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The Crisis of Liberal Modernity and the Totalitarian Response
The paradox of freedom and a messianic fixation on equality galvanize modernity’s despotic tendencies.
Advanced industrialized democracies are experiencing frightful and strange times characterized by seemingly unending crises, mass hysteria, and a succession of emergencies—all amplified by the state and the nominally independent institutions of social propaganda with which it has developed a symbiotic relationship.
The analysis offered by most critics of our current predicament—those rightly alarmed by the excesses of securitization, centralization, globalism, and statism—goes something like this: that modern liberalism or the neoliberal order represent a perversion of classical or early liberalism and that only by restoring them and returning to their original principles could the good liberals of the West right the ship and remedy the situation. Such claims are not entirely incorrect, but they are superficial.
The ballooning of the liberal managerial state into a totalistic and globe-spanning Leviathan is in part the result of the very successes of the liberal worldview—what we may call the “modern project”—as well as the natural culmination of three antinomies foundational to liberalism.
How We Got Here?
The current dystopian storm has been gathering strength for some time, at least since the start of the 21st century. Not only did the 9/11 terrorist attack actuate the U.S. war machine into a series of endless wars in a Global War on Terror, but the George W. Bush administration exploited that tragedy and the threat of Al-Qaeda to further consolidate and rationalize a surveillance regime that dramatically expanded and abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Three Democrat and Republican presidents later, U.S. intelligence—with the complicity of Big Tech—continues to engage in mass surveillance of Americans on U.S. soil with little transparency and oversight.
The specter of Covid-19 only accelerated this alarming trend and broadened the scope of securitization and politics of fear onto public health. Overnight, many Western governments metastasized into bio-security states, mandating vaccine passports, restricting travel, and locking down their citizens in the name of public safety. It was always doubtful whether such draconian measures were necessary or even conducive to “slowing the spread” of a highly transmissible virus (as shown by the Delta and Omicron variants). Nevertheless, the war-like handling of the virus by the U.S., Canada, Australia, the U.K., and many European countries created a martial climate in which it was essentially acceptable to treat “the unvaccinated” as second-class citizens, even as a dangerous threat—while showing minimal regard for either bodily sovereignty or scientific skepticism.
By 2022, Carl Schmitt’s famous notion of a “state of exception” had become an ordinary feature of life in many parts of the world. A situation in which the sovereign transcends its political and constitutional authority ostensibly to protect the public from an emergency of some form in an increasingly polarized society seems to have become the new normal in the Western world.
A year ago, in February 2022, two separate, seemingly unrelated, events captured the despotic, dystopian condition of our zeitgeist. First, generally peaceful protests organized by Canadian truckers against the excesses of the Covid rules, known as the Freedom Convoy, were crushed by the full mobilization of the Canadian state, with the U.S. government's and multinational corporations' explicit backing. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared a state of emergency, allowing his government to ignore and trample the civil liberties of Canadians in the name of security.
At the time, renowned American journalist Matt Taibbi compared it to the actions of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu. An official inquiry into the episode released this month, however, found that the emergency order had met the “very high threshold” of a national emergency. Despite his “reluctance” in siding with the Trudeau government, commissioner Justice Paul Rouleau wrote, “freedom cannot exist without order.” The implication is that it’s the government that can decide what constitutes “freedom” as well as the limits to it.
Living under what Carl Schmitt called a “state of exception” has become the new normal in Western societies.
Second, the foreign policy Blob and its allies in the mainstream media blew the sirens of a holy war to defend the fledgling Ukrainian “democracy”—and, apparently, the Western way of life—from the villainous, authoritarian Vladimir Putin. Galvanized by many in the Biden administration, the hawks in the North Atlantic took a two-pronged approach to their interventionist agenda, playing on the moralism of their peer groups and the heartstrings of the masses to propagate their dubious— highly ideological—claim as to the geopolitical vitality of Ukraine and its importance for the Western alliance.
With Western victory realistically impossible, the wishful thinking, Manichaean exhortations, and willful interjections of Western leaders have only resulted in prolonging the war, freezing the conflict, impeding a diplomatic settlement, and deepening Europe’s dependency on the United States and NATO. The policy has taken a huge toll on Ukrainian civilians and saddled Western economies and populations with unprecedented inflation and energy shortages. Not to mention, it dramatically increases the risk of military escalation and the specter of a nuclear apocalypse. But punishing Russia, is presumably, worth all this and more.
