Reactionary Revolutionaries, Faceless Men, and God in the Gutter

“Just as terror, even in its pre-total, merely tyrannical form ruins all relationships between men, so the self-compulsion of ideological thinking ruins all relationship with reality. The preparation has succeeded when people have contact with their fellow men as well as the reality around them; for together with these contacts, men lose the capacity of both experience and thought. The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”
~ Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

First there was revolution. And then there was counter-revolution. Therefore, reaction follows what it is reacting to. It is a negation, a lack. It is defined by what it is not, as a shadow is to the light.

This is a simple analysis and, I’d argue, overly simplistic, if not entirely false. It is the narrative reactionaries have been telling about themselves for a couple of centuries. It is also the narrative that Mark Lilla repeats in his recent work, The Shipwrecked Mind, which is a useful survey, summary, and synthesis of modern ideological history but not essentially original in framing.

The problem is the reactionary mind is not a modern invention. Many arguments could be made about when it first emerged. For example, I’d place it firmly in the Axial Age or, better  yet, in that earliest of dark ages when the Bronze Age civilizations collapsed and the Jaynesian bicameral mind was lost. Reactionaries, indeed, are reacting to revolution but what they are reacting to is a revolution of the mind that is millennia old.

By the time Plato came up with his authoritarian republicanism as a reaction to Athenian democracy, the reactionary mind had already been developing for some time. That was the era when, as Julian Jaynes points out, lament rang out across many populations of the silence, loss, or abandonment of the divine. Nostalgia in one of its most potent form was born.

As with Corey Robin, Mark Lilla is right to mark out nostalgia as an expression of the reactionary. But focusing too much on that can be a red herring. Robin is better than Lilla in pointing out that reactionaries can co-opt almost anything, even radical utopianism or revolution itself.

That is where my own thoughts come in. The modern reactionary mind initially took shape not after the early modern revolutionary period but during it — maybe before it, depending on when one defines the beginning of that period. The reactionary mind as a modern phenomenon was well on its way at least by the English Civil War, what some consider the first modern revolution, although some consider the Peasants’ Revolt an incipient form of this societal shift through conflict and class war.

The point is that the French Revolution was late to the game. That reactionaries finally found their voice following that is not entirely relevant to understanding the reactionary mind and its historical development. What the French Revolution does help us with is in showing another example of how reaction arose within the revolution itself, co-opting it as happened with the American Revolution (related to the rarely acknowledged fact that the American Revolution was a precedent for what followed, including large-scale destruction and violence).

Thomas Paine demonstrates the connections well, but his example also serves to show the complex relationship of reaction to revolution. He was a radical in the American Revolution and his radicalism was profound in its democratic vision. When he was welcomed into the French National Assembly during the French Revolution, he actually sat on the right side with the moderate reformers. It was actually his radicalism for democracy that made him moderate or aligned with more moderate forces.

What Paine specifically advocated was a democratic constitution and leniency to the king, rather than violent despotism and violent vengeance. The Jacobins are called radicals but in reality they were reactionaries or at least the leadership was. They were using the same means that the monarchy had used in enforcing power and silencing opponents. So, the Jacobins, as is typical with reactionaries, wanted to create a new and improved version of the old order by ensuring a rigid hierarchy remained. They weren’t interested in democracy, that is for sure.

That is what Mark Lilla misses. The French reactionaries, like the American reactionaries, took over the revolution through political coup — and this happened during the revolution itself, not afterwards. In France, it happened by the Jacobins seizing power. But in the United States, the Federalists did it through an ironically unconstitutional Constitutional Convention and then afterward they crushed the ongoing revolution.

The relationship between revolution and reaction is entangled. If this isn’t understood, it is likely that the reactionary mind itself can’t be understood. This creates a trap for the mind, in not understanding history we dangerously don’t understand ourselves.

Reactionaries aren’t limited to those other people, Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”. The potential for reaction exists within all of us. A surprising number of Marxists, socialists, communists, and anarchists fell under the sway of early 20th century fascism. The same pattern is seen today with left-wingers who almost unconsciously become fascinated with or drawn toward reactionary thought, often with the rationalization of studying the enemy but it is clear with some that it is more than mere curiosity. The reactionary mind is dangerous for the very reason we see it as something other.

The confusion in all of this is that the reactionary mind is chameleon-like. I’ve come to call them Faceless Men, based on Game of Thrones. Reactionaries rarely present themselves as reactionaries. That means that anyone, under the right conditions, can get pulled into the mindset without realizing it. Reaction is simply an expression of fear an anxiety, once it fully takes hold. The human mind gets weird under high levels of stress (Keith Payne examines one angle on this by way of inequality, in his book The Broken Ladder). It really is that simple.

We need to develop intellectual, ideological, and psychological defenses against the reactionary mind. None of us are born with an immunity. But before we can do that, we have to learn how to identify the pattern of thought and behavior, to discern its incipient forms and the development that follows, to recognize the conditions and causes that make it possible.

This leads to me to another thought. Philip K. Dick has the notion of God in the Gutter. Let me decontextualize it from the monotheistic tradition of deus absconditus. Any powerful ‘god’ that rules over us, over our minds our society, such a ‘god’ is always hidden. And its ability to remain hidden is what I call symbolic conflation, a method of deception, obfuscation, and most importantly misdirection. That is the source of its power. That is also what makes it hard to analyze. Someone like Mark Lilla is taking the reactionary mind at face value, how it presents itself. That is problematic for obvious reasons. Corey Robin is more effective in peeling away the mask to see what is behind.

That is what we all need to be doing in these reactionary times. Lets start rummaging around in the gutter, looking below our normal line of vision, looking through the garbage or what appears to be garbage. But let’s do so with great care. There are both treasures to be found and traps to fall into. So, we should move forward with curiosity and eyes wide open.

46 thoughts on “Reactionary Revolutionaries, Faceless Men, and God in the Gutter

  1. There’s a lot to consider in this post. I’m struck by the PKD idea as I think including PKD & co in the debate is essential. But the chattering classes act as gatekeepers and don’t allow it and even the “alternative media” (The Young Turks, Sam Seder, Kulinski, etc) never have people like that on their broadcasts.
    I also think it’s important that, as you point out, what one context defines as “radical” is in another “reactionary.” Paine as a radical in America but as a conservative in France is thought provoking.
    As to the rest it’s always a difficult balancing act. Dickenson tends to be portrayed as a persnickety coward or appeaser while Franklin, Adams and Jefferson are portrayed as the righteous firebrands. Hamilton of course has been rehabilitated but he always struck me the closest to “gravedigger of the revolution” to borrow the Soviet/Bolshevik title for Stalin (needless to say I’m not equating them) with the central bank being really a scheme for simply replacing the British monarchy for, as you say, a new gang.
    It’s been years since I read up on all of this but your post has me percolating on it. I have an absurdly long list of books to get through but while at the library yesterday I was walking along the rows of books on the gang of “wild eyed radicals” from ’76.

    • There is a lot packed into this post. I could have extended these ideas quite a bit. But this was just throwing out some thoughts before work.

      I do love to throw in some PKD when possible. He had a way of coming up with intriguing perspectives. And he had a talent for naming things, such as God in the Gutter. In PKD’s sociopolitical theology, this god was a gnostic figure in a fallen world who was forced to hide from the demiurge, the personified ego-mind.

      My spin on it was that this is true for all varieties of gods. And even moreso for the god worshipped by the Faceless Men. This is my interpreting PKD’s God in the gutter through the lens of my symbolic conflation theory. The God in the Gutter is the nest from which the mother bird, in pretending to have a broken wing, tries to draw away the predator.

      In this scenario, the demiurge is the mother bird whose wing really isn’t broken. The demiurge, what every demagogue aspires to be, is the maker of fakes. But PKD’s God in the Gutter takes the fakes and transforms them into fake fakes. In terms of reactionary nostalgia, this would be how invented traditions (E. J. Hobsbawm and T. O. Ranger) become actual traditions. Any fiction enforced with enough power and for long enough becomes the new dominant paradigm, the new reality.

      This is how PKD’s God is a trickster. I’d just note that the trickster archetype has everything to do with the reactionary mind — in the reactionary relationship to subversion and, as Corey Robin argues, an outsider status (e.g., Edmund Burke as an Irishman from a Catholic family who became a politician in Protestant England). Symbolic conflation isn’t only about how a social order is defended but how a new social order is created, and the reactionary does this by creating a story about the new social order being the order that always existed (typically by way of revisionist history).

      This also goes back to the issue of Harry Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit”. I’ve written about the connections between the reactionary mind, symbolic conflation, the trickster archetype, and bullshit.

      “It is interesting to think of the reactionary conservative in his role as trickster. He is seeking to redefine his position and remake the social order, of course in his own image. The reactionary rhetoric being used is tricksy, for it generously borrows from the political left in order to undermine the political left. The reactionary conservative seeks to usurp the liberals role as challenger to the status quo and simultaneously to remove the teeth of radicalism, leaving the left without any real bite.

      “Enchanter and deceiver. The trickster may free you but at a cost of enslaving you to something else. He hypnotizes you with a story and makes you drowsy with a song, he puts you under the sway of an archetype and delivers you into the control of an unseen power.

