Friday, March 09, 2007

Velvet Fascism: Table of Contents.



Velvet Fascism (3): Left Masochists

Velvet fascism (4): Povertarians: Hobby-poverty.

Velvet Fascism (5): The Drag Queens of Reaction

Above are links to the first five installments of an essay on Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom. As a work-in-progress these free-form posts move lightly from one topic to the next with occasional conjunctions leading to Fromm. For the most part, the theme is that of povertarianism, the neo-feudalist assumption of self-righteous guilt and phenomenal condemnation as religious vocation, all of which leads to a gnostic asceticism and to a sado-masochistic relationship between man and man, man and Gnostic ruler, man and society, man and Nature. The thesis is that Gnostics rule by virtue of sadist manipulation the masochist majority; but they do so in a seeming non-violent fashion, a totalitarian and brutal agenda hidden under covers of social activism and benevolence, proffering a maternal embrace of all the world and its people and creatures. It is a fascism wrapped in velvet, not the fascism of jack-boots, rubber truncheons, and gulags; but the fascism, for all its surface charm and coziness, is still fascism; and that that fascism is the innate condition of Man from his earliest days, the usual state of Human life, one only recently escaped from by a small number in a small part of the world, those who enter into life as revolutionary Modernists; that fascism, being the norm, those who do not live in its condition wish to return to it, taking all others with them as they flee to the restored Middle Ages, to be one wrapped in the velvet covers of our contemporary lives as Modernists; that those who are Gnostic neo-feudalists are sadists who live by and for the "natural order" of the pre-revolutionary eras, using whatever means they may to destroy our Modernity to make again the fascist state of Man as farm animal a reality if only to satisfy the povertarian urge to sit in an Irrationalist religious universe of self-hatred, noble inquisition, and universally moral up-lifting poverty.

A serious draw-back in blogging is that each essay is seemingly in media res. Each new reader demands and expects a full and coherent definition of each term and a full explanation of each and every premise. To address that problem in the long-term, this blog and my preceding efforts at should, after completion of these further essays and rigorous revision, be a full and final manuscript available to the reading public. For those struggling to patch together the sense of seeming unsupported claims I simply beg your patience and refer you to Google's graces wherein you might find the background needed to answer those question I have already addressed over the course of the past two years of writing daily on this subject. Barring that, I do hope to be able to address specific queries. Please keep in mind though that I'm a cranky old guy with no sense of humor.


truepeers said...

OK cranky old man; it sounds good, but I'm for tempting fate and saying I'm still wary of your tendency to make a, ahem, fetish of certain words. Why reduce the whole premodern world to "fascism", whatever its unquestionable limits? The strength of modernity, after all, lies in its ongoing differentiation of consciousness (where our words become tools we wish to multiply in our cultural buildings; but we wish not to confuse the tools with the reality itself we build) so that we can better understand ourselves and escape the embrace of bad religion. To my mind, the cosmological orders of ancient societies may have lots objectionable about them and may hold things in common with fascism; but fascism, as I and I think many people differentiate the concept, entails a sort eschatological or apocalyptic mindset that must be a corruption or heresy of the monotheistic revolution that is only a few thousand years old. In short, fascism is a perverse melding of modernist and primitive symbols, not simply the latter.

dag said...

You keep me on track with these comments. Ii have more to write on velvet fascism of a particular kind; but when I finish that I'll specifically address your points. No, fascism isn't synonomous with primitivism. Nor is it a time-bound ideology from the 1930s. I'll deal with these objections piecemeal for now and return to a full and sequential post when I'm done with this current batchc.

Besides, I need some time to think about what you write. No easy answers to your questions.

truepeers said...

Let's not forget that I think the concept of velvet fascism is most useful. Contemporary liberalism has become unveiled as a kind of soft, but no the less total, totalitarianism, the maternal or matriarchal embrace I like to call Big Momma State. Jim Kalb's Turnabout blog provides much useful analysis of the velvet totalitarianism of contemporary liberalism, but he is a "traditionalist" Catholic (whatever that means, since the real traditionalist doesn't know he is one) - so how can he be on the same page as you?