These episodes also point to the systemic and selective propagation of information and securitization of discourse around the ever-regenerated “current thing” as the “emergency” crisis of the moment—without which the politics of fear and exception are difficult to maintain and justify. For establishing a baseline account of the crisis suitable for threat inflation, shaping and influencing the public’s perception of it in moralistic ways, and manufacturing consent around the desired course of action are fundamental to achieving the psychological and sociological controls—and the temporary paradigm of consensus—necessary for invoking emergency powers.
In the post-Covid world, the West faces the dreadful prospect that it could become the standard-bearer of a new regime type: a socially totalizing, surveilling, information-monopolizing, biopolitical, and martial regime disguised in the feel-good casing of liberal democracy.
What are the philosophical pathos and sociological underpinnings of a system that has reacted and overreacted so unsettlingly and extremely as to co-opt and weaponize crisis as an instrument of political legitimation and power maximization?
A socially totalizing, surveilling, information-monopolizing, biopolitical, and martial state disguised in the feel-good casing of liberal democracy is becoming the standard regime in the West.
Unpacking this uncanny phenomenon requires journeying into the history of ideas and conducting a critical genealogy of Modernity—the paradigmatic worldview and historical complex that was born in the wake of the European wars of religion and the Enlightenment. We must identify the ideological codes underlying our current societal matrix and perform a diagnosis of or autopsy on the paradigm and zeitgeist which we inhabit.
Liberalism’s Intrinsic Discontents
Today, especially in the West and increasingly globally, we are all bred into liberal modernity. One way to try to capture and systematize the basis of the modern condition is by understanding it as the liberal “form of life” or Weltanschauung, in which life becomes inseparably bound to the political. I contend that the cultural décadence, the loss of meaning, the existential angst, and the political and social dislocations debilitating the West are triggered by a crisis of legitimacy at the heart of the liberal worldview and the extant regime’s effort to consolidate and preserve its authority and the existing power structure (at a time when the authority of authority is increasingly questioned).
But what is distinctive to Modernity as a philosophical pathos and how does it relate to liberalism?
Modernity is certainly an ambiguous and elusive concept: in one sense, it reflects temporality, meaning simply what is current, presential, or new. However, it also has a philosophical and substantive definition: a particular cast of mind and paradigm that comes to dominate the Western constellation of values starting in the 16th century with the Protestant Reformation and then the Enlightenment. Its features are summed up in the familiar phrase, the “modern project”.
As an orientation to life, Modernity represents the sublimation of what German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche calls the Apollonian drive, characterized by the human desire or instinct to dominate and subjugate matter and nature, the will to create order out of the tragic disorder of life. Some of the most influential theoretical and epistemological constructs of the modern era have been attempts to encapsulate and express this Apollonian compulsion—from rationalism and scientism to utilitarianism and even Marxism.
If Modernity is the form, liberalism is the original substance: the set of principal rationalizations, the theoretical or philosophical schema, needed to drive the Modern project forward and which can also be used to make sense of the modern zeitgeist and its sui generis, largely secular “sacred canopy” and social imaginaries.
As the liberal paradigm matured into a zeitgeist that first shaped the lived experience and the horizon of imagination for Western man and then consolidated its triumph over alternative worldviews with Modernity’s globalization, its very success made its inherent contradictions more pronounced and explicit. This development, in turn, spawned a crisis of legitimacy for liberalism, where disbelief, doubt, and nihilism set in, and belief in the original premises became increasingly unbelievable.
The liberal paradigm has conditioned the lived experience of the Western man and triumphed over alternative worldviews with Modernity’s globalization.
Liberalism suffers from at least three original antinomies:
1. Domination vs. Autonomy. Liberalism captures the Modern will to mastery by affirming man’s control over matter and nature. It sets up the human agent as the ultimate source of authority taken from God, History, Tradition, or Nature. Accordingly, it demands a clean break from the past and traditional social structures that are seen as limiting and constraining man. Human “freedom”, it is believed, requires a project of systemic liberation from the encumbering or oppressive hierarchies and norms of the past so that a new order based on the autonomy and agency of the individual can be created.
