Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Radical Rousseau's Ravages

Swiss-French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau's (1712-1778) personal life is marked by traits sounding awkwardly contemporary. Self-pity and paranoia play see-saw with wrong choices and deflecting blame. Man is by nature good, it is society that is the cause of corruption and vice. Iconic for Rousseauian thought is the image of the noble savage, man in his natural state before his fall from Paradise.

There is nothing ambiguous about his ethics however: he believed his 'doctrine of two substances' to be the key to the absolute quality of good and evil [Jonathan I. Israel, Radical Enlightenment, 2001, p., 2001, p. 719]. In an example in a classical setting he saw in Athenian decadence the degrading influence of reason. He preferred the cruder, militaristic Spartans, an unspoiled and nobler tribe. Their callous practice of exposing babies to nature - now in dispute - may well have inspired Rousseau to expose his own five illegitimate children to the hardships of the Paris orphanage.

Although Rousseau died in 1778, before the French Revolution, his justification of violence to power was the source of inspiration of the Reign of Terror that the Jacobins unleashed during the latter part of the rebellion. In 1792 the French 'citizen army' faced the Prussian forces at Valmy. In a psychological victory they prevented them from marching on to Paris to restore the monarchy. Earlier in the capital a mob had stormed the Tuilleries Palace. In the massacres over a thousand political prisoners were brutally hacked to death. Fabre d'Eglantine declared: "In the towns, let the blood of traitors be the first Holocaust to Liberty, so that in advancing to meet the common enemy, we leave nothing behind to disquiet us!" [Wildmonk]

After "the first Holocaust to Liberty" many more would follow. It is a specific feature, typical of Rousseau's constellation of ideas. The chief ingredients as expressed in "Profession de Foi" are a sweeping rejection of tradition, Revelation, and all institutionalized authority. [Radical Enlightenment, p. 718]

In Roussea's ideas we find the source of every anti-Liberal, violent revolution ever since the French Revolution went off the Lockean track. Rousseau is ultimately the father of many noxious and lethal traditions besides: Romanticism, redistributive Socialism, philosophical agrarianism, conservative Communitarianism, Nazism, and more to the point, the Counter-Enlightenment and postmodernism. Cultures, adopting Rousseauian ideas found in them a mirror of some aspect of their own identity. [Wildmonk]

Many have descended into the abyss of collectivist hell. In France his radical egalitarianism led to The Reign of Terror, in Germany to Left and Right Socialism with known result, in Russia and the Far East to communism, starvation and slaughter on grandiose scales. In China Mao Tse Tung's Great Leap Forward resulted in the greatest mass murder in human history and in Cambodia the Khmer Rouge's extermination campaign to establish Rousseauian agrarianism resulted in the deaths of well over twenty percent of the population. [Wildmonk] If this is not evil, frankly I don't know what is.

Why Rousseau is different
Rousseau stands apart in many respects. He marks the fault-line in Western tradition between Anglo-American and Continental lines of thought, and forms the point of departure from the Enlightenment because he is essentially anti-modern [Wildmonk]. While loosely following the traditional path of Enlightenment thought, his radical stance differs notably on the crucial issues of anti-individualism [Isaiah Berlin, "Against the Current", 2001], anti-capitalism and against private property ("Radical Enlightenment", p. 273), anti science and technology, his radical egalitarianism, and the inherent mindset in which the means are justified by the perceived noble end.

Rousseau is often quoted as the iconic philosopher of the Enlightenment, but it is quite clear he fiercely rejected all its tenets and values. No doubt, here we have the ground zero of the Counter-Enlightenment.

He was certainly no believer in mutually beneficial interaction, or the beneficial effects on society of self-interest (Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733), "The Fable of the Bees"), asserting that "society hardly needs to feed man's love for himself and his desire to be first among men." ["Radical Enlightenment", p. 273].

His radical egalitianism is echoed in the notion that rational and industrious man with dehumanizing machines would replace royalty as an enslaver of the common man, being better and more ruthless on the aggregation of material goods. He argued that the separation of the progress and dissemination of science and art from political and religious control are hazardous for society and for the virtue of the people [Bloom, 1990]. But it gets worse.

