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The Great Irony of Our Times

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.

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The Politics of Chaos

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.

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Democracy and the Greater Good

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.

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