This is the raison d’être of liberalism in its early phase. The French Revolution and the Reign of Terror and mass executions it unleashed under the Jacobin leader Maximilien Robespierre best illustrates the connection between a desire for liberation and a desire to dominate. The persistent appeal of violent revolution and social activism in the Western psyche across generations embodies this paradoxical disposition.
2. Universalism vs. Subjectivism. Liberalism professes belief in certain unchanging and universal principles (self-evident Truths) derived from a fixed conception of human nature. They are fundamental to (natural) rights theory. At the heart of this philosophical anthropology—i.e., the liberal conception of human nature—lies man’s possession of reason and rational will, in which everyone, as human, shares equally.
While it affirms the “ethos of sameness” however, liberalism also marks the turn toward individuating morality—inviting ethical and epistemological subjectivism. This leads to a form of solipsism in which values, knowledge, and even reality are only true or objective to the extent that the individual human agent believes them to be so. This view is buttressed by the conviction that man’s rational will has an a priori existence, independent of society, culture, history, and hierarchies of value and power. Both modern identitarianism and the modern fixation with unqualified equality find here their original justifications.
3. Perennialism vs. Perfectibility of Man (the Myth of Progress). Given its commitment to a fixed and universal human nature, liberalism is presential and dismissive of, even hostile to, history and becoming, which it views as a force external to man’s essential nature as an autonomous agent (homo liber) and thus finds disruptive to his freedom. Liberalism’s abstract and reified formulations uproot man from his concrete historical existence and transcend the complexities of communal life. In its philosophical idealism, liberalism thus privileges the perenniality of man as a nominal, ideational, and unchanging category over man in real life, as homo cultus firmly rooted in an extended network of family and other social relations, embedded in historical communities, and bred within particular nations or cultures.
At the same time, perhaps influenced by its Protestant lineage and impulse, liberalism holds that man’s potentiality, powers, and dignity have not been fully realized—his apotheosis disrupted—because of the structural constraints placed on man that separate him from his universal telos. This animus against inherited order entrenches in liberal thought a desire for change that is in tension with what liberalism regards as changeless—i.e., its essentialist view of man as homo liber. As it finds given reality—the world as it is—unpalatable, liberalism must develop an apposite theory of history that can accommodate social change.
The goal of history must be human progress toward a society, wherein all are completely equal and man is fully rational, entirely free, and perfectly productive. Man is a teleological agent actualizing humanity’s almost super-human mastery of nature and matter. In privileging linearity over the old (chiefly pagan) cyclicality of time, liberalism adopts an apocalyptic, if ahistorical, view of history directed at realizing Utopia or the City of God on Earth—a “just” society fully realizing universal egalitarian principles, eradicating all difference, distinction, and linkages. A “new” society where liberalism’s fixed philosophical anthropology and its idealistic notion of human freedom are effectuated and attained through leveling and massification of people (and the flattening of higher culture and its hierarchical imperatives).
Liberalism’s internal contradictions are difficult to resolve without recourse to the sovereign power of the modern state.
These tensions were never easy to reconcile. The rise of utilitarianism, Hegelianism, and Marxism in the 19th century may be understood in part as the West’s early attempt to confront and resolve the above antinomies in favor of progress, universalism, and control—which Bentham, Hegel, and Marx saw as embodied potentialities in the modern state or the historical dialectic that could be used to advance and achieve freedom.
In its most influential form, Romanticism, with its lionization of the common man, sentimentalism, subjectivism, and democratism, was yet another offshoot. Its most important exponent, Jean Jacques Rousseau, reacted against the Enlightenment interpretation of freedom by reconceiving man as originally and naturally perfect and focusing his interpretation on man’s autonomy and emancipation from societal “chains”. In Rousseau’s account, freedom would be synonymous with, and impossible to achieve without, equality, a move that provoked the politically revolutionary tendencies inherent in liberalism—soon to be epitomized by the Jacobins—and which has since become an inescapable aspect of liberal modernity.