"Common will" instead of freedom
In Rousseau we see the first social contract at the price of freedom and the birth of a notion called the "common will". The latter is a concept that in Rousseau's approach requires state intervention. This should not be confused with the 'common good'. It is a far more developed conception which, and unlike the former, can only be realized in the context of civil society under the state ["Radical Enlightenment", p. 720).

For the creation of a society of common will, "freedom of all the people", they need only accept the dictates of the state. This was Rousseau's essence of "true civilization." The struggle between rich and poor would then rise to a moral experience of self-restraint. [Wildmonk] With the faculty of moral choice thus abdicated and forfeited to the state, people would be free from lowly - earthly desires and reach full - ideal potential. Man is thus divorced from the social and economic context in which he lives and interacts with others. The ideal state of heaven, separated from earthly considerations.

This totalitarian approach to freedom, an abomination in every sense, was later further developed by Marx, who wrote that "capitalist, individual liberty is the most complete suppression of all individual liberty and total subjugation of individuality to social conditions" [Wildmonk: Marx, "Grundnisse", pp. 131]. "Freedom can only consist in socialized man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favourable to, and worthy of their human nature." [Wildmonk: Marx, "Selected Writings", pp. 496].

In this way man's separation from his nature and morality began. Never in human history were their worse judges of human character than Rousseau and his followers: all seek some degree of formal control over individual freedom for the purpose of creating material conditions deemed necessary for "true freedom", moralectomy in precise equal measure. Rousseau's concept of "common will" became the most savage, bloody instrument of social engineering in the history of mankind.

The Atlantic Ridge
In the United States Thomas Jefferson was the most prominent supporter of the French revolutionary achievements. Nevertheless, property rights and Enlightenment liberties were set in stone in the spirit of Locke, Montesquieu and Adam Smith. The present Democratic Party is being diverted further and further from that tradition as the sway of the postmoderns intensifies. Rhetorical style and attitude betray their influence.

While National Socialist and Communist ideas have swept America to some extent in their haydays - notwithstanding the counter culture, a product of the latter - these Rousseauian inspired ideologies remained by and large a marginal affair. Rousseau entering Locke's territory by the back- door may come as a surprise to some Americans - the wrong brand of revolution is encroaching on its most basic principles.

In Europe the situation was markedly different, as we shall see. Locke's influence remained on the whole limited to the British Isles. France and Germany have both Rousseau traditions, not Lockean. Today of great long-term concern is a possible return to some form of Rousseau inspired extreme ideology. It is chilling to see the rise of an unelected governing body on the European continent. The post-democratic elitism, combined with postmodern ideological chaos understood in the philosophical context, is an even more disquieting prospect.

Counter-Enlightenment projection* is on the order of the day and may even be consciously used as a tactic. Rousseau's brand of radical and revolutionary ideas, combined with the notion that civilization is so corrupt that it must be considered beyond salvation, makes him the father of all violent struggle in the last two and a half centuries.

Americans, tending to confuse Locke's revolution with Rousseau's, occasionally fall into the trap of supporting the wrong causes: initially the Russian Red Terror, and more recently, the covertly Islam inspired call for independence in the middle of Europe's powder keg, the Serbian province of Kosovo in the heart of the Balkans, thus providing a foothold in Europe for similarly based and equally pernicious radicalism.

The zero-sum game approach to economics also originates with Rousseau, which is giving rise to the annual media talking point that "a new report is suggesting that today's rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer". This is incorrect propaganda, some reason requiring regular public re-affirmation, perhaps for that reason alone.

Rousseau and Religion
The great minds of the Enlightenment proper - Spinozists excluded - never saw Christianity as their mortal enemy. To them Church and the Enlightenment were natural allies. Rousseau was no exception, but he had only a passing acquaintance with the Christian political tradition. Therefore he dismissed the role of Christianity as a moderating force in society. He saw the faith as entirely a spiritual undertaking, occupying itself only with "heavenly things."

Rousseau's Christians are so detached from reality that they can hardly be recognized: a people so spiritualized that they display a profound disinterest if their earthly pursuits are successful or not. Rousseau's call for transcendent values to harness the energies of men towards the 'common will', coupled with the rejection of Christianity as a engine of these values, made it a central tenet of all the Rousseauian ideologies [Wildmonk].

