Three Strikes Against This Blog (and why I don’t care)

Admittedly, I’m just getting started, but reading an article in The Atlantic about the chief propagandist of the alt.right makes me realize the limits of my reach with my approach.

For one, I’m not the kind of extremist that would be attracted to the radical extremes of Right, Left, or even Libertarianism. I find conspiracy theories downright embarrassing, a residue of our most primitive thinking. The simplistic thinking underlying extremist thinking is precisely what I reject, and since I reject it, you won’t find much of it here. You’ll find, rather, a great deal of complexity thinking. That means to read the blog, you’ll have to actually think beyond mere superficial ideology (all ideology is superficial).

Of course, who wants to read a blog that’s full of complex thoughts? Strike one against me.

You will also always find everything I say to be true–I don’t misrepresent reality just to support my world view. I reject ideology as such, and thus do what I can, to the extent and human being can, to always be true to the facts. Strike two against me.

I won’t troll or bait–I don’t hold the extreme views necessary to drive me to do that. I won’t foster hate against the rich or the poor; whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, or any other racial/ethnic group whose identities are almost entirely socially constructed; homosexuals or heterosexuals; men or women. Envy is a vice; misanthropy of any sort, directed at groups or all humankind, is the purest kind of evil. I won’t deal in those things or anything otherwise rooted in resentment. Which doesn’t mean there aren’t problems in the world, but those problems are rooted in bad ideas, destructive ideas, not in people per se, and certainly not in groups of people. Strike three against me.

The malady of the age is that we are undergoing a significant shift in our social orders, including (especially) at the global level. Some seek to stop it, whether through the primitive racism of the alt.right or the primitive economics of the far left and the religious fervor of both the alt.right and antifa (who are mirror images of each other, holding the same fundamental world view and using the same tactics). Others, like myself, are seeking rather to help us move into the next level of social complexity.

Helping guide people into the next level of complexity, though, means one cannot offer simplistic solutions, ideology, or superficialities of any sort. One guides by showing the way through the forest, not by retreating to the already-known. And that means understanding the world first as it really is, in all its complexity, and understanding where we’re going, in all it’s increased complexity. If what you read here doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because you’re in the unknown territory of the future. That may cause this blog to strike out–at least in the near future–but I hope it will provide a blaze for those who wish to follow into the future.

Review of Richard Wolin’s The Seduction of Unreason

With the notable exception of the rise of the alt.right, calling someone a “fascist” or a “Nazi” has become mostly meaningless. All you have to do is disagree with anything a leftist believes, and you are immediately slapped by them with one of those labels. However, this is not what Richard Wolin is doing in his book The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism.

In this book Wolin is looking at historical fascism, and the influence of fascism on much of what passes as philosophy nowadays. He identifies fascism with counter-enlightenment thinking. Since Wolin is clearly a scholar of Continental philosophy, Enlightenment philosophy is for him primarily that of Voltaire, Diderot, and the other thinkers of the French Enlightenment. The reaction to the Enlightenment came in several forms, from Romanticism to various forms of racism and nationalism. It is when the Nietzschean form of Romanticism (or, at least, sections taken out of context) were combined with ideas of racism and nationalism (one cannot really object on the grounds of reason that this is a contradiction, since Nietzsche both hated anti-Semites and nationalism, since the people who combined them were enemies of reason) that the various forms of fascism were born—the most commonly known being Italian fascism and Nazism. The author does an excellent reading of Nietzsche as the 20th century thinkers have misread him, noting only at the end of his chapter on Nietzsche that they were in fact misreading him.

Wolin spends each chapter covering different thinkers. But before we get to the ones he does cover, I think I should mention the one thinker he does not cover at all in his own chapter: Martin Heidegger. It may seem odd that Heidegger, who said that reason was an adversary to thought, was an actual member of the Nazi party, and who never recanted his Nazism nor apologized for what the Nazis did, should be left out, especially considering the fact that it is Heidegger’s ideas that have influenced postmodern thinking more than any others – including perhaps Nietzsche’s. However, Wolin is interested in exposing those we do not normally see as fascists. And besides, Heidegger’s associations with the Nazis are well documented—such as in Charles Bambach’s book Heidegger’s Roots.