In contrast to the push for homogeneity, historical convergence, and global uniformity of standard liberalism, a liberalism that privileged personal and intellectual freedom and retained some of the hierarchical and aristocratic sensibilities of the old Western world, was represented by the likes of Alexis de Tocqueville, Jacob Burckhardt, and John Stuart Mill. Stressing private autonomy over domination (cf. the first antinomy), these thinkers placed greater emphasis on individuality, free-mindedness, and limited government.
It should be noted that stressing human freedom as a defining cultural value is not the exclusive domain of liberal modernity as that term is used here. Homo liber is formative in the development of Renaissance humanism as embodied in the thought of Montaigne and Machiavelli, who preceded liberalism and were suggestive of an alternative modernity. Perhaps influenced by the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment, Edmund Burke was a proto-liberal, or a hesitant liberal, who—by privileging religion, virtue, and ancestral and traditionalist elements—attempted to forge a synthesis between whiggish liberalism and late 18th-century European conservatism, hoping to show the way to a revitalization of the calcifying older Western heritage.
Burke’s syncretic approach found little conflict between an appreciation for individuality and diversity and a stress on community and hereditary monarchy. A defender of aristocracy and social diversification, he was strongly anti-egalitarian and championed a kind of organic unity. Burke attached great importance to culture, hierarchy, and imagination as the glue of society and remained a sharp critic of abstract idealism and rationalistic individualism. He abhorred a failure to understand the historical nature of human existence, including humanity’s great dependence on ancestral forms. The social atomism and abstract individual rights of a John Locke were wholly alien to him. Burke offered a more gradualist interpretation of progress that clashed fundamentally with the dominant strain of liberalism of his time which gave rise to liberal Modernity.
Despite the primary thrusts of liberal Modernity then, liberal thought itself was never wholly univocal. It did not offer a single interpretation of Liberty, nor was there uniform agreement on the instrument or mechanism of its attainment. What unifies the disparate orientations that have together shaped liberal modernity, however, is a deep philosophical idealism. Lurking beneath various interpretations of Liberty is a common philosophical anthropology fixated on the universality and indivisibility of the idea of man as a free agent, homo liber as an absolute category that towers above all other contesting human values that conduce to human flourishing.
A deep philosophical idealism unifies the disparate orientations of liberal modernity.
According to this idealistic and reductionist view of man, all humans are innately liberal and would be so in real life barring the external or societal impediments that corrupt their inner liberal constitution. As philosopher John Gray rightly observes, such a belief makes the missionary desire to continuously overpower and eliminate the dark and disruptive forces which are deemed antiliberal—a new form of “evil”—an inherent part of the liberal agenda.
In subtle ways, the above paradoxes animate the current conflicts in Western societies, showing them to be symptoms of the general philosophical—ultimately psychological and even physiological—sickness at the heart of liberal modernity.
Liberalism’s Totalitarian Second Coming
Since all systems tend to resist their unraveling and descent into disorder, liberalism was driven to resolve its inherent contradictions into a new unity, which it did by favoring the more totalistic or ordering element in each antinomy. This explains the evolution of liberalism in the 20th century. One early consequence of liberalism’s internal battle to achieve a new more sustainable form was the dawn of the “neoliberal” order and the ascendency of the (late-modern) liberalism that is now our zeitgeist. This transformation is more fated, more the product of a wish for survival, than it is a perversion or betrayal of its ideals—which is the conventional conservative/classical “liberal” interpretation of contemporary developments.
Given the crisis of legitimacy confronting late liberal modernity, the internal tensions of the liberal schema are being resolved in ever more authoritarian and totalistic ways. As alluded to in the discussion of the third antinomy earlier, Modernity was inspired by the surge of a new form of imagination that conjured up a vision of the world transformed. That dreamy and missionary longing for a better world, which justified and widened the scope for active human intervention, reinforced the totalitarian potentialities of rationalistic meliorism, giving Modernity a quasi-spiritual dimension.
Liberal Modernity’s entrenched crisis of legitimacy invites authoritarian and totalistic reactions.
