Uncommitted    -         Committed
Universal          -          Particular
Unbiased           -          Biased
Global               -          Local
Tepid                 -          Vivid
Many                 -          Few
Disconnected    -          Connected

[…] Don Quixote [is] a romantic political figure, but not a political romantic.

Instead of seeing the higher harmony, he was capable of seeing the difference between right and wrong and of making a decision in favor of what seemed right to him, a capacity that the political romantic lacks […]

[…] the ability to make a decision between right and wrong […] is the principle of every political energy […] Where political activity begins, political romanticism ends […] Romantic activity […] is a contradiction in terms. 

Any relationship to a legal or moral judgment would be incongruous […] and every norm would seem to be an antiromantic tyranny. A legal or a moral decision would be senseless and it would inevitably destroy romanticism. This is why the romantic is not in a position to deliberately take sides and make a decision.

On romantic grounds, he cannot even decisively reject the theory of the state that proceeds from the view that man is "evil by nature.” Even if many romantics find this theory uncongenial, there is still the possibility of romanticizing this wicked person, the “beast,” as long as he only remains sufficiently remote.

From the standpoint of romanticism, what is at stake is something higher than a decision.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p. 116, 124, 147, 160

Strauss too perceives an inner insincerity and a subjective tyranny in the romantic. He explains it […] in terms of the inner uncertainty in a conflict between antagonistic forces.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p.151

If Royce and Bourne failed to give enough attention to the reconciliation of conflicts and the mechanisms of social cohesion, it was because they saw desiccation as a greater danger than social conflict.

The debate about cultural pluralism came down to the issue posed by William James in his exchange with Hobhouse. The assimilationists, like Hobhouse, worried about intolerance and fanaticism, whereas the pluralists, like James, saw "insipidity" as a greater danger - the "tame flabbiness," as Bourne put it, that was "accepted as Americanization.”

In their view, the rootless, emancipated, migratory individuals so highly prized by critics of particularism were cultural renegades who believed in nothing except their own right to a good time. Boas was impressed by the traits shared by all men and women, once the differences imposed by culture were peeled away. Royce and Bourne, like Brownson, attached more importance to cultural differences and to the loyalty they inspired. They were less concerned with the danger of competing loyalties than with the erosion of the very capacity for loyalty.

Even blind loyalty, Royce thought, was better than a "thoughtless individualism which is loyal to nothing."

Modern life gave rise to "social motives that seem to take away from people the true spirit of loyalty, and to leave them distracted, unsettled as to their moral standards, uncertain why or for what they live." Utilitarianism obscured the existence of "something much larger and richer than the mere sum of human happiness." The “spread of sympathy" and the spirit of universal philanthropy made people forget that when philanthropy was "not founded upon a personal loyalty of the individual to his own family and to his own personal duties," it became "notoriously a worthless abstraction.”

Those who sought "simply to help mankind as a whole," without first undertaking “to help those nearest to themselves," dissipated their energies. Since "a self is a life insofar as it is unified by a single purpose," moral passion had to be concentrated on particular objects, even at the risk of narrowness.

If these objects came into conflict with each other, Royce suggested, the principle of "loyalty to loyalty" might supply its own corrective. This was no empty phrase. It implied respect for a worthy opponent, not the liberal principle of live-and-let-live. When Royce left “to the individual the... choice of the cause," he did not mean that one cause was as good as another or that it was impossible, at any rate, to adjudicate their conflicting claims. Nor did he pretend that people holding conflicting opinions would agree not to push them to the point of open conflict, in view of the difficulty of defending the moral superiority of any one of them.

He assumed, on the contrary, that those moved by loyalty to a cause would defend it to the death. They would defend it, however, without hatred or bitterness and without denying their opponents' humanity. Loyalty to a cause, as Royce conceived it, carried with it an appreciation of loyalty for its own sake, without regard to the ends on behalf of which it was enlisted. In his Philosophy of Loyalty, he compared its effects to those of "divine grace in an older theology."

Those effects included both undeviating devotion to a cause that "must control you" and a respect for the same devotion in your enemies.

Royce argued, in effect, that respect for enemies was more likely to encourage men and women to treat each other as human beings than the denial of enmity or the fiction of universal brotherhood. Those who believed in their own cause were less likely to disparage others. For those animated by loyalty, "cheerful rivalry” prevailed in war as in sports.

Loyalty carried with it a refusal to allow the end to justify the means. It might lead to war, "but even then," it refused to "assail” whatever was "sincere and genuine" in the enemy's conduct. Loyalty encouraged "fair play in sport, chivalrous respect for the adversary in war, tolerance of the sincere beliefs of other men." It held the key to all the familiar mysteries about the right relation of the love of man to the strenuous virtues."

No doubt his concern with fair play will seem quaint to self-proclaimed realists who assume that conflict is inherently brutalizing and who therefore see conflict resolution as the overriding objective of political action. Royce had the good fortune to live in a time when it did not yet seem utterly absurd to speak of honor and warfare in the same breath.

In the twentieth century, of course, war has degenerated into cruelty on a grand scale, and peace, accordingly, has come to stand as the highest social good. We are all pacifists now.

But the vast and understandable revulsion from war - which has not led to a more peaceful world, incidentally - has had the unfortunate effect, as William James predicted it would, of discrediting the “permanent human goods” formerly associated with the ethic of honor, glory, and self-sacrifice. That would be bad enough, in the absence of a "moral equivalent” of war; but the loss of the virtues associated with loyalty has had the additional effect of making war itself (and by extension, every form of conflict) more bloodthirsty and degrading than it ever was in the past.

The twentieth-century degradation of war, far from discrediting Royce's argument, gives it additional support. Like James, Royce understood that peace and plenty were inadequate social goals and that it was more important to settle the "right relation of the love of man to the strenuous virtues." He did not mean that the "love of man" provided the corrective to the "strenuous virtues.” He meant that it depended on them. Loyalty to an abstraction like loyalty itself (with its respect for the principle of fair play) could take root only in loyalty to something quite specific.

The misguided attempt to remove the sources of social conflict by discouraging particularism, in the hope that brotherly love would then come into its own, killed the very possibility of brotherly love by cutting off its roots.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.357-9

This outburst, dashed off in the impetuous indignation of youth ready announced one of the themes of Niebuhr's mature work, the positive force of “fanaticism." "Liberalism is too intellectual and too little emotional to be an efficient force in history," Niebuhr told the readers of the New Republic.

Like Sorel, he believed that only "myths” had the power to inspire effective political action. Like James, he saw desiccation, in effect, as a greater menace than superstition and fanaticism."

Contending factions in a social struggle require morale," as he put it in Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932); “and morale is created by the right dogmas, symbols and emotionally potent oversimplifications.”

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.370

A proper understanding of the function of social criticism requires us to reject the "standard view of the social critic as someone who breaks loose from his particular loyalties and views his own society from the outside—from an ideal point, as it were, equidistant from all societies."