      “This is what the reactionary conservative does with symbolic conflation, not to claim that this is how conservatives understand their own actions, as this process happens mostly within the unconscious, the territory of the imagination and the playground of the trickster. Reactionary conservatives end up deceiving both others and themselves, a mutually-afflicted magic spell of misdirection and mystification.”

      All of this makes it hard, during a reactionary period, to separate the reactionaries from the non-reactionaries. There is no absolute dividing line, as some reactionaries become non-reactionaries and vice versa. Whenever the reactionary is involved, boundaries become slippery and shifting — in society and in the mind. It maybe is an impossible and pointless task to try to figure out whether someone is a leftist who became a reactionary or always was a reactionary but co-opted leftist rhetoric and tactics. And then there are the Democrats, an increasingly reactionary party that hides its reactionary condition behind a liberal facade.

      It’s enough to note that the reactionary mind leaves confusion in its wake, both in the minds of reactionaries and in the minds of everyone else. A reactionary age such as this is one ruled by confusion.

      So, I don’t really think Paine was a conservative even in the French Revolution. But it doesn’t really matter about such labels. The whole left/right as liberal/conservative was a post-revolutionary framing, the story told after the fact which is how someone like Mark Lilla can talk about the reactionary and revolutionary as temporally distinct rather than as co-arising.

      I’m unconcerned about whether the Jacobins were radical leftists as Enlightenment thinkers. Heck, back then there were even monarchs claiming to be Enlightenment thinkers. As Robin makes clear, reactionaries can co-opt anything. The point is that the Jacobins as reactionaries didn’t want to eliminate authoritarianism but to claim it as their own. It’s unsurprising that Jacobinism led to Napolean who essentially was a new king. And under Napolean, the aristocrats got back some of their power and wealth but now they were enlightened aristocrats (the same thing that the reactionary American founders sought to create as a rationalization for the new hierarchy).

      There is a lot mixed in here.

      • Political designation/definitions should be far more fluid. The mile wide inch deep sham debate – media, pols, etc – has no room for the flexibility you’re describing which is tragic (their refusal not your point) because so much is at stake. I gave up on the establishment media long ago but I now find myself growing bored with the “alternative” media (TYT/Sam Seder, etc) because while I don’t generally disagree they are not telling me anything I don’t already know.

        Just imagine a discussion of Trump Inc through the prism of PKD or any number of other artists/thinkers.

        And so to your point about one man’s reactionary being someone else’s radical. To penetrate beyond the simplistic definitions to the level where Trickster dances is fraught. Yeats’ famous line pops into my head – “how shall we know the dancer from the dance.” He meant it in at least a not negative sense though it was/is colored by sadness.

        However I think you are correct in assessing the reactionary as a Trickster figure who seeks to co-opt the rhetoric and agenda of its opponents. The back and forth between the wings of the Wall St party over who is and who is not a “patriot” based on who can generate the largest number of fatalities is a perfect example.

        Also worth noting vis your point about “enlightenment aristocrats” that Voltaire was happy to be on Catherine the Great’s payroll and corresponded politely with assorted clergy while also denouncing the clergy and assorted despots.

        These things are seldom as neat as the history books claim.

        That of course returns us to the advantages of “fiction” with its shades of grey and moral fluidity which makes pols and media pitch a fit (and no doubt mostly because they are hypocrites and art reveals that they are as grey and nebulous as everyone else).

        Coincidentally I was just discussing Bonaparte with someone within a wider conversation about 1776 and 1848. Jefferson was appalled by Bonaparte especially because of the 1804 establishment of the new monarchy. My view has been that if England were situated 40 miles off the coast of New York George Washington would have been King George 1. But that doesn’t at all refute your point that Jacobinism leads (or contributes) to Bonaparte. N.B.’s amnesty to the aristocrats was an attempt to split the “Ultras” who were being funded by England and were trying to reignite a rebellion of the French Catholics. I view the French dilemma of 1800-04 the same way I view the compromise on slavery during the Continental Congress. Call for its elimination and the Southern states would have split off – civil war and British intervention would have been the result.

        You’re again correct though when you say that Jacobins as reactionaries didn’t want to eliminate authoritarianism but to claim it as their own.

        A central aspect of mercantile/capitalism is demographic surges demanding a piece of the pie not the closing of the bakery. The rhetoric is dressed up in all sorts of costumes but what it comes down to is a previously demeaned and disenfranchised group forcing their way into the mix.

        I’ve been reading Sieyes’ What is The Third Estate and it is essentially an argument about being let into the system – as well as demanding the elimination of the class that does nothing more than exist at the expense of others.

        The antagonists argue in a kind of code – defining each other with terms like Jacobin and radical and conservative, etc.

        That returns us to your point about Trickster. The extent to which self-awareness is conditioned by pre-existing systems and controls action/expression is vast. Half way through a bio of Marx and it’s hilarious (in a wry sense) to see how much that generation took Hegel’s call to penetrate beyond the Trickster (he didn’t use that word/concept but it’s the same thing) and the extent to which they all failed.

        Dancer and dance?

        Hesse at the end of Siddhartha attempts to answer a question and has Siddhartha say: so we are again within the trap of words.

        Dance and dancer, again.

        I would add that your point about the reactionary as Trickster attempting to steal the patois of his opponents is being played out increasingly as the resurgent “left” bats away the increasingly stale rhetoric of the Fox news cadres. Kyle Kulinski (part of the Young Turk cadre) was just on Fox and deflected all the attempted framing and twisting. It wasn’t a crushing victory but even the Fox drone conceded he had a point.

        But Trickster may be the consciousness of the world and thus distinct from efforts to make use of it which would then mean we are back to an ancient Greek conception in which forces beyond our control act through us. Interestingly enough that’s a conceptual lens employed by the European Leftists in-between the wars. Here’s a great quote from Isaac Deutscher (of course he was a Leftist and wrote a massive bio of Trotsky so no one in the Western establishment would take him seriously and the comment would be dismissed as “mystical” because it is contrary to the cult – Trickster? – of Western capitalism).

        “The Hegelian List der Geschichte, the sly irony of History,comes into its own. Circumstances force men to move in the
        most unforeseen directions and give their doctrines the most unexpected contents and significance. Men and doctrines thus serve purposes sometimes diametrically opposed to those they envisioned.”

        It is to me undeniably tragic that this can’t be part of the debate. It seems to fit your Trickster concept and it opens the door to a vast new set of ways to frame the debate. But as I said – Lefty/Trotsky/Mystical etc and there’s no way he/it gets into the mix.

        • I rather enjoyed that comment. Your initial point is simple and on target. “…but I now find myself growing bored with the “alternative” media (TYT/Sam Seder, etc) because while I don’t generally disagree they are not telling me anything I don’t already know.” I’ve come to that viewpoint these past years.

          The presidential campaign is what made me realize how far gone we are. I personally know some people who work in alternative media and local media and I despaired to see how few of them seemed up to the task while many of them fell in line as useful idiots. If not for being so cynical already, I’d be shocked and heartbroken by what felt like a total failure and betrayal of so many on the left, as they fell into the trap of reacting to reactionaries.

          “Just imagine a discussion of Trump Inc through the prism of PKD or any number of other artists/thinkers.”

          I can imagine that, quite easily. After all, PKD was not shy about throwing in the political, even if only in his weird quasi-gnostic manner — for example, Nixon as demiurge and the American empire overlaid upon the Roman Empire with the Axial Age set on replay. We are stuck in a loop of time, history repeating not just in pattern but in essence. By the way, Terence McKenna was interested in how humans fell into history and how they might escape again, and his views were at least as kooky as those of PKD (kooky can be good for shaking up the mind).

          “These things are seldom as neat as the history books claim.”

          The inconvenient details are much more intriguing. The sad part is that history teachers tend to leave out the interesting bits for the very reason that what makes them interesting is that they are controversial in not fitting the official frame. Political correctness enforced on education, typically by the political right (not that mainstream liberals will protest much), creates a boring learning experience. Anything that might lead to public debate or independent thought among students must be avoided like the plague.

          “That of course returns us to the advantages of “fiction” with its shades of grey and moral fluidity”

          I must admit that literature and English classes in primary school were among my most favorite. It was one of the few places where questioning, curiosity, and creativity was more fully encouraged (I also had a brilliant art teacher who served this purpose as well).

          “…demographic surges demanding a piece of the pie not the closing of the bakery. The rhetoric is dressed up in all sorts of costumes but what it comes down to is a previously demeaned and disenfranchised group forcing their way into the mix.”

          That is a good description of any set of reactionaries in any time of conflict and change. And if there isn’t enough conflict and change to make reaction effective, reactionaries will seek to provoke it when possible.

          “The extent to which self-awareness is conditioned by pre-existing systems and controls action/expression is vast. Half way through a bio of Marx and it’s hilarious (in a wry sense) to see how much that generation took Hegel’s call to penetrate beyond the Trickster (he didn’t use that word/concept but it’s the same thing) and the extent to which they all failed.”

          I wouldn’t mind hearing more about that. What exactly was “Hegel’s call to penetrate beyond the Trickster”? And why do you think they failed?

          “…reactionary as Trickster attempting to steal the patois of his opponents is being played out increasingly as the resurgent “left” bats away the increasingly stale rhetoric of the Fox news cadres.”

          Apparently, I haven’t been paying attention to what has been going on there. But I suppose I know what you’re generally talking about.