Since World War II, modern liberalism has effectively resolved the first tension—domination vs. autonomy—by having recourse to “hegemony”, whereby cultural and intellectual domination is disguised and presented as liberating, with the Other giving spontaneous or reflexive consent. The second tension—universalism vs. subjectivism—was resolved through “ideology”, whereby everyone is conditioned and propagandized to believe the same things. The universality proviso is upheld by establishing the identity of “man”, as understood by liberalism, with the “universal”.
The third and final tension—perennialism vs. meliorism—finds resolution in “technocracy” and the new “cult of expertise”. A new class of mandarins is socialized (especially through the modern university) and installed in positions of power and influence in the culture at large. In turn, this class indoctrinates the public and serves as the “vanguard” of the new regime. This professional-managerial class is tasked with shepherding herds of men to the promised land—which it attempts to do through the selective use of “science” (the secular faith), “ideology” (the new scriptures), and technology (a shepherd’s crook) for control, messaging, monitoring, and manipulation.
Undergirding this resolution is the growing confidence that Control is both necessary and a source of the Good. Properly employed, it will ultimately create a social justice utopia. The myth of progress solidifies into the idea that, in theory, all can be known, and that human knowledge can be limitless (cf. epistemological certainty); that the application of available knowledge (scientism/positivism) to the material and societal world, the very definition of technology, guides mankind to perfectibility; and that this process will achieve the improvement of the material and moral condition of all mankind.
While the quest to dominate initially masquerades as liberation from the old structures and hierarchies that were maintained by tradition, the aristocracy, or patriarchal institutions, the quest to dominate nature and then society demands, in time, the takeover and subversion of society itself, a comprehensive engineering project. The quest requires the eventual indoctrination of experts who view themselves self-righteously as modern-age oracles divining the march of History. This trend is perfectly exemplified by John Stuart Mill, for whom unhindered debate destroys traditional beliefs and institutions and sets the stage for the rule of enlightened experts, who are animated by what Mill calls, with Auguste Comte, the “religion of humanity”.
Modern liberalism has created a three-pronged apparatus of control and compliance around “hegemony”, “ideology”, and “technocracy”.
Interestingly, given its quasi-Christian roots, early liberalism’s altruistic and morally egalitarian inclination is triggered and problematized already during the 19th century when the ordinary living conditions for many people in urban areas worsened with the rise of industrialization and the accompanying massification. In Marxism, an ideational and utilitarian offspring of Modernity and liberalism, one finds a recognition of, and perhaps the first systematic reaction to, the complexities and problems unleashed by the continued presence of socio-economic inequality and the profound anxiety that this reality contradicted the myth of progress.
It was concluded by many—utilitarians, Marxist revolutionaries in an extreme way, and (later) leaders of the Progressive Movement—that “progress” might not come to pass absent human intervention. The realization that progress will require active shaping and channeling drew attention to the importance of leadership and elites. To guide the people, a new order of rank, presumably based on merit and credentials, had to be justified and endowed with authority. Pre-war (conservative) liberalism tried to resist these beliefs, but post-war liberalism (inspired by FDR’s New Deal) combined them and the ideals of social progress and comprehensive equality into Neoliberalism. The state would now acquire a more central role and collaborate with Big Business to deliver public goods and social and economic justice. Modern liberalism thereby identified liberation with a progressive egalitarianism whose achievement entailed increasing social and political controls.
Liberalism and Marxism here revealed themselves as merely different expressions of the same Modern Janus, i.e., as different schemas looking to formalize and rationalize the Modern “being-in-the-world” or “self”. This Modern Janus champions equality and progress as hallmarks of human freedom and professes to break down the old hierarchies to deliver them; and yet, it enslaves man to ever new forms of unnatural hierarchy and subterranean control, sacrificing human greatness and cultural flourishing on the altar of mediocrity and homogeneity.
Modernity is a Western creation, but its effects are not confined to the West. Like a termite, it eats away at the rooted hierarchies of civilizations, leaving in its wake but a hollow shell.
Modernity is a Western creation, but its effects are not limited to the Western world. Wherever it is introduced and whatever form it eventually takes, this Proteus of many shapes and faces leeches off and eats away at the host civilization, leaving but a hollow shell teetering on the precipice—perhaps nowhere more so than in the West. Around the world, this transmigrated god manically flattens society and disfigures or destroys inherited institutions, while, at the same time, it raises new structures of repression and total subordination. It embodies the anti-life and anti-culture force par excellence.
