Friday, March 02, 2007

L. Wittgenstein on, dare I say it, our fate in multicultural Vancouver:

“In metropolitan civilization, the spirit can only withdraw into a corner. And yet, it is not at all worn out or superfluous, but, like an (eternal) witness, floats above the rubble of culture–almost like an avenger of God. As though it awaited a new incarnation."


truepeers said...

This quotation reminded me of Bertonneau's take on Voegelin's term for a cosmopolitan or imperial society, the ecumene:

"What is the "ecumene"? ... In the fourth volume (1974) of his Order and History (begun 1957), entitled The Ecumenic Age, Voegelin adduces a definition that one remembers for its poignancy but that eludes later relocation in his text. Voegelin says that whereas a polis is a subject that governs itself, an ecumene is a parcel of geopolitical existence--consisting possibly of hundreds or even thousands of poleis--over the possession and control of which contending concupiscent aggressors destructively battle. Says Voegelin in a passage that this author has providentially succeeded in locating: "The ecumene is not a subject of order but an object of conquest." It is also "a graveyard of civilizations." Thus the vast swath of earth subdued by Alexander the Great immediately becomes a desire-object for the contentious successors, who carve it up duodecimally; they run into Parthian and Hindu limits in the East, where the locals respond mimetically to the pattern. The Pax eventually reconciles competing Hellenic claims by swallowing Hellas whole. The individual becomes more, not less, "ambiguous" than previously he was.
In his discussion in The Ecumenic Age of the new type of post-Alexandrian empires that dominate the Mediterranean world in Late Antiquity, Voegelin describes, as we have seen, "an object of organization rather than a subject." Drawing on Polybius (202-120 B.C.), Voegelin characterizes the Iranian, Ptolemaic, Seleucid, and finally the Roman empires as spiritually nihilistic: "Above the ecumene there rises no cosmological symbolism as from the Near Eastern empires, no symbolism of world history as from Israel’s present under God, no philosopher’s theory of the polis as from the Athens of Plato." The ecumene is defectively "a power field into which peoples [are] drawn through pragmatic events," but it does not correspond to "an entity given once and for all as an object of exploration," and which might therefore be shown to have a rational, an understandable, structure, like a cosmos; the ecumene "rather was something that increased or decreased correlative with the expansion or contraction of imperial power." The ecumene "furthermore had degrees of intensity correlative with the degrees of direct jurisdiction or indirect political control maintained from the ruling center."

"Because the prevailing ecumenic polity at any time is a vast distortion of order, it cannot satisfy a basic demand for order built into consciousness, no doubt at the basic level of the sign ... The imperial dispensation casts every sensitive person in the role of Antigone versus Creon. In pre-ecumenic situations, such as that of the Hebrews in Egypt, a logistics of exodus was in place; the dissatisfied or outraged parties could physically vacate the jurisdiction of the offending sovereign and his government. During Socrates’ imprisonment in the days before his death, his friends made it clear that the way was open for a jailbreak and for quite comfortable exile elsewhere in Greece.

"In the Pax under the Antonines, however, the route of geographical exodus closes itself off, for where might one go when the Imperium coincides with the known world? Fleeing to the Persian Empire in the east would be like having fled from Albania to Cuba during the Communist regimes. Hopping Hadrian’s Wall to live among the blue-faced Picts would be equally absurd, although they say that the mead packed a wallop. Lucian himself speculated in a fantasy, True Histories, about islands beyond the Pillars of Hercules--and into space all the way to the moon--but Greco-Roman explorers never ventured into the Atlantic Main, which thus functioned symbolically as a boundary to conquerable reality. Voegelin writes: "If reality is understood in the comprehensive sense of Anaximander’s dictum [everything comes from the Apeiron and everything returns to it under the law of justice (Bertonneau’s paraphrase)], obviously [then] man can nether conquer reality nor walk out of it. . . . No imperial expansion can reach the receding horizon; no exodus from bondage is an exodus from the condicio humana; no turning away from the Apeiron can prevent a return to it through death." Should exodus occur under these circumstances it will necessarily occur by what Voegelin calls "pneumatic differentiation," a turning-within of the afflicted soul.

