The Future is for the Far Right

 

 

A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of the “far right.”  Gaining increasing attention in recent years, parties characterized by the media as far right have grown in popularity and, in many cases, in electoral success. Most recently, the success in the Brexit campaign (led in part by the UK independence party) along with rising poll numbers, increased political power, and legislative wins in several European countries, speak to the growing significance of these parties.

marion-marechal-le-pen-21
Marion Maréchal-Le Pen (FN)

Only a few years ago, the far right objections to excessive and arbitrary regulations by the European Union (EU), the occasional conflicts between ethnic Europeans and non-European immigrants, and other small spectacles were only mildly effective in bolstering the far right message. Though these incidents received media attention, those who sought to capitalize on them with a far right political message remained marginalized. But then the migration crisis began: Syrian and other non-European refugees, primarily Muslims, sought to enter various European countries in unprecedented numbers as they fled wars in their countries of origin.  With the seemingly slow, inept, and even disastrous response to the crisis by the EU its de facto leader, Angela Merkel, an increasing number of ethnic Europeans have come to believe that the EU’s institutions and its leaders are ill-suited for the preservation of national identities.  Some supporters of far-right parties will even claim that EU leaders are overtly hostile to their preservation. And as migrants continue to arrive and the EU struggles to get Turkey and Greece to effectively screen migrants, while incidents of Islamist-inspired terrorism continue, on a regular basis, to show up in the news cycle, and while less-publicized incidents such as last year’s rash of sexual assaults primarily directed against ethnically German women, it seems likely that more and more Europeans will find their sentiments shift toward parties with far right platforms.

Hoping to turn the wake from the migration crisis and Brexit into a tidal wave, leaders of far right European parties are actively suggesting or demanding campaigns for their own “exits” from the EU, ensuring that the far right will not be long out of the public eye in the foreseeable future. The media’s coverage of far right politics will only increase.

But the far right reaction to the migration crisis and Brexit are only surface issues of a much deeper and complex confluence of forces contributing to rising far right sentiment. The far right parties struggled for decades (many of the parties have been around a long time) to gain sufficient appeal to make any impact in legislation. Until recently they at best produced spectacles that the damning media loved to put on full public display (such as seemingly anti-Semitic comments by party leaders). But the far right still captured votes from more than single-issue anti-immigrant voters. As I show below, their “third-way” or pragmatic view of economics had appeal among some in the working class, and their anti-globalism drew in voters as well.   In most countries, however, they lacked the political opportunities—partly due to electoral system and constitutional constraints, and/or hegemonic social forces—to make much headway in policy, which explains in part their early interest in agitating and the spectacle.

Yet throughout their period of failures the far right continually attacked the ruling class as a type of cabal—a self-interested, exploitive, transnational, and cosmopolitan class that cared little for the distinctive social fabric of nations over which they ruled. These people controlled the seats of power in the technocratic administration of the European Union, dictating “rational” and “universal” rights and rules to those below, seemingly treating Europe as an instantiation of pure humanity, not a sort of league of sovereign nation-states. And their principal concern, claimed the far right claim, was the exploitation and destruction of nations for the benefit of the “transnational capitalist class” (TCC)—a select few of powerful and fabulously wealthy individuals and families controlling the global capitalist system. The far right regularly sought to expose these globalists, but their message was both subsumed by other less notoriously contentious parties and dismissed by media utilizing to great effect the power-language (or weaponized language) in public discourse.

The principle of rationality, one which naturally appeals to modern man, does not sit comfortably with anything that is pre-rational, such as national prejudices, customs, or what philosophers have called man’s “second nature.” Rationality fits best with economics—the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. And since economic deals in commodities, rational administration and systems tend to commodify what in pre-modern times was not a commodity, such as culture. The rational society is a market society, the preferred society those in control of the means of production. The TCC, whose predominant interest was money-making and the power to make money, cares little for those pre-rational and inefficient distinctives of peoples. Nations distinguished principally by geo-cultural sovereignty (whose borders are ancillary) were hindrances to this class, and whether intentional or not, the TCC worked to undermine the culture most unconformable to rational economic control. The free movement of labor in the EU is perhaps the clearest expression the elevation of economics and consumption over distinctive culture. Treating people as merely producers and consumers, the TCC sought to maximize the labor pool for economic production. Hence, capitalists were able to import cheap labor from places with significantly different cultures. In cruder form and often with unhelpful conspiratorial language, the far right for years tried to point out the indifference of the ruling class to local and national culture.

Two recent events, however, uncovered this class and laid bare their self-interest and indifference: the 2008 economic downturn and the 2016 United States presidential election. In the early 2000s, as economists predicted greater and greater economic growth, many European countries expanded their welfare and pension systems. Consumption was high and unemployment low. Few heeded the warning signs of 2007 and the Great Recession hit in 2009. The event sparked a global movement, originating and centered in the United States and almost entirely leftist, known as the “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS) movement. OWS pointed to the growing income and wealth inequality between the super-rich and the rest. Most importantly, they blamed the “1%,” a label whose relevance continues to this day. But for the purpose of this article the justice or injustice of such inequality itself is irrelevant. What is important is that the public revelation of the inequality served to identify the existence of the transnational class. OWS disclosed or uncovered for the public the existence of the TCC. It set them apart from the rest. Having been exposed as a global class, the TCC could no longer hide behind national leaders and national, region, and local distractions.

A few years later, Europe was subjected to a massive flow of migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers from predominantly Muslim countries. The open-armed acceptance of Middle Eastern and North African peoples into Europe exacerbated the already-existing suspicions of many Europeans that their EU and national leaders have succumbed to cultural suicide, committing themselves both to the interests of the TCC and an ancillary globalist ideology. The EU’s immigration policies, the free movement of labor, the political asylum policies, and the response to the migration crisis (a response controlled in large part by Germany, affecting all of Europe)—all these lead back, many think, to the deliberate global system controlled by the TCC, a class of people uncovered by OWS.

Right or wrong, the far right parties are the only parties that have consistently over decades attacked globalism and their subservient national leaders in total, not merely attacked only globalism’s neo-liberal aspects. And they are the only parties willing to face the censorship of political correctness in denouncing the acceptance of migrants and immigration. They are consistently and unashamedly anti-globalist. Still, the revelations of the TCC as a dominant and supremely powerful global class and the far right suitability to counter the TCC and Europe’s most pressing contemporary concerns were not enough to overcome the lack of political opportunities due to the social constraints in the language of public discourse. The far right needed an additional element or force to destroy, undermine, or weaken the social power that precluded far right political opportunities.

The Trump campaign and his surprising election will likely prove to be an important event in history, one that is interpreted and reinterpreted as history progresses. The unity of the news media, Hollywood, the intellectuals, the political class, and most business leaders against Trump was the one of the few examples in history when all of the powerful come together in public and visible unity. The emails posted by WikiLeaks uncovered and further reveal a powerful system and network of intersecting and mutually coordinating powerful groups. The campaign season revealed the mutual interest of the powerful and their efforts at mutual support. Further, they rallied behind, not Bernie Sanders, a critic of the TCC, but Hillary Clinton, who was personally linked with the interests of the global elites and is the most TCC-connected politician in United States political history. And Trump actually beat this united effort. It is astounding. Despite a united effort by the most powerful people in the world, Trump humiliated them by defeating Clinton. It is too soon to see the immediate global consequence of Trump’s victory, but we ought not to underestimate its potential impact of global politics.

The potential impact of the Trump Event is primarily the political opportunities it has opened for other “outsider” candidates, especially the far right candidates. In public displays of bewilderment, the media and the business elite have sought a recalibration of their message and strategy. The Wall Street Journal declared a “new political order.” EU countries called for an emergency meeting, as did international business leaders. The New York Times has since repeatedly and publicly admitted its bias and failures. At an already weak time, the ruling class seems to be in full retreat. The ruling class was privileged by certain language, a weaponized language in which certain words could be tossed out (“racist,” “xenophobic,” “nativism,” etc.) with almost certain success. It places the other on the defensive and separate him or her from polite company until he exonerates himself. This language arsenal has been defused. With the election of Trump, the public said “no more!” This breakdown of weaponized language,

Marine Le Pen (FN)
Marine Le Pen (FN)

along with other factors and forces, have set the stage for the far right in Europe to make significant electoral and perhaps legislative gains. After the Trump victory, Marine Le Pen said, “Donald Trump has made possible what was presented as completely impossible.”

