Anxiety, Nostalgia, Resentment and the Alt-Right
Regimes of the authoritarian right are popping up like weeds. And a few months ago, in writing about “Brand Trump”, I made bold to suggest that the drivers of this wave or malaise presently called “Alt-Right” were, essentially, the three devils of anxiety, nostalgia, and resentment. These are the drivers also associated with that post-modern pandaemonium — or “havoc” in Peter Pogany’s terms — that Jean Gebser referred to earlier as the coming “maelstrom of blind anxiety” as an aspect of chaotic transition.
Writing in The Guardian today, Sasha Polakow-Suransky has picked up on the same three drivers in a lengthy article entitled “The ruthlessly effective rebranding of Europe’s new far right“, which is probably worth taking note of precisely for those reasons given by Gebser in his Ever-Present Origin and expanded upon by Peter Pogany in Havoc, Thy Name is Twenty-First Century.
Here I want to focus on this sense of nostalgia moreso than the anxiety or resentment components, even though all three are implicated in the reactionary disposition and attitude. Gebser deals at some length with anxiety and its meaning, and Nietzsche at great length about the meaning of resentment as the opposite of gratitude, but neither speak much to this third element — nostalgia. All three are, however, implicated in the whole phenomenon of “identity politics” also, as an aspect of the fragmentation and disintegration of the mental-rational consciousness structure, its ideals of universality, and of the personality and character structure of modern man that is so much the theme of the post-modern “loss of self”.
“Nostalgia” is a composite of two Greek words: nostos, meaning the return home after a journey, and algos, meaning “pain” or suffering. Nostos or the homeward turning is a potent theme in much Greek literature, particularly in The Odyssey and the adventures of Ulysses. The Nostos is not only involved also in Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native, but in the parable of the Prodigal Son as well as The Lord of the Rings. The journey motif expresses a rhythm of movement to the extremity where one meets pain or pining, and the return or repose, which is especially characteristic of the Prodigal Son, whose “journey into a far country” finds him finally living in pain as a swine amongst swine, at which time he comes to remembrance of himself and of his origins and begins the homeward journey or the Nostos. In German, this pain of distantiation from one’s origin or home is called, also, Heimweh or homesickness.
To put this another way, anxiety and pain and the sense of loss are proportionate to the degree of distantiation from origin or “home”, idealised as a lost paradise.
For Gebser, however, origin has very little to do with beginnings or with time. Origin is ever-present and is “the vital centre”. Pain is proportionate to the degree of distantiation of the ego-consciousness from the vital centre or ever-present origin. Nostalgia is, in those terms, a measure of the ego-consciousness’s own self-alienation from it’s vital centre which is its sense of homelessness or rootlessness and a loss of self. This is also the meaning of Yeats’ poem The Second Coming
“Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, is now one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic.”