The Seduction of Unreason The Intellectual Romance With Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism by Richard Wolin
Phillip is reading this book on weRead.
It’s really not an “intellectual romance with fascism” that Nietzsche or Bataille had. There are fundamental aspects to both of their philosophical approaches that are in profound opposition to the ideology and practice of fascism. Most significantly, Nietzsche and Bataille are anti-authoritarian. They are trying to develop the individual, through encouraging exploration, self-invention and confrontation with challenges. This aspect of their philosophical approaches is about as anti-fascist as you can get. After all, a fascist is someone who has a fundamental desire for authority and want to find his or her particular place within a hierarchy of power.
“One of the crucial elements underlying this problematic rightleft synthesis is a strange chapter in the history of ideas whereby latter-day anti-philosophes such as Nietzsche and Heidegger became the intellectual idols of post–World War II France—above all, for poststructuralists like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Gilles
Deleuze. Paradoxically, a thoroughgoing cynicism about reason and democracy, once the hallmark of reactionary thought, became the stock-in-trade of the postmodern left.7 As observers of the French intellectual scene have frequently noted, although Germany lost on the battlefield, it triumphed in the seminar rooms, bookstores, and
cafés of the Latin Quarter. During the 1960s Spenglerian indictments of “Western civilization,” once cultivated by leading representatives of the German intellectual right, migrated across the Rhine where they gained a new currency. Ironically, Counter-Enlightenment doctrines that had been taboo in Germany because of their unambiguous association with fascism—after all, Nietzsche had been canonized as the Nazi regime’s official philosopher, and for
a time Heidegger was its most outspoken philosophical advocate— seemed to best capture the mood of Kulturpessimismus that predominated among French intellectuals during the postwar period. Adding insult to injury, the new assault against philosophie came from the homeland of the Enlightenment itself.
One of the linchpins of the Counter-Enlightenment program
was an attack against the presuppositions of humanism. By challenging the divine basis of absolute monarchy, the unbelieving philosophes had tampered with the Great Chain of Being, thereby undermining morality and inviting social chaos. For the anti-philosophes, there existed a line of continuity between Renaissancehumanism, Protestant heresy, and Enlightenment atheism. In Considerations
on France (1797) Maistre sought to defend the particularity
of historical traditions against the universalizing claims of
Enlightenment humanism, which had culminated in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of August 20, 1789. In a spirit of radical nominalism, the French royalist observed that he had encountered Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, and even Persians (if only in the writings of Montesquieu). But “humanity” or “man in general,” he claimed, was a figment of a feverish and overheated
philosophe imagination. “Man” as such did not exist.8
An assault on humanism was also one of French structuralism’s hallmarks, an orientation that in many respects set the tone for the more radical, poststructuralist doctrines that followed. As one critic
has aptly remarked, “Structuralism was . . . a movement that in large measure reversed the eighteenth-century celebration of Reason, the credo of the Lumières.”9 In this spirit, one of the movement’s founders, Claude Lévi-Strauss, sought to make anthropology useful for the ends of cultural criticism. Lévi-Strauss famously laid responsibility for the twentieth century’s horrors—total war, genocide, colonialism, threat of nuclear annihilation—at the doorstep of Western humanism. As he remarked in a 1979 interview, “All the tragedies we have lived through, first with colonialism, then with fascism, finally the concentration camps, all this has taken shape not in opposition to or in contradiction with so-called humanism . . .but I would say almost as its natural continuation.”10 Anticipating the poststructuralist credo, Lévi-Strauss went on to proclaim that the goal of the human sciences “was not to constitute, but to dissolve
man.”11 From here it is but a short step to Foucault’s celebrated, neo-Nietzschean adage concerning the “death of man” in The Order of Things.12″
The supposed opposition between “humanism” and Bataille/Nietzsche/Foucault/Deleuze type “irrationalism” is conceptually mistaken. Of course, this is how it has played out in history — as two distinct streams of thought, whereby one has effectively cannibalized the other, or at least it seems that way. As an aside, I went back to Zimbabwe recently and revelled in the humanistic mindset of most people there. Post-modernist post-humanism has not caught up with them, although they are very much enmired in Christianity, also. In general, it is a situational time warp that reminds one of the value of one’s fellow human being. One can love humans, again, within that context, where humanism largely prevails.