In place of this disembodied or "desocialized” criticism, Walzer advocates “connected” criticism, which tries to steer between the universal and the particular, the abstract and the concrete.

Unconditional commitment to the universal tends to create an “ideologically flattened world” in which particular human beings disappear and the critic's “impartiality slides into a cold indifference." Unconditional commitment to the particular, on the other hand, leads to undiscriminating acquiescence in a community's good opinion of itself, to an acceptance of its self-serving illusions at face value.

Loyalty to a particular way of life, unless it is attentive to the disparity between profession and practice, undercuts the very possibility of social criticism, while the refusal of loyalty, on the grounds that the intellectual’s only allegiance is to truth and justice in the abstract, renders it harmless and irrelevant.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.423-4

The relevance of self-organisation becomes clear upon the adoption of a certain kind of systems thinking that attempts to incorporate and include rather than to falsify and ignore. It is a kind of thinking that is not horrified by contradictions and opposites but rather turns them into the forces that vitalise the system.

Variations of systems thinking have been with us since the dawn of philosophy. The position of Heraclitus provides a good example. For him, the basic principle of the universe was strife: war is common to all and strife is justice, and all things come into being and pass away through strife. Instead of privileging a specific element - as Thales did with water and Anaximenes with air - Heraclitus placed everything in mutual competition. In this dynamic tension 'all things come into being and pass away'.

A kind of systems thinking also governs the medieval theories concerning the four elements and their respective humours and principles. The ideal state of affairs occurs when all the elements are in balance, when they co-operate. This harmony was believed to be unobtainable in the fallen state of the world and therefore constant adjustment is necessary. Modern examples of systems thinking would include the linguistics of Saussure and Freudian psychology.

The postmodern denial of single meta-narratives, and its emphasis on the importance of difference and opposition, is not normally formulated in terms of 'population thinking' (to use the biological expression for the kind of systems thinking referred to here), but the similarities are undeniable.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.107

While the diplomacy of neutrality and intervention was moving along the lines we have described, a parallel diplomatic effort was being directed toward efforts to negotiate peace. These efforts were a failure but are, nonetheless, of considerable significance because they reveal the motivations and war aims of the belligerents.

They were a failure because any negotiated peace requires a willingness on both sides to make those concessions which will permit the continued survival of the enemy.

In 1914–1918, however, in order to win public support for total mobilization, each country’s propaganda had been directed toward a total victory for itself and total defeat for the enemy. In time, both sides became so enmeshed in their own propaganda that it became impossible to admit publicly one’s readiness to accept such lesser aims as any negotiated peace would require.

Moreover, as the tide of battle waxed and waned, giving alternate periods of elation and discouragement to both sides, the side which was temporarily elated became increasingly attached to the fetish of total victory and unwilling to accept the lesser aim of a negotiated peace. Accordingly, peace became possible only when war weariness had reached the point where one side concluded that even defeat was preferable to continuation of the war.

[Carroll Quigley]
Tragedy and Hope, p.159

Whatever its shortcomings, Schmitt’s account of politics captures the essential strangeness of the unfolding confrontation between the West and Islam.

This strangeness consists of the radical difference between the way the confrontation itself is viewed by the two sides. Perhaps never before in history has there been such a radical difference. The Islamic side retains a strong religious and political conception of reality; it views its struggle with the West as a matter more important than life and death, because Allah will judge his followers in the afterlife by how they performed in that struggle.

By contrast, on the Western side (if it can even be called a side), there is great confusion over what the fighting is for, and why there should be a civilizational war at all. An outright declaration of war against Islam would be unthinkable; we much prefer to think of these measures as police actions against a few unusual criminal sociopaths who happen to blow up buildings.

We are nervous about considering a larger meaning to the struggle, and even the staunchest Western partisans of war know that we no longer believe in the existence of a Gott mit uns in heaven.

[Peter Thiel]
‘The Straussian Moment’

The modern Western world is a deliberately secularized Christian world that has been moved away from existential concern with the deep, serious dimensions of human life—like those addressed by religion—towards commercialism and a doctrine of rights based on circumventing the difficult question ‘what is man’ […]

By moving away from the serious dimensions and all-important questions, the apostles of modernity may have believed they were moving away from the deepest sources of conflict […] But Strauss once wrote as follows:

“Agreement at all costs is possible only as agreement at the cost of the meaning of human life; for agreement at all costs is possible only if man has relinquished asking the question of what is right; and if man relinquishes that question, he relinquishes being a man. But if he seriously asks the question of what is right, the quarrel will be ignited … the life-and-death quarrel: the political—the grouping of humanity into friends and enemies—owes its legitimation to the seriousness of the question of what is right.”

We cannot relinquish our humanity: modernity is not enough. But neither can we accept Schmitt’s agonistic re-politicization of the West vis-a-vis Islam, Thiel argues, since that risks “doing away with everything that fundamentally distinguishes the modern West from Islam” and would therefore be a “Pyrrhic victory.” Western re-politicization would amount to a kind of mimetic rivalry with the Islamic world, and mimetic rivalry leads to runaway violence.

So, we need the political, but not in the way Schmitt gave it to us.

[Michael Millerman]
‘The End of the Straussian Moment?’

My announcement at the end of September that Click Opera would end in February elicited some interesting reactions. The bit that seemed to spark the most empathy with Simon Reynolds and Mark Fisher was my anti-dialectical, anti-democratic point (if by dialectics and democracy we mean OMG WTF Web 2.0 ghost-sparring) that "Click Opera has been a sort of karate course, and its comment facility has taught me to be more dialectical and -- above all -- the skill set of prolepsis, of anticipating reader objections.

But is a more moderate, accessible and dialectical me really what the world needs? Doesn't the world need an immoderate, outrageous and concentrated me, just laying out things that only I could think, no matter how wrong they may be?"

Simon Reynolds on his Blissblog responded: "Yeah I agree prolepsis sucks, it seems to have taken a lot of the categorical oomph and thrust out of writing, unless you're just utterly bullheaded you will inevitably find yourself riddling what you do with qualification and nuancing... Strangely, prolepsis rarely seems to afflict comments boxers... but i guess they can shelter under aliases or "anonymous," they don't have to own their utterances in the same way."

Mark Fisher makes a similar point on his K-Punk blog: "For me, the answer is clear - I certainly don't want writers who "respond to criticisms", who patiently deal with "feedback", no matter how hostile and uncomprehending. I want writers who have the courage to pursue their own lines. What's interesting, I suppose, is the libidinal impulses at work in those who don't want that - who would rather have a writer spending their time on discussion boards and in comments boxes defending themselves, nuancing their position into innocuous irrelevance, or effectively abandoning it altogether in the name of some vacuous commitment to "debate".