This essay seeks to how that a combination of the growing legitimacy of far right parties and far right concerns, the rising efficacy of their political efforts due to an opening of opportunities and their consistent anti-globalist ideology, and the reducing trust and effectiveness of the ruling class make it probable that the European far right will soon become more than an agitator for disgruntled citizenry, but a serious contender for power and a force for a restoration, in their eyes, of nationhood and the nation-state.

The Far Right

There is a striking contrast between the popular understanding of the European far right and the best analyses of academia. The popular view, especially in America, is that all these far right parties are fascists or neo-nazis, or that they are purely populist, appealing to single-issue xenophobic voters. There is a similar divide on the term “fascism,” a political phenomenon that has evaded precise definition and whose definition among academics remains controversial. Academic researchers almost always admit to the complexities and frustrations with reaching solid conclusions about the far right parties of Europe. Explanations for national phenomenon break down at the comparative level and seemingly solid conclusions on the comparative level break down at the individual level (e.g., Norris 2005, 185). Pippa Norris, who prefers the term “radical right” admitted that “it remains unclear whether a single phenomenon labeled ‘the radical right’ exists, even as a loose category” (2005, 43).

The most obvious popular misunderstanding of the far right, especially in the United States, is that they are the American right’s platform pushed to the extreme. In other words, they are extreme on taxes, redistribution, welfare, environmental regulation, etc. On the contrary, what the assortment of European parties that media call “far right” have quite the diversity of positions on issues unrelated to multiculturalism. This is apparent from the data of the Chapel Hill Expert Survey (CHES). In 2014, 337 experts evaluated the political parties of all EU states, Norway, Switzerland, and Turkey on issues ranging from attitudes towards the EU, multiculturalism and immigration, to policies on restrictions of internal and external trade, social welfare programs, and social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. Each expert evaluated the ideology of their own country’s parties and assigned a number from 1-10 for each issue depending on the party’s stances. On the positions we consider here, a mark of “10” means “strongly opposes” and a mark of “1” means “strongly favors” (unless noted). The CHES team then averaged the experts’ scores for each position in each party.

Aggregating, by position, the scores for the most popular far right parties in Europe produces interesting results. The resulting score for the “position towards nationalism” is 9 (with a standard deviation (SD) of .9), indicating strong support for “nationalist rather than cosmopolitan conceptions of society” with low variability between parties. The average score for ethnic minority rights is 8.7 (with SD of 1), indicating a strong opposition to granting more rights to ethnic minorities. For immigration policy, they average a score of 8.7 (SD: 1), favoring restrictive immigration policy. And lastly, on integration of immigrants to the dominant national culture, they overall score a 9 (SD: .9), favoring assimilation over multiculturalism. The standard deviation shows great unity on these subjects. Not surprisingly, the data show a negative stance towards the EU with a score of 2.7 (“1” being “strongly opposed”) with a SD of 1.7. They also tend to reject “liberal policies,” such as those related to homosexuality (8; SD:1.7), and are strong on civil order and policing (8.2; SD: 1.4). On environmentalism, most of the parties have either moderate or somewhat strong support (7.1; SD: 1.2) for policies the “support economic growth at the cost of environmental protection,” through it is doubtful that they would characterize their policies in that way.

But on other issues, these parties are both more moderate and less united. On taxing and spending, the parties are, when aggregated, fairly moderate (5.9) though they lack a united voice on this (SD: 1.8). The same goes for deregulation of industry (5.3 and SD: 2.2), state intervention in the economy (5.4 and SD: 2.2), and redistribution of wealth (5.6 and SD: 1.7).  They are somewhat supportive of religious principles in politics, though lack unity on the question (6.7; SD: 2.1). Eastern European countries tend to have more support for religion in politics than Western Europe. For example, both of Hungary’s far right parties (FPO and Jobbik) are above 8 while FN, following France’s tradition of secularism, is 3.6. As previously mentioned, many of these parties are more moderate on these issues than the center-right party of the same nation. Notice too that the standard deviation is generally greater for these issues than for those related to multiculturalism, indicating less agreement among the far right on such issues.

The data reveal that far right parties are not very consistently “far” on most issues unrelated to immigration. However radical their positions on immigration and related policies might be, their views on economic intervention, welfare, public services, taxation, and regulations are generally either not extreme, or not to what Americans would consider the “right.” For example, France’s National Front (FN), calls for strong regulation (3.6) and government intervention (3.7) and moderate tax and spend policies (5.5) while going to the extreme edge on minority rights (9.9), anti-multiculturalism (9.7), and immigration policy (9.8). The same is true for most of the other far right parties. The scores for what is arguably Europe’s most extreme far right party, Golden Dawn (XA) of Greece, for example, shows a stunning contrast. The party advocates what would otherwise be called leftist economics: high taxation and spending (2), very high regulation (.8), high wealth redistribution (3), and high economic intervention (1.2). Yet for issues related to immigration and multiculturalism, they score the opposite: a maximum score of 10 for immigration policy, multiculturalism, and minority rights. The Hungarian radical nationalist party, Jobbik, has similar scores.

In radical contrast to XA and Jobbik, the UK’s far right party, UKIP, has opposite scores on political economy (all above 7.5 and most at or above 8.5), reflecting England’s traditional economic liberalism. However, they share Golden Dawn’s very high numbers on issues related to immigration and nationalism.

The surveyed experts also give an overall ideology score, which is assigned without aggregating the other scores. Interestingly, FN received a score of 9.6 and XA 9.9, despite the fact that they hold to economic positions resembling those advocated by socialists and the center-left. UKIP received a 9.1. There is a similar pattern in the overall ideology scores for the other far right parties. Experts score these parties based only on the party’s positions on a narrow set of issues while ignoring the others. To be far right is to be far not overall—since the parties would appear rather moderate if all the scores from all the position were aggregated—but far with regard to issues related to immigration. This implies an overweighing of certain positions to determine overall ideology. But perhaps this is justified, for immigration and related issues are the principal issues of far-right parties.

Though the data raise questions on the accuracy of the label “far right,” I will not dispute that label here. The questionable relevance of the left/right label for today’s politics, which I discuss below, makes a label along the lines of “anti-globalist party” more appropriate. But due to its conventional use, the “far right” label will keep the correct parties in the reader’s mind, so I use “far right” throughout the essay.

The political platforms of these far right parties did not come from nowhere. They reflect their country’s history, traditions, and culture, complicating our attempts to determine universal or cross-national, reasons for electoral support. Still, there has been decent studies on the question, though there are competing theories. The competing theories fall into two groups: demand-side and supply-side theories. For the former, there is the single-issue thesis, the social breakdown thesis, and economic interest thesis. All these theories have evidence and insight into the far right phenomenon and together these theories coalesce around a rejection of the forces of globalism and the TCC.

The single-issue thesis usually explains far right electoral support by pointing to anti-immigrant politics. The immigration, migration, and general rejection of multiculturalism is no doubt crucial to explain far right support, as Norris shows at the individual level, though not at the national aggregate level (2005, 183). FPO and FN made immigration its central issue for many years (Eatwell 2003, 49). But this thesis is simplistic. These parties often appealed to voters on economic grounds when the leftwing seemed ineffective, as with the case of Italy’s LN in the 1990s, and they at times received above average support during times of low immigration (Eatwell 2013, 50). The immigration issue, as the sole or even primary cause of support, lacks sufficient evidence, though it is certainly an important factor.

Like the single-issue thesis, the social breakdown thesis explains or contributes to an explanation for far right electoral support at the individual level in countries, but is not a universal explanation across countries. The growing sense of social isolation and anomie would, one when think, lead to support for parties most willing to conserve the cultural traditions sustaining one’s sense of belonging to a place and people. A study found a correlation between feelings of social isolation and support for anti-immigrant parties (Fennema and Tillie 1998) and support in Belgium for anti-immigration parties among those least likely to be part of an organization or club (Faniel 2000, 19). The problem with this theory is that many far right supporters do not have clear signs of anomie (at least signs that are easily captured in data) and that many countries with signs of social breakdown do not have strong or growing far right parties. Still, this thesis remains insightful and powerfully intuitive. One calculates into his voting choices and policy preferences his perceived standing in the future. If one sees the future as less desirable than the present (despite the present being sufficiently desirable), he might vote for a party most willing to secure the present and provide more hope for the future. The perceived potential for social breakdown is likely a powerful determinate of far right support.