So let us talk about those Wolin does talk about.

The first unexpected name to arise is Carl Jung. It may seem odd as first glance to include Jung, who was, after all, Freud’s handpicked successor at one time. However, Wolin shows several of Jung’s writings that were explicitly anti-Semitic. Further, Jung had a 10% quota on the number of Jewish psychologists who could join his Analytical Psychology Club of Zurich as regular members, only doing away with it in 1950. Jung also apparently thought of his famous ideas of the archetypes as being specifically Aryan in nature, and that Jews especially do not have them, or at least have them only weakly. The reason for this was that Jung saw the archetypes as essentially pagan in origin. Further, Wolin points out that “Jung eagerly cooperated with the Goring Institute for Psychological Research and Psychotherapy, accepting the presidency of the Nazi-run General Medical Society for Psychotherapy and serving as editor for its journal, the Zentralblatt fur Psychotherapie” (74). The fact that Jung headed a Nazi society for psychotherapy and cooperated with Nazi psychological research should concern anybody. It’s no wonder he was considered for war crimes after World War II.
The next surprise – and even more surprising – is the case of Hans-Georg Gadamer, whose mentor was none other than Heidegger. Certainly, this association is hardly enough. Karl Jaspers was a friend of Heidegger, but did not join the Nazis in any way. But Gadamer apparently decided to associate himself with the Nazis just to further his career (which only raises the question of who should be condemned more – Heidegger for actually believing in Nazism, or Gadamer for using what the Nazis were doing to further his own career), by signing pro-Hitler petitions, voluntarily enrolling in a Nazi political reeducation camp, joining the National Socialist Teacher’s Association, and volunteering to give lectures in Nazi-held Paris in order to help convert the French intellectuals (who were not given any other choice but to attend). This is most damning when we consider the fact that one did not have to become a member of the Nazi party, or associate with them at all, to work in the universities.

Wolin begins his section on the French thinkers’ associations with fascism with a chapter titled “Left Fascism,” which deals with the ideas of Georges Bataille. Bataille, whose influences included Nietzsche and the Marquis de Sade, is considered by many to be the father of poststructuralism, out of which we get postmodernism. Bataille was closely associated with Left Fascism, which he identified as his ideology, and which seeked to unify fascism with an even stronger version of socialism. He was anti-reason, anti-civilization, anti-ethics, pro-violence, and promoted the most perverse, unreproductive sexuality (these things are not hidden or hinted at, but are explicitly stated by Bataille, or explicitly shown in his fictional works).

The next two figures Wolin covers are less clearly associated with fascism.
Maurice Blanchot was a writer, who wrote articles against what he called the “inhuman Declaration of the Rights of Man,” and who saw the “only solution to a dysfunctional republicanism” as a “fascist-type insurrection” (192). He also thought there was an “international conspiracy of communists, Jews, and capitalists” (Heidegger said that Germany was caught in the pincers of capitalism on one side, and communism on the other, both of which he said were metaphysically identical). His literary theories also became one of the cornerstones of poststructuralism – joining him with Bataille.
The most interesting person included in this work is Jacques Derrida, whose idea of deconstruction has led us into the postmodern era. Leaving aside Derrida’s attempts to deconstruct the Nazism of both Heidegger and Paul de Mann (to show they weren’t really all that fascist after all), and the fact that Derrida’s primary intellectual influences are Nietzsche and Heidegger, the connection to fascism seems, at first glance, weak. Certainly, Derrida is anti-reason. But for a long time, deconstruction was accused of being nonpolitical. Derrida’s response to this is what is interesting. He first responded by saying that deconstruction is in fact “hyper-political,” particularly in its critique of democracy. His attacks on natural law also undermine the very foundations of democracy, on which democracy is founded. He also opposed the ideas of Law and Justice, saying that “justice, as opposed to law, always pertains to the case at hand in its irreducible individuality” (234). While there may be something to this, this should not, as Derrida suggests, mean we should do away with law. What is most interesting is that Derrida gets this idea form the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt, who proclaimed that “the exception is more interesting than the rule” in his book Political Theology. He wants justice that is not grounded in law – which means he wants the rule of man, not the rule of law. Another problem with dealing with justice through the lens of the exceptional is that what we end up with is crisis “justice,” which allows precisely for dictatorial decrees.