'Tactics, not skirmishes', Click Opera

In its relation with the other the force which makes itself obeyed does not deny the other or that which it is not, it affirms its own difference and enjoys this difference.

For the speculative element of negation, opposition or contradiction Nietzsche substitutes the practical element of difference, the object of affirmation and enjoyment. What a will wants is to affirm its difference. In its essential relation with the "other" a will makes its difference an object of affirmation. "The pleasure of knowing oneself different", the enjoyment of difference [...]

Nietzsche's "yes" is opposed to the dialectical "no"; affirmation to dialectical negation; difference to dialectical contradiction; joy, enjoyment, to dialectical labour; lightness, dance, to dialectical responsibilities. The empirical feeling of difference, in short hierarchy, is the essential motor of the concept, deeper and more effective than all thought about contradiction.

[Gilles Deleuze]
Nietzsche and Philosophy, p.9

Related posts:

The Aesthetic Life

Aesthetic Life    -         Ethical Life
Separate             -         Connected

Although it may not seem so at first glance, there is a sense in which liberalism has facilitated Winnicott’s ideal of creative living. We can see it more clearly if we look through the lens of Schmitt’s critique of the romantic.

Schmitt characterises the romantic (i.e. the artist) as a sort of Peter Pan, someone who evades all determinisms and commitments, and remains untethered at all times. The romantic retains the right to question everything and commit to nothing, and so is in many ways the ideal liberal - the free, atomised, and autonomous individual.

It is the aesthetic life that underlies the norms of therapy.

The breakdown of tradition means a loss of the background ‘narrative unity’ which contains and gives sense and purpose to every act, initiating a movement from the 'ethical life' to the 'aesthetic life'

In the aesthetic life, we need the virtue of constancy in order to hold the narrative together against the kind of dissolutive forces that tradition held at bay. We are now faced with moral dilemmas, or choices, in which ‘good’ choices reinforce unity and ‘bad’ choices damage it.

The subject who is limited to its own experience and who, in spite of this, wants to develop a productivity because it prefers not to give up the pretension of meaning something as a subject attempts to shape its experience in an artistic fashion.

This is the psychic fact that is the basis of an interest that is only aesthetic.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p.103

Every political activity — regardless of whether its content is merely the technique of conquest, the claim or the expansion of political power, or whether it rests on a legal or a moral decision – conflicts with the essentially aesthetic nature of the romantic.

Because the concrete point around which the romantic novel develops is always merely occasional, everything can become romantic. In such a world, all political or religious distinctions are dissolved into an interesting ambiguity.

The king is a romantic figure as well as the anarchist conspirator, and the caliph of Baghdad is no less romantic than the patriarch of Jerusalem. Here everything can be substituted for everything else.

[…] the connection between subjectivism and sensualism that is exhibited in Greek sophistry also nullified all objectivity and made substantive argument into a capricious productivity of the subject. The orator felt no other sense of responsibility than that of speaking well, and he knew no other satisfaction than the pleasure taken in the well-executed, artistic form of his speech.

The essential contradiction of the romantic — which, especially in political romanticism, justifies the impression of inner untruthfulness - is that the romantic, in the organic passivity that belongs to his occasionalist structure, wants to be productive without becoming active.

[…] it is linked with the half lyrical, half intellectualistic accompaniment of the activity of another person […] following political events with marginal character glosses, catch phrases, viewpoints, emphases and antitheses, allusions and permutational comparisons, often agitated and excited, but always without making its own decision and assuming its own responsibility and risk.

Political activity is not possible in this way. But criticism is, which can discuss everything and inflate it ideologically, revolution as well as restoration, war and peace, nationalism and internationalism, imperialism and its renunciation.

Here as well, its method was the occasionalist departure from the domain to which the disputed opposition belongs, from the domain of the political into the higher domain.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p.158-9

Regardless of whether the final and inclusive member of the sequence is called God or the state, the ego or history, the idea or organic development, the result is invariably that all activity of the individual person consists in the fact that he is a “sympathetic fellow traveler.”

Even when Müller and Schlegel call the age evil and juxtapose the good principle to an evil one, this is not to be understood as a moral decision. They do not propose to take sides, which everyone has to do who speaks of good and evil in the moral sense and distinguishes right from wrong.

[…] So how did he arrive at his rejection? The same way he arrives at affirmations. They are accompanying emotional states with which he sympathetically follows historical development, because he is really interested only in feeling and poetry.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p. 122-3

[…] they do not mean that the author wants to make up his mind in the usual sense and set to work in the external world. 

This is something he simply could not do without realizing his unlimited possibilities in a limited reality, without emerging from his subjectivistic creativity and concerning himself with the mechanism of cause and effect or with normative ties.

He could not make up his mind without relinquishing his superior irony; in other words, without giving up his romantic situation. The romantic wants to do nothing except experience and paraphrase his experience in an emotionally impressive fashion.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p.100

James presented this “dramatic,” “gnostic,” “subjectivist,” and “romantic” view of the world so attractively that a careless reader might have mistaken it for his own. He went on to argue, however, that an aesthetic orientation to experience led to “ethical indifference.”

It transformed life “from a tragic reality into an insincere melodramatic exhibition, as foul or as tawdry as any one’s diseased curiosity pleases to carry it out.” It gave rise to the cult of “sensibility” exemplified by “contemporary Parisian literature,” the cynical complacency that saw the world as an experimental novel.

It was therefore with a sense of relief that one awoke from the “feverish dream” of sensibility into a renewed appreciation of the “unsophisticated moral sense,” which wanted the world to be better than it was and resolved to act, instead of merely drinking in the spectacle, so as to reduce the sum of evil in the world.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p. 288-9

"Democracy" came to refer to the "thoughtways of a knowledgeable society," in Lane's words—a capacity for abstraction, tolerance of ambiguity, rejection of "philosophical idealism" and "theological and metaphysical modes of thought," acceptance of “mathematical modes of expression."

These habits of thought defined an intellectual ideal of open-mindedness and an ethical ideal of tolerance, mutual respect, and suspended judgment. 

If the "moral perspectives" typical of authoritarianism rested on "crude and mechanical assumptions about human behavior," as Robert Endleman argued in a “composite portrait” of blue-collar workers, then a more enlightened morality had to rest on the academic and therapeutic virtues.

It had to rest on a respect for human potential, an aversion to pain and suffering, a critical attitude toward authority, a refusal to be governed by traditional precepts, and a belief that most conflicts could be resolved by submitting them to the arbitration of knowledgeable experts.

By reformulating these values as psychological norms, the professional-managerial class made it possible to dismiss dissent from the educated consensus as evidence of emotional and cultural backwardness. Members of the educated elite upheld open-mindedness as the supreme political virtue but refused to debate their own idea of the good life, perhaps because they suspected that it could not withstand exposure to more vigorous ideas.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.467-8

When Kierkegaard contrasted the ethical and the aesthetic ways of life in Enten-Eller, he argued that the aesthetic life is one in which a human life is dissolved into a series of separate present moments, in which the unity of a human life disappears from view.