          “But Trickster may be the consciousness of the world and thus distinct from efforts to make use of it which would then mean we are back to an ancient Greek conception in which forces beyond our control act through us.”

          Yeah. It’s that greater something that gets me thinking. It would be boring if any of these issues was narrowly limited to only a small group of people or a specific context. Then we could step back from it and pretend it doesn’t apply to us.

          “Interestingly enough that’s a conceptual lens employed by the European Leftists in-between the wars.”

          I did not know that. That is a good quote from Deutscher. What was the context for it?

          “Here’s a great quote from Isaac Deutscher (of course he was a Leftist and wrote a massive bio of Trotsky so no one in the Western establishment would take him seriously and the comment would be dismissed as “mystical” because it is contrary to the cult – Trickster? – of Western capitalism).”

          That reminds me of what J. Aurelian just posted:

          In quoting from this:

          “Aesthetic thought wanted to become operative in the real world and transform it—as in Schiller’s Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man—by proposing a different assemblage of the conceptual and the sensuous, in which the latter is an equal partner rather than a kind of id that needs to be overcome by triumphant reason. If aesthetic experience has a specific autonomy, as Jacques Rancière maintains, this autonomy emerges as a practice of resistance to the autocracy of reason.

          “The latter is always ready to morph into mere purposive rationality, into an automaton-like implementation of a ratio that cannot be argued with—as in the laws of the “free market,” for instance. In fact, today autonomy seems to be located anywhere except on the part of human agency, having become post-human—this is autonomy as automatism, usually presented to the populace as an objective Sachzwang, usually in the form of “saving the economy” or “saving the banks” or “saving the euro” because “there are no alternatives. ” ”

          “It is to me undeniably tragic that this can’t be part of the debate. It seems to fit your Trickster concept and it opens the door to a vast new set of ways to frame the debate.”

          That is precisely why it can’t be part of the debate, at least not part of the public and political debate within the mainstream. And that is why the hidden god remains unseen in its actions. The Trickster always operates in ways not understood and hence in results underestimated.

          • All “movements” have some level of group think – the alternative media is no exception. I noticed lately that there’s even an “extreme left” to the Young Turks led by Jimmy Dore who seems to be auditioning for future political commissar. It is as you say, depressing.

            I figured you’d appreciate the PKD comment.

            “We are stuck in a loop of time, history repeating not just in pattern but in essence. ”

            Interesting you say that as I’m currently working on a new lengthy piece about history repeating – riffing on the “End of History” idea but stealing it back from the right wing reactionaries who stole it from the Left – though I’m not returning it to the traditional Left. This is sparked by my wrestling with Sartre & co – it’s led to jumping into a set of rabbit holes. Fascinating and I’ll have it up I’m guessing in a week+

            But I agree. There is a kind of time loop feeling at work in all of this not just in the obvious if still disturbing parallels with previous eras of fascism etc but something deeper.

            Octavio Paz said (30 years ago) that we’ve been in a holding pattern since the Middle Ages. He emphasized that what he called the oil system (the use of fossil fuels and everything that’s connected or contextualized by it) has us stuck.

            Didn’t know that about McKenna but not surprised and yes “kooky” is good for shaking things up. It’s essential.

            “The inconvenient details are much more intriguing.” it’s where one finds the shades of grey that illuminate the story.

            ” Anything that might lead to public debate or independent thought among students must be avoided like the plague.”

            One of the great underdiscussed issues vis the state of our politics is the deliberate destruction of the education system and in particular the elimination of teaching logic and critical thinking. People simply don’t know how to build a coherent argument. That is not confined to the right though it tends to be more virulent and more on display among the lunatic Alex Jones & co types but as mentioned Dore is not the most coherent person I’ve seen.

            “It was one of the few places where questioning, curiosity, and creativity was more fully encouraged (I also had a brilliant art teacher who served this purpose as well).”

            Jackpot! Conversely I listened to Sam Seder today talk to a well intentioned lefty-lib university prof discuss the disconnect between the government and people who despite receiving ever increasing assistance have an ever increasing contempt for the government. During the entirety of the conversation there was not a word about the cultural artifacts (i.e., & e.g., PKD, etc) that contextualize the issue.

            Which feeds into: “And if there isn’t enough conflict and change to make reaction effective, reactionaries will seek to provoke it when possible.”

            This use of reactionary tropes is derived in part from the ways in which capitalism defines and controls the narrative resulting in a lack of depth but an increase in heat – the demand for inclusion but not transformation of the system. Or transformation defined as the new group getting their piece of the pie.

            Regarding Hegel/Marx/Trickster: I’ll go into more detail with the new blog post but briefly: Hegel is contextualized by the collapse of the church in the face of the French revolution and Napoleon’s blitzkrieg. It strikes me as analogous to the church asking Augustine to write something to explain the sack of Rome and reassure the faithful that they were still backing the winning side. Hegel reconfigures “god” as a kind of world spirit – part nature part state but a kind of more violent form of the nature worship of the British Romantics of the same era (Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron, etc).

            Hegel has humanity in a state of alienation because they are separate from “god” but heading inevitably towards re/union (via the dialectic).

            Marx of course removes “God” from the equation and replaces it with labor – man is alienated from the brotherhood of humanity because of the nature of labor. (sorry if that’s pedantic as I’m sure you know Marx etc)

            Here’s an apt quote from Hegel from the intro to a book by Alexander Kojeve (an fascinating and enigmatic but pivotal figure on the left):

            “We find ourselves in an important epoch,
            in a fermentation, in which Spirit has made
            a leap forward, has gone beyond its previous concrete form and acquired a new one. The whole mass of ideas and concepts that have been current until now, the very bonds of the world, are dissolved
            and collapsing into themselves like a vision
            in a dream. A new emergence of Spirit is at hand; philosophy must be the first to hail its appearance and recognize it, while others, resisting impotently, adhere to the past, and the majority unconsciously
            constitute the matter in which it makes it appearance. But philosophy, in recognizing it as what is eternal, must pay homage to it.”

            I think this is a schismatic reconfiguration of Christianity filtered through the facts of the revolutions of 1789. Goethe called Napoleon history on horseback – the idea that the individual could embody a spiritus mundi.

            The failure is connected to some ideas I’m working on but has to do with an inability to grasp certain biological facts about praxis – this is far too complex for this msg – but Hegel/Marx & co imagined an end of History that ignored future generations being born not knowing that History had ended and as a result had to either relearn or be dissuaded from relearning either by “gentle” Brave New World technology or a far more violent insistence that the “past” with its contradictory passions and dramas was to be left in a museum.

            Not sure if I’m making this clear but it has to do, in part, with why Walter Benjamin though decidedly of the Left didn’t get around to reading Marx until the mid 30s. W.B: “There is no record of civilization that is not also a record of barbarism.” and of course his angel of paradise and the nature of history as more of a loop which puts him at odds with Hegel/Marx.

            I don’t think I’ve explained this very well?

            In opposition to the “philosophers” and “historians” there are the poets and novelists who embraced the Trickster and the idea of history repeating. No accident that as we’ve discussed, the artists have been banished – I would say by both left and right though the left pays lip service to them.

            Re: the left batting away the stale rhetoric – I meant that the YT/Seder crowd and AOC are getting increasingly adept at turning/deflecting the FOX rhetoric back on the pinheads. It’s not devastating but it’s a far sight better than so much of the dead on arrival talking points of the establishment liberals.

            On the other hand, you’re not missing much;-)

            I’m not sure if the Deutscher quote is from an essay or the Trotsky bio – I can’t track it down but found it in a book by Frederic Jamison about postmodernism.

            But Deutscher knew his Hegel – so like a lot of Left-European intellectuals who viewed “History” almost in an ancient Greek way – as being alive and being in part Trickster.

            That way of thinking is eliminated with the death of Sartre and it survives only among the Modernist writers – Faulkner/Joyce/Eliot/Hemingway etc. But no accident that aspect of their work is obscured under layers of academic jargon or just ignored.

            The Schiller quote/reference is fantastic and fascinating. It fits with a lot of what I’m considering for the new post and hat I’m finding in the Marx and Sartre bios.

            “Aesthetic thought wanted to become operative in the real world and transform it…”

            This is a crucial construction – it views Aesthetic thought as having its own volition. That’s a pre Christian idea; pagan.

            Schiller of course is part of the “Romantic” era that fuses pre Christian nature/paganism and nationalism and the spirit of 1789. Aesthetics was for him “alive.”

            Schiller’s idea that the Aesthetic was also “moral” is essentially Keats’ idea that beauty is truth and visa versa and that together they are “moral.”

            No accident that they are contemporaries.

            ” If aesthetic experience has a specific autonomy, as Jacques Rancière maintains, this autonomy emerges as a practice of resistance to the autocracy of reason.”

            This is a key description. Schiller et al came to be in opposition (“reactionaries”;-)) against the violent “cult of reason” of the French “Jacobins.”

            There’s a great book by Alain Finklekraut (now sadly a spokesman for the French almost-right – not quite Le Pen but certainly not on the Left) called The Defeat of the Mind.

            It’s a brilliant examination of how the “left” became the “right” and the “reactionaries” became the apostles of the individual in the face of Jacobin insistence that the individual was part of a collective.

            “And that is why the hidden god remains unseen in its actions. The Trickster always operates in ways not understood and hence in results underestimated.”