Wolin ends his book with a chapter on anti-Americanism, which he identifies precisely with anti-Enlightenment thinking. America is everything Europe was not: it has no racial foundations, the laws are based in reason rather than tradition, there is no nation to speak of, but rather federation with a fluid hierarchy (as opposed to the strict egalitarianism supported on the Continent, which has resulted in the periodic desire to eliminate those who will not fit into the egalitarian ideal state), it is a liberal capitalist state, individualistic, and free. Some of these things are still true. Wolin identifies current anti-Americanism in Europe with Heidegger’s, whose ideas on America were so purely intellectual, that they had no basis in reality. Certainly, Heidegger never traveled to America to learn anything about it. And because America is capitalist, and in Europe Jews are associated with capitalism, the anti-Semitism that still runs through Europe contributes to anti-Americanism. We see anti-Americanism in the present day, among postmodern thinkers such as Baudrillard, who claims that in America we believe in a “hyperreality” made up entirely of media-generated images, which have replaced reality. He sees America as a negative utopia. He has also expressed a great deal of joy over 9-11, and he is joined in this sentiment by Slavoj Zizek, who claimed in his book Welcome to the Desert of the Real that “America got what it fantasized about,” in our movies. In other words, we got what we had coming. Neither is concerned with morality in their commentaries—only with their interpretations of things. Which all too often have nothing to do with reality—and almost never have anything to do with reason. Anti-Enlightenment thought, which reached its worse manifestations in Nazi Germany, continue on in postmodern thought and its offspring in identity politics of literally every sort, right and left—but with Wolin, it is no longer unchecked or unchallenged.

Should Art Be About Beauty, or Identity?

Sohrab Ahmari has a piece in the Wall Street Journal Titled “Remember When Art Was Supposed to Be Beautiful?” that addresses the current situation in art–I would even go so far as to call it a crisis in art. Ahmari actually only hints at what is going on in contemporary art in the West when he first discusses the role the oppressive regime of Iran played in what was allowed to be portrayed in art and then discusses the high degree to which contemporary art only ever deals with identity politics.

Abmari is suggesting a connection between totalitarian thinking and the current avant-garde obsession with identity politics. Totalitarian regimes, especially theocracies, tend to demand the art being produced reflect the identity of that regime–and only that regime. The same is true of identity politics-driven avant-garde art in the West. The difference is that in the West the artists have voluntarily chosen within the artistic orders to accept a fundamentally totalitarian world view and impose it on themselves. Totday’s totalitarians are much more clever than the old-school totalitarians: they have managed to figure out how to get people to impose it on themselves.

Ahmari isn’t the only one to note this. I reviewed a book, After the Avant-Gardes, where this connection between totalitarian thinking and the avant-garde is also investigated. This mentality goes beyond my observation that the avant-garde is very much “normal art” now and isn’t remotely avant-garde–if the “avant-garde” is indeed supposed to be what is out ahead of everything else. It’s not, and it hasn’t been for a long time. Worse, the avant-garde is thoroughly institutionalized in our universities, and even receives the overwhelming amount of government art funds. If avant-garde art is in fact founded in a totalitarian mindset, we should not be surprised to find it supported by the government.

Art is supposed to be about beauty. It can even be a critique of current standards of beauty within the art world, but it is supposed to be about beauty. Beauty expands our worlds and our world views; identity politics restricts them and tribalizes us. The ugly identity politics of the left has now been matched with the uglier identity politics of the alt.right–and it seems a very unfortunate arms-race is in the works, with tribalist attitudes being met with even more tribalist attitudes. This is the inevitable result of identity politics of any sort.

Does art reflect the world or does the world reflect art? Inevitably, the answer to that question is, “yes.” There is a degree to which our art has been reflecting the world as viewed by the artists, but that art has in turn been affecting the way others view the world. Only the artists can fix things, but that will mean a complete wiping away of the current dominant paradigm in the arts. The solution is to return art to beauty, not to answer identity politics with more identity politics.