In the deeper sense of Bataille, Nietzsche and Deleuze, they are interested in humanity undergoing a stage of madness, in order to come out the other end in a better and stronger condition. The implicit goal is to get rid of authoritarianism, especially that which is linked to an idea of a god above, which maintains order. In terms of this, the means to the end is “madness”, but the goal is a superior kind of sanity to what we experience as normal and necessary, today. The whole emphasis of all three of these writers is a circular movement from everyday normality (a form of insanity in many respects), into true insanity, into a state of superior sanity. It’s a large scale historical programme which is supposed to bring “the individual” into being in a true sense, for the first time in history. The irrationality that these writers seek to expand upon is not the end goal for humanity, but merely a stage in the process of humanity’s self transformation.
What we have today, under the rule of capitalism, is quite substantially already the “death of man”. The individual doesn’t matter. What she produces and the length of time in which she produces it (and then, ultimately, its value on the market), is all that retains meaning in this day and age.
In all, it seems to me that Bataille, Nietzsche and Deleuze were largely just messengers foretelling this ‘death of man’, rather than those who brought this situation into existence. Wolin, it seems to me, is shooting the messenger.
Males in Western culture tend to project their emotions outside of themselves. They don’t integrate them as part of their personalities. This approach to life actually tends to make them feel more vulnerable, less whole, than if they were actually to become more emotional beings. They often do not know what their reactions to something are. Can you imagine how alienating this must be, to feel this way? Japanese men, by contrast, are generally quite aware of what their reactions are, to any particular circumstance. They often find something mirthful or ironic about various situations. The irony is not that, which is particularly Western — the irony of emotional detachment. Rather, they are quite aware that they are required to do things that they don’t especially want to do. They are quite natural in the ways that they acknowledge this.
What I have concluded is that the problem of detachment is not one that relates to males as such, but to the peculiar cultural disposition of Western males.
The not listening mode, the not paying attention, if taken too far, can put these men into real danger as they become further and further alienated (not just from others, but) from themselves. I really learned a lot from Ashis Nandy’s work:
Although it is about the relationship between the colonised and the colonisers, the psychological dynamics of this relationship can be applied to gender.
What Nandy says is that those who refuse to affirm the dignity of the gentler, childlike aspects in others (the colonised are viewed as inferior and in some ways as children) also cannot affirm it within themselves. This means that the cost of
1. Heraclitus is actually the early modern prototype for intellectual shamanism.
2. Intellectual shamanism considers that social stability and indeed power relationships themselves are maintained by means of psychological projection. This is in direct opposition to the ideology of meritocracy, which holds that those who are in power are there because they deserve to be there. Rather, intellectual shamanism suggests that those who are in power remain there because they are the most capable people in terms of projecting their worst qualities onto anybody who is not in power. Thus do they get rid of their worst qualities and appear to be morally pure without effort, whereas those in the lower echelons of society appear to need to purify themselves again and again.
3. Intellectual shamanism maintains that social reality — although not material reality, which functions differently — is a product of both negative and positive psychological projections. Thus, women will generally project their positive qualities out of themselves and into the world, whereas men will project their negative or frivolous emotional qualities in a way that they perceive to be “downwards”. At any rate, they will project them into women.
4. Initiates of intellectual shamanism do not need to bother to analyse every individual action of the ruling powers in order to understand their meanings in their generality. Individuals or actions that threaten the stability of the social order will be targeted with mind-bending projections. Thus, those who threaten the system as it is will be destroyed by means of invisible attacks which cause their peers to look upon them negatively.
5. Intellectual shamanists believe in the law of reciprocity and test the authenticity of their relationships this way. The difference between an innocent action and a power hungry (projective) action is established on the basis of this law of reciprocity. If a woman is referred to using the diminutive version of her name, she can easily test the character of the one who does this by referring to him, publicly,in the same way. If he recoils from this, he was obviously engaged in a power play of projection. If he does not mind the reciprocation, she can assume that the way of speaking was naive and was not intended offensively.
6. Intellectual shamanists “journey” by using abstract ideas as containers for new experiences. They don’t believe in fixed states of being, but rather that they can metamorphise from one state of being into another whilst exploring the interior meanings of complex abstract ideas.
There is a tendency in Western culture (and it seems to be no different within “scientific” circles) to bring to bear implicit metaphysical principles. This is particularly the case with regard to gender. I had a discussion with someone recently, who stated that if we got the average man to compete against the average women in sports, we would be able to determine, from the outcome of their competition, something about their intrinsic natures. This is the kind of thinking that reaches for a metaphysical interpretation of gender, whilst to some degree already having assumed one.
What is it about “averageness” that somehow denotes truth to us? The average (median? or mean? or modal?) woman may not necessarily contain any more of a specific “feminine” essence than the women at the more extreme ends of the scale. At the same time, since “essence” is a social construct and therefore illusionary, extremes may only yield us empirical data about extremes. They do not necessarily furnish us with instrinsic meaning about the fundamental characteristics of identity.
