Last and First Men
The crisis of capitalism is coming to a head and ominously the left is still stuck in the world of the second Internationale. At the crucial moment of revolution, the general public will look at what the left has to offer and say no, turn around and move into some swindle concocted by hirelings of the capitalist elite. The marxist left has a key set of transitional concepts, but they fumbled the ball, somehow, and it is not always clear why. It is not because they banished god from ideology, but the larger question of social consciousness and cosmic beliefs is not well handled by the rote dogmas of the early revolutionaries. And the materialist outlook is dismal and pedestrian and produces idiotic glops of scientism on the issues of ethics, values and anything that doesn’t fit in the Iron Cage mindset. And that includes the Darwinian religious cult.
It is not clear how to repair this situation, although I tried in Last and First Men to deal with the issues. We discuss religion at lot here, but at no point was there any suggestion about supernaturalism, beliefs in god, or the promotion of Axial Age religion. Instead we adopted the broader context of modernity and tried to suggest that the centre of gravity for the left (communist) should be deeper in the modern transition, that is, actually using the dialectic, creating a larger field consisting of the whole of the early modern onward to the ‘divide’ point in the macro model. From there a communist initiative with neo-post-marxist flavor can create a balanced culture with an initiative that is clearly ‘just after’ the divide as a path/vehicle into the new era generated in the modern transition. On that basis the constructs of postcapitalism, by definition here, ‘neo-communist’, can echo the resources of the larger modern culture. That’s a bit nebulous, but the basic point is clear. Consider the triad of Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer (Schelling, what to say): they simply invoked a domain of philosophy into which the religions of antiquity will be forced to travel through. And it is a robust universe with many opposites. To throw all that away for the narrow positivism and materialism of the nineteenth century is a recipe for failure. The question is not only that of a revolutionary option, not only that of a critique of economics with an alternative, but the creation of a culture that can genuinely call itself a living society of postcapitalist individualists, with rights and liberties, rights and duties, possibly surrender of private property, certainly surrender of capitalist large-scale properties, and a mindset open to the arts, philosophies and sciences of the future. The idea of communism needs its marxist life support. But there is something wrong in the result. Constant marx worship isn’t going to find out what that is.
There is an irony here: the right, seeing the materialism of the left, adopted the samkhya materialism of antiquity and outflanked the left in morning’s work.
There is a larger alternative in the slow decline into some modern version of ancient decadence, viz. the Roman Empire. Contemplation of that era fascinates many even to this day, and I often wonder if the elites in the US haven’t taken a cue from the endless claims of the decline of the American Empire in the supposed inevitability of ‘decline and fall’ to find the maxims to dismantle the ‘American Republic’ ready some day to tune their channels to the crossing of Rubicon for the last stages of Empire. Somewhere, it is clear, the imperial metaphor has bemused American elites.
We should be ready to debrief that set of tired metaphors and we can be sure the dynamics of modern civilization, although it could indeed enter into decline and fall, has a far vaster potential and needs to be brought into that fuller style future beyond the grotesque Dark Ages of antiquity (mostly in the Occident we should note). I often think the medieval period was actually hoped for by some of humanity’s hidden guides, seeing the catastrophe of Roman civilization based on slavery and gladitorial games. Let’s hope the same strategy of driving civilization into decline to refix its fundamentals beyond capitalist fixation isn’t forced on us by a situation in terminal endgame, plus climate change. We seem almost there at times. The American system is not far away from the grotesque as in antiquity. The system is turning into system of jackals trying to refix Xtianity as compatible with Ayn Rand. The poor will be the damned and end in hell, in good Calvinist finales. The end will be a crippled population so demented it has to find a way to scrap the whole mess and start over.
As things are now the Stalins will take over in the desolation of Marx’s ‘critique of bourgeois ethics’ and will get the rerun of Stalin’s attempt to create the humanzee. (Needs something of a fact check here). This larger project is obviously an almost impossible task, at first, but the point is that revolution is more than an economic transformation, it has to be the platform for a new culture or civilization, and it had better be good. The whole immense sacrifice of the bolshevik experiment was in the end simply thrown away. That’s a sad outcome, irregardless of the dead elephant of the world Gorbachev attempted to reckon with, and he finally, after too many VIP powwows with the capitalist elites, was led down the road of the more or less throwing away Russia along with bolshevism in a feast for the capitalist jackals who plundered the societies so dismantled.