            This is profound. It’s very much in keeping with most if not all of the traditional “secret” rites associated with wisdom.

            I’d agitate for an increased role for the arts but aside from the traditional resistance your point is also part of the equation in that the nature of the Trickster does stay hidden – that’s how it works.

          • “I’m currently working on a new lengthy piece about history repeating” I look forward to reading it.

            “Octavio Paz said (30 years ago) that we’ve been in a holding pattern since the Middle Ages. He emphasized that what he called the oil system (the use of fossil fuels and everything that’s connected or contextualized by it) has us stuck.”

            An interesting thought. I wonder why the Middle Ages. The fossil fuel economy is maybe most similar to the colonial trade of sugar, cotton, and slaves. Sugar most of all fueled the intellectual and ideological changes. But I do see how many early forms of Enlightenment thought first clearly took root during the Renaissance.

            “One of the great underdiscussed issues vis the state of our politics is the deliberate destruction of the education system and in particular the elimination of teaching logic and critical thinking.”

            When my dad was a professor of business management at the University of South Carolina, he was on a board to determine the curriculum. I convinced him to push for all business students taking logic. It just seemed like something they should know, as it is a rather distinctive feature of humanity.

            “I don’t think I’ve explained this very well?”

            I’ll have to give it some more thought. There is a lot there to chew on.

          • The new piece is a bit of a whale;-) I find myself going back in time as each subject leads to another so that Sartre requires some sense of who he was responding to. As a result I now find myself digging into 17th century Holland (Spinoza, Leibnitz and Descartes). All of that connects to Hume and Locke. Fascinating info on the tech revolution involving advances in lenses and its impact on concepts of consciousness and the mind. Blah blah but all of it has pushed me back again to Jaynes and consciousness and questions about history repeating because (possibly) consciousness is a mechanism that repeats.

            The trigger for all of this is how the same argument(s) keep repeating both in content and form. Case in point, today I was reading about an 18th century French philosopher, Etienne Condillac with whom Sartre, writing in the 1930s, is in agreement but JP writes as if Condillac didn’t exist.

            So at least several weeks from posting it – have to read up on a lot of ideas/people.

            Re: Paz. Good question. My guess is mercantilism/capitalism/feudalism – not as fixed categories but rough definitions about systems and how they are organized and seem to be (sic!) repeating/stagnating.

            Interesting about your father/logic. Public ed in this country is awful. I’ve met people, relatively intelligent, who have such staggering gaps in knowledge that it’s almost as if you’re in a time warp and they’re from a different earlier era. Information gaps impact the ability to process and the inability to process – to make use of logic – negatively impacts the acquisition of new information so the process repeats and steadily becomes worse.

            Chew away there’s a lot there:-)

          • You sound a lot like me in doing research. “I find myself going back in time as each subject leads to another…” I could imagine.

            I’m generally familiar with the people and topics you’re exploring. Locke was in Netherlands when Spinoza was there and, as the latter was published earlier, Locke was quite possibly influenced by him. Much of what we think of as Anglo-American originated in mainland Europe, including the Puritans having been influenced by French Huguenots. I’ve traced many of those influences in some earlier posts, specifically in how they helped shape early American society.

            “…pushed me back again to Jaynes and consciousness and questions about history repeating because (possibly) consciousness is a mechanism that repeats.”

            That isn’t an idea that occurred to me. Maybe that has to do with how the prevalence of writing, bound books, and literacy were to the emergence and development of the Axial Age. Ideas, history, etc were permanently set down. Voices once heard were now silent letters on a page, permanent and unchanging, that is to say repeating.

          • It’s fascinating and amusing the way each piece of the story folds back into another.

            I didn’t know that about Locke. Descartes was there as well. I have about half a Marx bio to finish and some on Camus and I’ve made a list that’s mostly focused on the 17th century and then sub-focused on Holland. There are two things that I really want to look at for their impact on transformations in that era vis consciousness and how it was discussed/understood/narrated: the first is the tech revolution with new lenses. Spinoza of course was a lens grinder and I think the advent of exceptional Dutch lenses had a major impact on the scene in England. Hooke’s books on insects and plants with its colored plates must have been mind-blowing and I have a hunch it had a big effect on Hume.

            The other is opium. Have been fascinated by it for some time and have recently returned to it as an unexamined component in the revolutionary transformations in philosophy from the late 16th into the 19th centuries. Especially when you start thinking about all of the discussions on mind body duality and Hume’s Bundle Theory.

            Coincidentally I was just starting to think about the Huguenots and the politics of Descartes’ rejection of Aristotelian concepts especially the rejection by D of A’s concept that the purpose of all things was knowable. D’s rejection is a political statement amid the still simmering vortex of the Protestant Ref and Civil War in France.

            Would be very interested in reading your posts on connections between Locke and others. Post them in this thread if you can?

            The repetition mechanism is mysterious. It hit me because of Sartre. So many of his concepts were formulated earlier by other people. As he was a very well read/educated man of his times it seems impossible he wasn’t aware of them. For example, Condillac must have been on his reading list or must have come up in classes or among the other grad students as he was a major thinker in the period after Descartes and right before 1789. Condillac was having the same arguments as the preSocratic Greeks.

            What I noticed is that three things keep happening:

            1.A mania to explain everything.
            2.An insistence that the explanation is definitive.
            3.That the explanation incorporates material/arguments from previous “definitive” explanations and this process keeps repeating.

            I’ve been reading a book by Karl Popper on the pre Socratic “enlightenment” and Popper makes the point that he told Einstein and Bohr that things they were saying were being said by Parmenides 200 years or more before Plato.

            I think you’re correct about literacy and books and this is key: “Voices once heard were now silent letters on a page, permanent and unchanging, that is to say repeating.”

            I’m trying to work out the paradox of it – repeating is both the same and new. It’s new to the next generation but it’s by definition old.

            The next generation is ignorant of course and has to reabsorb/learn the past.

            By design the system repeats but claims for some reason to have ended the process which I suspect is an impulse generated by anxiety and the anxiety is generated by a vague sense that everything repeats. That might explain the mania/impulse to declare systems as definitive because in theory the will put an end to the endless cycle.

            So next stop is France-Holland-England from roughly 1600-1750s and then a return engagement with Jaynes.

            I’m considering the new piece as a part 2 extension of my earlier piece on Jaynes. If nothing else it allows me to see the structure of the piece otherwise there’s so much material it becomes too easy to get lost.

          • “Public ed in this country is awful.”

            That is true. Having attended public schools, I can attest to that fact. And public education is even worse in places like South Carolina.

            But I don’t sense that private schools are much better. There simply is no longer the emphasis of school as teaching critical thinking. That used to be the reason for teaching logic, rhetoric, philosophy, philology, literature, history, etc.

            A few Catholic schools still emphasize this traditional liberal arts education. But this increasingly seems irrelevant to most people in this age of hyper-specialiation, technology, and capitalist realism.

          • Agreed – private ed isn’t much better or any better mostly it’s just more expensive.

            Specialization has been a catastrophe. The inability of most people to think logically is a far greater “national security threat” then the next hundred would-be bombers.

            Part of Trump’s appeal is his magical thinking which is the barbarians answer to logic. “Capitalist realism” works in two directions. It allows for magical thinking (but uses it as a means to manipulate/exploit the right wing populists who are conned into believing they too will get to live in a Trump Tower) and it gives the pretense of intelligence to goons like Peter Thiel and nobodies like Zuckerberg.

            And your use of the phrase has given me an idea for a new post! Maybe later today – on Raymond Carver and Capitalist Realism.

            And I shudder to think about public ed. in S.Carolina – which is not to say it’s any better in California or NY.

          • To clarify – as much as possible – my current efforts vis Hegel et al is aimed at the question of why there is what seems to be a kind of mania to explain everything and declare the explanation as definitive.

            This occurred to me while reading the Sartre bio. Sartre comes at the tail end of a line of geniuses each of whom declared they had figured out how everything works and no other ideas were required. Thus, each was a kind of “end of History.”

            More to follow.

          • I know the attraction to ultimate explanations, having been raised in a new agey church. The secular version of theology is the theory of everything. For all that they can interest me, TOEs end up being dissatisfying and frustrating. The initial insights calcify into a rigid system or absolute ideas. I used to study TOEs, but I’ve given up on them. Even a useful TOE can be problematic partly for the mindset it encourages and the type of person it attracts. Few people seem to be able to hold lightly such systems and the inventors of them have a way of developing followings, sometimes with a personality cult.

            Like the reactionary mind, totalizing explanations are one of the extreme manifestations of what first emerged in the Axial Age. As a comparison, this ideological mania is lacking in a society like that of the Piraha who don’t even bother to give any thought to much of anything outside of immediate experience, not even an afterlife. The Piraha were seemingly immune to Daniel Everett’s original attempt to convert them as stories of Jesus were irrelevant. Everett points out that he learned in his Evangelical training that a people first have to be made lost (i.e., their traditional culture destroyed) before they can be saved.

            Before modern consciousness, especially in its WEIRD form, there was no need for an end to history. That is because there was no beginning to history, no sense of history. Pre-Axial and non-literate societies certainly didn’t look to individual geniuses to explain the world for there was no need to explain the world, since they lived within coherent self-contained worldviews that were intimately part of local ecologies. For Europeans in particular, the world wars would have exacerbated the modern sensibility of division and dislocation. There is no doubt that Sartre was heavily and personally impacted by that era of conflict that blew apart the Western world. That mass catastrophe and collective trauma left many damaged minds in its wake.