In any case, what generally happens is that “essences” are postulated on the basis of some anticipatory projection. Next, they are looked for in the concrete realm of things and somehow the lens that focuses on “essences” is sharpened by each and every “new” empirical discovery of what had already been assumed. Notions of fundamentally different male and female essences thus become more and more fixed. Identity itself becomes a product of reified ideas, as we modify our own behaviour in order to fit more perfectly in line with our attributed “essence”. Thus, essentialised thinking and behaviour are both socially constructed with a putatively empirical pretext.
It would seem that metaphysics is responsible, since it invades our thoughts even when we try to be objective. Indeed, if we were to be truly objective, we would see the world as being hard to compute and in a state of flux. So, we are inclined to use metaphysics as a way to stabilise our perceptions and to develop a comforting sense of order even in the face of its absence. At the same time, our desire to see order and our anticipating of it ultimately creates different kinds of concrete order where none had previously existed.
My views are simply dialectical. I don’t think that having a category of identity gives anybody a particular moral status or supplies a justifying cover for their actions. I don’t know what it means for someone to “understand” Australian culture in the sense of acqueiscing to it or paying it lip service. One can understand something and still be opposed to it. Perhaps developing understanding is a necessary element for becoming opposed. Somebody can be innocent, for all sorts of reasons, cultural background included. I imagine that MRAs are extremely innocent in terms of understanding the harm they do to women.
My point about understanding the psychology of innocence is that it is helpful to factor it in as something the escalates the psychological violence that those who remain “innocent” do to each other. I wasn’t suggesting, for a moment, that those who proclaim their innocence should be let off any hook.
I do think Assange is expressing a legitimate grievance about feeling “trapped”,as it were, by his rape charges. He feels caught out by a situation that he had not anticipated. His own culture and the rules prevailing in Australian society are rather different from Sweden. My feeling about this is “them’s the breaks”. Women express legitimate grievances all the time and they are generally based on much more extreme devaluations of their beings and ideals than Julian has experienced. We women are also very often taken by suprise when our ordinary assertiveness and hopefulness that we can get along in the world are treated with crude contempt and labeled as something else. I think that treating innocence as if it must be the mask for something inherently malicious is one of the worst violations of human integrity possible. If I were to put it into religious terms, it is the one “sin” against the human spirit that cannot be forgiven.
Because I consider Assange to have been basically innocent in his intent,(although no doubt presumptuous in relation to women and to some degree chauvinistic), I am not inclined to condemn him overly. I don’t want to treat his innocence of how to behave properly in the company of women as if it were a crime. I think he needs to be educated.
Men’s Rights Advocates’ style of rhetoric against “feminism” is the product of men making a mistake with regard to individual women — and then, instead of learning from their mistake, compounding it in every way possible due to their sense of hurt. The men who do this are very immature and they end up kicking and fighting against the opportunities life gives them to become more mature. They become extremely dangerous, especially to women.
When women try to highlight the fact of female oppression, they are treated, conventionally, as if they were merely engaged in some emotional blathering. It is the failure to observe this red light that causes many men to end up in some kind of “accident”, like that Assange has ended up in.
His “innocence” is not entirely excusable, then. However, it is very hard for many men to see what they have been trained from an early age to avoid seeing, namely that women are more oppressed, simply as “women”, than men can ever dream of. It’s like a kitten that is not exposed to verticle lines at an early age cannot see them for the duration of its lifetime. Likewise, many males cannot “see” female oppression,no matter how much it is pointed out to them. This is why Assange can make the crude and unrealistic assessment that Sweden is the Saudia Arabia of feminism.
There is a kind of denseness there, a quality of being mentally challenged. It’s difficult to know what to do about it.
In all fields of human activity, we fall victim to an historically imposed mode of reasoning — the ‘logic’ of priests. This ideological core is very hard to resist because of the way it is structured. It has an inconsistent logic that is nonetheless very consistent to the ideology of patriarchy. For males to be harsh and dominant is seen to be ‘good’ because this represents (according to the priests) the necessity for ‘civilisation’ to thrive. For women to question patriarchal ideology is seen to be inherently malicious and destructive because (according to the priests) women = anti-civilisation.
It’s the same patriarchal ‘logic’ that allows pompous men to feel very self-assured and morally righteous even (and especially) in the act of being very grandiose and socially offensive. They have been encouraged to believe they are actively holding together the “fabric of society” with their vain posturing.
By contrast, women who are assertive are seen to be behaving as the patriarchal men in fact are. Their sin of assertiveness is punished because their female essence, unless repressed, is deemed to have the inherent action of tearing apart society’s fabric.