The economic thesis suggests that economic interest best explains far right voting. Far right parties have at times made economic issues central to their appeal. The FPO declared itself the new party of the working class and the LN pressed the issue in the 90s (Eatwell 2003, 56). In France, a large percentage of FN support comes from the working class. However, throughout these countries most the unemployed and working class do not vote for the extreme right. So this factor alone cannot explain far right support. But the economic issue is related to the immigration issue. The potential for cheap immigrant labor to drive down wages and perceived favorable treatment by the government might contribute to far right support (Eatwell 2003, 57).

The supply-side theories include the political opportunity and programmatic theses. The former states that far right parties are able to exploit the movement of the mainstream parties to the center and when public discourse is dominated by their principal issue, immigration. This assumes a spectrum for left/right such that when the center-right party moves to the center, alienating those previously on their periphery, the far right party is able to temporarily capture their support. Institutional approaches have identified institutional constraints that limit the support for far right parties. The five percent cut-off in many elections in Germany excludes many fringe parties and reduces their competitiveness. These institutional constraints, however, have not prevented the recent rise of the Alternative for Germany Party (AfD), which a poll in 2016 indicated a 16 percent nation-wide support. It is likely that the institutional constraints were less powerful than the social stigma of supporting and voting for such parties. Hence, political opportunities must be understood as more than institutional openings or mainstream party clustering. The openings of opportunity is an opening of space in public discourse, a widening of the so-called “Overton window.” This idea is important later in this essay. But for many of the studies that rely on this approach, the same problems as the other theories arise: it explains the political phenomenon of some countries at certain times, but is not useful for international comparison.

The programmatic thesis insists that the far right parties have a somewhat consistent and serious ideology—contrary to the purely pragmatic “populism” or “protest theses”—yet apply this ideology practically in different ways in different times. Hence, at times they focus on economics and other times on immigration. But they have, according to this thesis, an underlying comprehensive ideology—an anti-globalism ideology that includes Euroscepticism, third-way economics, and cultural identity protectionism. Many of the parties have denied adherence to either right or leftwing ideology; they are, rather, “just in front,” as FPO leader Jorg Haider once claimed (Eatwell 2003, 65). A better way to put it is that the parties see the world not as left and right, but as top and bottom. They represent the bottom (national peoples) against the top (transnational elites). The mainstream parties, to the far right, are competing forces on the top vying for power. Due to institutional constraints (e.g., electoral systems) and social constraints (e.g., the media and Overton window), their anti-globalist perspective is shaped by strategies for electoral success, which often appears to be attempts to capture the “protest” or reactionary vote. This explains the unsatisfactory theses described above: far right parties are forced into pragmatic strategies that change over time within certain institutional and social constraints. It is best to look at most far right parties as parties that operate pragmatically with a comprehensive ideological perspective.

Each far right party’s ideology is an anti-globalism tailored to its own country’s culture and traditions. It is a nationalist ideology, one that seeks the conservation of a particular, traditional and native way of life against the powerful and seemingly unstoppable forces of modernity. Their commonality across countries is simply an agreement on a formal principle, namely, the conservation of nationhood, not any particular policy objectives. The confusion over the party differences is rooted in the failure to distinguish the formal (nationalism) and the material (the particular and conflicting customs, traditions and policies-orientations). There is agreement on the former and tolerance of the latter. Hence, their anti-globalist message is a declaration of war not on immigrants directly, but on the ruling class itself, the variegated groups that together would desire such massive immigration. They are anti-globalist parties in principle, and their policies merely reflect their struggle against the works and consequences of globalism in their own countries.

The same forces that publicly waged war against Trump are those against the European far right. The far right always had an uphill battle, contending with a monumental combination of institutional and social forces denying them a legitimate seat at the table of public discourse. Yet it is my thesis here that this is changing. Various recent events have opened political opportunities for the far right. No longer can the ruling class denounce or dismiss the far right – they are becoming more and more mainstream. And this is occurring in part because the right/left spectrum is becoming less and less relevant. The top/down binary is gaining public support. The far right parties have suffered mainly because they were pigeon-holed into the “extreme” end of the left/right spectrum, when their proper place, to them, was the bottom fighting the top. The top has been revealed, and the “centrist” parties are their puppets or servants. The globalists can no longer hide, and the social forces (notably the media) are in retreat.

Far right support will increase in the coming years due to a combination of related three factors: legitimacy, efficacy, and lack of system trust.[1] The rest of this essay seeks to show this. Legitimacy refers to the social acceptability of the party. Efficacy is both the suitability of the party to the current political issues and problems facing the country and electorate and the party’s ability to affect change and govern properly. Both legitimacy and efficacy must be high for support, of course. System trust, however, refers to one’s trust on the ability for the “system” (composed of the global elite) to effectively provide or facilitate the production or conservation of the necessities of human flourishing.

Transnational Capitalist Class

A central premise in the argument here is both that there exists a class of powerful cosmopolitans called the “transnational capitalist class” and that this class has been publicly revealed by recent events, most glaringly in the various movements soon after the global economic recession beginning around 2007 (e.g., Occupy movements) and in the campaign and election of Donald Trump. What are the characteristic of these people and what interests do they have that transcend those of non-cosmopolitans and the non-powerful?

The most important scholar on the TCC is Leslie Sklair. Relying on the Gramsci’s view of “hegemony” and “crisis of hegemony,” Sklair argued that the global crisis of authority that arose in the 1970s with the fall of the Bretton-Woods system and the rise of modern globalization led to the rise of “pressures on capitalist corporations, state apparatuses, politicians and professionals and cultural-ideological elite” to form the TCC in order shore up global authority and control (1997, 516). This collection of global elite did not form and sustain itself by magic; it formed its own exclusive clubs, funds think tanks, and organizes its own exclusive meetings. They expended and continue to expend quite a bit of time and resources to achieve and remain in power. Their first loyalty is not their nations of birth, but to the cosmopolitan society, a society that acts as a territory-less nation above nations. They have their own intuitions, rules and qualification of membership, and interests. As a seemingly tight group, they manage, quite apart from any international rule-setting, the global capitalist system—a system that has enriched them beyond the world as ever seen. Sklair provides an analytic division of the TCC, identifying four main groups (though individuals could belong to multiple groups): transnational corporate executives, globalizing bureaucrats, globalizing politicians and professionals, and consumerist elites, such merchants and media (1997, 521). Each group performs a function in securing global power.

The members of the TCC are transnational in at least three senses, according to Sklair. The first is that they tend to have “outward-oriented rather inward-oriented national perspectives on a variety of issues” (1997, 521). One issue is free-trade, but one might reasonably argue that free-trade benefits nations. But it is not simply free-trade as such, but the emphasis on the international business that free trade makes possible. Sklair provides evidence that business schools are attempting to produce leaders that provide “management of the world.” Yet these leaders are not benevolent philosopher-kings seeking to realize the Good in nations. They are trained in the global production, distribution, and consumption of economic goods and services. Hence, their interests are oriented to the global capitalist system, making their interest in nations second to their interest in the global order.

The maximization of production and consumption collides with inefficient cultural particularities and mobility-stifling boundaries. David Rieff, whose work is discussed in more detail below, is correct in saying that global capitalism views traditional culture—culture that treasures the costly and rare—as something that cuts into the possibilities of consumption. In the end, “instead of being a rare costly things, culture becomes [through the intentional effort of the TCC] simultaneously a product, like a car—something can be made new every few years—and an abundant resource” (1993). It is the commodification of culture—the widest possible distribution of kitsch. As Sklair noted back in 1993, there is an “emerging cohesive culture-ideology of global capitalist consumerism, where global brands and tastes are promoted in the effort to turn all cultural products into commercial opportunities” (p. 525).

