Continued from last post . . . Antonio Negri gives a list of apocalyptic prophets at the end of Empire. They may not be purely prophets of doom and death (at least not all of them), but they’re philosophers who articulate the sense that something is ending, and that the end will be terrible.
Why is it valuable for us to go back to the first prophets of modernity’s apocalypse? Because we’re still living through that apocalypse. And people are still driven to monstrous acts by apocalyptic visions.
The end of modernity has come, and it was a kind of cultural apocalypse, because so much of Western culture was forged through the ideology of modernity. The secular values of our civilization have been adrift since the First World War, since we could no longer lie to ourselves seriously about the nature of empire.
Western culture needs a vision of peace, universal brotherhood, and the creative power of the people to replace modernity. Because in our century of scrambling, all we’ve done is fall back into old patterns of oligarchy, religious fundamentalism, the cutthroat values of new liberalism, the violent resentment of bullying culture, and a politics of global war.
Maybe if we start looking through the first prophets of modernity’s burnout, we’ll find a path forward. Negri made one list, and I’m modifying it with some additions of my own.
The obvious first one on the list is Friedrich Nietzsche. Most of the time, I concentrate on the productive aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy. The Nietzsche revival post-1960s. His conception of humanity and life as having as its highest power creativity.
But Nietzsche was also a profound critic of modernity’s currents of nationalism. You can see this most clearly in his writings that critique the decadence of German culture in an increasingly violent nationalism and anti-Semitism.
This is a core message of The Case of Wagner and Beyond Good and Evil. The rise of an aesthetics of bombastic, overpowering nationalism and imagery of racial pride started a process where the popular morality of German people eroded and destroyed all that was noble within it.
The irony is that Nietzsche’s notebooks were edited, after his final collapse in 1889, by his virulently nationalist sister Elisabeth to make him into a prophet of the nobility of racism. Which is why Nietzsche needed a revival in the first place.
But the value of his writings for understanding the end of modernity is immense. Nietzsche hits the most profound diagnosis of the self-immolation of modernity’s essential concepts, ideologies, and moral ideas.
|Friedrich Nietzsche, the most
of the implosion of Western
Where to go from the end gets even trickier than Nietzsche’s difficult and sometimes bizarre writings. Negri discusses Carl Schmitt as a major apocalyptic figure of modernity. And his concept of politics as total war between existentially threatening cultures, peoples, movements, and states is practically a blueprint for the destruction of humanity.
Hell, in the age of nuclear weaponry, it's a blueprint for the destruction of Earth. Still, you’ll probably see some posts about Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political later this year as I dive into the bloodbath. Most important is trying to understand why a person could believe that such a bloodbath would be the only sustainable way forward for Western society.
The experience of the First World War and the vision of human nature that its most insightful survivor expressed seems only to confirm terror and mass destruction as the only way forward after modernity’s promises collapse under their own hypocrisy.
Ernst Jünger’s work will probably fill that role in the Utopias book, a vision of humanity’s future as blood-drenched machines whose individualities disappear in a mass-movement of violence. A vision that understands itself as noble, which is more terrifying than the vision itself.
But there are more ambivalent responses to the end of modernity. . . . To Be Continued