Enantiodromia and Inverted Totalitarianism

I have frequently brought up Nietzsche’s prescient remark that the triumph of liberal institutions would simultaneously be their self-destruction, and how this was one of the main dynamics in his anticipation of “two centuries of nihilism”. We have called that here “self-negation” — also called “a Cadmean victory“: a victory that brings about one’s own ruin. (Think Agent Smith’s “victory” over Neo in the final film of the Matrix series as a Cadmean victory).

Some folks have a hard time trying to understand how the victory of liberal institutions can simultaneously be their self-annihilation, although this dynamic is unfolding before our eyes today to great consternation. And this is one of the chief paradoxes of the Age of Paradox in which we live and, in those terms also, one of the main currents of the present “chaotic transition” (or the post-rational and post-truth).

What we call “neo-liberalism” represents this Cadmean victory, now disintegrating under the strain of its own internal self-contradictions and self-negating dynamic, and that self-negating dynamic is expressing itself as “duplicity” in all the usual variations of that term: double-think, double-talk, double-standard, and finally double-bind. These are, I hold, the chief features of what we now call “post-rational” or “post-truth” society, or the society of self-contradiction become the society of self-negation.

And, as you know, I trace the roots of this Cadmean victory to Margaret Thatcher and the influence of the neo-liberal/neo-conservative economic consensus represented by Friedrich Hayek in Europe and Milton Friedman (and the “Chicago School”) in America. The twin pillars of Thatcherism — “there is no such thing as society” and “there is no alternative” (TINA principle) — are direct translations of the economic logic of Hayek and Friedman, which were sealed, signed and delivered by neo-conservative Francis Fukuyama (then of the notorious “Project for a New American Century” or PNAC) as his triumphant annoucement of “the end of history” in 1990.

The folly in all this is quite unbelievable, and I believe attests to the breakdown of the logic of modern consciousness. For Hayek and Friedman introduced a Trojan Horse into their neo-liberal schemes that should have been apparent to anyone and which informed and shaped Thatcher’s two principles. That Trojan Horse or self-contradiction waiting to assert itself, was the conclusion that corporate monopolies should be permitted as rewards for economic efficiency, and this celebration of monopoly extended into politics and the hyperpartisan nature of contemporary politics. Hayek and Friedman (and Margaret Thatcher too), for example, celebrated Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile. And it’s not coincidental that they chose Pinochet’s Chile as a socio-economic laboratory for implementing their theories.

What is so startling about this is the pure gullibility and naivete that accepted this as proof of the triumph of liberal democracy and democratic institutions and failed to see that this praise of monopoly as the fruit of free market economics and competition would devour the “free market” itself. But this Trojan Horse and self-contradiction also insinuated itself into Niall Ferguson’s plans for neo-imperialism in the new “unipolar world” — economic and free market freedoms without political freedoms or rights.  And this logic, which is an illogic of self-contradiction, is even now still insinuating itself into schemes of “techno-fascism” (and also “technocratic shamanism”) represented in Peter Thiel and Patrick Schumacher, as mentioned previously. If “duplicity is the currency of the day” as Pope Francis has declared, and hypocrisy is epidemic, it is because this self-contradictory logic has now insinuated itself into almost every aspect of contemporary life and society.

It should be readily apparent that if the two pillars of neo-liberalism represented in Thatcher’s “there is no such thing as society” and “there is no alternative” hold, then liberal democracy itself is the least likely and least adequate form of social organisation and stands even as an offence against neo-liberal logic of “efficiency” and of “the one best way”.  You might wonder whether Hayek, Friedman, Thatcher, Fukuyama and their hangers-on (like Reagan) were aware at all of their duplicity and the implicit nihilism in their logic. Probably not any more than any fanatic or megalomaniac (like Trump) is aware of their self-contradictions.

When Fukuyama then declared “the end of history”, and was (incredibly) taken seriously and believed by many, that hubris immediately provoked the self-contradiction and invoked liberal democracy’s Nemesis — ironic reversal — that already lay latent in neo-liberal economic thinking, the seed of the self-negation of liberal democracy itself, and which became fully manifested self-negating dynamic identified in 2003 by Sheldon Wolin as “inverted totalitarianism“. This reversal at the extremity, which is the result of hubris, is described as “enantiodromia” or “ironic reversal”.

This might even be described as the chief paradox of this Age of Paradox.

So, “enter sandman”, as it were — the rise of the authoritarian right is not in any way a negation of neo-liberalism but the fulfillment of its self-contradictory logic. It’s part of the vicious circle that was instigated by neo-liberalism itself and, more significantly, of the breakdown of the dialectical thinking of the modern mental consciousness and its logic which has become self-contradiction and self-negation.