            I’d add an interesting observation. It comes from Circles and Lines by John Demos. In early America, a cyclical experience of time was still the dominant worldview. Considering that the majority of Americans remained rural until about a century ago, historical consciousness probably took longer to take hold in the US. I was surprised by Joe Bageant talking about his childhood farming community having still been a barter economy in the post-war era. But even in parts of Europe, such as rural Russia, abstract thought and literacy were still uncommon earlier last century as the population was still essentially living as peasants.

            There has to be a major rupture of history to create a desire to end history. And there is nothing like total war that causes humans to seek total answers and total solutions.

          • I was meaning to get back to this discussion. But I temporarily lost track which post it was. Let me add to the already lengthy comment section.

            “The other is opium. Have been fascinated by it for some time and have recently returned to it as an unexamined component in the revolutionary transformations in philosophy from the late 16th into the 19th centuries. Especially when you start thinking about all of the discussions on mind body duality and Hume’s Bundle Theory.”

            It makes me think of the shamanistic view of everything having a spirit and a personality, especially true of plants and even moreso of psychoactive plants. This points to how profoundly such things alter our minds. Introducing new pscyoactive substances into a society can change what is possible within the mind, opening new vistas of thought and setting down new patterns.

            Even something so simple as refined sugar could have been transformative in a way we can’t imagine, as there is no living memory left of the world before an international sugar trade. What sugar did was, for the first time in the Western world, to make easily accessible a high-octane brain fuel which allowed people to think intensively for long hours without their brain tiring. Sugar, like caffeine, is a drug of intellect. We now live in a society obsessed with mental activity, even for those not directly involved in intellectuality as a profession.

            Maybe mass media, the internet, etc is a sugar-and-caffeine explosion of the collective psyche. And I’d point out that, from a dietary perspective, such things as sugar contribute to issues of gut health and inflammation throughout the body and that in turn is closely associated with numerous other health conditions including mood disorders and personality disorders. Sugar also doesn’t only cause physiological addictive behavior but also maybe an obsessive-compulsive mindset. Maybe not only the Enlightenment but all of modernity, specifically hyper-capitalism, wouldn’t be possible without it.

            I can’t speak for opium, though. I’m not sure what kind of impact it might have had. But it does stand out that some major thinkers were users of opium (Sigmund Freud) or heroin (William S. Burroughs).

            “Coincidentally I was just starting to think about the Huguenots and the politics of Descartes’ rejection of Aristotelian concepts especially the rejection by D of A’s concept that the purpose of all things was knowable. D’s rejection is a political statement amid the still simmering vortex of the Protestant Ref and Civil War in France.”

            I’m not familiar with some of the details you’re referring to there. But I do know from my readings that the Huguenots seemed to have had an outsized influence in the Western world. Besides their influence on the Puritans, Huguenots were found among the Scots-Irish and some became significant figures in the colonies.

            “Would be very interested in reading your posts on connections between Locke and others. Post them in this thread if you can?”

            This is specifically what I kept meaning to get back to. I have some posts that might be relevant. But I don’t have the time at the moment to sort through them. I promise I’ll throw out some links soon.

          • Let me finally respond to your request. “Would be very interested in reading your posts on connections between Locke and others. Post them in this thread if you can?”

            I’m not exactly sure what might be relevant for your present purposes. There are quite a few posts where I make those kinds of connections. Along with the Lockean angle, I’ll share some other points of connection that might be of interest.

            First off, here are some posts discussing Locke, on who influenced him and who he influenced:

            And here is a buttload of info on the French Huguenots and related groups:

            As an interesting side note, Thomas Morton of Merry Mount fame was educated as a lawyer at the Inns of Court where John Dickinson later on in the colonial era also sought his legal education:

            Roger Williams offers context for that era, as his writings were widely read among those who could read English (I don’t know if his works were translated at the time):

            “What I discovered in this recent book is that Roger Williams is the only colonial founder who didn’t mistreat Quakers. Williams came to America as a Puritan and despised Quakers, but there was a difference. He was mentored by Sir Edward Coke, the famous common law lawyer. Also, he was heavily influenced by Francis Bacon, the famous scientist and arch-rival of Coke. These were the type of influences that would inspire the Levellers and others involved in the English Civil War. Williams came to America before revolution erupted, but he brought the societal conflicts with him.”

            A couple of quotes for you:

            “Thus none of the Founders called himself an atheist. Yet by the standards of devout American Christians, then and certainly now, most were blasphemers. In other words, they were men of the Enlightenment, good-humored seculars who mainly chose reason and science to try to understand the nature of existence, the purposes of life, the shape of truth. Jefferson said Bacon, Locke, and Newton were “the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception.” Franklin, close friends with the Enlightenment philosophe Voltaire, * was called “the modern Prometheus” by the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant, and Adams was friends with the Enlightenment philosopher David Hume, whose 1748 essay “Of Miracles” was meant to be “an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion.” America’s political founders had far more in common with their European peers than with the superstar theologians barnstorming America to encourage superstitious delusion. “The motto of enlightenment,” Kant wrote the year after America won its war of independence, “is… Sapere aude! ” or Dare to know. “Have courage to use your own understanding!””
            ~Kurt Andersen, Fantasyland


            “Is it everywhere assumed or is Dickinson hedging his bets and avoiding the question of government’s origin and the validity of the social contract? That seems possible especially given Dickinson’s appeal to the ideas of philosopher David Hume in the above citation. Hume was a critic of Lockean natural rights theory and argued that Locke’s natural rights arguments were as much a political ideology as the divine right theory that justified kingship.”
            ~Howard Schwartz, Liberty In America’s Founding Moment

        • Here is a thought about the “sham debate.” Sure, there is the failure found in much of the alternative media, but I’d be reassured if it was limited to that. Too often, such failure is soaked into the minds of so many, usually without their realizing it, of course, and so they repeat reactionary rhetoric even as they might perceive themselves as opposing the reactionary. We Americans are so often defenseless against this kind of thing. This came up again as I was perusing old posts and comments, which brought me to this old discussion.

          I was trying to sort through my thoughts in defense of ‘egalitarianism’ against some criticisms voiced in the comments sections of recent posts. These particular comments, although from people nominally in line with the ‘left’ or otherwise sympathetic to alternative critique, are sadly anti-leftist in predictably reactionary ways as shaped by powerful rhetoric. Some of them are even repeating typical elite narratives that are heard in coporate media, some going back at least to the Cold War propaganda. This is a recurrent complaint of mine, the reason I wrote a related post following the one above:

          It’s not that I’m opposed to fair-minded, even scathing, critisms of the ‘left’. As you know, I make such criticisms all the time. But I what I won’t tolerate is a mindless dismissiveness of a deeper moral impulse that truly does matter. To my mind, any rhetorical claims or portrayals of ‘leftism’ that contradict egalitarianism are utterly meaninless. I honestly don’t give a fuck if Stalin or Obama or Trump uses leftist rhetoric. The only thing that matters is not words but actions. That is the problem with the “sham debate” because it is a “mile wide inch deep.”

          I get tired of the bull shit — it makes me irritable, impatient, and unforgiving. So, I don’t end up responding well; and I don’t want to be that way in contributing to animosity, conflict, and demoralization. When that happens, my best self isn’t on display. There just isn’t any point. It relates to the reason, after attempting meaningful and respectful engagement, I came to see debating genetic essentialist and race realist HBDers as pointless and counterproductive, particular in how I realized this only resulted in helping to legitimize reactionaries as worthy participants in respectable public debate.

          This is the conclusion I’ve come to. I have no desire to try to explain to reactionaries, be they proudly reactionary or unconsciously so, the reasons behind why leftist morality such as egalitarianism fundamentally matters. In the end, there is a difference that makes a difference between the left and right, specifically in terms of authoritarianism and violence. There is no real debate to be had because such a moral impulse is non-rational and pre-rational since it speaks to something deeper within shared human nature. It can’t be logically argued or scientifically proven, as it is to be understood as common sense or not understood at all.

          I’m past the point of wanting to ‘debate’. There is no debate because that debate, in any meaningful sense, ended long before I was born or rather never actually started. There is nothing to debated on that level, other than debating what it all means in a larger sense, such as exploring the historical context and the future prospects. Some of the well-intentioned commentators infuriate me to the point that I simply want to ban them from my blog, not out of mean-spirited hatred and dogmatic judgment nor for a wish for censorious cancel culture but simple frustration of what after a while feels like a form of unaware ideological trolling.

          They are part of the problem, not merely in a minor sense but in actually posing a danger to everything I value, a threat to democracy itself. And in arguing with them, I feel like I also become part of the problem. I’m promoting a debate that, by design, makes resolution impossible. The debate itself, I suspect, is the rot itself. The only way to cleanse this pus-filled wound is through the healing power of silence that neutralizes and cleanses the poison. Talk is powerless in how the reactionary rhetoric taints language itself and turns our words against us.