I often return to a certain passage in Voegelin's The New Science of Politics (pp. 124-6) for clarification on such questions:

"The attempt at immanentizing [making immanent] the meaning of existence is fundamentally an attempt at bringing our knowledge of transcendence into a firmer grip than the cognitio fidei, the [traditional , patient, Christian] cognition of faith, will afford; and Gnostic experiences offer this firmer grip in so far as they are an expansion of the soul to the point where God is drawn into the existence of man. This expansion will engage the various human faculties; and, hence, it is possible to distinguish a range of Gnostic varieties according to the faculty which predominates in the operational of getting this grip on God. Gnosis may be primarily intellectual and assume the form of speculative penetration of the mystery of creation and existence, as, for instance, in the contemplative gnosis of Hegel or Schelling. Or it may be primarily emotional and assume the form of an indwelling of divine substance in the human soul, as, for instance, in paracletic sectarian leaders. Or it may be primarily volitional and assume the form of activist redemption of man and society, as in the instance of revolutionary activists like Comte, Marx, or Hitler. These Gnostic experiences, in the amplitude of their variety, are the core of the redivinization of society, for the men who fall into these experiences divinize themselves by substituting more massive modes of participation in divinity for [patient] faith in the Christian sense.

A clear understanding of these experiences as the active core of immanentist eschatology is necessary, because otherwise the inner logic of the Western political development from medieval immanentism through humanism, enlightenment, progressivism, liberalism, positivism, into Marxism will be obscured. The intellectual symbols developed by the various types of immanentists will frequently be in conflict with one another, and the various types of Gnostics will oppose one another. One can easily imagine how indignant a [Velvet] humanistic liberal will be when he is told that his particular type of immanentism is one step on the road to Marxism. It will not be superfluous, therefore, to recall the principle that the substance of history is to be found on the level of experiences, not on the level of ideas. Secularism could be defined as a radicalization of the earlier forms of paracletic immanentism, because the experiential divinizaion of man is more radical in the secularist case. Feuerbach and Marx, for instance, interpreted the transcendent God as the projection of what is best in man into a hypostatic beyond; for them the great turning point of history, therefore, would come when man draws his projection back into himself, when he become conscious that he himself is God, when as a consequence man is transfigured into superman. This Marxian transfiguration does, indeed, carry to its extreme a less radical medieval experience which draws the spirit of God into man, while leaving God himself in his transcendence. The superman marks the end of a road on which we find such figures as the "godded man" of English Reformation mystics. These considerations, moreover, will explain and justify the earlier warning against characterizing modern political movements as neopagan. Gnostic experiences determine a structure of political reality that is sui generis. A line of gradual transformation connects medieval with contemporary gnosticism. And the transformation is so gradual, indeed, that it would be difficult to decide whether contemporary phenomena should be classified as Christian because they are intelligibly an outgrowth of Christian heresies of the Middle Ages or whether medieval phenomena should be classified as anti-Christian because they are intelligibly the origin of modern anti-Christianism. The best course will be to drop such questions and to recognize the essence of modernity as the growth of gnosticism."

dag said...

I am intrigued. I think, if I understood it rightly, that you've challenged again my assumtions about the very pursuit of the questioning of the meaning of life, suggesting to me that the question is more or less arrived at sufficiently prior to our current obsessions, now reduced to disclaiming the moral wheel in favor of fantastic gnostic pseudo-insights. That's something other than what I hope I do in this series of post, but if it is indeed right, then I have some serious reconciderations to make. I still won't go so far as to make any sweeping claims for the greatness of science as eschatoloy, but I see Modernity as more than mere science, it being to my mind other than but inclusive of Baconian science. However, you've raised so much silt in my mind that I have to sit and let it clariy before I venture any further lines. If my take is right about your theses, then I would have to abandon most of what I take to be solid. That requires more than simple nodding and smiling. That takes some serious reconsideration of the most basic of my principles. I'll do that. meanwhile, I will continue to probe the idea of fascism as sado-masochist religiousity. And more.

truepeers said...

