Hyperpartisanship is not, as naive commentators said in the early 1980s about cocaine, a “harmless, recreational drug.” We need to stop snorting our lines of political cocaine, sober up, stop demonizing the “other”, and start listening to each other.
Within a few days following the shock of the terrorist assault on, and wanton slaughter of the staff of, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the deeper crisis of Western liberal democracy—the crisis of universalism versus multiculturalism—surged into view.
For the past two weeks I have made my annual pilgrimage with university students to Vienna, which because of the strong United Nations presence and the hundreds of NGOs specializing in international humanitarian services and outreach is often known as the “gateway city” for globalization.
We always end the course with a two-hour train ride west of the city along the Danube to the Denkstätte (“memorial”) that is the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, an originally preserved site of the monstrous brutality and anti-human obscenities inflicted on a vast diversity of different peoples now at least 70 years ago by the Third Reich.
One can read the results of the 2014 mid-term elections in the United States in terms of whatever dominant political inkblot they favor. The narrative of the American right-wing, of course, is that the resounding Republican victories at both the Congressional and gubernatorial levels constituted a resounding repudiation by the voters of the Obama administration’s policies and pari passu the much vaunted progressivist politics that seemed to have finally taken solid root in American political soil with the 2008 election.
In his best-selling book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Penguin, 2011), popular science author Jared Diamond meticulously and relentlessly plunges into a wide variety of historical case studies using what he terms the “comparative method” in order to answer the question that has preoccupied scholars from Edward Gibbon through Oswald Spengler – why do societies decline and ultimately disappear?
“Genuine tragedies in the world are not conflicts between right and wrong,” Hegel wrote. “They are conflicts between two rights.” In the last few days I have been somehow compelled to meditate on how the rush of events in our world reflect this kind of tragic destiny which perhaps only Hegel, the last genuine philosopher of history, seemed to have comprehended.
What is happening today in the Middle East – and the strange, deer-in-the-headlights response of Western elites – seems in many ways to be a fulfillment of the predictions of French cultural theorist and political activist Guy Debord, author of The Society of the Spectacle (1967).
The “postmodern condition,” as Jean-François Lyotard designated it in 1979, is an “incredulity toward metanarratives.” That definition has been recited interminably by those grasping for a familiar sound-byte to encapsulate the significance of postmodernity. In the last few decades it has acquired overtones of a playful cultural experimentalism that has somehow outgrown the need for authoritative accounts of the meaning and purpose of human history.
. . . The underlying structural crisis does not seem to have gone away. Indeed, in the last year and, more perspicuously in the past two weeks, it has found a more demanding as well as disquieting focus — student debt as well as the economic albatross of the maturing millennial generation itself. . . . The real scandal is the monstrous moral hazard that the student loan lending system has spawned. It amounts, according to Taibbi, “a shameful and oppressive outrage that for years now has been systematically perpetrated against a generation of young adults.”
The international crisis in Ukraine, combined with the precipitous and aggressive behavior of Russia toward the West, the docility of Europe and the fecklessness of American foreign policy in shaping events, has prompted after-midnight calls among many international experts for a radical and rapid rethinking of what the word “globalization” really means, or what it might look like even in the next five years.
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” Nietzsche wrote.
As the global neo-liberal order slowly unravels before our eyes, that recognition holds more true today than ever.
Viewing the film August: Osage County with academy award nominees Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep during the same week that Russia’s Vladimir Putin occupied Crimea and thumbed his nose at President Obama, it became impossible not to regard the movie itself as some sort of deep parable of the political age in which we live.
The emergence of a new critical theory for the 21st century, exemplified in the writings of such theorists as Foucault, Agamben, Žižek, and Badiou as well as in such zones of contemporary discourse as biopolitics and globalization theory, has tremendous yet still uncharted consequences for theological thinking.
Democracy is in crisis. Or, or more significantly, liberal democracy is in crisis. So writes Philip Coggan recently in The Economist, the Western world’s foremost punditocratic commentary on the shifting social, cultural, and political terrain that goes by the slippery name of “globalization”.
Despite the unending political chatter over global spying, the recent government shutdown, and now the misadventure of the Obama care rollout, I have also been pondering the meaning of something worth more obsessing about. . . . It amounts to the latest variation not of Murphy’s Law (“if something can go wrong, it will”), but what I have called Raschke’s Rule (“if you didn’t think people could be more foolish than they already are, just wait a day or so”).
Here’s a brain-teaser for you. How does a recent PBS documentary about America’s “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s combine with a just-published book by one of the nation’s best-known venture capitalists to shed light in an unprecedented and powerful way on the government shutdown and the struggle over the debt-limit?
During the late 1920s, as the world economy careened headlong toward an economic disaster that would soon befall it, a group of European thinkers and critics steeped in both German idealism and Marxist activism converged on Frankfurt, Germany to provide identity and notoriety for the recently established Institute for Social Research at the university there.
Within time, the assemblage of now famous philosophers and cultural theorists associated with the institute, such as Juergen Habermas, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse, and Erich Fromm, came to be known as the Frankfurter Schule (“Frankfurt School”).
The ongoing riots and demonstrations throughout the Muslim world to protest a onetime obscure and amateurish movie made in Los Angeles have impressed on the Western secular mind that religious fervor, even if its expressions are frightening, is a growing planetary force to be reckoned with. What Derrida in 1993, miming Freud approximately two decades ago during the run-up to 9/11, dubbed “the return of religion” is a reality with which secular liberalism has had a hard time reckoning….