The last third of Utopias will deal explicitly with political philosophy. I don’t aim to have some kind of comprehensive view of the overall state of political philosophy as its generated all over the academy.
|Ronald Reagan is loved not because of his real-world
achievements, which are as checkered as the career of
any great state power's leader. He's loved because of
the myths he built around himself and America.
From a purely practical point of view, I don’t have access to a lot of that material. And summarizing all the ongoing trends in – even just North American – political theory in all the major research journals is beyond the scope of the project.
I’m not aiming to demonstrate some superlative level of comprehensiveness. I want to build and build on a specific tradition within political philosophy to make an important point explicit about the nature of our human society in the early 21st century.
To me, that’s always been more important for philosophical creativity than simply tracking trends in a sub-discipline’s major research journals. Even when I was in the academy – maybe that played a part in why I found myself marginalized out of the academy once my doctorate was finished.
But since I’m still writing, I wanted to explain how I now write. When I was writing the original draft of Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity, I gave lip service to the demand for comprehensiveness of an established research field by peppering my writing with extraneous footnotes.
Now that I don’t have to do that, my writing will be much more explicitly focussed on explaining and exploring concepts. Friday’s post explained that method a little bit. But today I want to focus on a specific example.
Last year, I wrote several posts about Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History, where he talked about exactly that. Antonio Negri talks about the central ideas of Fukuyama's book in one section of Empire, and he’s quite rightly contemptuous of it, even though there are parts of the concept that are truly insightful about the world.
|Reagan never took down the Berlin Wall single-handedly.
The most he did was make a speech and have a tourist
moment taking a brick after unification.
The central concept of The End of History is an attitude of faith in America. In Fukuyama’s writing, America as a real country in the world merges with the ethical ideal of America as the embodiment of freedom.
Fukuyama works in the conceptual context of his funny, over-literal Hegelianism, where a society and nation actually does find its highest expression in its state. And the highest expression of such a state is as a regime to safeguard the freedom of the nation – each individual who constitutes the nation lives their liberty to the fullest.
So when America won the Cold War, it was literally the victory of freedom in a profound and plodding sense. Plodding because it didn’t take much. As Negri points out, America and Americans as a nation didn’t actually do anything to bring down the Soviet Union, despite the mythmaking of contemporary Republicans’ belief that Ronald Reagan’s speech alone brought down the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Communist Party.
No, the Soviet Union collapsed because its state-controlled bureaucratic command economy couldn't adapt to technological and labour changes to the global market. Economic recession combined with the government’s weakening power to control its people, and the Communist states of Europe collapsed.
America happened to be the only globally dominant state whose economy and society was still vibrant and creative. This was a contingent fact – no great achievement, just a situation in the global economy's development that made the Soviet Union catastrophically maladapted.
Material reality popped Fukuyama’s mythical balloon* of America’s having not only become the culmination of human freedom in history, but to have actually made itself the culmination of human freedom in history.
|When you believe that your nation once had a mythic
greatness, the contingency of real life burns extra hot.
That fire is easily channelled in dangerous directions.
* And, as he was their philosophical voice, the mythical ballon of conservative American nationalists at all levels of society from state leaders, business magnates, movers, and shakers, working people, and rural militiamen.
That argument will appear in the final Utopias manuscript in some form, as I work through my arguments that libertarian conservatism is not only a false, violent utopia, but is also a destructive self-delusion. Here’s the central concept of the argument.
The messy contingency of reality trumps mythmaking, every time. Mythmaking has enormous social power to mobilize people, but a myth is always false. It’s a distortion of the real development of the world that most often has many terrible consequences in the long term.
In this case, nationalism, American triumphalism, the attitude that America is the culmination of the world, the victor of history itself.
And to someone who thinks this way, the victor deserves the spoils of war. In real life, this concept is the voice of Candidate Trump.