          What bothers me so much is not the reactionary in a general sense but how so few people appreciate what it represents and the threat it poses. It saddens me to no end how many people unknowingly embrace the reactionary even as they give voice to criticisms of authoritarianism and violence, and yet end up defending the very rhetorical frames and narratives that uphold and rationalize the reactionary mindset that promotes authoritarianism and violence. It leaves me frustrated and not knowing how to respond. I feel a desire to refuse to allow space for these self-deceived reactionaries, maybe to give up blogging altogether or else to shut down the comments section entirely. The mind plageue we face is far more dangerous to civilization than the Covid pandemic.

          There is no winning in debating the reactionary. It’s like what some say about wrestling pigs, in how everyone gets filthy and only the pigs end up happy. If I were a better man, I might have the brilliance to use psychological defenses and rhetorical jujitsu to counter the reactionary without being drawn into reactionary games, to help guide others out of the reactionary darkness and offer a soothing salve to reactionary anxiety. Yet, in being honest with myself, I must admit ath I’m not a better man, as I feel like I’m drowning in the reactionary as it seems to be inescapably everywhere. I just wish I could get others to understand why this is so problematic, but I might as well be screaming into an airless void.

          Below are the recent posts where this issue has come up, in how the reactionay mind takes hold even within those who otherwise wouldn’t identify as reactionary and who would likely be righteously offended by the mere accusation of having fallen under the reactionary sway. Not that this is to scapegoat these individuals as they merely exemplify the reactionary mind virus that easily infects all of us if and when we don’t maintain our ideological immune systems. But even then, the contagion can spread into the minds of the best of us, even in the briefest moment of letting our guard down, and typically this occurs without our knowing it. That is how it always works its entrancing spell over us, slipping past our defenses unseen and unfelt or otherwise unrecognized in fundamentally altering how we see and feel.

          I’ve observed how this has happened to me at times, too often in fact. That is how I’ve become so sensitive and leery, not to mention increasingly fatigued in trying to hold it at bay, and yet always feeling like the reactionary is seeping in and getting the better of me. It can feel shameful when one realizes one has fallen into it and embarrasing when others point this out in one’s behavior or words. That is all the more reason we should carefully cultivate humility, compassion, and forgiveness — all of which I’m still learning to do… I’m a work in process, as are we all. My mother used to play a song for me when I was a child, of which a lyric playfully voiced, “God isn’t finished with me yet.” Oh, how true!

          None of us are born immune and so it’s not a cause of personal failure and blame. Such reactionary infection need not be permanent, no more than getting a cold or food poisoning, as long as we take the time to rest and recuperate our ailing minds in rebuilding our memetic and rhetorical defenses. It may be an endless task as is all of life (until we die), but I’d like to think that it need not be inevitably tiresome. In learning basic practices of self-awareness, historical animnesis, and linguistic-rhetorical insight, we hopefully can learn to maintain better mental health with far less effort. It’s easier to prevent sickness than to treat it, but first we must recognize there is a risk to be avoided and prepared against.

          Anyway, look to the comments sections in the following post to sense what I’m responding to:

          • I had to skim quite a bit to find the comments you were referring to.

            This of course is a vast topic and you’ve done a tremendous amount of work to explain your POV backed up by numerous data sets.

            One of the fundamental problems with the internet as a platform for “discussion” is an absence of agreed upon terminology coupled with widely different levels of knowledge.

            Disagreements as a result become the norm.

            Which is not to say that you’re wrong.

            One could make the case that the anti violence spirituality POV has an inherent reactionary quality to it. It’s one of the reasons that so many hard left revolutions targeted organized religious groups ranging from fascists in various Christian cadres to non aligned Buddhist sects in various Asian countries.

            Having said that there are also crucial semantic issues.

            Saying that a prominent Buddhist defines violence as more than a physical issue but also as including language or thought or how one lives (types of food consumed and how it’s processed) is a valid POV but it’s the sort of thing one should bring up at the beginning and elucidate before getting angry because the other side of the discussion isn’t “getting it.”

            In other words cross purposes.

            But then we’re back to issues of definitions and as you point out and as your volume of references makes clear in the sense in which the terms are generally understood and used it is irrefutable that the majority of physical violence has been committed by right wing groups.

            The Weatherman and related groups (Panthers and SLA etc) pale in comparison to the Klan and the Mafia and others.

            As to the idea that McConaughey is viable as an appeal to authority it is at best silly.

            First of all as we know the “left” is now and always has been a baggy suit as much at war with itself as it is the right and so statements about left wing condescension and arrogance are not only essentially useless they do, as you make clear, slide right into the right wing rhetoric eco system.

            Are there arrogant “keyboard Jacobins”? Sure but the fact remains the high water point of domestic left based violence ended in the early 1970s and reaches back to the mid 19th.

            But obviously parallel to that and continuing to the present right wing violence has been consistent.

            There are areas where the left falls into forms of group think but as you say it’s hard to imagine self defined leftists storming the capital. At least until there’s another Trotsky on the scene and he’d probably end up getting offed pretty quick. The left as such hasn’t had a gun culture in decades. And compared to the right it’s no contest.

            And even in Europe the hard left groups committed to violence (Bader Meinhof and Red Brigade and some elements of the IRA and the Basque groups) have just about all faded away. They could come back but so far most evidence points to violent threats coming from neo fascist cadres.

            Mostly I find the debate such as it is a mile wide and an inch deep.

            I find even the most reasonable of leftists generally to be limited if not crippled by a lack of wide reading and knowledge.

            But the fact remains. Heather Hyer wasn’t killed by a leftist and there were not “fine people on both sides.”

            Not sure if this answers your point(s) but it’s a rough draft.

          • I changed my comment policy as an official statement on the relevant page. I decided to go back to a zero tolerance policy about certain issues. I’ve decided that, on this blog, I simply won’t debate certain things (e.g., climate change denialism).

            There is nothing to be gained. And I don’t even want to see comments here that express such things. I will immediately trash them and ban repeat offenders. As I age, I’m slowly learning discernment, if not exactly wisdom.

          • This is what I find intolerable.

            This commenter was using a corporate frame of reactionary anti-leftist rhetoric (the master’s tools) to dismiss and scapegoat the main victims of state violence and right-wing violence. And then she hid behind religious moralizing as if the privileged safety of her default complicity would keep the blood off her hands.

            Portraying the innocent and the oppressed as violent is an old ploy from the authoritarian playbook. How can any even slightly informed person not be aware of that at this point? That is unacceptable.

          • I’ve lost all interest in trying to debate and explain why it’s counterproductive and dangerous for those seeking to promote egalitarianism, compassion, and the public good to use reactionary rhetoric and corporate media narratives that are part of the status quo of authoritarian oppression. Maybe our society is still stuck there, but personally I’m long past such things.

          • Most Americans in general are not well informed. And that is true on the political left as well. But it’s more about an anti-intellectual strain in American culture. This involves a lack of curiosity and critical thinking skills, such that few Americans ever bother to research anything for themselves. Even when presented with contrary evidence, so many Americans don’t seem able or willing to change their views.

            I understand that on the political right, particularly the religious right, where anti-intellectual ideology has been openly advocated. And I realize most Americans never received a quality education. But it’s always more disappointing to come across this anti-intellectualism even among reasonably well-educated leftists who typically are otherwise more informed about the broader world.

            That commenter I linked to above holds strongly leftist positions, even as she dislikes the leftist label. I’m fine with that and I’ve actually agreed with her that such labels are problematic, such as being a baggy suit as you describe it. Yet, at least in Western thought, there has been a core defining feature to what the left has meant and that is egalitarianism. This commenter is a strong egalitarian which is precisely why she favors non-violence.

            Egalitarianism is by nature a non-violent tendency. That is because it’s hard to treat someone as equal to you while beating, imprisoning, torturing, or killing them. Sure, at times for the greater egaltarian good, one might like Bonhoeffer seek to commit violence against an inegalitarian like Hitler in the hope of defending the rights and saving the lives of millions. But in the egalitarian worldview, violence is an exception rather than a rule.

            Even if someone begins with egalitarianism and uses egalitarian rhetoric to justify mass violence, they quickly betray their own egalitarianism and end up creating an egalitarian system. It’s like how liberals and leftists can easily be drawn into the reactionary mind. But when someone is definitively taking inegalitarian actions and promoting inegalitarian results, for all intents and purposes, they effectively are no longer an egalitarian.

            Why is that so hard to understand? There is a reason why egalitarianism is such a threat. That is why the government, in pushing authoritarianism, often primarily targets oppression against non-violent actors like MLK. Leftist solidarity, as Fred Hampton was advocating, is a danger to power because it could lead to powerful peaceful change across all of society. The fear wasn’t that Black Panthers were carrying guns but that they had become broadly allied with poor whites, Native Americans, feminists, etc.

            What is interesting is that a commenter like that, although basically a ‘leftist’ in being pro-egalitarian, also feels threatened by the genuine promise of egalitarianism on the left. I doubt the real issue being debated is actually violence or not physical violence, whether killings or property damage. It’s more akin to the DNC elite’s fear of the political left because any demand to strongly change the system, including peaceful reforms, are perceived as a potential threat of violence. It’s simply a fear of change.

            This commenter is a white lady and probably lives an economically comfortable life. It’s unlikely she has ever been the target of economic segregation, government oppression, police profiling, terrorism, etc. These issues are all academic to her. But her entire lifestyle is built into and dependent on the status quo of violent power. What she can’t admit to is her own complicity as part of that system of privilege. This isn’t the first time I’ve had fruitless debates with this commenter. As an unconscious dogmatic ideologue, she never backs down or changes her mind.