I think the onset of marxist boilerplate ideology is a phenomenon visible in most religions: crystallization of mechanical thought habit and ritual thinking, The solution should have been there in the general humanism of both Marx and Engels. But the times were a bum steer.
And the problem is getting harder. Modern american culture is beset with a lot of complicated neo-religious elements, from yoga to buddhism, and much else. These new ‘moderns’ won’t listen to historical materialists trying to use reductionism to excise religion. A critique of these backward looking cults (with often futuristic content) is a tall order. Buddhism is already materialist so the strategy there is going to backfire.
A mere inkling of a new approach in Last and First Men is to backtrack one generation to the climax of the Enlightenment, integrate from that point to the 1848 era which is just past the modern transition and looking to the future with a ‘package’ of the modern transition as a blueprint for a new culture of modernity, this time with a response as prophesied to the juggernaut of capitalism. Looking at de facto communist societies we see the danger of the confusing misfire that turned the communist idea into a monstrosity. A more viable approach would be a lot like a successful ‘Social Democratic’ experiment, except that it is communist, remorphing slowly toward the larger system that can do the obvious things that have worked, next to a larger fully communist goalset. It must retain the flexible mindset of general capitalist culture, but achieve for the first time the basic axioms of a communist definitional constitution: the response as hoped for to the well analyzed outcome predicted by Marx/Engels et al.
A useful question is to ask, what is the modern transition, if it is real as a unified transformation, and how could a revolutionary movement stage such a transition, one that can juggle all the variables in a movement to a new civilization. That’s a reminder of the immensity of the task, but it might also be the clue to evading the missteps that arose from not really thinking through what a postcapitalist society might be.
In a way, marxism suffered bad luck: the onset of scientism and the confusions of Hegelianism met and conjoined and the result is botched dialectical materialism as a stillborn religion.
You can almost do the trick by a real dialectic of poised opposites and complements and the early modern is a hypercomplex example. Everything is poised in a complement symphony: the reformation, science, causality, liberty, rationality, romanticism, proto-communism and liberalism, with a flood of innovations from technology to music and literature, and finally capitalist economics and the marxist/communist challenge.
One exercise is to start with Social Democracy and remorph it from its downfall to a communist version that can do what the brief peak moments of balanced capitalism seemed at the time able to do: the issues of equality, employment, middle-classing, etc,… Despite the paranoia as to communist idiocy, where the term was never even defined, the postcapitalist era will be driven by necessity, as was early capitalism, and that necessity will be guided by a canon of communist axioms.
Man as a species is in the middle of a long macro transition since the onset of the Neolithic: that mystery is the real ‘revolution’ and to be able to learn at least a little of its spectacular ‘evolution’ will help the formation of a new civilization. To learn the nature of his own history will be a central task in the deliberate creation of postcapitalism. That task is left with the mysteries of the early modern, with its flood of novelties, not least the appearance as if on schedule of great art, literature and music.
I think Americans should be running scared. The last generation has kicked the tripwire into a more ominous ‘decline’ than that of the Roman Empire, whatever the correlations. The correlations are there in the macro model of WHEE: the modern transition sent the ship into the future with a one shot deal of new energy. The future is level or downhill. It can’t go up unless the riddle of macro transitions can be found. That is one reason for the sermons against modernity and the call to reestablish religion. It won’t work, and in fact it won’t happen. The riddle goes deeper, and this one reason for the hostility of marxism to religion. But crude materialism isn’t the answer either. I think that phase was really a way to stun religionists into a new way of thinking with hypnosis. But the creation of a meta-religion, meta-science that can create a culture that can create buddhas could be one ace up the sleeve of repentant historical materialists trying to find the real thing. The materiality of soul in the mystery of the emergence of homo sapiens.