Monday, October 24, 2011
TERRY EAGLETON 3
I continue to share thoughts here about Terry Eagleton’s 2009 book “Reason, Faith, and Revolution”.*
Eagleton quotes Nietzsche (p.15), as I noted at the end of the prior Post, that “replacing an omnipotent God with an omnipotent humanity alters surprisingly little” because “there is still a stable metaphysical center to the world”, except that it’s now humanity rather than “a deity”.
But in the (meta-)physics of things, such a humanity-based “center to the world” cannot be stable at all. Human-ness is too fragile to stably center its own existence; like a passenger standing up on a too-widely swinging train or bus, humans need to hang onto something. Like passengers on a vessel at sea in a storm, humans need to hang onto something; and in the storm of Life, when this dimension is racked by huge and powerful waves, no human being is going to have sufficient ‘sea legs’ to simply balance him/herself alone and unaided.
In fact I would say that it was one of the great dangers of the West’s developing knowledge and skills at manipulating this-dimension, this base-board Plane of Existence (PoE) of the great Multi-planar boards of existence, that lured it into the cocky delusion that it didn’t need ‘organized religion’ or God. Starting in the Renaissance, fueled by the Scientific Revolution and then the technological wonders of the Industrial Revolution, and given the relatively controlled environment of the great matrix of European urban culture by the middle of the 19th century, it might have appeared that humans no longer needed “the hypothesis” of God or of any Beyond or of any higher PoE.
And certainly, life for humans in Europe was getting progressively better compared to the Middle Ages (it has been suggested by historians that European peasants did not recover the quality of life achieved at the height of the Roman Empire until 1800).
But as understandable an illusion or delusion it is, it is still just that.
And Christianity, certainly in its Catholic version, has continued to assert that.
Which has not endeared it to those who have a great political, cultural, and perhaps personal stake in seeing a ‘secular’ conception of human existence prevail.
And as the now increasingly secularized West seeks to spread itself around the world, adherents of the other great Axial religions will ‘resist’ if for no other reason than they still grasp the utter folly of the Mono-Planar, secular, human-dependent vision of existence. To many of the world’s cultures it will be conceptually lunatic to embrace the ‘secular’ vision that America – as ‘leader’ of the West – seeks to impose.
It will also be, they may well realize, cultural suicide.
Thus for an American government to simplistically proclaim that ‘if you resist America you are resisting Democracy’ is profoundly insufficient as an analysis and potentially hugely inaccurate as an accusation. Some – perhaps many – of the world’s cultures may well retain sufficient objectivity to consider prudently whether postmodern secularism (which denies the possibility of any effectual Beyond or any Higher PoE) is too dangerously corrosive a ‘gift’ to accept; whether such a vampire should not be refused an invitation to come in, even if it is bearing gifts.
In what might be considered ‘peasant’ shrewdness, other cultures may wonder if there isn’t a way to get Democracy, or at least the benefits of the West’s ‘Abundance’, without literally sticking their neck out to the teeth of postmodern secularism.
And then again, since the once-fabled Abundance associated with the West – and especially with America – for the past few centuries is now fading, then perhaps they can see what the ‘mature’ Western nations cannot or do not dare to see: that Democracy and the Mono-Planar postmodern secularism of the Western ‘elites’ are not necessarily inseparable. Perhaps other cultures sense that they might develop a new synthesis, filtering out the toxic Mono-Planar postmodern secularism and creating some form of Multi-Planar and democratic culture.
Of course, this is going to be gall-and-wormwood to American Mono-Planar, postmodern, secularizing elites, who rather think they are right and very clever and therefore have some sort of Warrant to enforce their illuminations upon the rest of the world.
In which case, the West’s New Mono-Planar, Secular and ‘liberal’ Order is turning out to be as bossy and invasive as the West was in the bad old patriarchal days of world-grabbing colonialism. To insist that the vast majority of the world’s peoples and polities ‘just don’t get it’ and so the West is going to have to ‘civilize’ them as part of its ‘mission from God’ is not going to be better received now than it was way back then.
Even if the Beyond or ‘God’ has been left out of it. The West is not Jake and Elwood ‘on a mission from God’ against all the nasty bad guys (and gals) on behalf of the Good nuns and the Innocent orphans at the old orphanage. Indeed, the West – now sadly and lethally welded to its Mono-Planar postmodern secularist ‘elite’ thought – is on a mission against God (or the Beyond). And don’t think the rest of the world’s peoples and polities and cultures don’t see that.