By contrast in the ethical life the commitments and responsibilities to the future springing from past episodes in which obligations were conceived and debts assumed unite the present to past and to future in such a way as to make of a human life a unity. The unity to which Kierkegaard refers is that narrative unity whose central place in the life of the virtues I identified in the preceding chapter.

By the time Jane Austen writes that unity can no longer be treated as a mere presupposition or context for a virtuous life. It has itself to be continually reaffirmed and its reaffirmation in deed rather than in word is the virtue which Jane Austen calls constancy.

[...] constancy requires a recognition of a particular kind of threat to the integrity of the personality in the peculiarly modern social world [...]

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.280-1

[...] it is quite clear that the poet or the saga writer claims for himself a kind of understanding which is denied to the characters about whom he writes. The poet does not suffer from the limitations which define the essential condition of his characters. Consider especially the Iliad.

[...] defeat is not the Homeric poet's moral horizon, and it is precisely by reason of this difference that the Homer of the Iliad transcends the limitations of the society which he portrays.

The poet is not a theorist; he offers no general formulas. His own knowledge is indeed at a more general and abstract level than that even of his most insightful characters.

Thus the Iliad puts in question what neither Achilles nor Hector can put in question; the poem lay claim to a form of understanding which it denies to those whose actions it describes.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.146, 149

Both of these urges are existentialist. They give rise to isolated acts that have no significant context.

Thus an act of loving or helping has no sequence of causes leading up to it or of consequences flowing from it. It stands alone as an isolated experience of togetherness and of brief human sharing. This failure or lack of context for each experience means a failure or lack of meaning, for meaning and significance arise from context; that is, from the relationship of the particular experience to the whole picture.

But today’s youth has no concern for the whole picture; they have rejected the past and have very little faith in the future. Their rejection of intellect and their lack of faith in human reason gives them no hope that any meaning can be found for any experience, so each experience becomes an end in itself, isolated from every other experience.

This skepticism about meaning, closely allied with their rejection of organizations and of abstractions, is also closely related with a failure of responsibility. Since consequences are divorced from the act or experience itself, the youth is not bound by any relationship between the two. The result is a large-scale irresponsibility.

We need a culture that will produce people eager to do things, but we need even more a culture that will make it possible to decide what to do. This is the old division of means and goals. Decisions about goals require values, meaning, context, perspective. They can be set, even tentatively and approximately, only by people who have some inkling of the whole picture.

The middle-class culture of our past ignored the whole picture and destroyed our ability to see it by its emphasis on specialization. Just as mass production came to be based on specialization, so human preparation for making decisions about goals also became based on specialization.

[Carroll Quigley]
Tragedy and Hope, ‘The Future in Perspective,’ p.804-5, 808

Related posts:

The Right Conditions

In the liberal bourgeois world, the detached, isolated, and emancipated individual becomes the middle point, the court of last resort, the absolute.

Naturally the illusion of being God could be maintained only in pantheistic or panentheistic sentiments. In psychological reality, therefore, it combined with other, less subjectivistic affects. The subject always claimed, however, that his experience was the only thing of interest. 

This claim can be realized only in a bourgeois order based on rules. Otherwise the "external conditions" for the undisturbed occupation with one's own mood are not satisfied. Psychologically and historically, romanticism is a product of bourgeois security. 

One could fail to recognize this only as long as one committed the error of considering as romanticism itself things that happen to be favorite romantic objects, such as chivalry and the Middle Ages - in other words, sundry themes and occasions of the romantic interest. A robber knight can be a romantic figure, but he is not a romantic. The Middle Ages is a powerfully romanticised complex, but it is not romantic.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p. 99

Related posts:

Mundane Metaphysics

Today, many varieties of metaphysical attitude exist in a secularized form. To a great extent, it holds true that different and, indeed, mundane factors have taken the place of God: humanity, the nation, the individual, historical development, or even life as life for its own sake, in its complete spiritual emptiness and mere dynamic.

This does not mean that the attitude is no longer metaphysical. The thought and feeling of every person always retain a certain metaphysical character. Metaphysics is something that is unavoidable, and - as Otto von Gierke has aptly remarked - we cannot escape it by relinquishing our awareness of it.

What human beings regard as the ultimate, absolute authority, however, certainly can change, and God can be replaced by mundane and worldly factors. I call this secularization.

That is the issue here, not the equally significant but comparatively superficial cases that directly impress themselves on the historical and sociological observer: for example, the fact that the Church is replaced by the theater, the religious is treated as material for a drama or an opera, and the house of God is treated as a museum; the fact that in modern society the artist, at least in relation to his public, sociologically avails himself of certain functions of the priest, often in a comically deformed manner, and turns a stream of emotions that belong to the priest onto the genius of his own private person; the fact that a poetry arises that lives off cultic and liturgical aftereffects and reminiscences that it squanders away into the profane — and also a music, of which Baudelaire said, in a phrase almost apocalyptic, that it undermines heaven.

The transformations in the metaphysical sphere lie even deeper than such forms of secularization [...] Here, ever new factors appear as absolute authorities, even though the metaphysical structure and attitude remain.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p. 17-18

Related posts:

The Romantic Attitude

The romantic attitude is most clearly characterised by means of a singular concept, that of the occasio. This concept can be rendered in terms of ideas such as occasion, opportunity, and perhaps also chance.

It negates the concept of causa, in other words, the force of a calculable causality, and thus also every binding norm. It is a disintegrative concept. This is because everything that gives consistency and order to life and to what takes place – regardless of whether it is the mechanical calculability of the causal, or a purposive or normative nexus — is incompatible with the idea of the merely occasional. Wherever the opportune and the accidental become principles, an immense preeminence over such binding forces arises.

Romanticism is subjectified occasionalism. In other words, in the romantic, the romantic subject treats the world as an occasion and an opportunity for his romantic productivity [...] an occasional relationship to the world is essential to it.

Instead of God, however, the romantic subject occupies the central position and makes the world and everything that occurs in it into a mere occasion. Because the final authority is shifted from God to the genius of the “ego," the entire foreground changes, and that which is genuinely occasionalistic appears in a pristine fashion.

It is true that the old philosophers of occasionalism, such as Malebranche, also possessed the disintegrative concept of the occasio. However, they recovered law and order in God, the objective absolute. And in the same way, a certain objectivity and cohesion always remain possible whenever another objective authority, like the state, takes the place of God in such an occasionalist attitude.

It is different, however, when the isolated and emancipated individual brings his occasional attitude to realization. Only now does the occasional display the total consistency of its repudiation of all consistency. Only now can everything really become the occasion for everything else. Only now does everything that will happen and all sequential order become incalculable in a fantastic manner, which is precisely the immense attraction of this attitude.