Here’s the scenario: last week, another FB friend posted up about the salary disparity between men and women here in the US and in canada.. being a job search coach, and recruiter, I typed out some salary negotiation tips that women could use so they wouldn’t be taken advantage of when it was job offer time.. now, I agree that wage disparity is real, and it’s a bad thing, and I also understand that not everyone can negotiate a salary..sometimes an hourly wage is all you get and it’s a take it or leave it proposition.. anyway, I got yelled at for being an individualist..that being an individualist didn’t help the class of lesser paid women as an aggregate.. my view was that if one has the means to not be a victim they should take it, and not wait for an outside entity to change things, but this was what I wanted to ask you: is it better to teach individuals to not be victims one at a time, or is it better to advocate for a wholesale change to a fairer system for all, even if done by force or if the aftermath results in the hampering of someone elses ability to get ahead? In trying to break people out of a box, aren’t we then creating boxes for others, and do we have that right?
I’m really interested in your view because the FB friend who yelled at me is a personal fitness trainer…I thought it odd that someone who teaches empowerment to women who need a problem solved would yell at someone ( me) who spends a lot of time teaching women how to be empowered in terms of their career. I figured that since you teach womens sellf defense, AND you speak in terms of class and systems, you would be the person to ask.
The thing is, Tobias, that what can look like an extremely easy problem to “fix” from the outside is often fraught with a lot of complications. The complications I am talking about are not the result of any particular individual’s actions or willingness to accept a “victim” status. Rather, they are due to broad-based dispositions to treat men and women differently, within the system. This brings me to my next point: the solutions that work for you, or indeed, for men generally, within the system, will not necessarily ‘work’ for women.
Look at it this way: If a woman behaves as if her gender didn’t matter, she is viewed as stepping out of line, exhibiting signs of poor socialisation and (to the degree that she does not defer to the males as men), her behaviour can often be written off as “pathological”.
A man who behaves assertively in order to get a raise can be considered to be behaving appropriately and according to the implicit social rules governing “masculine” behaviour. A woman who behaves in exactly the same assertive way may be considered to have stuck her neck out so far that she may actually risk losing her job.
If you are going to set out to educate women about how to claim their rights, you need to be aware that women’s experiences and yours are not going to be of the same order.
It seems to me that if one represses one’s emotions — that is, one represses one’s natural and immediate reactions to one’s set of circumstances — one also ends up closing one’s mind to other realms of possibility. One thereby becomes more stupid.
Despite this, the patriarchal agenda for men is to shut off their emotions and the patriarchal agenda for women is to try to appear more stupid than men.
There are a lot of emotional blackmail mechanisms and other forms of coercion in place to discourage women from showing their intelligence. Generally, if you question patriarchal mores, you will find a lot of people ready to jump on the bandwagon to pathologise you. They feel threatened by your questioning of the status quo. They fall back upon ancient patriarchal texts in order to vindicate themselves. They insulate themselves from feeling any discomfort.
Many males are under illusions about how the world works. They’ve never been on the other side of the gender divide, so they think that when women are complaining about something, they are overreacting, making things up, or what have you. After all, the world has always treated them (the males) fairly enough. They don’t understand what it feels like to be disempowered and to have one’s perceptions and experiences devalued.
With the males I told you I had encountered, they thought it was a game I was playing. I would say it is hurtful to be disempowered and they they thought I was just being ideological, having some fun with abstract ideas.
Unless males can experience for themselves what women are talking about, it is often very difficult for them to understand that this is not a game. When we say that as women we have been profoundly disadvantaged, this is what we have actually experienced. We are not just saying it as a form of power play.
If we can extrapolate just a little from Horkheimer and Adorno, we can say that in Western culture, people assume that nothing is as it seems to be. What I am suggesting here is a cultural appropriation of this principle of “Enlightenment”, which has a very mystifying (rather than enlightening) effect on people.
Because people have become culturally accustomed to doubting their own perceptions, it is easy for suave manipulators to make good seem like evil and vice versa, so that the populace regularly votes against its own interests (and shoots itself in the foot). It seems people are just too “clever” for their own goods, always doubting what is in front of them and seems to be most apparent. The cultural logic that says nothing is ever what it actually seems to be makes it easy for things to be represented as their opposites. For, after all, if something appears good, what could be more opposite — and hence “enlightened’ — than to expose some ostensibly “evil” underlying motivation in it? Likewise, if something actually APPEARS harmful, a feeling of suave sophistication in relation to this harmful thing might readily be obtained by seeing “good” in it.