This global orientation has the important consequence of disconnecting the members of the TCC from the natural connection of time and place found among peoples who have lived in one area for generations. Finding incomprehensible one’s connection to some particular place in the world, the TCC acts as if humans are naturally transnational and freed from nationality by the homogenized consumptions patterns they provide. As Gidden (1991: 21) states, globalism lifts people “out of social relations from local contexts of interaction” and rearranges them “across indefinite spans of time and space.” Fominaya (2014, 18), following K. Polanyi and others, calls this a “dis-embedding.” Through both product homogenization and the ideology of multiculturalism, the global ruling class create fallen individuals in their own image: a people disconnected from time and place, obsessed with and distracted by cheap consumption and low-grade amusement. What they cannot see is that humans are more than producers and consumers: they dwell and belong.

The second characteristic of the TCC, related to the first, is that their membership is composed of people from many countries. They see themselves as citizens of the world or cosmopolitan. These are people who spend more time on a jet in a month than the average Westerner will in his entire life. They often have residences throughout the world. They tend to identify more with other members of the TCC than with those of their birth country. As stated above, it is best to understand “cosmopolitan,” at least with regard to the TCC, as referring to a nation-transcending, though nation-like, club or society with interests and rules analogous to those of people embedded in nations.

This leads to the third characteristic. The members of the TCC have “the shared lifestyles, particularly patterns of higher eduction…and consumption of luxury goods and services” (Sklair 1997, 522). These people are embedded in an extraterritorial society of people with the remarkable privilege to consume or possess the very rare and costly artifacts that once made up the culture of those still confined in nations. By the commodification of local and national culture largely through the homogenization of products, this class is the world’s high class—like a commoner-less aristocracy. Yet they are a degenerated aristocracy—the worst of all aristocracies: while they enjoy the best of rare culture (often in the form of cosmopolitan art, such as modern and post-modern art, or dilettante consumers of non-western art) and have no connection to or responsibility for a particular place and people. The traditional, landed aristocracy at least claimed to be a certain people’s aristocracy and for those people in terms of special responsibility and historically bound duty. They were the ornament of the people they represented to the world. The TCC, however, have no people. They ornament nothing. They are at the top of a hierarchy with no visibility or accountability to those below.

Though seemingly counterintuitive, there is good reason to see the TCC as supporters of both multiculturalism and identity politics. They support the former not only for the effect of a large labor pool and cheaper labor market, but also because it supports homogenized and targeted consumption. David Rieff’s celebrated Harper’s Magazine article in the 1993 is compelling in this regard. He argues that “multiculturalism is a phenomenon with a silent partner: the broad and radical change now taking place within world capitalism.” This is because it “helps to legitimize whole new areas of consumerism.”  Multiculturalism’s principal effect is the undermining or disruption of the genealogical transmission of culture made possible by various forms of geo-cultural sovereignty in localities. Either the lack of a prevailing culture or the ideology commitment against prevailing cultures removes from places and relics their transcendent value, the value above use and exchange values. Rare and costly cultural artifacts and places are rare and costly only or mainly on account of the affection a people have towards them. Multiculturalism disrupts this value-transmission. In its place comes powerful commercial interests that either transform a traditional practice into a consumerist activity (the commercial interest in Christmas is perhaps the most obvious example) or creates a practice or item of culture (e.g., mass produced art and plastic ornamental features for homes).

Rieff points out that the rhetoric of both the academic multiculturalists and the business leaders is strikingly similar. He writes, “Are the multiculturalists truly unaware of how closely their treasured catchphrases— ‘cultural diversity,’ ‘difference,’ the need to ‘do away with boundaries’—resemble the stock phrases of the modern corporation: ‘product diversification,’ ‘the global marketplace,’ and ‘the boundary-less company’?” Another clear similarity, especially among those from leftist perspectives, is the use of multiculturalism as an instrument to destroy hierarchies inherited from the past, such as those most connected to “dead white males.” Hence, they recognize that the injection of conflicting cultures affects the native culture and ultimately undermines its hold over people. The hope is to produce a type of permanent neutrality or perhaps build from neutrality to a common, non-hierarchical culture. The important point, however, is that both the TCC and leftist multiculturalists see multiculturalism as disruptive. What the academics fail to notice, however, is that business interests are far more powerful to fill the vacuum of cultural solidarity than grassroots, non-hierarchical organization and the development of freedom through the time-consuming and laborious “mic checks.” As Rieff argued, “The collapse of borders, far from being the liberating event that the academic multiculturalists have envisaged, has brought about the multiculturalism of the market, not the multiculturalism of justice.” Further, the various conflicts between identities in a multicultural society (including conflicts between genders sexual orientation) work to distract from and conceal the much larger hierarchy, namely, the TCC’s dominance over world affairs. In the end, the people consume and fight one another while the global capitalist class delivers the goods and services.

The Events of Revelation

Occupy Event

Two important events in the last decade have publicly revealed this class to the world: the Great Recession and the Trump Event. Though the identification of the TCC among scholars occurred prior to the turn of the millennium, the public did not recognize them or perhaps they remained concealed. The economic boom of the mid-90s and the continued growth after 2000 left the TCC largely unnoticed. The American commentator and political candidate Pat Buchanan sounded the alarm from the right in 1992 and 1996, and he continued to sound the alarm of the economic and cultural degradation that the TCC, combined with unwitting intellectuals, has and will cause. The public largely did not take notice, though Ross Perot’s populist message gained some traction in 1992. With presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, free traders and neo-conservatives took power and further consolidated power in the hands of a global elite. The post-Bretton Woods era seemed to many to be working. Or, at least, there was little to fuss over.

The global recession that occurred in the late 2000s changed all of this. Regardless of the actual loss in real income and wealth suffered by the non-rich during this time, the event sparked a series of world-wide protests. The Occupy movement was a highly visible movement with a clear opponent—the 1%. Claiming to be representatives of the 99%, these protesters camped out at financial sites around the world and demanded the disestablishment of oligarchical powers in government and the world. The movement could be easily criticized as composing of little more than opportunistic pre-established leftist groups who will protest anything and anytime when given the opportunity. Further, many of their demands—from free higher education to single-payer healthcare—could be questioned and is not relevant to this discussion. Indeed, one could dismiss the movement’s demands and still find their movement important. The Occupy movement pointed to the TCC and revealed them to the world. Labeling them the 1%, they received a name. The super-rich is in the public eye.

As much of the world hobbled through their recovery from the recession, average Americans, whose pre-recession real income had not recovered, saw excited newscasters celebrate new record highs for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq. Southern European countries, such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy—who took serious the predictions for a speedy economic recovery—started to feel the pain of debt payments for creditors from Germany when the recovery was slow. The de facto leader of the EU, Germany, imposed austerity as conditions for debt restructuring. Criticisms of the way EU handled austerity and debt relief came from many, including the far right. Marine Le Pen, of France’s FN, regularly lambasted the EU on the floor of the European Parliament and she publicly applauded the election of Greece’s anti-austerity party, Syriza, in early 2015. And Greece’s far right party has had much better electoral success since 2011. In 2014, they won three seats of twenty-one for Greek’s presence in the European Parliament. As Mark Blyth recently argued, while the post-Bretton-Woods era was the creditor’s era, the post-Trump era will likely be the debtor’s era.

The debate about the causes of the global recession, whether caused by over-speculation or problems in global capitalism itself, and the inspiration for the Occupy movement, whether fueled by opportunism or opposition to the TCC, are irrelevant to the argument here. What matters is that a certain transnational ruling class is revealed or at least put on people’s radar around the world.

Though the migration crisis is an event unto itself, its importance cannot be detached from the global downturn, the revelation of the TCC through various worldwide social movements, and the de facto leadership of the EU by Germany, in particular Angela Merkel. The handling of the migration crisis signaled a sort will-to-die ideology, rather than a will to live, at work in the higher levels of the EU administration and leadership—an ideology clothed in talks of universal “human rights” made possible by the particular culture (western culture). This failing multiculturalist ideology is an ideology either coopted, generated, or maintained by the TCC, many on the far right claim. The migration crisis is the visible representation of the visible and disinterested global capitalist class. The migration crisis is the most visible example of the cosmopolitan delusion. The TCC pursuit and maintenance of power over the global economic system has led them to undermine attachments they themselves can only distantly relate to. It’s akin to the American elite who admit their utter confusion at why anyone in rural America would vote for Trump.