But also, of course: all that is now only the conceptual front and pretext for the ‘mature’ West’s now urgent – and increasingly desperate – need to get its hands on the resources of whatever nations can be Grabbed, simply to replenish economies that have been blown and deflated, as well as to retain some traction against up-and-coming competitor economies closer to the great Eurasian – rather than European-American – center of gravity.
So this is all going to get very ugly, and violently so. Multiculturalism and pluralism and ‘rich diversity’ and all the rest of it suddenly don’t work when even the Mono-Planar postmodern secular elites now face cultures that ‘just don’t get it’.
So here’s the post-2008 Politically Correct Multiculturalism Corollary: you don’t qualify for actual respect for your traditions and culture if we (Western elites) decide that ‘you just don’t get it’.
But let nobody think that it’s simply a matter of Good Democracy versus Evil Oppression. Many of the world’s peoples and polities and cultures realize what perhaps the elites here don’t want to admit or consider: ‘Democracy’ as the West nowadays defines it is doubly-vampiric: in the second place it seeks to Grab their stuff, and in the first place it insists on Grabbing their souls.
The West’s current programme – spear-headed by the US – is to Grab natural resources and usefully located bases under the pretext of imposing this Mono-Planar, postmodern secular version of ‘Democracy’ (I will call it Vampire Democracy) in the process.
As Christianity – especially in its Catholic form – has resisted this type of vampirism in the West, cultures that are Grounded in the other great Axial religions will also resist. And perhaps violently.
Fellow/Sister Citizens, Our government, acting as Our agent, has now cast Us in the wrong role in the mother of all vampire movies. Many of the shrewder, though less-educated, of the world’s peoples are going to figure that Americans go to dentists so often in order to keep their teeth sharp. And encountering the grotesque calling-card of a drone is not going to convince them otherwise. Even a drone operated by a liberated (and even lesbian or transgender) female military ‘pilot’ under orders from a liberated female Secretary of State and a liberated female National Security Advisor and a history-changing black President … is not going to fool them.
Benighted as they might be (after all, they all ‘just don’t get it’), they – like any Transylvanian householder – know that the vampires walk again, and this time they are looking for your stuff as well as your soul. And naturally, your kids are fair game too.
Not even in the most witless B-movies of the 1950s, no matter how low the production-values, did the vampires ever expect to be welcomed as liberators. For that matter, one of the few qualities the old vampires could lay claim to was that they knew what they were and didn’t try to fool themselves.** Yes, until they got into position they’d try to fool the peasants (rarely successfully) and if they went to London they’d try to fool the elites (successfully rather more often than not). But they knew what they were.
Which is more than you can say for the American Mono-Planar, postmodern, secular elites … who are still convinced that they ‘get it’ and are ‘liberators’ and that if they are opposed then they – like the Rightist, patriotistic Bushistas of recent unhappy memory – are justified in declaring those who ‘just don’t get it’ to be Evil.
And the fangs – even if embedded in the skull of a newly liberated gay or trans-whatever ‘soldier’ – will come out in a way that the Rainbow advocates will most surely prefer not to think about. (Ironically, gay and lesbian American military personnel may now be far more liable to the old demonization that they are dangerous and unnatural as they, now ‘liberated’ themselves, participate in the droning and blasting which are the tooth and claw of trying to Grab other peoples and their stuff and their souls. Funny how the night moves.)
But Eagleton neatly continues Nietzsche’s thought (p.16) that if absolute power and authority are not completely transferred to human beings, then humanism will always be nothing more than “a continuation of God by other means”. If that was a distinct possibility of humanism in the classical Liberal age in the West, it is now an accomplished reality of ‘liberalism’ of the current age in the West.
But of course the power once held by God is not at all going to be transferred to ‘people’, not to all of them. Because so many of them ‘just don’t get it’ and need to be herded like cattle until that glorious (but apparently far off) day when they are ‘liberated’ from the oppression of their own reliance on a Beyond. I don’t think that day will ever come, given humanity’s perennial seeking of a Beyond.
Perhaps – given the narrow vision and ludicrously short time-frame characteristic of both eager elites and desperate States – that’s considered good news in the Beltway: a permanent need to ‘liberate’ the resistant peoples and cultures of the planet, a mission civilisatrice that will keep everybody – pols, Correct elites, Pentagon – actively employed until the earth be no more. Or until the Dollar collapses – whichever comes first. Take your pick.
In the meantime, the Mono-Planar, postmodern secular elites will be the new priesthood.