I don't think I've made any fundamental challenge but I don't have time right now to think through what you just wrote - later. The reality of the object of your analysis, and the need for this analysis, is not in doubt. Velvet fascism is real. It is just a question of how we talk about it.

truepeers said...

Voegelin and his readers are actually a little more ambivalent about the nature of modernity, its pros and cons, than this quote suggests - more later

truepeers said...

Here is the Vogelinian ambivalence about modernity, pp 128-32 of the same essay:

"These reflections on Western society as a civilizational course that comes into view as a whole because it is moving intelligbly toward an end have raised one of the thorniest questions to plague the student of Western politics. On the one hand, as you know, there begins in the eighteenth century a continuous stream of literature on the decline of Western civilization; and, whatever misgivings one may entertain on this or that special argument, one cannot deny that the theorists of decline on the whole have a case. One hte other hand, the same period is characterized, if by anything, by an exuberantly expansive vitality in the sciences, in technology, in the material control of environment, in the increase of population, of the standard of living, of health and comfort, of mass educaiton, of social consciousness and responsibility; and again, whatever misgivings one may entertain with regard to this or that item on the list, one cannot deny that the progressivists have a case, too. This conflict of interpretations leaves in its wake the adumbrated thorny questions, that is, the question of how a civilization can advance and decline at the same time. A consideration of this question suggests itself, because it seems possible that the analysis of modern gnosticism will furnish at least a partial solution of the problem.

Gnostic speculation overcame the uncertainty of faith by receding from transcendence and endowing man and his intramundane range of action with the meaning of eschatological fulfillment. In the measure in which this immanentization progressed experientially, civilizational activity became a mystical work of self-salvation. The spiritual strength of the soul could now be diverted into the more appealing, more tangible, and, above all, so much easier creation of the terrestrial paradise. Civilizational action became a divertissement, in the sense of Pascal, but a divertissement which demonically absorbed into itself the eternal destiny of man and substituted for the life of the spirit. Nietzsche most tersely expressed the nature of this demonic diversion when he raised the question why anyone should live in the embarassing conditoin of being in need of the love and grace of God. "Love yourself through grace - was his solution - then you are no longer in need of your God and you can act the whole drama of Fall and Redemption to its end in yourself." And how can this miracle be achieved, this miracle of self-salvation, and how this redemption by extending grace to yourself? The great historical answer was given by the successive types of Gnostic action that have made modern civilization what it is. The miracle was worked successively through the literary and artistic achievement which secured the immortality of fame for the humanistic intellectual, through the discipline and economic success which certified salvation to the Puritan saint, through the civilizational contributions of the liberals and progressives, and, finally, through the revolutionary action that will establish the Communist or some other Gnostic millennium. Gnosticism, thus, most effectively released human forces for the building of a civilization because on their fervent application to intramundane activity was put the premium of salvation. The historical result was stupendous. The resources of man that came to light under such pressure were in themselves a revelation, and their application to civilizational work produced the truly magnificent spectacle of Western progressive society. However fatuous the surface arguments may be, the widespread belief that modern civilization is Civilization in a pre--eminent sense is experientially justified; the endowment with the meaning of salvation has made the rise ofthe West, indeed, an apocalyptse of civilization.

Onn this apocalyptic spectacle, however, falls a shadow; for the brilliant expansion is accompanied by a danger that grows apace with progress. The nature of this danger became apparent in the form which the idea of immanent salvation assumed in the gnosticism of Comte.... But what should in this order of things become of men who would rather follow God than the new Augustus Comte? Such miscreants who were not inclined to make their social contributions according to the Comtean standards would simply be committed to the hell of social oblivion.... into which the divine redeemers of the Gnostic empires drop their victims with a bullet in the neck. This end of progress was not contemplated in the halcyon days of Gnostic exuberance. Milton released Adam and Eve with "a paradise within them, happier far" than the Paradise lost; when they went forth, the "world was all before them"; and they were cheered "with meditation on the happy end."...