Trump Event

The campaign and election of Donald Trump for president of the United State might, as strange as it might seem, prove to be an event in history, one that is interpreted and reinterpreted as history progress. It is, I argue, a moment in history. There is no need to support Trump or anything he supposedly stands for to believe this. Leading up to the election, practically all the powerful fought against Trump, clearly demonstrating out in the open the power, or potential power, of the powerful. Politicians, CEOs, intellectuals, opinion leaders, and the media of all sorts gained what seemed like class consciousness for a few month against Tr

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump stands during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

ump—an in-itself to a for-itself. Even after the election, their stunning defeat sent them to ask themselves what “we” did wrong. The international press and European press were equally stunned by the Trump victory. The ruling class and all its various tentacles of control were revealed to the world.

But what is most important is that Trump won—he defeated a united effort by practically all of the powerful. It is an astounding victory. Not only is the ruling class fully revealed, it has been defeated; and not only defeated, but humiliatingly defeated. Newspapers the following morning had embarrassing content that assumed a Clinton victory. The Trump victory revealed to the world that these combing power can be defeated.

In the immediate aftermath of the defeat the television media, those who had to appear on camera and talk about it expressed dismay and disbelief. And as the days went on, more and more media outlets admitted that accusations of racism, xenophobia, and nativism were no longer effective or even fair in public discourse. Many blamed this tactic in discourse for the election of Trump. That is, people voted for Trump in protest against the forms for discourse that disadvantaged, silenced and placed on the defensive those to which it was directed. The media seems to be in retreat, perhaps to regroup and reassess, but nonetheless they are in retreat. The arsenal to exclude others from polite discourse—what some call the polite totalitarian tendencies of liberalism and leftists—has been defused. Without this ammunition, left-liberals are at a loss in how to fight the right. A significant opportunity has opened in the West for the far right.

Social constraints are more powerful than institutional restraints in preventing popular support for far right parties. The social stigma related far right support is waning or has suffered a serious blow from the media retreat.

The Future and the Far Right

Given the opening of opportunities by the Trump election, the revelation of the TCC, and their migration crisis, as the quintessential consequence of the TCC self-serving ideology, the far right is in the best position in its history to gain significant electoral support in coming elections. The combination of the rise of legitimacy, efficacy and the loss of trust for the ruling class positions them to be major players in European politics.

The rise of legitimacy is due to the fact that these parties have a comprehensive ideology that answers to the needs to their own country. In other words, their differences in policy relate to their own county’s cultural and political traditions. This means that each far right party can claim to be the party of France, or of Austria, and so on. Yet their party ideologies share a formal unity of anti-globalism, and as anti-globalist they are all untied against the TCC. Hence, they are able to be both for their own countries in very particular ways and universally against the ruling class. It is a perfect restructuring of the political spectrum: bottom vs. the top. No longer is the spectrum between left and right.

The barrier of social legitimacy that prevented the far right from serious public recognition was codified in large part in the strength of certain terms in public discourse. The media could easily dismiss them as “extreme,” “fascist,” and “neo-nazi,” or, even more popular, as “xenophobic,” “racist,” and “anti-Semitic.” These terms are weaponized, an arsenal to dismiss them outright from public legitimacy prior to hearing their arguments and their nuanced take on the issues. The effectiveness of these terms, especially when their definitions are left vague, is based on a background social power. Calling another “racist” instantly puts the other on the defensive. But, at least in the Anglosphere, this social power seems to be collapsing. No longer is the simple application of labels sufficient to dismiss one from legitimacy. Leftists and left-liberals overextended themselves; they called anything and everything racist. Their hackneyed power-language has much less force than before. Why? Tyranny of the language has been disclosed; it is uncovered. And those disadvantaged by it are supporting parties and candidates willing to fight it, those willing to challenge the dictates of polite totalitarianism. The West is currently in a crisis of authority, which, as Gramsci said, is a “crisis of hegemony.” Those once privileged by the power-language of public discourse are weak and retreating. Those disadvantaged are rising up and taking power.

Whatever racism or anti-Semitism, in the older sense of the term, was present in the far right parties of the past is, in many cases, already rooted out. The most dramatic example is in France’s FN. Marine Le Pen, the current leader of the party and presidential contender for the 2017 election, booted her father and founder of the FN from the party after he made comments about the Holocaust. FPO in Austria, which had some early ties to Nazism in its founding, has distanced itself from its past and now advocates for Austrians as a particular people, not as a superior race. And since these parties have had new opportunities open up in recent years to do more than exploit spectacles to inject contentious ideas into public discourse, they have become politically disciplined. This is one reason by Marine Le Pen, for example, is so feared today. She is bold, fierce, and articulate, appealing to the people who remember Delacroix’s Liberty guiding the people. Time will further separate the far right from the worst elements of their past, leaving their opponents only vague accusations of “repackaged” racism and xenophobia.

The political opportunities opened up will only increase over time. Marine Le Pen will likely make it through to the second round in the presidential election, and even if she loses the election (which the consultant class assures us will happen), FN can no longer be blatantly ridiculed and ignored. They have achieved a legitimate seat at the table of public discourse.

The efficacy of far right parties is bound up with the rise in legitimacy, and their rising legitimacy is due to their complete rejection of the principles of globalism. The leftwing social movements of the last few decades, especially OWS, was driven by a common rejection of neo-liberal globalism, not globalism itself. As Fominaya (2014, 28) recently stated, “almost no ‘anti-globalization’ activists are against globalization per se: many embrace an internationalist or cosmopolitan ideal, embrace cultural diversity as a result of migration and cultural exchange.” In addition to their unwitting cooperation between these anti-globalists and the TCC, the traditional leftwing social movements fail to address some of most pressing concerns of local communities, namely, cultural discontinuity and cultural degradation. The so-called “global civil society” fueled by a “rooted cosmopolitanism” discussed among practitioners and researchers of the “global justice movements” is losing its appeal for this reason. The world is no longer shouting “think global, act local,” but “think local, act local.” Contrary to sentiments of the cosmopolitan movement elite, regular people want to conserve for future generations the same collective affection for people, places, and things that their ancestors had. The problem with the neo-liberal global order is not merely the exploitation of workers, unemployment, and debt. It is the disruption and destruction of traditional social systems in order to facilitate the capitalist socio-economic order, and this new order—with its necessary destruction of social hierarchies, cultural institutions, and places of affection that restrict or hinder production and consumption—is largely consistent with the goals of globalized leftist movements. The momentum for social movement is not with some global civil society; it is with national and local civil societies against any and all competing global societies.

The attractiveness of the far right is both the consistency of their anti-globalist ideology and their direct, comprehensive and complete opposition to the global elite. The future is for the far right because the traditional social movements, with their inconsistencies, have lost their appeal in the West, though they have prepared the way for the right to rise.

The last part of the equation is the loss of trust in the system. There is not much to add from the discussion above. The power and indifference of the global elite has been revealed. The power structures of EU, with it de facto leadership of Germany, leaves local communities with feelings of powerlessness. Merkel can say “you’re welcome here” in Germany or Brussels and hundreds of thousands of people with serious cultural differences arrive and stop at Calais, France on their way to the UK. When regular people question the policies, they are called xenophobic and racist. As with United States, in which average white people had to contend with the power-language that disadvantage them in public discourse, the people of Europe face an onslaught of weakening social constraints to assert their cultural heritage. The lack of trust is there. The ruling class is exposed. With the retreat of the Western media, the barrier to social legitimacy is crumbling. And as truly anti-globalist parties, the far right has increasing potential efficacy.

Conclusion

The conditions are right for the far right to make significant electoral and perhaps legislative progress in the next few years. In a world in which the global elite have been exposed and the people are looking inward to their own people, nation, and culture, the far right parties provide a comprehensive response too all aspects of globalism and each has a particular ideology and policy platform suitable for their own country. And political opportunities have opened up due to Trump’s victory over the beneficiaries of the social constraints (e.g., power-language) that precluded popular support for the far right. Hence, the far right fits the popular needs of the time, and the stigma associated with supporting them is waning. The future is for the far right.

____________

[1] With some modification, this is Eatwell’s (2003, 68) formula.