In all, it seems that many people are addicted to this feeling of sophistication, which comes from the capacity to “see” some of the opposite characteristics in whatever comes into their view. Anything that stands out very much from the norm is likely to receive this sort of treatment. The practical results of reinterpreting various situations and events as their opposite seems to have little cultural importance in comparison to this feeling of sophistication obtained in being able to read opposite values into things. It is an addiction, an intoxication, which gives a sense of immediate transcendence of everyday reality.
Many people have smaller and smaller attention spans, these days. It is very difficult to educate people on anything, because unless the lesson you want to impart has a strong emotional impact, people are unlikely to keep it in mind. The more stressed people are, the more the attention span narrows. Feminist efforts to educate the populace about gender roles are noble, but end up preaching to the choir. The prevalence of various popularisations of Darwinism means that those who feel stressed by their situations, but do not wish to do anything about the deeper reasons for their stress, (perhaps believing, wrongly, that there is not such thing as a “deeper reason”), tend to revert to the rhetoric: “Well, I’m just an animal, an ape. What did you expect?”
In such a situation as I have described, I don’t think feminism has much to lose by letting go of the motherly, educative role, at least in terms of trying to change the world. Such a task as educating others should be used only in support of those who are already aware that feminism is necessary, but do not understand the ins and outs of patriarchal oppression in enough detail to fight it back.
In relation to those others—the majority of people—who show resistance to understanding feminism, I think that little energy should be expended in trying to teach them right from wrong. Many people are willing to lap up feminist criticism, even if it is harsh, because they feel starved of attention. They will try to provoke it as a perverse way of feeling nourished. Due to this way of fulfilling a need, feminists can end up in a maternal role, which is just what isn’t useful.
I think that the strategy of feminism should be to veer away from identity politics, so that it becomes difficult to target women as a particular identity. This is where the backlash has succeed and is still succeeding. Instead, feminism should employ an emotional detached logic, to show that the way in which anti-feminists are thinking is profoundly illogical and self defeating.
For instance, yesterday a man told me that he didn’t look deeply into the reasons for things, because he was “a man” and “men are simple”, he told me, like apes. So, I asked him whether it was impossible for “a man” to be an intellectual. Notably, what I said didn’t sink in, which is to be expected due to the complacency that anti-feminists develop within the popular cultural milieu. Still, I think that after several responses of this nature, along with a lack of feminist nurturing, many men will learn to modify their behaviour somewhat.
(This relates to my previous post on infantile projection.)
Samantha Meki: I think men have acquired this noble state in the hierachy coz they’re physically stronger than women, emotionally repressive than women who show their weaker side and therefore need all the men’s stronger qualities to suppliment hers so as to feel secure;hence women play a part as well in pushing the Man up the hierachy making him noble coz they need some of the men’s qualities which r totally opposite to theirs.
Jennifer F Armstrong: Yes, that is the conventional view, Samantha. My view is that whilst many men and women have become accustomed to viewing gender relations in that way, it is likely that they have things exactly back to front.
We need to examine our assumptions to understand how this could be.
1. Why is emotional repression considered to be strength in this absolute sense required by patriarchy? Quite clearly all humans are equipped with the capacity to express emotion, so a human that does not express emotion is not necessarily a stronger one, but rather one who is a bit mutilated.
2. Why is the expression of emotion considered to be the expression of “a weaker side”? All humans have the capacity –and need — to express emotion.
3. Why do women buy into the logic that it is their responsibility to support and affirm men because men repress their emotions more than women do?
4. Hasn’t the way women express emotions become poisoned and unnatural, due to their relationship with men within the gender hierarchy? Perhaps this is why female emotions seem “weak”, like unwanted and unreliable residues of a more glorious human condition?
5. How did women end up having to try to attain necessary human qualities that are nonetheless deemed to be “the opposite to hers” by sweating for them? In the end, she elevates the male, but does not actually manage to obtain the reward she has been offered. That is, nobility remains always beyond her reach, despite her reaching for it by pushing up the male. Hasn’t she been deceived in all sorts of ways?
Patriarchal psycho-dynamics divide the human psyche into half so that all its godly attributes seem to belong to men and all of its contemptible attributes seem to belong to women. Although males hope to win by this sleight of hand, they actual lose, for they become divided in half. There are still some areas in battle, where women are sometimes viewed as having mystical, sacred powers due to their sexuality, but generally intellect, knowledge, will and courage are deemed to be “male”. Women are deemed to have precisely the opposite qualities.
When anyone is in the grip of patriarchal ideology, they feel like it’s the boost they need to reach the sun, if not the stars. You simply cannot tell a person, who is intoxicated in this way, that the result will be that they are shattered. For, nobody can efficiently go through life and face unpredictable challenges whilst they remain committed to being, effectively, only half a person.