That is because this attitude makes it possible to take any concrete point as a departure and stray into the infinite and the incomprehensible - either in an emotionally fervent fashion or in a demonically malicious fashion, depending upon the individuality of the particular romantic. 

A world that is ever new arises from ever new opportunities. But it is always a world that is only occasional, a world without substance and functional cohesion, without a fixed direction, without consistency and definition, without decision, without a final court of appeal, continuing into infinity and led only by the magic hand of chance.

In this world, the romantic can make everything into the vehicle of his romantic interest; he can have the illusion, which here as well may be harmless or perfidious, that the world is only an occasion.

In every other intellectual sphere, including that of everyday reality, this attitude would immediately become ridiculous and impossible. In the romantic, on the other hand, a special aesthetic achievement takes place: Between the point of concrete reality that serves as an incidental occasion and the creative romantic, an interesting, colorful world arises that often has an amazing aesthetic attraction. We can assent to it aesthetically, but taking it seriously in a moral or objective fashion would call for an ironic mode of treatment.

It is only in an individualistically disintegrated society that the aesthetically productive subject could shift the intellectual center into itself, only in a bourgeois world that isolates the individual in the domain of the intellectual, makes the individual its own point of reference, and imposes upon it the entire burden that otherwise was hierarchically distributed among different functions in a social order.

In this society, it is left to the private individual to be his own priest. But not only that. Because of the central significance and consistency of the religious, it is also left to him to be his own poet, his own philosopher, his own king, and his own master builder in the cathedral of his personality. 

The ultimate roots of romanticism and the romantic phenomenon lie in the private priesthood.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p. 16-20

The decision however, — the complete incompatibility of the romantic with any moral, legal, or political standard — follows only from the structure of the romantic as an occasionalist consent oriented to aesthetic productivity.

Here experience is no doubt in quest of an artistic expression, but not logical-conceptual or moral-normative clarity. This is why the romantic lacks any sense of the limits of the efficacy of the state as well as the limits of the individual.

Adam Müller's amoral appreciation of everything and its opposite; his passion for mediating everywhere; his "cosmic tolerance," which so alarmed Gentz because in that case "there is no longer anything that one could love and honestly hate”; his effeminate passivity, to which he knew how to bend the aversion of Burke, de Maistre, and Bonald for artificial “fabrication”; and his emotional pantheism, which is basically always in agreement with everything and approves of everything - all this can probably be explained in an individual-psychological fashion as well, as a consequence of his feminine and vegetative nature.

For romantic aestheticism, however, all these factors amounted to the appropriate psychic and physical disposition. That is because they referred the subject entirely to its own emotional states and to the aesthetic productivity that is satisfied with the elaboration of affect.

Müller can do nothing but pursue an occupation with himself, regardless of whether he is engaging in astrology (or today in psychoanalysis, or at some future point perhaps in astrology again) or composing his rejection of the aestheticism of others. He was always ready to surrender himself. Nevertheless, he at least wanted to extract portentous words and images from the emotional state of surrender. This was his activity.

For the rest, he stood with his material at the immediate disposal of every powerful suggestion. Because he was without his own center of gravity and was not constrained by matter-of-fact experience and his own responsibility, the consistency of the view that impressed him at any given time easily carried him to the extremes of its program.

He can understand everything and approve it at his pleasure. That is because everything can become material for his work of aesthetic formation.

The master of the Lehre vom Gegensatz was incapable of seeing any polarity except that of an aesthetic contrast. Neither logical distinctions, nor moral value judgments, nor political decisions are possible for him. The most important source of political vitality, the belief in justice and an indignation over injustice, does not exist for him.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p. 127-9

The historical discussion of those developments which made the victories of emotivism possible has now revealed something else about these specifically modern characters [the aesthete, the therapist and the manager, the bureaucratic expert], namely the extent to which they trade and cannot escape trading in moral fictions. But how far does the range of moral fiction extend beyond those of rights and utility? And who is going to be deceived by them?

The aesthete is the character least likely to be their victim. Those insolent scoundrels of the philosophical imagination, Diderot's Rameau and Kierkegaard's 'A', who lounge so insolently at the entrance to the modern world, specialize in seeing through illusory and fictitious claims.

If they are deceived, it is only by their own cynicism. When aesthetic deception occurs in the modern world, it is rather because of the reluctance of the aesthete to admit that that is what he is.

And if over-indulgence in despair seems to be injuring his capacities for enjoyment, he will take himself to the therapist, just as he would for over-indulgence in alcohol, and make of his therapy one more aesthetic experience.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.87

Related posts:

Innovate / Endure

Innovate              -                 Endure
Novel                  -                 Traditional
Achievement       -                 Limits
Aspire                 -                 Accept
Dynamic             -                 Static

‘Ambition’ and ‘stagnation’ are peculiarly modern, Faustian concepts.

The son of a 14th century blacksmith does not have ‘ambitions’ to become a blacksmith - he understands that to become a blacksmith is his lot in life, and so has no uncertainty in this regard. He does not need to aspire to the role - he needs merely to show the requisite level of application and industry, and his destiny will be secured.

Ambition is only relevant within a dynamic system, in which individuals are ‘mobile’ and free to choose their lot; and in which there are few limits on the size of your chosen lot.

From the perspective of modern man, the 14th century blacksmith is ‘unambitious’ - he has no desire to improve or change his lot, and so appears to be content to ‘stagnate’ - which is really just a modern way of saying ‘staying the same over time.’

We can, then, see the celebration of aspiration and ambition as a sign of a wider dissolution, encapsulated by the ubiquitous pattern of runaway growth - all of which is driven by the Faustian bio-spirit and its incessant push towards infinity.

In every field, economic, political, and cultural, Athens welcomed the new and was ready for any adventure.

After the defeat of Persia at Salamis, Athens could not return to the old ways. Taking immediate advantage of the fleet which had been built up for the war, she went on to establish her commercial empire in the eastern Mediterranean. When the tribute from the alliance was no longer needed for war, it was used to build the wonderful temples and statues. Philosophers and poets were honored for attacking the old, traditional ways of life.

But her glories were comparatively short-lived. She was always weakened from within by the numerous Class I individuals who were constantly forming factions, plotting with internal or external enemies, and organizing rebellions […]

Sparta, in extreme contrast, was a nation where Class II residues were wholly predominant both in the general population and in the élite.

Innovation in Sparta was a crime; everything was regulated by ancient custom and religion and time-sanctified tradition. The individual counted for nothing, the group for all. Adventure was always to be distrusted. From these roots Sparta derived a tremendous power of endurance when faced with adversity.

But she always stopped short of anything spectacular. She produced no philosophy, no liquid wealth, and little art. She never tried to establish a great empire. Her own armies went home after the Persians were defeated.