The breakdown of the mental-rational consciousness structure and its chief weapon, dialectic, occurs when thesis and antithesis become one and the same, which we have described as “ears of the wolf” dilemma and is the paradoxical. Neo-liberalism, for quite obvious reasons, is this, and that’s pretty much what we refer to as “Cadmean Victory” where triumph and ruination or defeat become one and the same process. It’s under such circumstances of “no exit” from predicament, dilemma, and paradox that the dialectical structure disintegrates and provokes magical thinking, or what Gebser refers to as the “deficient mode” of the magical consciousness structure. In the present historical context, that means “technocratic shamanism”, and its chief instrument — propaganda or “branding”. The “rational” becomes synonymous with this technocratic shamanism.

And there are plenty of books now about this aren’t there? Peter Sirk’s Technology as Magic: The Triumph of the Irrational, Algis Mikunas’ essay “Magic and Technological Culture” (which introduced the term “technocratic shamanism”), Lee Worth Bailey’s The Enchantments of Technology,  Robert D. Romanyshyn’s Technology as Symptom and Dream. And, as you may recall, I spent months earlier this year pouring through books on branding and “brand management” as exemplary of this irruption of the magical as technocratic shamanism (or, if you will, the Sorcerer’s Apprentices).

Needless to say, neo-liberal ideology, or the contemporary economic orthodoxy and dogma, is not ecological or holistic thinking, but exemplary of the deficient mode of the mental-rational or “perspectivising” consciousness as diagnosed by Jean Gebser now become self-devouring. This is the “Great Unraveling” that Krugman sensed, but could never quite put his finger on, it seems.

And that brings us to another paradox of the age: globalism is holistic and ecodynamic thinking; “globalisation” is not. Yet these two things have become confused in the mind as much as the Whole and the Totality (which they parallel) have become confused in the mind, and which also belongs to the paradox of McGilchrist’s “divided brain” as Master and Emissary modes. And that very paradox points to the meaning of Gebser’s “double-movement” of the times: one mode of reason and consciousness is collapsing while another mode of consciousness and reason is emergent. Under such circumstances confusion, perplexity, anxiety, and even duplicity become understandable as “coincidence of opposites”.

Age of Paradox: to borrow from Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities,

“IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

That’s “chaotic transition”, and beautifully put, Mr. Dickens.

7 responses to “Enantiodromia and Inverted Totalitarianism”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Another inadvertent contributor to “inverted totalitarianism” and who was also probably influential on Fukuyama was the French philosopher Jean-Francois Revel whose two books The Totalitarian Temptation and Without Marx or Jesus were very widely read and quite influential on classical liberal thinking.


    I remember reading The Totalitarian Temptation as an undergrad, and thinking how oblivious Revel was to the implications of his own self-contradictory illogic, that his own exclusionary thinking was itself what is now referred to as “inverted totalitarianism”.

    (I was surprised to learn that Matthieu Ricard, the microbiologist and Buddhist monk, and coauthor of the excellent The Quantum and the Lotus and The Monk and the Philosopher is Revel’s son).

    If Revel had cast this, rather, as “without fundamentalism and reductionism” he would have been on safer ground, intellectually. But he totally confused the real issues and his two books became near perfect examples of deficient perspectivisation itself. His logic ended up as akin to Blair’s “Third Way”, supposedly between the extremities of Cartesian metaphysical dualism — idealism and materialism. But, ironically, that’s exactly how fascism described itself, too as “Third Way”.

  2. mikemackd says :

    I recall a cartoon in the much-missed British Magazine “Punch”, with a writer being addressed by a publisher behind an intimidatingly large desk, and saying ” ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’. Really, Mr. Dickens, you must make up your mind”.

  3. Charles Leiden says :

    Shakespeare’s line from Macbeth ‘Fair is Foul, Foul is Fair” represents the idea. I would suggest the book by Richard Stiver – Shades of Loneliness.

    Scott, Have you read any Zygmunt Bauman? I am reading him and he is very insightful. In the book, ‘Liquid Fear’ he coined the word “Titantic Syndrome”

    The ‘Titanic syndrome’ is the horror of falling through the ‘wafer-thin crust’ of civilization into that nothingness stripped of the ‘elementary staples of organized, civilized life’ (‘civilized’ precisely because ‘organized’ — routine, predictable, balancing the signposting with the behavioural repertoire). Falling singly or in company, but in each case being evicted from a world where ‘elementary staples’ go on being supplied and there is a holding power that can be counted on.

    Crazy days

  4. abdulmonem says :

    Have you noticed the flying of 2016. it is not crazy but it is sobering for those who are aware of the timeless and localless god in which we swim like fishes in the sea. The sea is aware of the fishes but the fishes are only aware of the space and time they run through , though some humans are permitted to be aware of the whole. May god makes us of those who know the whole, leaving the prisons of imitation and limitation.

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