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Thoughts on Deviancy, Public Recognition, and How to be Authentic

One of Hegel’s most important contributions to philosophy was his philosophy of recognition. To put it very simply, Hegel thought that humans seek to be recognized as an end, not as mere means or instruments to another’s end. Kant would call this a recognition of another’s dignity and membership in the Kingdom of Ends. It is staking a claim on our right to be treated as more than instruments. Of course, we must treat people as instruments. We use the cashier at the checkout counter to purchase our groceries. But this relationship is based on consent, and as such we are treating each other as ends, even though this isn’t immediately obvious or part of any formal agreement.

The recognition for Hegel is more thorough than Kant. Kant, at least Hegel claimed, failed to reconcile the universal with the particular. To put it crudely, Hegel synthesized the dignity of the subject with the object. Our dignity as a subjective person is only abstract apart from the embodiment of personality into objects. Hence, Hegel claimed that “property is the embodiment of personality.” Recognizing the dignity of another, then, does not occur by shedding ‘appearances’ and getting down to the subjective ‘I’ — the bare first-person or the subjective ‘pole’ of another. This is to reduce the other to a mere abstraction, which is arguably exactly what Kant’s moral philosophy does.

Our modern age is obsessed with recognition of the Kantian sort. Christians, including both Protestant and Roman Catholics, use the “imago dei” as a synonym for Kantian-like dignity. Non-believers constantly call others to recognize the dignity of this or that person, regardless of his or her behavior. The public realm has become a place for this ‘I’ to externalize or particularize in all sorts of strange and deviant behaviors and manners. All value is placed in the ‘I’ and the value of the particulars flow from this. In other words, recognition of another is not on the basis of their behavior. Rather, because we must recognize that abstract ‘I’ as having supreme value, we must in turn recognize, even celebrate their behavior.

To my mind, this a retreat from meaning, because meaning produces insecurity. The demand to live up to something produces anxiety, and to prevent this anxiety, so people think, we must undermine the demand. Hence, we place all meaning in the abstract ‘I’ and derive from it the meaning of our external actions.

Yet what has become apparent is that this retreat from the ‘they’ or the popular standards of behavior, dress, manners, etc. is indeed a flight — it is always ‘from’ something. It defines itself against, and it will perpetually. Hence, the call to ‘be-yourself’ is a call not to be like the crowd. And yet the attempt not to be like the ‘crowd’ or Heidegger’s das man (sometimes translated as the ‘they’) is an attempt to achieve recognition from the very crowd you’re fleeing from. You yearn for their rejection. You seek recognition through rejection. You are just as tied with the ‘they’ or the crowd as before, yet now you crave negativity. It’s pathological. That’s what deviancy usually is.

Now, I say all that to say this: we ought to seek a positive recognition from others through appearances–through the particulars. We ought to seek recognition not by our ‘I’, but by our ‘I am.’ So our dress style, home and yard, our manners, etc. all these should be done and be the basis of our recognition before men. It is through their judgment that we are recognized, and we should crave a positive judgment. One ought to recognize us as worthy of being treated as ends through our manifestations of dignity, not in the abstract dignity of the ‘I’.

Now to labor. Since we seek recognition through the particulars and since the self of the producer can be embodied, in a phenomenological sense, in the product of their labor (see my posts here and here), then we have an interest in seeking recognition of our selves by the judgment of our products. Of course, this is risky, since we are subjecting our-selves to judgment. But it is necessary for a fully realized life. Marx himself said that labor results in the worker losing “realization.” My contention is that the affirmation of one’s labor as an end in itself — that it is/was worth doing for its own sake — comes through the positive judgment of others (usually the consumer). This judgment satisfies the producer and therefore restores the loss of realization.

The absurdity of our age is in our thinking that recognition must be apart from judgment and apart from appearances. And yet we are starved by a lack of completion in life. We are risk-adverse, insecure, and cannot tolerate the judgment of others. We continue to define ourselves as someone against others rather than for others. We are walking negations — pure inauthenticity.

Authentic living is understanding ourselves as in a nexus of subjects and objects — a lifeworld. As Husserl stated, “all of us together, belong to the world as living with one another in the world; and the world is our world, valid for our consciousness as existing precisely through this ‘living together'” (Crisis, 1936). To be, is to be part of, in, and enmeshed in a world: Heidegger’s being-in-the-world. It is through being with others, interacting, sharing with them, laboring with then, sharing concerns, etc. that we support and contribute to a way of life. We shape a heritage. It is not through being walking negations.

We should seek to be for others, which means seeking their recognition through our activity and appearance. We can and must be authentic, but authenticity is being constructive with our world, not deconstructive and fleeing from it.

Occupy Wall Street

A Review of Scruton’s The Soul of the World

In The Soul of the World, Roger Scruton argues for a type of cognitive dualism that accounts for both the natural world—that is, the objective world of the neuroscientist and Darwinian evolutionist—and the Lebenswelt, 3150scrutonbook_00000002390the life-world that “emerges” from the natural world that is yet irreducible to it. Scruton is clearly influenced by the big names of continental philosophy: Kant, Husserl, Sartre and others, and he often cites Searle for his speech-act theory. What Scruton provides, with rare clarity for an author influenced by such difficult thinkers, is a fascinating description and defense of our attachment to the sacred.

The book is primarily a defense of lived experience in phenomenological tradition. The author contributes to this tradition by arguing that our live experience in the Lebenswelt (a term borrowed from Husserl) is an “overreaching intentionality,” that is, a response to a “subjectivity that lies beyond the world of objects” (175). In a world of objects, somehow the subjective emerges. When we glance at another’s face, we see more than flesh; we see one’s subjectivity. “The face,” he writes, “although it appears in the world of objects, belongs essentially to the subject” (96). This encounter with the other is the “I-you” relationship that cannot be explained or reduced to neuroscience. When we encounter the face of another we see past it, at its “horizon,” to encounter the other’s subjectivity, and this demands that we give more than explanations for our actions (through the examination of causal connections in brain states or “adaptability” in Darwinian evolution), but also reasons and understanding. This is part of the cognitive dualism: explanation on the one hand, understanding and reasons on the other. When we dwell only on explanation, the person vanishes as with our responsibility toward the person. When the person vanishes our action is governed by nothing but the presence of an object.

For Scruton, this encounter with the other not only occurs with the face of another, but with the world as well. He describes this best with a fascinating phenomenology of music. Music has a “movement” that emerges from the experience of sounds, but when analyzed as sounds one cannot find movement. This property of music as experienced is irreducible to the sounds, yet we hear it. No matter how much we analyze sound waves or even our experience with each sound or tone in a musical movement, we cannot explain why or what it is that we hear. We simply hear the music move. As with the face, in hearing this movement we are experiencing our capacity for “overreaching intentionality.” This experience with the world is like encountering a subject that isn’t there: “Music addresses us as others address us….it address us from beyond the borders of the natural world” (175).

In a few places Scruton addresses political theory taking a stance against reductionistic social science and Rawlsian and contractual theory. On his account, these all involve “clearing away from the Lebenswelt all the threads of pious observance that cannot be replaced by free choice and self-made obligations….[forming a world] in which we humans are not truly at home” (94-95). Instead of trying to reduce the life-world to explanation (which, again, he thinks is impossible), it should be embraced as fundamental to human and social happiness: “Through the transcendent bonds of piety we enter the realm of the sacred things, of obligations that cannot be accounted for in terms of any deal that we made, and which speak of an eternal and otherworldly order” (176). Scruton is known for his indebtedness to the thought of Edmund Burke, and it shows here. Grounding our attachment to people, places, and things is one way of justifying Burke’s theory of the “little platoons” of human relations. According to Scruton, our encounter with the other by means of the face and the Other in the world provides the basis for intersubjectivity in the form of shared meaning and solidarity in an age of alienation.

Scruton addresses other topics including Hegel’s political theory, religion, creation myths, the existence of God, and architecture. Much of the content is a summary of his previous works in aesthetics. Overall, the book is less than persuasive not due to any fault in the arguments (though I question a few), but because the scope of the book is so wide that it inspires the reader to read on rather than settle. Scruton beautifully touches the surface of so many issues that while a reader might not be fully convinced of all his points, he demonstrates the potential for a coherent and comprehensive worldview with an exciting and legitimate life-world.

