of Revolutions and his realisation that the “revolt of the masses” is not yet over, contrary to Mr. Fukuyama’s naive declaration of the “end of history”. This false optimism was also challenged by John Ralston Saul,
“Nothing seems more permanent than a long-established government about to lose power, nothing more invincible than a grand army on the morning of its annihilation.”
Which is, of course, a statement about hubris and Nemesis.
But what is so notable about Seth’s prophetic remarks is how closely they resemble Rosenstock-Huessy’s own anticipations, and that without the intellectuals finding “a common basis for social thinking”, the coming “revolt of the masses” will have find the intelligentsia divided and in disarray, and “the masses will do without us in our ununderstandable division”. Hence his warning, “We hang together, or we shall hang together, is the future of the intellectuals.”
This is the context for understanding Seth’s irruption of “unconscious knowledge” or “the ancient force”, but which irruption finds no “enlightened ego consciousness” to channel and guide it safely into new cultural patterns. In this Seth concurs with Rosenstock-Huessy: the Age of Revolutions is not yet concluded.
The consequence of this failure of the intelligentsia, as charged by Ralston Saul, Chomsky, Hedges, Gebser, and Rosenstock-Huessy, will be as Seth describes it. The intelligentsia has abandoned its responsibilities, “all along the watchtower”, as it were. And the situation is doubly bad since the declaration of “the end of the Grand Narrative”, for there is now no unified narrative, no unified mythos, to constructively guide these ancient forces into coherent and constructive patterns. What we call “populism” is this inchoate and inarticulate mass in revolt in the absence of any guidance from an “enlightened ego consciousness”.
So, perhaps you will now understand why Seth’s words, spoken over four decades ago, fill me with foreboding.
A few days ago, I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Half-way through the movie I was wishing it was already over. By default, stories like Star Wars or Star Trek have become the contemporary mythos. But I was thinking to myself as I watched the movie: “Is this really the best you can do?” I was pretty disappointed given all the hype around the release of the movie and the popular enthusiasm for it (even special “Star Wars”-themed church services were held after its pubic release! And even the Vatican weighed in with the complaint that the villains weren’t evil enough.). I left the movie theatre pretty dispirited. In some ways, the whole Star Wars franchise is merely a distraction.
It’s in relation to this that Thomas Berry has proposed a new “grand narrative” as essential, which he calls “the universe story”. For similar reasons, Rosenstock-Huessy has attempted a “universal history” appropriate for a Planetary Civlisation. And as much as I appreciate the analyses of Critical Theory or Chaos Theory and so on, unless these insights are translated into a narrative, a mythos, they will remain unapproachable and largely ineffective.
Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning?
Nietzsche, also anticipating the “end of the Grand Narrative”, really thought his myth of Zarathustra would become the suitable substitute for a post-Christian, post-modern world. He really thought, perhaps in the delusions of his oncoming illness, that all time would henceforth be determined after Zarathustra in terms of “Before Nietzsche” and “After Nietzsche”. But this Thus Spake Zarathustra cannot do.
And what are the major conflicts of the day but the attempts by different competing groups to establish a new “Grand Narrative” valid for the whole Earth? Neo-liberalism and its Grand Narrative of the market; ISIS and its strict fundamentalist Islamism; China and the neo-Confucius story; the Church and the Counter-Reformation, and so on and so forth — pretty much as Seth anticipated. These are the cirumstances, the background, in which Gebser, Thomas Berry, and Rosenstock-Huessy laboured to come up with a new “universe story” or “universal history”. And this is the historical context in which the critique of the intelligentsia by Chomsky, Ralston Saul, Hedges, Rosenstock-Huessy, and so forth as having gone AWOL really finds its mark.
In summary and to conclude: The Age of Revolutions and the “revolt of the masses” is not over, despite the delusions of Mr. Fukuyama’s “end of history”; in the face of the irruption of the “ancient force” and “unconscious knowledge”, the mainstream intelligentsia, whose duty it is to provide guidance and play the role of “enlightened ego consciousness” stands helpless or AWOL; the attempt to provide constructive guidance for this “irruption” is the meaning of Rosenstock-Huessy, Gebser, and Thomas Berry, amongst others. That guidance assumes the form of a new “universe story” or “universal history” in which all the inhabitants of the Earth may recognise themselves and appreciate the narrative as their story.
As the dwarf Gimli put it in Lord of the Rings, though: “Certainty of death, small chance of success… What are we waiting for?”