In spite of defeats and crushing hardships, she finally conquered in the Peloponnesian Wars; but in the 4th century, when the conditions of life and warfare greatly changed, she too was lost. Because of her lack of Class I residues, Sparta could not adapt herself to new ways; so, defending the old, she perished.

The social combination that is strongest against external enemies, and at the same time able to bring about a fairly high internal level of culture and material prosperity, is that wherein (1) Class II residues are widespread and active among the masses (the non-élite); (2) the individuals with a high level of Class I residues are concentrated in the élite; (3) a fair percentage of Class II residues nevertheless still remains within the élite; (4) the élite is comparatively open, so that at least a comparatively free circulation can take place.

The meaning of this optimum combination can be translated as follows into more usual terms: (1) The masses have faith in an integrating myth or ideology, a strong sense of group solidarity, a willingness to endure physical hardship and sacrifice. (2) The best and most active brains of the community are concentrated in the élite, and ready to take advantage of whatever opportunities the historical situation presents.

[James Burnham]
The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom, p.192-3

[…] in the second volume of Democracy in America, he presents the energy of democratic society as fueled, in large part, by a certain kind of unhappiness. This unhappiness did not have the character of misery or despair; rather, Tocqueville observed a pervasive unease. The name he gave to this unease was restlessness (inquiétude).

For Pascal, restlessness is an expression of the human need for God. It derives from man’s desire to be immortal. Since man cannot be immortal, “he has decided to prevent himself from thinking about it.” All men have a “secret instinct to seek external diversion and occupation, coming from their feeling of constant wretchedness.”

[...] Tocqueville identifies two main sources of modern restlessness: the democratic preoccupation with material well-being and democratic envy.

Tocqueville argues that, in places untouched by progress, in which one finds a poor and uneducated populace, one finds hardship but also tranquility and resilience amid difficult circumstances. In America, where there is great material prosperity, relatively speaking, and great hopefulness of achieving still more prosperity, one finds widespread discontent.

He describes Americans moving, changing, and shifting from one place to another, from one occupation to another, from one life to another. He describes people buying land and houses only to sell them quickly and changing professions multiple times in their careers.

The phenomena he describes here overlap quite extensively with the universal change and motion that he praised in volume 1. What had been described as expressions of dynamic energy now become expressions of dissatisfaction and discontent.

[Dana Jalbert Stauffer]
‘“The Most Common Sickness of Our Time”: Tocqueville on Democratic Restlessness’, The Review of Politics 80 (2018), p.441-2, 447

[...] it is an essential characteristic of the personal and modifiable technics of Man, in contrast to the genus technics of animals, that every discovery contains the possibility and necessity of new discoveries, every fulfilled wish awakens a thousand more, every triumph over Nature incites to yet others.

The soul of this beast of prey is ever hungry, his will never satisfied - that is the curse that lies upon this kind of life, but also the greatness inherent in its destiny.

It is precisely its best specimens that know the least quiet, happiness, or enjoyment.

[Oswald Spengler]
Man and Technics, p. 58

To rise in the social scale, even in calm and normal times, the prime requisite, beyond any question, is a capacity for hard work, but the requisite next in importance is ambition, a firm resolve to get on in the world, to outstrip one's fellows.

Now those traits hardly go with extreme sensitiveness or, to be quite frank, with ‘goodness' either. For 'goodness' cannot remain indifferent to the hurts of those who must be thrust behind if one is to step ahead of them [….] If one is to govern men, more useful than a sense of justice and much more useful than altruism, or even than extent of knowledge or broadness of view—are perspicacity, a ready intuition of individual and mass psychology, strength of will and, especially, confidence in oneself.

With good reason did Machiavelli put into the mouth of Cosimo dei Medici the much quoted remark, that states are not ruled with prayer-books.

[Gaetano Mosca]
The Ruling Class, p. 449-50

Lucretius and Epicurus did not promise this kind of complete knowledge at all and took no interest in the technology that might grow from it. Their belief in chance went deeper, making them much more radically sceptical.

They had no confidence in any practical attempt to improve human life. Epicurus himself actually despised the pursuit of theoretical knowledge for its own sake as one more distraction from the pursuit of inner peace and warned his followers against it. 'Set your sail, O happy youth,' he cried, ‘and flee from every form of education.'

Lucretius is indeed more interested in details about atoms, but for him too knowledge itself is not the aim. Knowledge is a means not an end, a means to inward peace, not to improved outward activity. Primarily it is a cure for anxiety, a path to ataraxia, peace of mind.

What the Epicureans were preaching was essentially a fatalistic quietism. They did not think that human happiness could be increased at all either by political activity or by the satisfactions of love, or indeed by knowledge either.

Instead, they put their faith in a stern limitation of human ambition, a concentration on what little is possible to us here and now.

They thought that people who had once fully grasped that they could not change the world at all, either by sacrificing to the gods or by any other kind of effort, would cease their anxious striving, would compose their minds, would be able to enjoy the satisfactions that life actually gave them in the present, and would console themselves for their sorrows by admiring the cosmos.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.37-8

Contrasting free societies with those that are not free, Tocqueville writes that the former are “all bustle and activity,” while the latter are static and self-satisfied. In the former, “improvement and progress are on everyone’s mind.”

He thus seems to have judged that the constant change to which Americans were exposed made them adventurous and innovative, and this drove them to success in commercial pursuits. Even Lawler, whose book The Restless Mind greatly illuminated the influence of Pascal’s profoundly negative view of restlessness on Tocqueville, acknowledged that “Tocqueville sees greatness in the restlessness of the Americans.”

While Tocqueville spoke admiringly of the energy he observed in Americans, and of the lively, vibrant pace of their economic and political life, his praise for the spiritual effects of the “universal movement” occurring in America culminates in the suggestion that it gives rise to excellence in commercial pursuits. 

That is certainly noteworthy, but Tocqueville himself did not regard excellence in commercial pursuits as the highest kind of human excellence.

[Dana Jalbert Stauffer]
‘“The Most Common Sickness of Our Time”: Tocqueville on Democratic Restlessness’, The Review of Politics 80 (2018), p.446

Lower-middle-class culture, now as in the past, is organized around the family, church, and neighborhood. It values the community's continuity more highly than individual advancement, solidarity more highly than social mobility.

Conventional ideals of success play a less important part in lower-middle-class life than the maintenance of existing ways. Parents want their children to get ahead, but they also want them to respect their elders, resist the temptation to lie and cheat, willingly shoulder the responsibilities that fall to them, and bear adversity with fortitude. More concerned with honor than with worldly ambition, they have less interest in the future than do upper-middle-class parents, who try to equip their children with the qualities required for competitive achievement. They do not subscribe to the notion that parents ought to provide children with every possible advantage.

The desire to preserve their way of life," as E. E. LeMasters writes in a study of construction workers, takes precedence over the desire to climb the social ladder.

