Tuesday, March 03, 2009
The centre that couldn't hold
The early 20th century was such brutal time to liberal self-belief in the West: the twin nightmares of the world wars, the collapse of the international system, the world depression followed by sustained, credible and vital totalitarian challenges. And after all that, amidst all the ruins of the mid-century stood - yes, Western liberalism. A curious end to all those horrendous blows. But they did have an effect: postwar liberalism has been a hollow materialist affair, there is no vigour, no self-assuredness left, only a method of increasing production. The masses are apathetic, tired by work, consuming mindless entertainment. The elites are intellectually timid and morally puny, concentrating on their technocratic efficiency. This apologetic affair is an alien liberalism for me - the tradition is not, should not be defined by doubt and uncertainty but by a fierce assertion of doubt and uncertainty combined with a firm, self-confident rejection of all those pathetic (and morally and intellectually disastrous) projects to force a pretended certainty on our human experience (I suppose currently the strongest version is the primitive fundamentalist religion). But that sort of confidence and affirmation is not what we have, and as there sooner or later will become an existential crisis in one form or another, I don't believe that these undefended positions will be held, however correct and proper response they are to our experience of being in the world. This simply won't do, not indefinitely.