"Insofar as contemporary scholarship sees Epicurus and his followers through the prism of Marxist doctrine, it fails to see that Epicureanism, far from being the rejection of religion for which base materialists take it, is itself not only a highly differentiated religious idea but a textbook case of internal emigration from a distorted existence. Epicureanism is not ironic but it can help us to understand irony as internal emigration and it can therefore help us to understand how irony must at last give way to faith, which it presages. It might be that eccentricity is the term midway between irony and faith.
"Lucretius understands, as does Voegelin, that a polis, be it Athens in the time of Theseus or Rome in the time of Numa, is a subject that governs itself. Lucretius traces empire back generically to a particular legendary-historical event: "Remember how at Aulis the altar of the virgin goddess was foully stained with the blood of Iphigenia by the leaders of the Greeks, the patterns of chivalry. . . . It was her fate in the very hour of marriage to fall a sinless victim to a sinful rite, so that a fleet might sail under happy auspices." Empire is thus victimary from its degree zero.
All of Gnosticism in its textual aspect is like Revelation on steroids. In Order and History, Volume IV, Voegelin indeed denies that Gnosticism can be grasped as stemming from Christianity, as scholarship frequently claims, and he discusses the phenomenon in these terms: "Syncretistic spiritualism . . . must be recognized as a symbolic form sui generis. In the multicivilizational empire it arises from the cultural area of less-differentiated consciousness as a means of coping with the problem of universal humanity in resistance to an unsatisfactory ecumenic order." A twenty-first-century academic publisher would probably have refused Voegelin’s manuscript outright for that one phrase, "the cultural area of less-differentiated consciousness." It is amusing to imagine the boiling off of ideological steam and the archly phrased but entirely predictable letter of rejection to the author. But the author of The Ecumenic Age never subscribed to cultural relativism, only to the latitudinarianism required by the search for truth."

Given the prevalence of victimary discourse and syncretic ideologies and "belief" systems in today's "Multicultural" Canada, this would suggest we have become more of an empire than a nation. We can only return to the latter and rule ourselves again, through developing new covenants by deciding to impose on each other in the cause of national self-rule. No doubt Wittgenstein, the product of a multicultural empire, understood this through his own struggle with Christianity in England and Norway.

dag said...

If we know the story of Iphigenia at Aulis, then surely we know the outcome of the story beyond, and far beyond, in its details, to our own time. History is not, as our pomo friends would have it, isolated bubbles of time unrelated to each other. Iphigenia's sacrifice leads to the eventual dismissal of the Furies themselves in favor of law. It's connected one thing to the next in a long and unending dialectic.

All I take issue with here is the seeming denial of the greatness of colonialism. From Pax Hellas to Pax Americana the dialectic unfolds and will continue to do so in its glory toward the right telos of Humanity.

What is is what should be; and when in conflict, what should be is what happens. Utopian flights of phantasy, sentimental philobarbarism, paganism, death worship, povertarian gnosticism, all of these things are ideas from the Will of the world that come like space bugs to kill the weak. What remains is what should be. Iphigenia: Orestes.

There is no end. There is only greater; and it comes only when men demand it by force. Stagnation, lapse, decay, destruction, yes; but then the renewing fire brings forth the phoenix of greater not lesser people. America arose from our Civil War a stronger place and a better people. No one from Tennessee is a New Yorker. But all are American. It is as it should be, and it becomes moreso regardless of the desire of the forces of reaction to prevent America from becoming the Human universal and specific in its private details.

History is not made by men with arms, it's stalled by men with arms. History moves on its own eventually: it is America of the Mind or it is extinction. Those with guns stall the right telos of Humanity. Those must be stopped from stalling history. Mimetic indeed. History is the ever-growing empire of publicity populated by universal privacy. It is as it is; and if I'm wrong, come back to me in a thousand years and show me I'm where I made my mistake.

truepeers said...

Hmm, you sound a tad too fatalistic, Dag. What about contingency and freedom?

As for your suspicion that Bertonneau is dissing colonialism, I'm not so sure. His target is a kind of (multicultural) imperialism, and imperialism, pace the left, is not synonymous with colonialism. B's target is an imperial order where, in each locality, the locally bred and natural leaders of the people have been replaced by the officials of some conquering army. But, aside from a few officials to rule and tax, "colonization" does not go much further and so the local people are left with a disconnect between themselves, their local religion or culture, and the official culture of the ruling order which attempts to curry favor among its disparate subjects by pandering to all and sundry, thus losing touch with the founding compact of its own first armies and officers.

And so the official culture of the multicultural empire becomes a syncretic hodgepodge with no rational (internally coherent) basis for rule or order other than the accumulated wheelings and dealings of various power players. Gnostic fantasies of magical empowerment come to the fore to deal with the disconnect between local experiences and intuitions of what is universal to human being, and the syncretic imperial ideology that avoids questions of what is universally true in order to keep the peace and shut up trouble makers interested in truth.

In contrast, serious colonization implies an attempt to establish a distinctive order in a given place; even if this starts with some syncretic imperial code (like Freemasonry in the British legions that first settled parts of Canada), in the long run colony will ideally give way to a particular nation and its experience of universal truth.

The pax Americana is not really an imperial peace. It is an attempt (perhaps naively conducted) to create a world order of self-ruling peoples who will see it in their interest to partner in a global economic order and not fight against modernity; and, if many people around the world are not yet ready to forego tyranny and create responsible nations under the rule of law, then they need to be shown the ways by which the tyrant's imperious syncretism can give way to democratic self rule: they need to be shown the ways of the polis and of a particular experience of monotheism truly in touch with the reality of man's universal being. It is the particular historical experience of universal truths, entailing recognition of the need for local responsibility, that makes a colony into a nation and makes some "empires" quite different from others. Some empires are nation builders, but most are not. Before Christianity, nation building was not a conceivable goal of empire.