In his historical studies of nineteenth-century Massachusetts, Stephan Thernstrom found that neither the Irish nor the Italians thought of schooling primarily as a means for their children to climb into a higher social class and to leave their old neighborhoods behind. In Newburyport, Irish parents sometimes sacrificed their children to their passion for home ownership, forcing them into the workplace instead of sending them to school. Irrational by upper-middle-class standards, this choice made sense to people bent on holding their communities together and on assuring the continuation of their own way of life in the next generation.

Social workers and educators, however, condemned child labor and sought to create a system of universal education, which would make it possible for children to surpass their parents, break the old ties, and make their own way in the larger world beyond the ethnic ghetto. In the same way, civil service reformers tried to replace the tribal politics of the Irish-American machine with a system more consistent with the principles of meritocracy and administrative efficiency.

Sociologists observed, usually with a suggestion of disapproval, that working people seemed to have no ambition.

According to Lloyd Warner, who studied Newburyport in the 1930s, working-class housewives set the dominant tone of cultural conservatism. They adhered to a "rigid" and "conventional" code of morality and seldom dared to "attempt anything new." They took no interest in long-range goals. “Their hopes are basically centered around carrying on [and] take the form of not wanting their present routine disturbed - they want to continue as they are, but, while doing so, better their circumstances and gain more freedom."

Anthony Lukas, a journalist, made the same point in his account of the Boston school conflicts of the mid-seventies. Lukas contrasted the "Charlestown ethic of getting by” with the "American imperative to get ahead." The people of Charlestown, deserted by the migration of more ambitious neighbors to the suburbs, had renounced "opportunity, advancement, adventure” for the “reassurance of community, solidarity, and camaraderie."

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.487-8

By shifting attention from unionization to the study of working-class culture, the new labor historians have shown that a whole way of life was at stake in the struggle against industrialism. Workers were defending not just their economic interests but their crafts, families, and neighborhoods.

The recognition that economic interests are not enough to inspire radical or revolutionary agitation or to make people accept its risks suggests a more sweeping conclusion. 

Resistance to innovation, it appears, is an important, perhaps indispensable ingredient in revolutionary action, along with a tendency to identify innovation with the disruption of older communities by invasive forces from outside.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.215

While Native science respects the wisdom of its Elders, Western science seeks to overthrow the ideas of the previous generation, although this is generally done in limited ways so that the major paradigms of science persist from generation to generation.

Nevertheless, the battle between father and son continues with every generation.


A belief in the need for constant progress and change, along with the accumulation of wealth and material resources, is generally absent from Indigenous societies, which place more emphasis upon balance, harmony, and the circular passage of time.

Social value and personal prestige are gained in other ways, and people sometimes appear conservative about adopting new technologies. In addition, those technologies that have been developed, or adopted, generally tend to be used in ways that do not disrupt the particular environment and way of life.

Systems of farming, the working of artifacts, the design and building of great earthworks in the southeastern United States, as well as the temples and cities of Central America all imply considerable technological support. But these changes have generally come about within an environment of balance and do not represent "advances" in the sense of being a forward movement and a split and separation from tradition.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.261-2, 271

Which are the possible coping mechanisms open to a system faced with changing external conditions?

Two extreme positions can be identified. At the one extreme, the structure of the system is fully defined a priori. This would mean that the system is 'hard-wired', and that all possible eventualities will have to be catered for in the fixed, internal structure of the system.

Apart from the loss in adaptivity, such systems may become too cumbersome in complex situations. Under less complex conditions, 'hard-wired' systems, operating on simple control principles, may be an adequate solution, but this is not a plausible option for the kind of complex systems we are interested in.

At the other extreme we may have systems with no independent internal structure at all, but where the structure is fully determined by the conditions in the environment. A system which merely mimics the environment directly will not be capable of acting in that environment since it will be fully at its mercy.

To be able to interpret its environment, the system must have at least the following two attributes: some form of resistance to change, and some mechanism for comparing different conditions in order to determine whether there has been enough change to warrant some response.

Both these attributes merely translate into the need for a form of memory - without resistance to change, memory is impossible. If the self-organising capabilities of such a system are adequate, it will then learn to cope with a changing environment.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.99

The model can be made more complex networks by imposing certain 'biases' on the nodes.

These will suppress signals below a certain threshold - another example of non-linear interaction. The size of the bias has an important effect: if it is too high, the network will be too stable, if it is too low, the network will be chaotic.

The bias therefore provides a mechanism through which the system can adjust itself to remain at the critical level even when the complexity of the external world fluctuates.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.98

Complex systems operate under conditions far from equilibrium [and] need a constant flow of energy to change, evolve and survive as complex entities. Equilibrium, symmetry and complete stability mean death.

Just as the flow of energy is necessary to fight entropy and maintain the complex structure of the system, society can only survive as a process. It is defined not by its origins or its goals, but by what it is doing.

In postmodern society this constant activity, this lack of equilibrium, is pushed to ever higher levels, particularly through the role of the mass media. This has an unsettling effect on many, and undeniably one has to develop certain skills to cope with these conditions, but to yearn for a state of complete equilibrium is to yearn for a sarcophagus.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.122

If you had a million dollars in a bank at 5%, your income would be $50,000 a year. Now if you chose to live on 50,000 a year, you could live in perpetuity. This is what we would call sustainable income because you haven't touched your capital.

Well, ecosystems, the soils, the fisheries, forests, grasslands, are capable each year of producing an annual output. If human beings were content to live on that annual output, we could live in perpetuity without destroying the capital base, as it were. But instead, we've continued to grow and grow and grow under the illusion that there are no limits, because trade flows abolish the illusion of limits, for example. It's only one of many things. Technology helps to do that as well.

So what we've done is managed to grow the human economy beyond the biocapacity of the planet. But that's why fisheries are being depleted. That's why we've eliminated 94% of the mammalian biomass on the planet and replaced it with humans and our domestic livestock and so on.

So we are living literally by liquidating the basic natural capital base that we are utterly dependent upon. Growth is destructive once you're beyond carrying capacity.

[William Rees]
‘William E. Rees: "The Fundamental Issue - Overshoot" | The Great Simplification #53’, Nate Hagens, YouTube

If you look into the historical record, a very simple little society called Tikopia - an island in the South Pacific, just a few square kilometers - for some 3000 years, it seems, managed to control its population in the vicinity of 1200 people. 1200 people over 3000 years.

But they did it using seven forms of birth control, including by the way, when things got tough in the lean years, the old guys like me would set themselves out into the ocean and disappear. The Inuit in Northern Canada and the US did the same thing, departed on ice flow so that there'd be more resources for young people.

[William Rees]
‘William E. Rees: "The Fundamental Issue - Overshoot" | The Great Simplification #53’, Nate Hagens, YouTube

Rituals stabilize life.

