By Wayne Allensworth
Politics are over in America. Political maneuvering will go on, of course, but the old civics class view of American political life was based on a set of assumptions that are no longer operative. First, America was far more homogenous before the 1965 Immigration Act and the 60’s “New Left” political and social revolution changed the country demographically and culturally. The old America of regional cultures was about as diverse as a polity could be and remain stable. America, with her Anglo-Saxon political heritage, was a country with a considerable reserve of “social capital” and public trust. It was understood that a loss at election time did not threaten an existential crisis (the election of 1860 notwithstanding). Politics were not zero sum. That is no longer true. And that means that the old politics, which had been hollowed out over a period of decades, are largely a thing of the past.
“Politics” are no longer merely about policy, which can be bargained over within a procedural framework that once included shared cultural assumptions, but about the most fundamental moral and social issues, including the legitimacy of the American polity as such, the value of human life, even the definitions of “gender,” “sex,” and “marriage.” These are not issues like tax policy or health care that can conceivably be worked out in committee.
Civic engagement is disappearing as trust evaporates. We don’t know our neighbors, and, in many cases, may not want to. Strangers in exotic garb speaking unintelligible tongues, “neighbors” who, even though they look like us, may have an opposing set of values and assumptions…We are all bowling alone now, as excessive “diversity” destroys an already weakened sense of community.
I can’t remember when safety caps and armor-like layers of packaging on supermarket items became common. It was probably about the time that parents became reluctant to let their children wander their neighborhoods unsupervised or stopped allowing them to take part in the trick or treat ritual of Halloween. We had discovered that there were real monsters out there. I don’t think it was mere coincidence that “school shooting” became an all too familiar part of the vernacular along the way, or that serial killers became something like cultural icons.
Something eerie, something terribly frightening, was taking place. The fragmentation and atomization of mass society was undermining the foundations of a stable social order. Psychological and spiritual confusion became all too common. The Internet and other technologies only increased personal isolation. The lonely crowd created its own alternative media-driven worlds, and their artificial environments suggested a whiff of transcendence like a longed-for narcotic, a product of the illusion of digital omnipotence.
Alienation became a common theme in literature, and “art” was no longer the realm of the sublime, the inspiring, and the beautiful, but a celebration of subversive ugliness. Subverting traditional values, norms, and morality were baked into the material of popular culture. Recognition as an “artist” largely meant affirming the deconstruction of cultural parameters that had affirmed our personal roles, lending society some coherence, and along with Christianity, presented at least a glimmer of hope and purpose in this world.
Modernism and post-modernism
The spirit of our age is “post-modern.”
Philosopher Stephen Hicks, in his book Explaining Postmodernism, presents an intellectual framework that at least gives us a sense of where we have been and where we are now. Pre-modernism, as sketched by Hicks, was based on a foundation of transcendence and revelation of ultimate Truth. Human nature was “fallen” in the pre-modern world of Christendom, and salvation was attained through faith. That world was “collectivist” (I would say “communitarian”). Modernism was materialist and naturalistic, with reason and the scientific method, not revelation, as the path to Truth. Modernism was individualist and assumed human autonomy. Man would be his own savior.
Modernism has yielded to post-modernism. Post-modernism assumes subjectivity, that truth and reality itself are unknowable. Post-modernists claim that society has been “constructed,” and is not based on any coherent or defensible basis, and that leads them to claim that all constructed social relations in our society are built on force in the service of power, not legitimate authority. This is the fundamental assumption that poisons our culture from top to bottom. It is small wonder that despair and nihilism followed. The road to societal hell is paved by a rejection of reality itself.
It appears that existential nihilism and rage against Being are the whole point. This is where Professor Hicks’ analysis once again sheds some light on what is at the root of post-modernism. Hicks explains the rage that characterizes the post-modernist milieu as the result of a deep-seated frustration among radicals in the 1960’s who observed that Marxist socialism was failing. The technocratic rationalism of “scientific Marxism” was being defeated by capitalism.
As Hicks describes it, the facts did not fit the Left’s predications of historical development moving toward revolution and eventually, a socialist Utopia that would right all wrongs and avenge all slights. If the facts didn’t fit the theory, then the Left would make some adjustments, abandoning a class-based critique of capitalism for one rooted in the revolt of a mass of fractured identity groups, a revolt declaring that there are no facts, just constructed narratives.
The deconstruction project went into high gear, attacking language (the Left has been particularly successful in distorting language for ideological ends, replacing “sex” with “gender,” for instance), deconstructing historical narratives, and assigning victim and oppressor status. The birth pangs of what would eventually be called “woke” politics were accompanied by a frontal assault on Western civilization and “whiteness” in particular. According to “woke” theorists, the only possible explanation for the failure of exalted minority groups (for victim status is a sacred condition), despite any evidence to the contrary, must be an insidious, and invisible “institutional” or “structural” racism or sexism or some other “ism” that is supposedly embedded in Western civilization.
