Thermidor

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Doomsday Optimism

The consensus of the contemporary analysis of our situation (from both the anti-liberal left and the reactionary right) is one of general Catastrophism. One way or another the thinking goes: the current Liberal age cannot go on forever, sooner or later something has to give.

Whether one places their stock in the wild-eyed prophecies of the environmentalist street preacher, manically foretelling the coming of a Vengeful Gaia who is hellbent on punishing the rapacious despoilers of the natural world, or, for those of a more reactionary bent, a square bet on decadence is the more natural option. Surely our current society of infantilized, degenerate, imbeciles engendered and indoctrinated by the Neo-Liberal Welfare State is not long for this world.

The fervent materialist, on the other hand, can see past such panicked moralistic delusions and instead trains his eyes to the economic element as being the essential one. After all, we can’t be more than a few years from another market crash, the inevitability of the financialized chaos of Casino Capitalism. Surely this next crash will be the one that finally breaks the system for good, and the Wall Street "banksters" and their sycophants will finally be forced to taste the bitter fruits of their criminality. Whatever the method: market crash, climate change, societal decay, or some other theory, all agree that the end is both nigh and inevitable.

Of course, there are compelling arguments to be made for this Catastrophism; one needn't possess a hyper-perceptive intellect to gather that the current state of affairs is unsustainable in the long run and will inevitably end. Not only is it unsustainable, but it is also an incredibly violent system which continues to slowly and brutally hack away at the few remaining sinews of whatever remains of any kind of genuinely organic human community. This is to say nothing of the even more profound human and environmental damage inflicted upon the unfortunate communities of the third world by the overweening fanaticism of the Liberal nation-states of the West.

Whether through direct economic exploitation or the just as common (but much more devastating) dissemination of the poison pill of Western “Culture” of Materialism, Coca-Cola, and Pornography, the complete spiritual and moral rape of an entire society can be had without firing a shot. Of course, force is always an option as well, especially for any society too slow in capitulating. Both Libya and Iraq have illustrated how quickly a country can rapidly transform from a more or less well governed and stable society to a steamy wasteland of murder, insanity, and chaos.

All this, of course, is a bit obvious, so obvious that even a brief elucidation of it borders dangerously close to the tedious. All agree on the grotesquerie of the patient's disease and that the case is terminal. However, we must resist this particular historicist temptation, this faith in the “Catastrophe”. Far too much is at stake for us to indulge in the luxury of playing Godot. We cannot afford the comfortable dream that the system will just inevitably collapse. That we will all wake one day to find that the hellish Rubik's Cube of modernity has somehow solved itself for us.

At bottom, this “Catastrophism” is very little more than a thinly veiled optimism. Optimism manifested in the form of Infantile Fantasy. The Hollywood Trope of the noble American everyman, unsuspectingly going about his bland workaday world only to find it violently disrupted by a dramatic Catastrophe (wayward meteorite, alien invasion, zombie contagion, etc). Of course, the seeming Catastrophe is in actuality the method by which the protagonist is finally liberated from the boredom and banality of his Modern existence. He is thrust into a dynamic world which will demand all of his capabilities if he wishes to survive and defeat the Catastrophe. Thus the optimistic fantasy is completed, the protagonist is saved by a great catastrophic force he can barely understand. But still his role is a passive one. He does not act, but rather is acted upon. He does not save himself but is rather saved by an outside and impersonal force beyond his control.

Marx’s best idea has always been the basic insight of crisis theory: That Liberalism is a system whose own inherent contradictions inevitably lead to the crises that ultimately will lead to its own dissolution. This is the insight at the bottom of all catastrophist thinking, Marxist or not. That the chickens will eventually come home to roost and precipitate a terrible day of reckoning, after which equilibrium will once again be restored (usually taking the form of one’s own personal, utopian fantasy).

Like all fables, this myth of "Nemesis" contains a profound core of truth to it: If something can’t go on forever, it won't. That hubris is an offense against the divine that will not, and can not, go unpunished. That man does not so much break God’s laws as he is broken against them.

While we must acknowledge this reality, we cannot take comfort in it. We have entered the twilight of the Faustian world soul in its final and most degraded incarnation, that of the Late Capitalist fantasy space of the United States. While we can know that Twilight is upon us, we cannot know how long it will last. In this sense the Catastrophist position that night is arriving is far too optimistic; the real fear is that the Twilight will linger on indefinitely; that the last men will shuffle on endlessly inside their massive beehives, with the curtains drawn and the radio on.

The Faustian soul bargained his way out of a life he thought nasty, brutish and short only to attain one that was long, dull and stupid. And the real fear is that it may be quite a long life indeed. For if there is one definitive attribute of the Neoliberal system, it is its remarkable ability to adapt to ever-changing circumstances and tensions; its ability to "muddle through." Of course, this ability is not unlimited or absolute—given enough pressure, any system will break. However, its ability to bend without breaking remains its most potent and dynamic feature, especially when augmented by the can-kicking genius of the Keynesian nation-state.

Thus we come face to face with the impotency of diagnosis alone, the realization of the necessity of direct physical action against Liberalism is one that, for many, is not welcome. As it is much easier to indulge in escapism and daydream of a freedom which, on its own, will never come to us. One cannot merely build bunkers and wait for the end.

For there is no Apocalypse that can save the Last Men from themselves.