            I’m almost at the point of banning her simply for the sake of my own sanity. If she comments in my blog, I feel a moral obligation to counter misinformation. But it never goes anywhere. I think I will block her. At this point, her comments are basically trolling.

      • I’m reading a history of housing in Baltimore and came across a “hilarious” example that fits your point about Trickster Reactionaries stealing rhetoric.

        In the early 60s Spiro T. Agnew was County Executive of Maryland. He was on the payroll of the real estate and construction mafia and as part of the deal for his reelection he suggested a plan for “urban renewal” to tear down a series of slums which allowed him to claim to be “moderate” and in opposition to the segregationists led by Strom Thurmond and Wallace. Additionally of course the plan would oil his palm and be a massive bribe/payoff to his patrons.

        But the opposition which was segregationist and was making money from the corrupt housing market/apartheid system staged a campaign in which they called Agnew a supporter of a world wide communist conspiracy to flood America with “undesirables” (code for Blacks) via “urban renewal.”

        It worked and Agnew lost the election and ran instead for governor.

        But there you have it – Agnew of all people being (successfully) painted as a leftist because he was, on paper, to the left of the extreme right which itself was employing the rhetoric of populism mixed with nativist blood and soil fascism.

    • About “wild eyed radicals”, they weren’t without elements of reaction or at least nostalgia. And reactionaries have never lacked the ability of being wild eyed.

      American Revolutionaries were invoking the traditional rights of Englishmen which originally were the feudal rights of the commons and commoners. Even the most radical of radicals, Paine, was modeling his citizens dividend on the feudal system that took care of the poor and ensured everyone had access to the commons and other public goods. And Jefferson went as far back as tribal Britain’s fight against Norman invasion as justification in the colonial fight against the Norman-originated British Empire.

      The aristocrats who joined the American Revolution were historically well informed. They knew there was no centralized power before the Normans. And they knew the early Norman monarchy was forcefully constrained by the aristocracy with the Magna Carta, along with the Charter of the Forest which established the rights of Englishmen.

      Many aristocrats were nostalgic for a time in early feudalism when aristocracy was powerful and independent, this having coincided with the public memory of local populations having had more autonomy prior to the full entrenchment of the still young imperialism.

      The English Civil War was also still within public memory. That previous conflict was the first modern revolution with class war, proto-communism, radical utopianism, and regicide. It had been a reprisal of the fight with the Normans and the demographic and geographic battle lines were often the same.

      Revolution was a term that came from astrology. It meant the return and repeating of a cycle. It had nothing to do with radical left-wing politics. The American Revolutionaries looked back with nostalgia before they looked forward with hope.

      The same pattern was seen with the French Revolution. Enlightenment thinkers like Rousseau looked back toward a noble savage. Also, it is often forgotten that the initial proponents of revolution were French aristocrats and clergy who were outraged at the usurping of power by the monarchy with plenty of nostalgia involved. And nostalgia ran like a thread to Napolean’s vision to make France great again.

      Reaction and revolution can’t be separated. But if one were to try, it might be easier to argue that reaction came first. That is to say reaction to the decline of ancien regime came before the reaction to revolution that followed after that decline.

      • Let me put this in even older context.

        Plato’s Republic was a reaction to Athenian democracy. But he was merely articulating what others had already attempted. Some of Socrates’ students, friends and associates tried to destroy democracy and replace it with authoritarianism, i.e., republicanism. Guilt by association is what got Socrates in trouble.

        There are a couple of points to be made. Yes, democracy precedes republicanism, despite right-wing rhetoric to the contrary. But that earlier democracy wasn’t revolutionary for it probably emerged from the proto-democratic practices seen in tribal societies all over the world. The closest thing to revolution was the reactionaries’ failed coup.

        So, going back to some of the most ancient of Western history, the reactionary mind began developing long before any revolutionary era.

      • This line of thought seems fruitful. Maybe reaction does precede revolution, neither following nor co-arising. This makes better sense of the history.

        I might take this a step further. Maybe reaction (or rather a cycle of reactionaries reacting to reactionaries) is what eventually incites revolution.

        Consider the evidence.

        There was centuries of reaction between competing power-mongers: popes, clergy, counter-reformationists, monarchists, aristocrats, etc. This presaged and set the stage for the English Civil War. Then further cycling of reaction finally broke out into a full revolutionary era.

        If this analysis holds, that would mean revolution isn’t possible without reaction. Revolution is simply what happens when enough people finally get fed up with the reactionary power games of the competing elites. That puts it all in a new perspective. And it forces us to dig deeper in explaining the reactionary mind.

      • I suppose this fits into my thinking in general.

        I’ve long seen the foundations of modernity as originating in the Axial Age. Along with the first recorded democracy, that historical era gave us numerous elements of proto-liberalism: individualism, urbanization, multiculturalism, cosmopolitianism, universalism, idealism, utopianism, abstract thought, philosophy, formal mathematics, logic, rhetoric, science, literary culture, high literacy rates, bound books, large libraries, etc.

        It should be unsurprising that the reactionary mind first arose in that milieu. So, instead of taking revolution as the context, we should think of how the reactionary co-arose with proto-liberalism. All of history afterward has been a playing out of this. Modernity proper was the culmination or crashing point.

        That is how the reactionary mind has gone mad, as a new era threatens to come into existence. The moment we find ourselves in might be comparable to the chaos that happened with the collapse of the Bronze Age Civilizations. At the end of the Bronze Age, those civilizations had grown larger than ever before. That meant everything got larger: populations, armies, wars, invasions, famines, destruction, etc.

        When a social paradigm peaks out, there is no where to go but down. But it’s unclear if our own civilization has quite peaked yet. If not now, it does seem we are getting close. As with the Bronze Age, we are suddenly facing mass environmental catastrophe.

    • By the way, Mark Fisher was good at using pop culture in analyzing politics and economics.
      From his book Capitalist Realism, in explaining the reactionary without calling it such:

      “When it actually arrives, capitalism brings with it a massive desacralization of culture. It is a system which is no longer governed by any transcendent Law; on the contrary, it dismantles all such codes, only to re-install them on an ad hoc basis. The limits of capitalism are not fixed by fiat, but defined (and re-defined) pragmatically and improvisationally. This makes capitalism very much like the Thing in John Carpenter’s film of the same name: a monstrous, infinitely plastic entity, capable of metabolizing and absorbing anything with which it comes into contact.”

      • That’s a great quote! I was just talking to someone about that film and others that represent various aspects of capitalist/culture. There’s a trajectory and through line that runs from the Thing to Attack of the Fifty Foot Tall Woman to the Steve McQueen films, Bullit and Thomas Crown Affair – planning on writing about it.

        But yes, capitalism is ad hoc within a strict hierarchy. It absorbs and uses whatever can be made to work – it is the Borg Collective (sic!;-))

        • Yep. That is what makes capitalism inherently reactionary. The reactionary doesn’t merely want to defend strict hierarchy but to remake it better and stronger. That is why reactionaries will simultaneously attack the old guard and those, usually on the left, who demonstrated the weakness of the old guard. Reactionaries would have been fine with the old order, if not for it having failed in some respect.

          The ad hoc is how a new strict hierarchy is built, piece by piece, and then to make it attractive by whatever rhetoric is popular or populist. So, reactionaries are by nature transitional creatures. What makes the present difference is that we live in an entire society that is reactionary because it emerged during this historically transitional era.

          For that reason, the reactionary shows up in a lot of media, especially entertainment media, along with pop culture in general. But because it is so ever present, few can see it as it is the air we breathe. The advantage at the moment is when reactionaries become momentarily ascendant within positions of power they become easier to see and grasp. They are forced out of hiding and that is when they are most vulnerable.

          Reactionaries cause change. What they cannot do is survive change. They are a sign of something else on its way. If we look closely, we might see the form emerging.

          • Could not agree more.

            “Reactionaries cause change. What they cannot do is survive change. They are a sign of something else on its way. If we look closely, we might see the form emerging.”

            “For that reason, the reactionary shows up in a lot of media, especially entertainment media, along with pop culture in general.”

            There’s a scene in Luke Cage, first season, where he’s beating up some punks and he explains himself and the language is straight out of Bannon/Trump.

            I have no doubt the writers are anti-Trump but had no idea that their reactionary populism was rhetorically identical to the other reactionary populists.

            Or as Robin Williams said, in the dictionary, under irony, see, irony;-)

            ” So, reactionaries are by nature transitional creatures. What makes the present difference is that we live in an entire society that is reactionary because it emerged during this historically transitional era.”

            I don’t remember who said it but a writer, in Germany in the late 30s, remarked that if you actually read what the Nazis were saying it was consistently like the worst and most contradictory advertising slop.

            The hate and violence were of course consistent but the faux details about the plan were of course ad hoc. The sleazier the program the more inconsistent the rhetoric except for the consistency of the ad hoc use of whatever is handy and can be made to assist in achieving power. But the entire system operates that way.

            Case in point: Right before the first revelations about the NSA/mass surveillance there was a commercial, I think for insurance, that used a mock “Dragnet” format with a guy in a car – a sort of Joe Friday – talking to the insurance guy in the office. Staccato dialogue just the facts mam, etc.