To Rousseau religion was an imperative. "... the state cannot ... pursue a policy of toleration for disbelievers, or view religion as a matter of individual conscience. It absolutely must, therefore, reject dangerous notions of toleration and the separation of church and state." and "so fundamentally important is religion that the ultimate penalty is appropriate for disbelievers ..." [Stephen R.C. Hicks, "Explaining Postmodernism", Scholargy Press, 2004, p. 98].

Despite being so enamored with force-feeding religion, after the publication of his work "Emile" he was driven into temporary exile in Bern after a warrant for his arrest was issued. "Emile" was widely denounced as irreligious and seditious.

The Legacy
The loather of civilization Rousseau was nevertheless greatly admired by the early Counter-Enlighteners, as he is by today's postmoderns. His followers mostly selected from his work what they could use to prop up their ideologies. Marx accepted Rousseau's critique of Locke's economic man but stood solidly by the Enlightenment in his appreciation for science and technology. Marx even went so far as to describe his ideology as Scientific Marxism, basically a pseudo scientific rationalization of his aggregate of ideas.

Hegel as well as Rousseau inspired Marx' theory of dialectic materialism, in which the theme is the dichotomy of the Oppressor versus the Oppressed. Now clearly a tactic of this dialectic, Rousseau's vista of a noble, primordial world destroyed by man's egoism, might well also have sired the epidemic of Western self-loathing.

Ironically, while Rousseau was convinced that civilization was the cause of moral degradation, little did he know that his followers, by rejecting objective reality, would drop morality along with it. Despite two and a half centuries of genocidal legacy in pursuit of Rousseauian ideal society it enjoys considerable support among the Western intelligentsia, specifically in the humanities departments of academia, the media, all levels of education, contemporary arts, the political elite, advisory boards, government ministries and departments and what is loosely described as 'the corridors of power.'

The postmodern heirs remain committed to undermining free-market democracy, casting misty eyes upon the Rousseauean atrocities. 110 million dead are not vile enough to discredit 'the Party of Humanity' in the views of some of the most stubborn apologists. Considering that totalitarian societies are today's version of the tribal community he so admired, the Rousseau ideal society could well be described as an agrarian totalitarian state.

Another point of irony is that Rousseau's conviction, that reason engenders egocentrism has been falsified by every non-government sponsored humanitarian organization on the face of the planet, while Rousseau's faithful follower Hegel is responsible for the subjectivism that saw the birth of egocentrism gone mad, the 'Master of the Universe' syndrome (each individual creates his own personal version of reality: If I die overnight, will the sun still rise tomorrow?).

In France, Rousseau's ideal of small, intimate villages and a peaceful, agricultural society built on the consent of the common will has resulted in France becoming a by-word for centralized statism. Rousseau's tenet that reason caused man's fall from paradise may well be the basis of the later Counter-Enlightenment's political ideals, modelled on the re-creation of 'paradise on earth', Utopias which usually turn out to be dystopias instead.

Postmodernism or Rousseauism?
Rousseau can certainly be traced back as the source of all members of the postmodern coalition: environmentalists, third-worldists (Baran-Wallerstein), feminists, anarchists, 'gender, identity and sexual orientation' theorists, traditional socialists of various plumage, and 'classical' postmoderns. It is a true gathering of Rousseauians that has largely remained uninvestigated, underreported and certainly undeclared.

In the chaos of the total postmodern bankruptcy in the wake of mayhem, moralectomy and grandiose failure, there is but one purpose left. A resolve that brings these ideologies together with a tradition with which it has so much in common. We are witnessing a spontaneous feast of recognition with radical Islam.

It is truly remarkable that every prior held conviction and allegiance has by now been jilted in favour of furthering the causes of the intolerant: it's back to the Rousseau basics. The grant plan: a strategy to deconstruct Western, democratic, liberal capitalism by critical theory, and 'irrational means of the will.'

* If you think of yourself as a peaceful, loving person, while actually you are full of wrath and hatred, the psychological coping device of projection - as if by magic - transforms the object of that wratch into someone who is hateful, devisive, full of vitriol and bile, bigoted, intolerant and hatemongering.

- Filed on Articles in "The Dystopia of Paradise", cat. Postmodernism (Sundry) -


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