The death of the spirit is the price of progress... This Gnostic murder is constantly committed by the men who sacrifice God to civilization. The more fervently all human energies are thrown into the great enterprise of salvation through world-immanent action, the farther the human beings who engage in this enterprise move away from the life of the spirit. And since the life of the spirit is the source of order in man and society, the very success of a Gnostic civilization is the cause of its decline.

A civilization can, indeed, advance and decline at the same time - but not forever. There is a limit towards which this ambiguous process moves; the limit is reached when an activist sect which represents Gnostic truth organizes the civilization into an empire under its rule. Totalitarianism, defined as the existential rule of Gnostic activists, is the end form of progressive civilzation."

truepeers said...

I think we rescue a defense of modernity - science, sanitation, free markets, etc. - from the Gnosticism that was indeed its historical agent in good part the last 500 years, by simply recognizing that the modernity we value is not synonymous with the idealization or ideology of modernity in Gnostic symbolism. What makes the science and freedom of Western modernity work is a continuing tradition we inherit from the Biblical and classical civilizations. The free market, for example, is the closest we can get on earth to realizing the Christian imperative to universal reciprocity among men, and it is not accidental that it was Christians, not Jews, who discovered and developed the free market, a historically unprecedented development only a few hundred years old.

While Gnosticism has helped propel modernity, it is always at risk of leading us to a dead end, now as much as ever. We thus need to reclaim modernity for Western tradition, i.e. to become simultaneously defenders of modernity and certain traditions. We will see the expansion of freedom and progress in future by a spiritual renewal that returns to some extent to Judeo-Christian orthodoxy in matters religious, e.g. to the separation of the cities of God and Man, to the renewal of personal faith in God as the source of man's salvation. The secular alternative will be to put one's faith in an anthropological understanding of the Judeo-Christian God and its continuing historical role, an understanding that is not Gnostic but rather simply a deepening of both the understanding and mystery of how the Western mix of reason and montheistic faith gets us closer to certain human truths than any of the known alternatives.

Anonymous said...

The thesis is that Gnostics rule by virtue of sadist manipulation the masochist majority; but they do so in a seeming non-violent fashion, a totalitarian and brutal agenda hidden under covers of social activism and benevolence, proffering a maternal embrace of all the world and its people and creatures. It is a fascism wrapped in velvet, not the fascism of jack-boots, rubber truncheons, and gulags; but the fascism, for all its surface charm and coziness, is still fascism

So Gnostics = fascists (wrapped in velvet)

First question: Are we currently being ruled by Gnostics? Quickly reviewing some of your writings, I’m led to believe that we are not currently being ruled by Gnostics, although you occasionally complain about Gnostic elites (elites who don’t rule perhaps?).

Second question: Who constitutes the Gnostics? So far I have two competing understandings of who you are referring to when you attach Gnostics. The first is simply the sub-culture of what we would call “social activists,” the type of people that protest trade talks and throw rocks at Starbucks windows. The second possibility could be the entire elite class as it currently exists (politicians, journalists, academics, bureaucrats, etc). Alternatively, you could be referring to some mind-set that somehow encompasses both groups.

I’m never quite sure if I’m reading a massive critique of liberal democracy as we know it or simply a lengthy berating of the activist sub-culture.

dag said...

There are leaders and there are rulers. There are rulers who rule with no particcular agenda beyond self-satisfaction. My concern isn't with those who rule but with those who do and who would rule by virtue of their utopian "higher vision of reality." There are kings and there are philosophers, but they need not be Philosopher Kings. And those who are activists in their communities, such as we here at Covenant Zone, are not gnostic in our views, with me being a possible exception from what I gather from some critiques from my fellows.

There's always a problem of definition. We work it out incrementally. I work daily defining Modernity and fascism. It doesn't come from whole cloth. The fact that I am certainly right in my analysis doesn't preclude refinements of my presentation.

we discuss these things at our weekly meetings. It makes it far easier to debate when we can ask questions without a week's delay between.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the response. It is, however, cryptic. I am still unclear if you are condemning our current elites as Gnostics. If so, then it would follow from your critique that we are living in a liberal-democratic regime with a fascist outcome. Damning stuff.