Modernity and Wendell Berry’s “Making it Home” – Part 2

Rolling over tradition, custom, heritage, manners, and cultivation—that which gave people meaning, purpose, direction, and hope—is the spirit of modeVBTigerrnity, and this spirit of destruction took centuries to develop. I will give a short and rough sketch of this development using some major figures in Western history.

The world did not become meaningless overnight. It is tempting to say that it all started with Socrates, or at least the spirit of Socrates indwelling Hegel. It was Hegel who famously said that Socrates was, as the inventor of morality, the first modern. He wrote,

And it was in Socrates…the principle of subjectivity—of the absolute inherent independence of thought—attained free expression. He taught that man has to discover and recognize in himself what is the right and good, and that this right and good is in its nature universal. Socrates is celebrated as a teacher of morality, but we should rather call him the inventor of morality. The Greeks had a customary morality; but Socrates undertook to teach them what moral virtues, duties, etc. were. They moral man is not he who merely wills and does that which is right, not the merely innocent man, but he who has the consciousness of what he is doing.[1]

Hegel separates tradition and indwelled habits from conscious moral acts. It is not good enough for a person to act from habit or custom; one must know what is right and good and know that and when he is doing it. To use a modern term, an authentic moral act is one performed in accordance with some universal principle (without any admixture of custom), has been individually discovered and recognized, and is performed being fully conscious of its rightness and goodness. Put simply and negatively, the everyday morality that was instilled from birth and community is not true morality. Following one’s dispositions toward right action qualifies as moral only accidentally, and, in Kantian terminology, the act deserves no recognition of moral worth.

The “principle of subjectivity” is the key Hegelian phrase. The rise of the self—as the center of importance and worth, as the arbiter of all meaning, as the source of all moral determinations, and as the buffer by which everything on the outside of one’s self is controlled and mastered—is fundamentally the rise of modernity. Augustine seems like an important source of the rise of the self. In his quest to prove the existence of God in On the Free Choice of the Will, he moves from the outer world to the inner world of the mind and soul. It is a journey from the “lower” to the “higher.” In the mind, “we see [numbers] by an inner light of which the bodily sense know nothing.”[2] Finding God is a deepening of one’s reflexivity. As Charles Taylor comments, the “vantage point of the ‘I think’ [has become] outside the world of things we experience.”[3] This “inaugurate[d] at new line of development in our understanding of moral sources, one which has been formative for our entire Western culture.”[4] Ironically, it is the turn inward toward the divine that made the modern turn possible.

There is much more to Augustine that the turn inward, and he certainly was not a “modern.” Taylor is likely correct, however, in making Augustine a crucial source for the thought of Descartes and, perhaps, Kant. But it important to recognize that the inward/outward distinction for Augustine, when interpreted in light of his other writings, is actually anti-modern to a certain extent. The “inward” was one way to encounter the divine, but the outward order still provided peace, security and meaning.

This heavenly then, while it sojourns on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages, not scrupling about diversities in the manners, laws, and institutions whereby earthly peace is secured and maintained, but recognizing that, however various these are, they all tend to one and the same end of earthly peace.[5]

The outward order for Augustine is not as robust with meaning as Rowanberry finds in his Port William, but it is for Augustine a place to which one must conform for one’s good. The crucial and important difference between Augustine earthly city and Port Williams, is that the former ought not, nor must it, shape the soul. The redeemed soul, for Augustine, exists in heaven. The inner/outer distinction made innerness primary, yet it does not dismiss the outer. The outer is a place of practical affairs, a place to construct peace and security.

Much later, Hegel makes a similar, though significantly different duality:

Personality implies that as this person: (i) I am completely determined on every side (in my inner caprice, impulse, and desire, as well as by immediate external facts) and so finite, yet (ii) none the less I am simply and solely self-relation, and therefore in finitude I know myself as something infinite, universal, and free.[6]

This non-theological account of the person is a more radical inner/outer distinction than found in Augustine. Hegel is following Kant who made a similar distinction between the phenomena and noumena realms. As part of the former, each person is subject to desires and inclinations, and seeking the fulfillment of these can never rise above skill and technique. Morality is possible only if a person can somehow rise above and beyond desire and inclinations to a world of reason and free will. This is the noumena realm or the kingdom of ends. The person participates in both realms, and yet one’s dignity is solely based in one’s participation in the noumena. One’s external existence is contingent and arbitrary. With this, Kant set in motion an old idea with a twist, namely, that the external order is not the source of moral truth and dignity; both come from within and rest on the capacity of the will. As Augustine said, “those who cleave to the eternal law by their good will have no need of the temporal law.”[7] One only needs to find the truth within; the external order is a world of lower practical affairs.

There is clearly a risk in this type of quasi-solipsistic individualism: Is it left up to each person to discover and apply the truths of practical reason? What is the place of public judgment and custom? This risk is exacerbated by Kant’s commitment to the Enlightenment. He was severely critical of prejudice. It held down the masses from thought and reason, and was implanted by the “self-appointed guardians of the multitude.”[8] Prejudice makes people incapable of acting in freedom. That is, it makes individuals incapable. It is one’s civil duty, then, to clear the prejudice from society so that each person can “become more and more capable of acting in freedom.”

People are so individualized under Kant’s account that they enter society in a state of war and competition—a “mutual opposition.”[9] One cannot tolerate others yet cannot withdraw from them. It is through conflict that a people go from barbarism to culture.  Kant uses an analogy of trees in a forest to explain his view of individuals in society and progress.

It is just the same with trees in a forest: each needs the others, since each in seeking to take the air and sunlight from others must strive upward, and thereby each realizes a beautiful, straight stature, while those that live in isolated freedom put out branches at random and grow stunted, crooked, and twisted.[10]

Individuals in conflict makes humanity straight. Without society, individuals would not develop. There must be conflict in competition. But if becoming “straight” requires competition, then it is only fair that each person is equally capable of competing. People must be on equal terms and have equal opportunity when entering society. The political implications of this are tremendous, and justify massive redistributions in wealth to public education, public health, public daycare and many other programs. No one is to be left behind.

Kant’s thought began in the West (though it was rooted in Rousseau) a spirit of destruction. I use the word ‘destruction’ according to its Latin roots: destruere, meaning literally “down build” or “un-build.” The Kantian project is one of tearing down the “prejudice” that prevent people from thinking for themselves and discovering the truth concealed by custom and tradition. Later Feuerbach would call belief in prejudice and superstition “projection.” Such belief transferred human potential to the divine. According to Kant, it is the responsibility of the “vocation of free thought”—the few free thinkers of any age—to destroy in order to “create room to let that free spirit expand to the limits of its capacity.”[11] The public intellectual is a destroyer. He or she is tasked to un-build or de-construct that which keeps the masses from achieving their potential. And since this is a cosmopolitan point of view, the objects of destruction are particulars. It is the attachment to place and tradition that prejudicially justifies certain hierarchies, cultural superiority, oppression and subjection, and a localist conception of morality and rights. All this needs to be cleared to permit universality, rationality, and democratization. Kant had a prophetic voice: make ready the way of freedom. Though Kant hoped that the need for spending on education and equality would preclude costly wars and thereby bring about a perpetual peace, his individualism called for perpetual war in civil society. It is no surprise that the conservatism first arose in the early 19th century.

There is another implication to Kant’s radical individualism. It is something that Nietzsche recognized, though surely Kant would have disagreed. Nietzsche rejected the Enlightenment understanding of morality because, in Alasdair MacIntyre’s words, “if there is nothing to morality but expression of will, my morality can only be what my will creates.”[12] The solution to this Enlightenment nonsense is, according to Nietzsche, “to become who we are—human beings who are new, unique, incomparable, who give themselves laws, who create themselves!”[13] Nietzsche recognized that the end of Kantian (indeed, all Enlightenment morality) must be a morality that my will creates. We have, then, a radical individualism that treats morality as self-created; and not simply self-created, but self-determined and unique to that individual. And, we should keep in mind, individuals in society are still in competition. From here comes the will to power. But let us assume (probably wrongly) that the will to power is effectively suppressed in a liberal democracy. Since liberalism tries to create peace by reconciling various voices and factions within the society through law, the public space must become a place for individual expression and self-creating morality. What is required in liberalism, then, is the suppression of voices that call for some moral collective end or telos that is greater than simply the mutual recognition of each person’s right to self-create morality.

