Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Well, YOU KNOW my answer. But I’ve been discussing my last post with a couple of distinguished conservatives by email. Here’s what one wrote:

I suppose that’s right. The trick is that “progressivism” now equals “personal liberation” and nothing more—-and so “progressivism” bears absolutely no responsibility for totalitarianism, which is nothing but an extreme and insane form of “belonging,” which we don’t do anymore (and can’t understand why anyone would want to do it: we don’t even want to belong to families anymore). Your equation of the end of totalitarianism with the end of existentialism is interesting because the weird Hegelian Patristic folks at Dalhousie . . . take the view that at some point more or less in Hegel’s lifetime, though not in Hegel himself, the Western philosophical tradition “split” into two separate strands, one radical (Marx, et. al.) and one existentialist (Nietzsche, et. al.) Their project has been to try to weave those strands back together more or less by trying articulate a WWHT (What Would Hegel Think) position on what’s happening now. So perhaps the current situation is an Opportunity for their kind of thought. On the other hand, you present the situation only as one of collapse, a negative. Perhaps you need to work a bit harder to present the positive picture of decent politics in our time.

1. It is great to hear that someone, somewhere is taking Hegel seriously as a great philosopher and not as ideological weapon, as a cause of anti-American evildoing. Hegel, in his way, was trying to save LIBERALISM from Lockean excesses. One piece of evidence he failed is that Marx and Nietzsche thought that was the implausible part of his thought. (Michael Zuckert reminds us that even the evildoer Woodrow Wilson was trying to do the same thing, although I think of Wilson as a more a Kantian than a Hegelian, just as when I blame German evildoers I’m more inclined to begin with Kant than Hegel.)

2. But insofar as Hegel stands for History wtih a capital “H” (or even HISTORY)—as in “History is all there is,” Hegel is dead, in my opinion. That’s why I think there’s a deep interdependence between the death of Marx and the death of existentialism (or RESOLUTE DECISIONS in the face of NOTHING). To repeat: That’s the true meaning of THE END OF HISTORY.

3. Liberals and conservatives still call each other Fascists. So we still hear that the progressive Obama is really a liberal FASCIST. And we hear that the Republicans are really racist, authoritarian FASCISTS (soft versions of the form of Southern Fascism called the KLAN). You can still call Obama a SOCIALIST, even if you really mean wimpy nonfoundational European social democrat and not a totalitarian believer in HISTORY. If by FASCIST or SOCIALIST you mean the reduction of the person to HISTORY FODDER or CLASS FODDER or SPECIES FODDER or RACE FODDER or FATHERLAND FODDER, in each case the claim made today is WRONG. Progressivism today is about personal liberation. Even our EUGENICS—unlike that of the genuinely evildoing progressives of old—is PERSONAL. (I admit there are some residual progressive or species-based elements, but they’re fading. It’s true that we still kill Down Syndrome babies out of sentimentality, but our EUGENIC intention is to repair the personal defect in the womb or even before the embryo is implanted.)

4. So the quote above is surely correct in saying we are so alienated from—so suspicious about—any form of BELONGING we just can’t figure how COMMUNISM or NAZISM (or even POLIS-REPUBLICANISM) ever happened. People used to be insane.

5. The “positive picture of decent politics” I believe in, let me repeat, is Pete’s.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles