The Political Question
These are very perilous times, as I’m sure many of you sense. And I’ld like here today to follow up on a comment I made in response to Don Salmon in the last post, and try to put the nature of that peril in broader historical context.
The “New Right” (or “New Conservatism”) isn’t exactly new at all. It was a reactionary movement that emerged in Germany following the First World War as a response to two shocks — the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and Germany’s loss of the war, both of which it sought to roll back, by means fair or foul. It also saw both developments as linked to the liberal, or French Revolution, which it also sought to roll back. The Norwegian neo-fascist terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, is simply a continuation of this reactionary project to overturn the Age of Revolutions or Modern Era completely.
In response to the “New Conservatism” in Germany arose the counter-reactionary “New Left”, associated with the Frankfurt School or “Critical Theory”. Both “New Right” and “New Left” ended up as transplants or refugees from fascism largely in the United States, the former associated with the name Leo Strauss, and the latter with the names Herbert Marcuse, Theodore Adorno, and Erich Fromm. So the German ideological struggle between 1914 and 1945 ended up also becoming the American ideological struggle.
With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, neo-conservatism claimed for itself a victory in the ideological struggle to roll back the Russian Revolution. The neo-conservative, Francis Fukuyama, declared shortly thereafter “The End of History”, although he was anticipated in this by Margaret Thatcher. Fukuyama declared “liberal democracy” as the final form of society, but he soon broke with his neo-conservative colleagues (rather publicly) because, in fact, his associates had other plans. The USSR had collapsed for other, largely internal reasons than the ideological struggle or “clash of values”, but the apparent rollback of the Russian Revolution emboldened the more reactionary elements of the New Right into believing that they could take the next step, and roll back the liberal French Revolution as well, particularly the principles of universality and human rights embodied in the tripartite formula and slogan “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”. These are now under direct attack, especially by the reactionary forces of the so-called “Alt-Right”.
This dynamic is part of the “Great Unraveling”, so-called, in terms of turning back the entirety of the Modern Era itself, in which no weapon is off-limits. And in this strategy of rollback, many have become unwitting pawns and foot-soldiers without even realising it. This is, in large measure, the meaning of “new normal” and “post-truth society”, for they have deceived many about their real intentions.
German New Conservatives (and their counterparts in Italy and elsewhere) paved the way for Hitler and Nazism, or Mussolini and fascism. In Hitler they saw their own answer to “Napoleon” as the instrument that would roll back history, especially the French Revolution which they despised and blamed for every ill of modernity and the upset of “the natural order of things” (ancien regime). But they did indeed get more than they bargained for.
And, of course, the American Revolution and the French Revolution are conjoined events, both offspring of Enlightenment, so the discrediting of the European Enlightenment or Age of Reason is part and parcel of the attack on universality, and this is especially pronounced in Robert D, Kaplan’s Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos, which is thoroughly fascistic. Critique of Enlightenment is salutary, which is what Jean Gebser is about. Annihilation is not.
So, the issue of “return or retrieval” definitely becomes one of reactionary and counter-reactionary. Legitimate grievances against neo-liberalism and the status quo are being exploited to effect something else completely, and it’s one reason why “the uneducated” represent such an attractive constituency, and weapon, for the strategists of the New Right.
This unraveling is very, very dangerous.