So, what explains the remarkable success and endurance of the neoliberal world order and the attraction of its life-negating program?
The Sources of Liberalism’s Power (and Demise?)
Central to contemporary liberalism’s overwhelming success in Western societies is its effective use of what may be termed the Hegemony-Prestige feedback loop. “Hegemony” is the process by which a dominant class establishes socio-cultural control over subordinated groups by espousing and signaling moral and intellectual leadership over them in such a way that the lower classes effectively consent to their own domination by the ruling classes. The compliance of the inferiors is secured by means of elite signaling, in which the upper classes use their social capital or “prestige” to indicate correct behaviors for the public to emulate, as well as by leveraging their position within the socio-political establishment to harness the power of modern propaganda.
In this process, the elite narrative, which conveys the benevolence of the elites and a vision of a better society for all, is internalized by the masses and transformed into a “sacred” narrative, conditioning them to act as desired, so that there is little need to force or coerce them. Implanted in their imaginations is a belief that with their rulers they are participating, ritually and symbolically, in righteous and cosmopolitan, even holy, causes.
Modern technology and social media have only furthered the elites’ reach and monopoly on “truth”, deviating accounts being actively dismissed as disinformation. Securing compliance is a multi-layered process that uses securitization and weaponization of “crisis” as vehicles through which the elites achieve class solidarity, the dissenters are further marginalized, and the public at large undergoes “mass formation”.
This homogenizing process reinforces group identities across class lines and ossifies social standings, all the while protecting, reaffirming, and empowering the status quo. The homo liber thus begets its inevitable other as what the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben astutely calls homo sacer—the “cursed” or “banished” man living in a sort of purgatory between citizenship and state control, at once a member of a political community and living outside of it because of his refusal to conform to the newly established norms.
This process extends beyond the West. Across different societies, the upper castes—who identify themselves with Western ideals of liberal progress—form a decentralized and informal liberal ideational bloc that serves to advance, as the ideal life-form, the neoliberal world order and its apposite universalist ideology. The global imprinting of liberal ideology among international elites from different civilizations, who use it as their currency of power and status, globalizes the cultural hegemony of liberalism and empowers those Western institutions and NGOs that perpetuate the ideology. This dynamic strengthens the existing neoliberal world system as well as the international organizations that defend it through the power of semiotics and rhetoric and with their willful, tedious, and arcane rulemaking.
The inevitable consequence of liberal Modernity is the proliferation of soft or internalized totalitarianism, of global homogeneity and conformity, in the name of freedom and democracy.
The result is the proliferation of soft or internalized totalitarianism and the unleashing of homogeneity and conformity in the name of freedom and democracy—not just in the West but globally. This soft totalitarianism is even more pernicious than coercive tyranny or hard totalitarianism, which are achieved through violence, for it kills criticality, dissent, and free thinking, diminishing the spiritual or intellectual energy that is needed for a healthy society to endure. Soft totalitarianism is, partly through its appeals to dreamy imagination and utopian quests, also much subtler than outwardly coercive tyranny. And it is more difficult to detect, let alone resist.
Soft totalitarianism is also more socialized, encouraging the citizenry to vilify, ostracize, and cancel dissident voices believed to have violated an implicit sacred bond—resulting in an us-against-them dynamic, in which collective identity is forged in a Manichaean opposition to the Other. This form of totalitarianism’s war on the mind rewards dogma and tired clichés over impartiality and common sense. It promotes groupthink as a means of monopolizing thought, indeed, the very perception of reality. The objective is clear: to secure the status quo against any radical disruption and overcoming.
One important factor that both reveals and contributes to the ascent of soft totalitarianism is that the original border between State and Civil Society, between public and private—a divide that was emphasized in early liberalism—is today increasingly blurred and withering away. A profound epistemological crisis regarding what is knowledge, which is exacerbated by the accelerated politicization of all aspects of life, also compounds the totalizing dynamic. The growing disintegration of societal boundaries and distinctions in late liberal Modernity, and the resulting confusion and meaninglessness, presage a crisis of authority of the highest order, in which both the political class (government and state bureaucracy) as well as the experts and even the knowledge they profess (“science”) are gradually repudiated. All this portends increased estrangement, polarization, future conflict, and even sociopolitical revolution. It also raises the stakes further for liberal Modernity: wielding power becomes an existential problem.
