Doom Prophets IV: The End of Us, Composing, 23/02/2016

Continued from last post . . . Carl Schmitt was another writer that Antonio Negri lists among those who grappled with the end of modernity. I haven’t yet read a lot of his work, though I think I’ve already said that I plan on going through his most influential book, The Concept of the Political.

When this is your image of
national pride and patriotism,
you can't really see it as much
of a problem.
Schmitt, at this point, strikes me as a thinker who want to rescue modernity from the crisis of his time. Or at least, he wants to rescue what he thinks is its most important feature: the social and cultural solidarity of national belonging. Rescuing nationalism.

Well, you can probably guess what I think of that project. And I don't yet have any details of how I’ll engage Schmitt’s ideas into my own project Utopias, obviously. 

But I can make at least a couple of preliminary statements about Schmitt’s concept of the existential threat* and what I think its ultimate results are when it’s used as a motivating concept in our era. All of humanity and the Earth will be destroyed.

* Having read some excerpts a long while ago, read many books and articles that talk a lot about different interpretations of Schmitt, and had some good teachers with quite deep knowledge of Schmitt’s ideas. 

This is just a result of our military technology. We’ve produced enough nuclear and biological weaponry to destroy Earth several times over. And it’s still sitting around in stockpiles, mostly under the United States, Russia, and China. 

Schmitt’s concept of the existential threat and the resultant total war touches on the analysis of warfare in Negri’s sequel to Empire, called Multitude. The model of war in modernist nation-states is a legally defined and constrained period of sustained, intense conflict among war machines of roughly equal power. 

Under that model, if nations who see each other as existential threats go to war, the conflict can end with a legal agreement of surrender or truce. But if you mobilize yourself for total war at the highest intensity possible, and you live after about 1950, it’s quite likely that such an intense conflict will destroy the human population entirely.

Okay, I think now there's a problem.
The salvation of modernity turns into a death spiral. It’s an insight that could easily have come from the philosopher on Negri’s list that I wanted to contrast with Schmitt. That’s Walter Benjamin. 

Benjamin is most famous for his essays on artwork, particularly the singularity of a unique work of art. But he wrote on many political, historical, and religious questions too. On this question of inescapable death, however, I’m more interested on this particular day on something Benjamin did rather than what he wrote.

On 26 September 1940, at age 48, Walter Benjamin shot himself dead on the Spanish border with France. He was a left-wing cultural critic and Jew fleeing the Nazi occupation of Paris, trying to escape the claws of Hitler and the Vichy government by fleeing to an ostensibly neutral country. 

Negri includes a poem about Benjamin by Bertolt Brecht that I want to quote from here, in full, before explaining why this aspect of his life – its end – is so important to Utopias.

I’m told you raised your hand against yourself
Anticipating the butcher.
After eight years in exile, observing the rise of the enemy
Then at last, brought up against an impassible frontier
You passed, they say, a passable one.

Empires collapse. Gang leaders
Are strutting about like statesmen. The peoples
Can no longer be seen under all those armaments.

So the future lies in darkness and the forces of right
Are weak. All this was plain to you
When you destroyed a torturable body.

When a plan for redemption, restoring what had been lost, only leads to annihilation, there’s no redemption at all. . . . To be continued

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