To paraphrase Antoine Saint-Exupéry, we may say: rituals are in life what things are in space. For Hannah Arendt it is the durability of things that gives them their 'relative independence from men'. They 'have the function of stabilizing human life'. Their 'objectivity lies in the fact that ... men, their ever-changing nature notwithstanding, can retrieve their sameness, that is, their identity, by being related to the same chair and the same table'.

In life, things serve as stabilizing resting points. Rituals serve the same purpose. Through their self-sameness, their repetitiveness, they stabilize life. They make life last [haltbar].

The contemporary compulsion to produce robs things of their endurance [Haltbarkeit]: it intentionally erodes duration in order to increase production, to force more consumption. Lingering, however, presupposes things that endure. If things are merely used and consumed, there can be no lingering. And the same compulsion of production destabilizes life by undermining what is enduring in life.

[Byung-Chul Han]
The Disappearance of Rituals, p.3

As the middle classes and their commercialization of all human relationships spread through Western society in the centuries from the twelfth to the twentieth, they largely modified and, to some extent, reversed the values of Western society earlier. In some cases, the old values, such as future preference or self-discipline, remained, but were redirected.

Future preference ceased to be transcendental in its aim, and became secularized. Self-discipline ceased to seek spirituality by restraining sensuality, and instead sought material acquisition. In general, the new middle-class outlook had a considerable religious basis, but it was the religion of the medieval heresies and of puritanism rather than the religion of Roman Christianity.

This complex outlook that we call middle class or bourgeois is, of course, the chief basis of our world today. Western society is the richest and most powerful society that has ever existed largely because it has been impelled forward along these lines, beyond the rational degree necessary to satisfy human needs, by the irrational drive for achievement in terms of material ambitions.

To be sure, Western society always had other kinds of people, and the majority of the people in Western society probably had other outlooks and values, but it was middle-class urgency that pushed modern developments in the direction they took.

There were always in our society dreamers and truth-seekers and tinkerers. They, as poets, scientists, and engineers, thought up innovations which the middle classes adopted and exploited if they seemed likely to be profit-producing. Middle-class self-discipline and future preference provided the savings and investment without which any innovation—no matter how appealing in theory— would be set aside and neglected.

But the innovations that could attract middle-class approval (and exploitation) were the ones that made our world today so different from the world of our grandparents and ancestors.

[Carroll Quigley]
Tragedy and Hope, ‘The Future in Perspective,’ p.784

Sovereign states today act in an environment so transformed by market forces that no institution - not even the largest transnational corporation or sovereign state - can master it.

In this environment the most unimaginable forces spring from a torrent of technological innovations, unfettered market competition and weak or fractured social institutions that produces the global economy of our times.

As management gurus never cease reminding us, nation-states and multinational corporations can survive and prosper today only by using new technologies to achieve a competitive edge over their rivals. What most of them fail to note is that competitive advantage is inherently fleeting in the anarchic environment of disorganised global capitalism.

In the late twentieth century there is no shelter - for corporations or for governments - from the global gale of creative destruction.

[John Gray]
False Dawn, p.76

Paine also who saw that in the constitutional debates of the 18th century "the Nation was always left out of the question".

By bringing the nation into the question, he was bound to set in motion forces which he could neither control nor foresee. That is what democracy is about.

[E.P. Thompson]
The Making of the English Working Class, p.110

Related posts:

True Beliefs and False Beliefs

The great rationalistic dream of modern times, believing that social actions are or can be primarily logical, has taught the illusion that the True and the Good are identical, that if men knew the truth about themselves and their social and political life, then society would become ever better; and that falsehood and absurdity always hurt social welfare.

But things do not stand in that simple way. 

Sometimes the truth aids society. But often a widespread knowledge of the truth may weaken or destroy sentiments, habits, attitudes upon which the integrity of social life, above all in times of crisis, may depend.

False beliefs do sometimes produce evil social results; but they often, also, benefit the community. Again no general conclusion is possible. We must examine each concrete case, each specific truth and falsehood in its specific circumstances.

We are not, therefore, entitled to judge that it is invariably a "bad thing” that men believe derivations, ideologies, myths, formulas, these verbal constructions which from a scientific standpoint always contain a large measure of the false and the absurd.

The myths are, in the first place, a necessary ingredient of social life. A society in which they would be eliminated in favor of exclusively scientific beliefs would have nothing in common with the human societies that have existed and do exist in the real world, and is a merely imaginary fantasy.

Here once more our investigation must be concrete. Certain derivations or myths under certain circumstances are socially useful, others detrimental; when the circumstances change, so may the effects of the myths.

The doctrine of the divine right of kings is scientifically ridiculous. From this it does not follow that it would always be better if men understood that it was ridiculous, nor that a belief in it always hurts society. The democratic ideology is equally ridiculous from the point of view of scientific truth. Belief in it may, nevertheless, in one historical context greatly aid, in another gravely injure, the welfare of society.

Those who believe that all social difficulties could be overcome if the truth about society were known “recognize only one tie [obstacle] - ignorance. Ignorance being eliminated, they have no doubt that society will follow the course they think is the best […]”

Society is not so simple as a problem in mathematics, which is fully solved once ignorance is overcome. Not only is it impossible that all men should know the scientific truth about society and act in accordance with this knowledge; it is far from clear that this would improve society even if it were possible.

[James Burnham]
The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom, p.183-4

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A Balancing of Forces

Machiavelli is not so naïve as to imagine that the law can support itself.

The law is founded upon force, but the force in turn will destroy the law unless it also is bridled; but force can be bridled only by opposing force. Sociologically, therefore, the foundation of liberty is a balancing of forces, what Machiavelli calls a “mixed” government.

Since Machiavelli is neither a propagandist nor an apologist, since he is not the demagogue of any party or sect or group, he knows and says how hypocritical are the calls for a “unity” that is a mask for the suppression of all opposition, how fatally lying or wrong are all beliefs that liberty is the peculiar attribute of any single individual or group-prince or democrat, nobles or people or "multitude.”

Political freedom is the resultant of unresolved conflicts among various sections of the élite […] Only out of the continuing clash of opposing groups can liberty flow […] Freedom, in the world as it is, is thus the product of conflict and difference, not of unity and harmony.

The existence of these conflicts is in turn correlated with the interplay of diverse social forces that preserve at least a considerable degree of independence. The future of liberty will, therefore, depend upon the extent to which, whether by necessary accident or conscious design, society is kept from freezing.

In these terms we see again the danger of "idealism," utopianism, and demagogy. 

The idealists, utopians, and demagogues always tell us that justice and the good society will be achieved by the absolute triumph of their doctrine and their side. The facts show us that the absolute triumph of any side and any doctrine whatsoever can only mean tyranny.

[James Burnham]
The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom, p. 63, 100, 230

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