The worrying trajectory of late liberal modernity toward loss of authority portends future societal conflict; it also makes wielding power an existential imperative for the liberal imperium.
The establishment’s natural response to this ultimate crisis of legitimacy is to slowly consolidate and combine the apparatus of social control and culture-formation (i.e., media, Big Business, and academia), historically the domain of civil society, with the mechanisms of political command and legal authority already at its disposal. Effectively, it creates a massive, complex structure of control and compliance—an integrated regime that can be called, the liberal imperium.
The Impending War Against the Imperium
The still-consolidating liberal imperium is a Hobbesian monstrosity. Influenced by the English Civil War, Hobbes had in mind an Erastian state with absolute political control but with the limited purpose of maintaining order. The new Leviathan aspires to comprehensive—socio-cultural and ontological—control that targets reality itself. It appears decentralized, but it is integrated across class and ideology with a clear in-group and out-group and the apathetic masses (cf. the “last man”) in between. The deep resentment of the out-group coupled with the general lack of agency of the populace render this epoch in history particularly prone to conspiracy thinking, which we must identify as yet another symptom of the general pathology of the late-modern paradigm.
Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci presciently noted almost a hundred years ago, “When the State trembled, a sturdy structure of civil society was at once revealed. The State was only an outer ditch, behind which there stood a powerful system of fortresses and earthworks.” The sturdy structure of which Gramsci speaks—perhaps the underbelly of the modern Leviathan—has been continuously revealed and weaponized by the Establishment in its framing of our many endless wars, COVID, ESG, and, most recently, the war in Ukraine.
In all these instances, the mechanisms of social control and domestication are regularly employed to achieve the almost spontaneous consent of the public through “mass formation” and to turn them by means of psychological mobilization into unwitting—if not willing—collaborators of the regime and its desired ends. These ends are disguised as preconditions for Freedom and even masquerade as Moral and Right but amount to an appalling subversion of liberty and common sense.
The ascent of the integral regime may appear to promise the ruling class a kind of stability but is more than likely a transitional stage. The current state of affairs is unlikely to be sustainable over decades and could degenerate into full-on totalitarianism with all of its oppressive and dangerous political dimensions.
Hobbes’ Leviathan had the limited purpose of maintaining civil order. The Modern Leviathan aspires to total domination, which is unsustainable.
It remains to be seen whether the still inchoate, if vigorous, awakening to the apparatus of liberal control will generate a radical and tragic desire for “overcoming” (décadence) among the rising number of (prestige-)marginalized groups in the West, the people who have freed themselves from the liberal cave and see through its false construct, or those from other civilizations whose Weltanschauung conflicts with the liberal Modern paradigm. It seems that a backlash, although still mostly embryonic, has begun, and if it gains strength, one can expect the liberal imperium to seize every opportunity to further securitize and weaponize crises in order to terminate such dissenting newborns before they ever come of age.
Man was the subject in the Modern project, but increasingly this subject has been transformed into Modernity’s favorite object—been treated as a blank canvas on which to imprint the new order. Hence, just as the regime attempts to in-form us, we need to un-form ourselves in a radical struggle against our very own conformed selves. It is in such a spirit that we must try and understand Nietzsche’s famous notion of “the will to power”. The German exhorts us to move beyond the political and its trivialities and partisanship to dismantle and sublate the complex systems of cultural power and social prestige that the ideological hegemony of liberal modernity has imposed.
Such spiritual and intellectual radicalism is the first step in cultivating a “Dionysian” counter-elite that actively spurns modern idealism and liberal ideological illusions, such as “progress” or “happiness”, in favor of a historically-rooted and concrete realism that consecrates life, nature, organic society, and cultural health.
In this fateful hour, what we need is a tragic and radical realism that roars a hard No to life-negating décadence and a hard Yes to the regenerative bonds and bounds placed on man by the imperatives of organic unity and human evolution.
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