While in ‘nature’ birth seems to precede death and life is described as the sum of all processes this side of dying, the Spirit reverses the order of naturalism.
In nature, birth precedes death;
In nature, life tries to shun death.
In the spirit death precedes life;
In the spirit, the founder’s death guides his heirs lives. — Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Out of Revolution.
Concerned as we are here in The Chrysalis with coincidentia oppositorum (or conjunctio oppositorum), or with paradox and with Jean Gebser’s “double-movement” of our times — one of disintegration; another of a new integration; or, one of nihilism and destruction, and another of creation — this quote from Rosenstock-Huessy’s book Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man strikes me as very illustrative, too, of what Gebser means by the “double-movement” of our times, which some presently describe also as “The Great Unravelling”. For Rosenstock-Huessy, though, it was derived from his insights into the reactionary and the revolutionary dispositions. Or, as Shakespeare once put it, “times out of joint”. It is also a description of what botanists describe as the process of “dehiscence”. This is the theme of today’s post on The Great Irony.
Neo-liberalism is the resurrection of an old ideal — perhaps the core ideal — of classical liberalism — the “universal civilisation of commerce” (as expressed by Tom Paine in his influential The Rights of Man). It expresses an ideal of human unity and solidarity to be pursued through the globalisation of commerce as “free trade”, the “market mechanism”, and the liberty of capital to move around the globe. In many respects, it is the core meaning or value of “the Modern Project” and its “Master Narrative”. In one respect, then, the term “globalism” and the “universal civilisation of commerce” are treated as being pretty much synonymous.
We can question (as William Blake indeed did) whether liberalised “commerce” and capital is an adequate way of realising the ideal of human unity (likewise, Karl Marx had his own ideas about that). But at least we can acknowledge this deeper impulse and ideal behind or within the aspirations of neo-liberal globalisation to realise a “universal civilisation of commerce” however ill-conceived, adequate, or sufficient we might consider the means.
Doubts about the future — or even about the value and viability — of liberal democracy are everywhere these days. The latest that I’ve read is Yascha Mounk’s recent article in The Guardian: “How populist uprisings could bring down liberal democracy“. There is an extensive mood of moroseness and malaise about its health and its prospects, and we are certainly today a far cry from the happy-face triumphalism of Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” — or, at least the end as Fukuyama misunderstood and misinterpreted it.
Still, it’s somewhat of an “own goal”, as they say — just another way of talking about shooting oneself in one’s own foot. The malaise (demoralisation and disillusionment) that besets liberal democracy these days — such that even authoritarianism is seen as a cure for the malaise — is not difficult to understand. Reams of analysis always seem to overlook, or even befuddle, the issue.
“New Renaissance” (Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna) and an “Age of Diminishing Expectations” (Paul Krugman, Christopher Lasch) are contending and somewhat divergent narratives about the nature of our times. Charles Taylor’s thoughts on “the malaise of modernity” also align with this sense of diminishing expectations, and the sense of diminishing expectations (or sense of contraction) is also connected with post-modernity and “the end of the Master Narrative”.
These contending and seemingly divergent narratives, at least incipiently, reflect Jean Gebser’s paradoxical “double-movement”, which he described in terms of an integration with an attendant disintegration. And the best way presently to reflect on that paradoxical dynamic is through these contending narratives of “new Renaissance” and “Age of Diminishing Expectations” or “modern malaise”.
“Language is wiser than the one who speaks it. The living language of people always overpowers the thinking of individual man who assumes he could master it” — Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy
Popular discourse very often encodes “hidden” social and spiritual dynamics long before those dynamics become fully conscious or articulate. Take the phrase “losing the plot”. Everything we’ve discussed in The Chrysalis pertaining to the “culture of narcissism” (Christopher Lasch), the end of the Grand (or Master) Narrative (post-modernity), the crumbling metaphysical foundations of the modern mind and the corresponding breakdown of the mental-rational (or perspectival) consciousness structure (Jean Gebser), the disintegration of the personality and character structure of Modern Man (Rosenstock-Huessy), or “post-truth”, “post-rational”, “post-Enlightement”, and so on, is effectively condensed and encoded in the simple phrase “losing the plot”. All I’ve done in The Chrysalis is, in a sense, try to unwrap what is more deeply encoded by the phrase “losing the plot”.
I’m rushing things into print a bit. Sorry for the overwhelm, but while these matters are atop my mind I’ld like to set them down.
There are some remarkable things happening to our consciousness and to our self-understanding in “post-modernity” — a mutation of consciousness that Rosenstock-Huessy also described as a “metanoia” (or “New Mind”). But like all mutations, some will be successful and some not successful and abortive — in fact, some will be outright thanatic and destructive, or what Erich Fromm calls of “necrophilous character” in his book The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness.
This belongs to the paradoxical “double-movement” or double dynamic described by Jean Gebser in The Ever-Present Origin — as a coincidentia oppositorum. There is a disintegrative and degenerative dynamic (or nihilism) proceeding apace with a new integrative or regenerative dynamic (holism), and this is, quite literally, a life and death struggle between the nihilistic and the holistic, in the context of which a great many symptoms of pathology and morbidity appear. Jungians would say that the nihilistic or thanatic manifestations in our time are the eruption of “the Shadow” — the dark or unintegrated aspects of the psychic totality that threatens to overwhelm, and even take over, our little light of consciousness (the zombie meme). The stakes are very high indeed.