Despite what many liberals claim today, liberalism in the West is not Lockean; it is post-Kantian. Lockean liberalism died with the death of natural law. For Locke, there still is a sense of place and time. The social compact is not, for Locke, a cosmopolitan compact, but one for localized or regionalized political communities. He writes, “For when any number of Men have, by the consent of every individual, made a Community, they have thereby make that Community one body.”[14] Kant leaves little room for particularism and localism. Its aesthetic expression is best seen in Le Corbusier’s city planning and architecture—rational, symmetrical, and universal. Yet the Nietzschean move made each individual the arbiter of all truth and meaning. The mess that this created is left to the managerial class to manage. Their job is to ensure that people do not interfere with each other in their highly individualized pursuit of the good life. The collective end is the rational maximization of non-interference.

The result of this progression of ideas is the meaninglessness of the world. It is what Weber called “disenchantment.” The cosmos has become the “universe” and a space of instrumentalization. Everything has been reduced to use-value. All desires are meant to be satisfied. There is no meaning in things apart from our projection. And, most important, everything ‘out there’ is nothing but particles and bits of matter. As the post-modern Richard Rorty said, “Truth cannot be out there—cannot exist independently of the human mind.”[15] Rorty, of course, finds meaning to be universally a social construct, so meaning is communal. But he also thinks that it is the prerogative of the few (the “ironists”) to redefine language and terms to move society forward. The post-moderns are just as individualistic as their modern predecessors.

We can now return to Berry’s Rowanberry and see how his enlistment in an army of progress and destruction is not about war, but about modernity itself. His destruction was more than a trampling drive toward some goal in the future but a perspective on the world. The world became meaninglessness. It was “empty.” It was in his following orders to destroy that he realized that meaninglessness is possible. It had never occurred to him in his life on the farm that his world on the farm could be nothing but a site on some geographer’s map and something subject to destruction to achieve some world-historical goal.

Rowanberry’s fighting “was not work that made much of anything” (86). Is Kantian destruction anything other than a critique? Hannah Arendt says no. “System-making” would be for Kant another “dogmatism.”[16] This is why, she reports, Mendelssohn called Kant the Alles-Zermalmer—the All-Destroyer.[17] In the mind of soldiers, says Rowanberry, “You had a thing on your mind that you wanted, or wanted to get to, and anything at all that stood in your way, you had the right to destroy” (86). A futural world-historical goal combined with a meaningless universe makes the destruction of “things that people had made well and care for a long time” completely justified. This was the cold reality of Rowanberry’s new world.

Berry’s short story is about war, but not merely conventional war. It is the war that is modernity itself. Its motivator is an eschatological vision of future that dismisses the imprint of the past on the present. The future is all that matters; and it is not merely some future present that we are after, as if the future is attainable. The future goal is always futural. The war never stops. Prejudice is never fully eradicated. Rowanberry got a respite from it all, but he had changed; and the sounds of artillery fire will always be in his mind—the creeping anxiety that his old world is meaningless or, at best, a bygone age targeted for destruction. This anxiety must be actively suppressed in order to conserve, or better put, instaurate the old world.

Part 1

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[1] G.W.F. Hegel Philosophy of History, Trans. T.M. Knox (London: Oxford University Press, 1967), 280.

[2] Ibid, 46.

[3] Charles Taylor Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), 131.

[4] Ibid, 132.

[5] Augustine The Political Writings of St. Augustine (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 1962), 153.

[6] Philosophy of Right, 37.

[7] Augustine On Free Choice of the Will Trans. by Thomas Williams (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1993), 25.

[8] “What is Enlightenment?”

[9] “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View”

[10] Ibid, 5th Thesis

[11] “What is Enlightenment?”

[12] Alasdair MacIntrye After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981),113-114.

[13] The Gay Science, Section 335.

[14] 2nd Treatise, 96.1-3.

[15] Richard Rorty Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 5.

[16] Hannah Arendt Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 32.

[17] Ibid, 34.

Modernity and Wendell Berry’s “Making it Home” – Part 1

Just below the surface of Wendell Berry’s story “Making it Home,” a short story in his collection titled Fidelity,[1] is a critique of modern warfare and its unreserved and thoughtless destruction of people and propert51vIZtb1D+L._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_y. The story is about a man, Art Rowanberry, who survived World War II, though wounded, and experienced all the war’s death and destruction. The war shaped him. During those three years of training and warfare, his sense of the permanence of things was shattered, and all things, places and people, became nothing more than mere obstacles to his army’s goal; everything was subject to destruction for simply being in the way. All things and people were particle-ized, not only by bombs, but in the minds of Rowanberry and his fellow soldiers. During those years, Rowanberry’s world lost its meaning.

Berry’s story is more than an anti-war story and it is more than Hemmingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River” reimagined, as some have argued. It is, in its depths, a subtle and yet profound critique of modernity. The story juxtaposes the meaninglessness and the inevitable destructive tendency of modernity’s radical nominalist and disenchanted world with a world of enchantment through attachment and affection, rooted in a people’s history, way of life, and their cultural imprint on the landscape and their connection with the soil. In an enchanted world, the intimacy of people and land has made a place in space. Life is not merely the occupation of a site or geographic coordinate. Nor is one’s property merely an asset and government-determined residential lot. Life in places has a fundamental temporal connection between people and between people and things. Modernity, on the other hand, is a utopia (lit. no-place) of competition and progress with no thought of or respect for permanence, historical and temporal meaning, and the interconnectedness of people and their things and places. Modernity, in both its ideal progressive forms and its goals of market-driven consumption, view the current world and its connection with the past as in the way.

Rowanberry is walking home to the place that made him both a farmer and a man. He is still in uniform as he walks, though it is now loose and ready to be closeted. As he walks, he recalls some of his experiences in war. He thinks to himself, “Everything was only pieces put together that were ready to fly apart, and nothing was whole” and “there was nothing you could look at that was whole—man or beast or house or tree—that had the right to stay whole very long” (88). And why would such things have a right to stay whole? After all, a soldier’s purpose was to champion over his opposition. Anything that stood in the way of the goal was fit for destruction: “Farms, houses, whole towns—things that people had made well and cared for a long time—you make nothing of” (86). As Rowanberry walked (not marched) home, as his uniform is almost shedding off, he finds himself caught between the world of meaninglessness and the world of meaning. He recognizes the farms and its farmers, the same type of farms and farmers around which he grew up and became a man. Yet now, after being totalized and homogenized for destructive action by the military, there is the lingering possibility in his mind that all things are meaningless, that everything is merely a collection of bits of matter. His world was once this place. Now it is one among many or, rather, one big world resting in a void. Indeed, he now thought of himself as “walking on the whole round world. He felt the great, empty distance that the world was turning in, far away from the sun and the moon and the stars” (85). All that provided him meaning and purpose is called into question. Being itself is called in question.

Rowanberry is caught between two worlds—a world reducible to bits and a world irreducibly complex, the latter being a world of relations or, put differently, an organic reality. War made this former reductionism possible; it was presented to him as a possibility of existence. But the story is not simply about war and its effects on those who participated in it. It is about how the reduction of the world to bits of matters forming one world in a void destroys attachment to particulars, and with it, meaning. It is about a man enlisted in a project, one that gave him the “right to destroy” that which was in the way of his assigned goals. Berry’s point in the story is that the modern march to the future has made the past and present subject to destruction, and with this destruction goes any hope for the future. Modernity presses upon us that eerie possibility that it is all meaningless, a possibility hidden in past ages. And after rejecting the likelihood of the possibility, it still lingers as if trying to master you and your view of the world. Even after Rowanberry is united with his family, he has to shake his head to suppress the call to meaninglessness, for he thought that “somewhere off in the distance, [he heard] the heavy footsteps of artillery rounds striding toward them” (103). He is a changed man. The possibility for meaninglessness will never leave him. War disclosed it to him, and now he must learn again to dwell on his land with his people.

Part 2

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[1]  I cite the text parenthetically.