            Right after the news broke the dialogue was edited and all of a sudden they were talking about whether or not the conversation was being recorded. That lasted about a week and then commercial vanished.

            There was simultaneously a commercial for beer that made a “joke” about surveillance and then that too vanished.

            Issues of corporate mendacity aside the machine being an echo chamber and inherently reactionary and run by reactionaries generates echoes of its own narrative which being trapped within the closed system ricochet and strike unintended targets.

            This contributes to the perpetual state of alienation – a hyper aware state of anxiety even worse than what Marx described in his time.

            The Lennon/McCartney line: “She feels as though she’s in a play, even though she is anyway.”

            Awareness of being trapped doe snot necessarily lead to escape but leads to a deeper sense of alienation.

          • Some years ago, it jumped out at me how powerful was the moral imagination of the reactionary mind within mainstream media and pop culture. I went to a showing of one of the Batman movies, maybe Dark Knight.

            The worldview wasn’t only socially conservative in a general sense but profoundly and disturbingly right-wing. The reactionary vibe from it was perverse and yet at the same time it was brilliant if unintentional rhetoric for the political right. It was such a high quality movie for Hollywood. There was nothing even remotely liberal about the vision it portrayed or rather it was liberal society distorted through the fun house mirrors of the reactionary mind.

            The movie came out during the waning days of Bush era fear-mongering, the year the recession hit. And it was promoted by viral advertising. It presented a decaying and collapsing society as focused on a city that once was great. Batman’s well-intentioned old school liberal parents were shot and now the criminals were in power, Bruce Wayne become a reactionary by embracing the darkness with the right-wing vigilantism and elitism.

            The movie set the stage for the next decade to follow. Through Two Face, it even showed how the good liberal becomes a cynical and deranged reactionary. That should’ve been enough for people to have seen through Obama. But half the popular enjoyment of superficial liberal rhetoric is watching it fail and be destroyed — liberalism betrayed by liberals themselves. It’s the greatest of spectacles, watching the DNC thrashing about in bizarre ideological contortions of realpolitik.


            “Liberals are ‘winning’ in some cultural ways by way of having a more attractive vision for the entertainment business and for consumerist advertising, but this is a very shallow influence and not absolute. A lot of the media has been obsessed with the conservative worldview of conspiracy and war. For example, the noir vision of the recent Batman movies is pure conservatism and is one of the most compelling portrayals of American society.”


            “What came to my mind was the necessity of moral vision. In my last post, I spoke of the relationship conservative-mindedness has to fear. The moral vision conservative-mindedness creates can be compelling, often portrayed in form of battle, whether waged by a Christian army fighting for God’s Glory in a fallen world or the lone vigilante like the noirish Batman as the Dark Knight fighting evil in a crime-ridden Gotham. The liberal-minded have their work cut out for them in seeking to offer something more compelling than these visions of a fearful world to be overcome.”

  2. In my reactionary days I had a resistance to any social science on the formation of political identities and beliefs. This had less to do with outright distrust of science ( I wasn’t a climate denier ) and more to do with a privileging of belief in human consciousness, as if beliefs about the world were a sacred realm in themselves and not something that could be triggered chemically like cocaine addiction.

    I think the reactionary part came from a defensive partial awareness that my beliefs weren’t truly my own ( “dead fingers talk” ) and I was degrading myself by making political identity a hill to die on. I still admire people like Kirk and George Santayana for their vigorous defense of imagination in the humanities, but politically they seem much like Tommy Lee Jones’ character in the end scene of No Country For Old Men.

    • Thanks for bringing in your viewpoint. What you say about science and belief resonates with what I’ve intuited. But it is always hard to think clearly about such things, to suss out what really is going on. I like the way you put it, “as if beliefs about the world were a sacred realm in themselves”.

      And there definitely is a connection of a belief mentality and imagination (in the humanities and elsewhere), specifically the Burkean moral imagination. Belief is key, touching upon some of my thoughts about symbolic conflation and Lewis Hyde’s ideas on metonymy. There is power in belief and it shouldn’t be dismisssed, as it touches something deep within the human psyche.

      We deny imagination and belief at our own peril.

  3. An interesting angle to consider is authoritarianism. The problem with much of the analysis of the reactionary mind is that it is done by historians and political scientists, rather than by social scientists. There is a lot of social science on authoritarianism but not so much for the psychology and sociology of the reactionary mind.

    This is where someone like Corey Robin, as with Mark Lilla, doesn’t have the academic background. Both are looking at this issue in political terms. It constrains their thinking to the framing of left/right and liberal/conservative. But as social science shows, authoritarians tend to be right-wing in long established capitalist societies and left-wing in former communist countries (presumably also while those countries were communist).

    The reactionary mind probably follows the same pattern. It isn’t only about reaction itself nor maybe simply what is being reacted to. The reactionary is a way of being in and perceiving the world. The form it takes, depending on social situation, might be less relevant than we assume. This is what Robin gets right, as reactionaries can adopt almost anything and claim it as their own, whether or not it makes any sense based on evidence or principles.

    This might be the connection to authoritarianism. One thing that social science research has made absolutely clear is that authoritarians are fine with hypocrisy, as long as it serves defense and maintenance of group solidarity. Authoritarian leaders, typically social dominators, can never be wrong in the minds of authoritarian followers. That is because being right or wrong is simply not the issue of concern. I’d argue that is why rhetoric is so malleable with reactionaries. It’s about whatever is useful at the moment.

    Maybe this relates to the aspect of belief. The centrality of belief is that it signals group identity or else opposition to perceived outsiders. As such, belief exists in its own special realm with its own special status. This is why so many reactionaries are interested in positive thinking, new thought, and prosperity gospel (e.g., Trump). They aren’t part of the reality-based community for they believe in their power to remake the world and, as Robin makes clear, being reactionary is all about remaking the world.

    Now this goes back to Julian Jaynes. He argued that authoritarianism did not exist in bicameral societies. That is because there is a special link between authoritarianism and individualism. It has everything to do with Socrates’ concern with rhetoric, Plato’s concern with poets, and Frankfurt’s concern with bullshit. The power of the word is a key part of Jayne’s thinking and the word took on new meaning during the Axial Age, in how consciousness made possible new forms of persuasion. This also created conflict in those trying to control society, establishing the conditions of an endless cycle of reactionaries reacting to reactionaries in seeking power.

    This might explain the weird mix of individualistic rhetoric and authoritarian behavior. The word liberty captures the essence of this, as it meant being a free individual in a slave society. Reactionaries are always concerned with their own liberty or at least the idea of liberty. It’s quite potent rhetoric, even when it is utterly disconnected from reality on the ground.

  4. I came across a great example of the stereotypical reactionary. Those like Trump and Bannon self-consciously turn themselves into cartoon characters. There is nothing subtle about it, and that is precisely what makes it powerful. They have no shame.

    In the end, they admire and seek to become what they attack. It’s not hatred but envy that ultimately drives them. They want to become the new elite that rules the world, meaning they want to remake the world in their own image. Reaction, by its nature, is simply a mirroring of what it opposes.

    The reactionary being oblivious and in denial of this, though, remains an important component. To be a reactionary requires a lack of self-awareness. That is because the reactionary operates as the symbolic shadow of the liberal order. They carry important elements of the collective unconscious, which is their talisman of power in being able to play mainstream liberals for fools.

    “But however unpleasant anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies may be, the main target of the populists’ ire remains the sinister globalist elite, represented by George Soros and other liberals whom they accuse of promoting human rights, compassion for refugees, and religious tolerance to further their own interests. They are the ones who are supposedly swamping Christian lands with aliens. They are stabbing Western civilization in the back.

    “Bannon has actually expressed admiration for Soros, even though he sees him as a kind of Satan. He wants to be the Soros of the right.

    “It might seem ironic that radical nationalists, like Bannon, should be seeking to unite in a global movement, as though they were mimicking their internationalist enemies. But the populists’ goal is not to destroy elitism; it is to replace the old elites. Hence the common language of self-pity, as though Orbán, Salvini, Wilders, and the rest were being oppressed by the “Davos Party.”

    “Often from marginal backgrounds, they feel excluded, insufficiently recognized, even looked down upon. It is their turn to rule, they believe – and to exact revenge for all the slights they think they have received on the way up. This is why Donald Trump, the uncouth property developer with a huge chip on his shoulder, is their hero.”

  5. These discussions about early revolutionary history and reaction makes me want to watch Ken Russell’s “The Devils” again; it takes place in France but seems to be more about English history during and immediately after the Glorious Revolution, and even contains a scene where the errant priest Grandier commands his free city’s guard to fire on the Cardinal Richeliu’s soldiers if they violate the covenant made with the King to protect the city’s stone walls ( related to the Rights of Englishmen? ). It’s full of lurid Catholic imagery and might have been an inspiration to Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. Another one like this is the more recent “A Field in England” which replays that history as a sort of shamanic battle between different allegorical figures ( something Burroughs might’ve appreciated and I hope to emulate someday).

    • I can’t say that I’ve watched “The Devils” or “A Field in England”. I’ll have to watch both of them. Hopefully, they are available somewhere online. Protecting the city’s stone walls might be symbolic of the old feudal order with its commons and rights of commoners.

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