It’s worth observing that the hard Left had never been monolithic. The international communist movement of the past was marked by sharp divisions within it between modernist/technocratic Marxism and anarchist romanticism, revealing a tension between the desire for material abundance (Viewed by the modernist school as achievable only by industrialization, centralization, and bureaucratization) and a utopian vision of society unencumbered by hierarchy and distinctions between individuals, with the “vanguard party” leading the way to perfect equality and, revealing communism’s bohemian intellectual current, self-realization. For the romantic revolutionaries, the revolution above all required a supreme act of will.
The romantic view, together with the conspiratorial origins of the party in Russia (a model followed across the globe), fueled the hunt for “enemies of the people,” “self-criticism” and re-education efforts in Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” and “Cultural Revolution,” as well as Pol Pot’s anti-industrialization in the killing fields of Cambodia. Transforming society and human nature required mass terror and social upheaval, whether the goal was modernization or communist anarchy.
The Left’s existential rage
If that describes a world view that is more than a little familiar, it’s not surprising. The divisions of the past are present today in the alliance of managerial Davos globalists with the likes of Antifa and BLM. Call it “post-Marxism” or “Cultural Marxism” or “woke” radicalism, but the anti-rational, visceral anger that that typifies the hard Left is far more profound, and runs far deeper, than political and social theorizing. There is something more fundamental going on.
Existential rage is as old as Cain killing Abel. Behind it is resentment transformed into something far deeper and more sinister, something Nietzsche called ressentiment, a poisonous bitterness driven to hatred, fueled by a burning sense of envy and anger with one’s condition, and I would add, a rage against God. Ressentiment is not so much concerned with acquiring what others have as it is about making sure those others do not have it. As Stephen Hicks put it, “Like Iago, post-modernism does not have to get the girl in the end. Destroying Othello is enough.”
The emotive scream of the hard Left comes from such a place, and it recurs again and again as it is part of the human condition. It is one reaction to the trials of existence, and the hard Left encourages it to escape its cage in the collective psyche and become an instrument of the destruction of a society it hates and resents. The hard Left is the home of patricide and fratricide, of attacks on authority, of rejection of social norms that repress often self-destructive compulsions. Containing our impulses are the price of civilization. Human life is tragic, and culture can be–and sometimes must be–a hard teacher.
And that explains our dilemma. The traditionalist Right offers some sense of purpose and fulfillment (“do your duty”), within its acceptance of the tragic view. There should be no promise of “success” or “happiness” from a serious Right. The hard Left offers the promise of the serpent, each of us his own god, and an outlet for existential rage.
It is no accident, as Stalin might have said, that seething anti-humanism has found a home in post-modern radicalism. Nihilism is embedded in post-modern ideologies. Consider, for example, radical environmentalists’ disdain for a destructive humanity that has polluted the planet. In their view, the world would be better off without us. Then there are the evil twins of abortion and euthanasia. In the 1960s, Susan Sontag called the white race a “cancer” on the planet. It appears that the post-modern Left not only hates the white race, but Being itself. Their self-affirmation is achieved by acts of destruction. I destroy, therefore I am.
The anti-culture of Columbine and the suffering God
The world view that permeates the dominant anti-culture is that of the Columbine shooters. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were the products of decades of anti-life, anti-Christian, anti-humanity rage against the world, and the fractured and crippled society that resulted from such spiritual poison. At Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, the two twisted boys acted out their frustrations and avenged their perceived failures by killing 13 people and wounding 20 others before following the Father of Lies to self destruction.
In his journal, Klebold wrote that God was “f—— me over big time and it p—– me off.” “I HATE my life,” he wrote. “I want to die.” He lamented his lack of success with girls, and his shyness, and called his peers “morons.” Dylan Klebold declared, “I am GOD” compared to those “brainless zombies.” He fantasized about killing certain people and screeched that life was “NOT FAIR!!!” “Death,” he wrote “is a reprieve,” while “life is a punishment.”
Dylan Klebod and Eric Harris could find no solace in the suffering God who, through the incarnation, shared all the pain and doubt humans experience, even to the point of wondering whether his suffering had any purpose (“My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”). In that suffering, our God was with us, and is with us. That is our hope.
We have come full circle. If there is no ultimate Truth that reality is grounded in, then there is no possibility for dialogue or compromise. If there are no facts, only the will to power is left in the death struggle between opposing “narratives.” Politics as we have previously understood them are no longer possible. We are all bowling alone in Columbine. We have the cross and the hope that God is with us. We must live in that hope and defend what is true and right whenever we can.
This article previously appeared in Chronicles.
Wayne Allensworth is a Corresponding Editor of Chronicles magazine. He is the author of The Russian Question: Nationalism, Modernization, and Post-Communist Russia, and a novel Field of Blood.