But this new priesthood is also going to be – like the Russian Orthodox priesthood – leashed tightly to a State; indeed to the New-Order Western Mono-Planar, postmodern, secular State (in its Nanny and Security mutation) that is the new Leviathan. And no matter how much that beastie wears ‘Democracy’ as a wig, it is Leviathan and its ‘liberation’ will be in essence much more of an oppression and an Occupation … of soul.
And rather than the arrogant and still-waxing Leviathan of the old patriarchal colonialist days, the West is now the desperate-because-waning Leviathan of the current era.
Eagleton is going with Nietzsche’s thought. And his solution (p.16) is a hefty dose of “tragic art” along the lines of Augustine’s rather sane observation that “created beings should not presume to create”.
You might make the case that Mono-Planar, postmodern, secularism’s cadres are not trying to ‘create’ but rather they are only trying to ‘liberate’. BUT in trying to liberate human beings from any working reliance upon and relationship with some Beyond, they are most certainly trying to ‘create’ a type of human never seen before … very much, ironically, like the Commies tried to create the ‘New Soviet Man’ (in the generic, not gendered, sense) back in the day. They are presuming that they can indeed bring about a thoroughly Mono-Planar, postmodern, secular Human Being (the New Liberal Person, perhaps you could call it; or the New Correct Person).
But a human being forced to rely merely on him/herself when facing the frakkulent trials and tribulations and challenges of existence on this incomplete and tortured PoE is going to wind up becoming a monster indeed. S/he will need to become emotionally and mentally deranged in order to sustain the level of resolve and energy to carry the full weight of this huge burden.***
And that is not, in terms of (meta-)physical engineering, what the platform was designed for. As the Axial religions have never ceased to point out. Human beings are not designed to master ‘infinity’ and can’t successfully operate under such a load nor even navigate un-Aided in such an environment. You might as well try to navigate Picard’s Star-ship with a boy-scout compass. Or – more accurately – try to use a ’57 Chevy (with that brawny fuel-injected 283-cubic inch V-8 in that classically-lined body) as a Star-ship … and then trying to navigate it with the compass that you could have gotten at the bottom of a cereal box in that year.
The New Secular Person must, as Eagleton nicely puts it (p.16), deny “that our freedom thrives only within the context of a more fundamental dependency”.
Bingo, I would say. Eagleton is himself over a barrel in this book. He is viscerally opposed to the frakkery of the type of dogmatic whackery that he sees in Correct Theory nowadays. But that’s partly because he is temperamentally hostile to that type of dogmatism generally. And yet any ‘organized’ human endeavor runs the risk of dogmatism – so he is also really as unfriendly to organized religion as he is to ‘organized secularism’.
But beneath that hostility to the ‘organized’ bit, he also seems profoundly unimpressed by the humans-as-their-own-gods gambit that is utterly essential to the Mono-Planar, postmodern, secular elite Project.
He never really resolves that in the book. But he is not going to throw the ‘baby’ of God out with the ‘bathwater’ of organizational dynamics.
Roger Ebert winds up in somewhat the same position when reviewing the recent, award-winning German indie film “The White Ribbon”. The film explores a German farming village just before World War 1, and how the highly-structured social order that the parents impose on themselves and their children manifests in some lethal hypocrisy among the adults and in some even more violent derangements in what seem to be their lovely children. Ebert draws the too-simple conclusion that where “freedom” isn’t embraced, despotism will follow.
That is insufficient from a Christian point of view, certainly. If ‘freedom’ is not accurately grounded in a true conception of the nature and purpose of the human being and the human place in the overall scheme (and order or (Latin) Ordo) of existence, then exercising such un-Grounded ‘freedom’ is going to constitute and create a despotism and enslavement all its own.
The Mono-Planar, postmodern, secular come-back to try to get around all that is: you can never know for certain what is ‘true’ (echoing Pilate to Jesus: ‘And what is truth?’) and so it’s all a matter of your preference (at least, your preference if you ‘get it’; otherwise not).
(I would add here that at least Ebert makes some sense. A.O.Scott, writing his review of the film in ‘The New York Times’, predictably goes for the ‘patriarchy’ gambit: that the village’s patriarchal and hierarchical order is the cause of the village’s violence and that probably the film is also saying - he infers – that it was the Germanic, Victorian, patriarchal hierarchy that was also the cause of World War 1. Anybody who can imagine raising children without some ‘hierarchy’ surely isn’t clear on the concept of raising any of those blessed critters. And I would say that wayyyyyy too little attention has been given to just what a ‘matriarchal hierarchy’ would look like, even though feminist dogma holds that women are by nature ‘relational’ and precisely not ‘hierarchical’, which compares apples to oranges and doesn’t really answer the question at all. But the ‘Times’ is the major media font of the New Secular Order and its ‘reporting’ and commentary are the source of many of the Memos amplifying that Order’s latest doctrinal formulations.)
Eagleton continues nicely (p.16) that it is precisely humans’ dependence upon God that allows us to be self-determining. Because, he continues rightly, it is only when humans have an accurate concept of what the Human Being, the human Self, is genuinely designed to be … it is only then – in my terms – that humans can begin to work toward authentically and genuinely actualizing that Self in time and history, on the field of this life on the base-Plane of what is a Multi-Planar fundamental Reality.
If you don’t know what the vessel or ‘platform’ is designed to do, then you can’t really use it well. This holds for the cargo-cult native encountering a motor-vehicle in the jungle, and for the military officer figuring how best to use a new type of vehicle, vessel, or aircraft: you will wind up under-utilizing it or over-utilizing it.
In the former case you may never derive the full advantages and benefits that it can offer. And in the latter case, it may well fail catastrophically under the pressure you have put upon it in your ignorance of its operating parameters and purposes.
Thus he mentions Aquinas here (p.17) to the effect that “God is the power that allows us to be ourselves, much as the love of parents allows us to be ourselves”. Bingo again.
This of course may put Eagleton in hot water with anybody who connects those dots to the Correct antipathy to Family and Parental Authority (to be replaced by the feminine Leviathan of the Nanny State, itself the metastasis of Carol Giligan’s 1982 Mommy At The Breakfast Table). But there is nowadays so little dot-connecting, since a hallmark of the War on Culture (inaccurately termed ‘culture wars’) is the emotional stampeding of public opinion precisely to avoid the type of thought and deliberation that is the profoundly human characteristic and gift of the marvelous human prefrontal cortex. Such thinking would simply ‘obstruct’ the quick ‘progress’ of the revolution.
As one Soviet prosecutor, one Alexander Georgevich Beloboradov, said in the 1920 trial of an accused named Boris Domenko, in regard to the prosecution’s lack of any real evidence to support the charges of counter-revolutionary activity and thoughts: “If we begin to sift through separate facts, then perhaps it will be possible to refute them …”; in other words, facts don’t matter when you are making a revolution. You don’t think – you just convict and shoot.
Beloboradov continues, in his closing comments to the judges: “I would like, comrade judges, to draw your attention to the fact that now, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, in an epoch in which all values have been seen to be dethroned, the appeal to conscience is useless.”****
We here today are, I think, increasingly under the dictatorship of elites who no longer even pretend to speak for the ‘proletariat’ (since those lumps – we lumps – ‘just don’t get it’ anyway in the first place). From a theological point of view, this is even worse a situation than it might seem from a political point of view. Because increasing numbers of Americans – especially the young – are being drilled in the grossly inadequate, inaccurate, and profoundly insufficient delusions of the Mono-Planar, postmodern, secularist world-view; and that cannot end well for anybody.
Nietzsche condemned, Eagleton reminds us (p.18), 19th-century Liberals (who, you recall, are hell and gone from the ‘liberals’ of today). So did the Nazis and the Communists and even D.H. Lawrence (who saw sex generally as the path to liberation).
But “secular liberalism is not the ‘natural’ antidote to religious faith”, Eagleton asserts. Just so. Because secular liberalism is not ‘natural’: it rather un-naturally tries to squash the Human Being into the flattened prison of the Mono-Plane, and into the equally flattened sense of just what the Human Self contains within its mysterious depths.
And for that matter, Eagleton says, ‘secular liberalism’ is not Liberalism either. Nice point again. The classical Liberalism of the late-18th and the 19th-centuries was seeking to free humans from ‘organized religion’ but not necessarily from God and the Beyond. Few Liberals of that era were atheists. You could make a case that Liberalism managed to survive simply because it existed in the strong ‘afterglow’ of Christianity, drawing upon that Faith’s major tenets and able to work with (European) populations already well-formed in that Faith, while then also seeking to reduce the influence of the organized religion among those populations (without erasing or diluting the vital beneficent effects of the Faith upon them).
Be that as it may, the ‘liberalism’ of today seeks to eradicate not only organized religion but the Faith itself. Or any Faith (capitalized to indicate that this Faith is inextricably tied to a Beyond). Instead, the Correct Nanny State, a Leviathan ruled by those elites who ‘get it’, will become the be-all and end-all, the alpha and omega, of its Citizens.
And indeed that Leviathan’s population will cease to be Citizens and will simply be some form of child-like, client-demographics, dependent upon the State for whatever rights and entitlements its elite governors and governesses deem to dole out. This type of ‘client-politics’, itself inextricably tied to Identity Politics, is neither ‘progress’ nor ‘traditional’ but rather constitutes a vast and deep political regression to the era of colonialist and tribal clan-politics.
(In this regard, concerning the so-called Knowledge And Service economy and society, I think that the ‘Knowledge-elites’ are still not so much subordinate members of the governing class yet, but rather are themselves a ‘client-demographic’, dependent for jobs, pay, status, and social authority upon the government that in so many ways funds their personal and professional lives directly or indirectly. Their future is thus deeply tied to the Beltway’s ability to fund them, which – as is becoming increasingly clear – is an ability that now will require much Grabbing of other peoples’ stuff (as well as of their souls) if the Knowledge-elites are to continue in the manner to which they have become accustomed.)
The Great Grab, already somewhat established in this country where both the souls and the assets of the vast working majority of the population have been taken and squandered – directly or indirectly, is now going to be a traveling road-show and is going overseas. Attendance in the targeted countries will not be optional.
Americans are now – to use the old phrase – ‘circus people’, and of a particularly and peculiarly violent kind.
Is that yet clear to many?
*New London: Yale University Press. ISBN: 978-0-300-15179-4
**In this regard, consider 1979’s film version of “Dracula” with Frank “I am a king of my kind” Langella as the Count. Self-aware, self-possessed, and aware of the terribilita not only of life but of himself, he is the most attractively mature of all the males in the film. A fact which is not un-noticed by Lucy, who until the very end finds herself attracted to him as a male far more than to her utterly conventional though well-intentioned father and her fiancée (a young, thoroughly modern London attorney who even owns a snazzy new Rolls-Royce roadster). Only the equally mature Dr. Van Helsing (ably played by Laurence Olivier) can come close, but young Lucy isn’t much interested in older professors.
It’s a variation of Milton’s fine conceit that Lucifer, embodiment of Evil, is actually far more complex and interesting than any of the conventional ‘good’ guys.
Not that I am in favor of Lucifer just because he appears more ‘authentic’ than folks who choose the Good; that was a Romantic Boomery mistake: assuming that as long as you were in touch with the most primal and ‘basic’ (they actually should have said ‘base’) elements in yourself, then you were far more ‘real’ and ‘authentic’ than if you conventionally and traditionally strove to conform your Self to some more abstract and ideal Self.
The solution to this apparent conundrum – and an axiom of mature Christian and Catholic thought – is that those who seek to conform themselves to the Good potentials within them must not settle for a simple conformity to rules and appearances, but rather must seek not a surface con-formity but rather engage in the agon of achieving, with the utterly indispensable Help of Grace, a trans-Forming of the Self; they must set forth on a lifelong odyssey Upwards within themselves, toward those potentials inherent within the Image of God in Whom they have been created.
The Vampire – as marvelously demonstrated by Langella – does not, cannot, make that odyssey. But in refusing to conform, in embracing clear-headedly some vital core of his/her being, the ‘mature’ Vampire at least has more ‘authenticity’ (but not Christian Genuine-ness or Echt-heit) than those humans who simply slide-by with what St. Paul would call the lethal spirit-death of conformity to the surface appearances, to the exo-skeleton, of the Law – that is to say, to the appearances but not to the living and vitally Life-giving substance of Goodness.
A peanut-shell without the peanut is not really the real thing.***There is a new book out in which the author finds ‘psychopaths’ disturbingly frequent among the ranks of CEOs and the very-successful. I am going to imagine that the same is true among the genuinely Mono-Planar postmodern secularist elites: the energies of the human self are going to have to be sustained in maximum-overdrive and beyond in order to fill the roles of both creature and Creator. The human airframe or vessel or engine can’t take that kind of abuse for very long before baaaad things start to happen. The psychological costs – and emotional and maturational deformities – that must be incurred by the New Secular Person must be profound, whether they manifest in emotional valence as manically upbeat or grimly downbeat.
****Quoted in Rachel Polonsky’s 2010 history entitled “Molotov’s Magic Lantern”, p.250. Beloboradov, by the way, became head of the NKVD (daddy of the KGB), but was exterminated in Stalin’s purges of the late 1930s. He went to his death whispering urgently to prisoners and guards along the hallway “I am Beloboradov – pass the word to the Central Committee that I am being tortured!”. But it was his own former revolutionary associates who had approved his name on the death-list.