In his autobiography, Carl Jung tells of “a moment of unusual clarity”, during which he had a strange dialogue with something inside him: In what myth does man live nowadays, his inner-self enquired? “In the Christian myth: Do you live in it?” (Jung asked of himself. And to be honest with himself, the answer that he gave was ‘no’): “For me, it is not what I live by.” Then do we no longer have any myth, asked his inner-self? “No”, Jung replied, “evidently not”. Then what is it, by which you live, his inner-self demanded? “At this point the dialogue with myself, became uncomfortable. I stopped thinking. I had reached a dead end”, Jung concluded.
Many today, feel similarly. They feel the void. The post-war era – perhaps it is the European Enlightenment phenomenon, itself – that has run its course, people believe. Some regret it; many more are disturbed by it – and wonder what is next.
We live in a moment of the waning of two major projects: the decline of revealed religion, and – simultaneously – of the discrediting of the experience of secular Utopia. We live in a world littered with the debris of utopian projects which – though they were framed in secular terms, that denied the truth of religion – were in fact, vehicles for religious myth.
The Jacobin revolutionaries launched the Terror as a violent retribution for élite repression — inspired by Rousseau’s Enlightenment humanism; the Trotskyite Bolsheviks murdered millions in the name of reforming humanity through Scientific Empiricism; the Nazis did similar, in the name of pursuing ‘Scientific (Darwinian) Racism’.
The American millenarian ‘myth’, then and now, was (and is), rooted in the fervent belief in the Manifest Destiny of the United States, and is, in the last resort, nothing other than one particular example in a long line of attempts to force a shattering discontinuity in history (through which human society would then subsequently, be re-made).
In other words, all these utopian projects – all these successors to apocalyptic Judaic and Christian myth – saw a collective humankind pursuing its itinerary to a point of convergence, and to some sort of End Time (or End to History).
Well … we do not live these myths now: Even secular utopia will no longer ‘do’. It will not fill the void. The optimistic certitudes connected with the idea of linear ‘progress’ have become particularly discredited. So, by what will we live? This is no esoteric debate. These are questions of history, and destiny.
The élites decry anything ‘alt’ – as ‘populism’ or ‘illiberalism’. Yet they decline to see what is before them: Certain values are emerging. What are they? And from where do they come? And how might they change our World?
The most obvious ‘value’ is the emerging global desire to live in, and by, one’s own culture — to live, as it were, in a differentiated cultural way. It is a notion of cultures, autonomous and sovereign, which seek to re-capture a particular culture – in its traditional setting of history, religiosity, and ties of blood, land and language. The immigration issue, which is rending Europe apart, is the obvious example of this.
What this ‘value’ is intimating however, is not simple tribalism, but also a different way of envisaging sovereignty. It encompasses within it the idea that sovereignty is acquired, through acting, and thinking sovereign. That sovereign power grows out from the confidence of a people having its own distinct and clear history, its intellectual legacy and its own spiritual storehouse on which to draw – by which to differentiate itself.
We are talking here, of a secure ‘alive’ culture being the root to both personal and communal sovereignty. It is a clear rejection of the idea that ‘melting pot’ cosmopolitanism, can procreate any true sovereignty.
It is, of course, the converse to the globalist notion of a ‘mankind’ converging on common values, converging on a single, neutral, apolitical ‘way of being’. ‘Man’ – in that way – in the old European tradition, simply did not exist. There were only men: Greeks, Romans, barbarians, Syrians, and so on. This notion stands in obvious opposition to universal, cosmopolitan ‘man’. The recovery of this type of thinking, for example, lies behind Russia and China’s Eurasian notion.
A second emerging value is derived from the global disenchantment with the western style of mechanical, single-track thinking that attenuates all things to an (supposedly empirically derived) singularity of meaning, which, when seated in the ego, lends an unshakeable sense of one’s own certainty and conviction (to the West European thinker, at least): ‘We’ speak ‘truth’, whereas others, babble and lie.
The obverse – the old European tradition – is conjunctive thinking. Do guilt, injustice, contradiction and suffering exist in this world? They do, proclaims Heraclitus, but only for the limited mind that sees things apart (disjunctively), and not connectedly, and notcon-tuitively linked: a term which implies not a ‘grasping’ for meaning but, rather, to be gently and powerfully ‘grasped’ by meaning.
What has this to do with today’s world? Well this is how the neo-Confucianist, Chinese leadership think today. The idea of Yin and Yang, and their latency for creating and being in harmony, still underlies Chinese notions of politics, and conflict resolution. Ditto for Shi’a philosophy and Russian Eurasianism. This used to be how Europeans thought, too: For Heraclitus, all polar opposites co-constitute each other, and run into harmony in ways that are invisible to the human eye.
This ‘other’ perspective precisely lies behind the multilateral Global Order value. The acceptance of a multi-aspectual quality to any person, or people, escapes the prevailing obsession to reduce every nation to a singularity in value, and to a singularity of ‘meaning’. The ground for collaboration and conversation thus widens beyond ‘the either-or’ – to the differing strata of complex identities (and interests). It is, in a word, tolerant.
Then there are other values: Pursuit of justice, truth (in a metaphysical sense), integrity, dignified, manly conduct and knowing and accepting who you are. These were all eternal values.
And here is the point: The disappearance in modernity of any external norm or ‘myth’, beyond civic conformity, which might guide the individual in his or her life and actions; and the enforced eviction of the individual from any form of structure (social classes, Church, family, society and gender) has made a ‘turning back’ to that which was always latent, if only half remembered, somehow inevitable.
The yearning for these ancient norms – even if only poorly understood, and articulated – represents a ‘reaching down’ into those ancient ‘storehouses’, still lingering at the deepest levels of the human being — A ‘turning back’ to being ‘in, and of’ the world, again. This is happening in diverse modes, across the globe.
Of course, ‘the Ancient’ cannot be an ad integrum return. It cannot be the simple restoration of what once was. It has to be brought forward – as if ‘a youth’ who is coming ‘home’ again – the eternal return – out of our own decomposition; from amidst our ruins.
True, but nonetheless these new-old ideas will impinge, will challenge the existing liberal world. Our present economic framework largely was inherited from Adam Smith. And what was it if nothing other than a direct translation of the political philosophy of John Locke and John Hume (Smith’s close friend)? And what was Locke and Hume’s thinking, if not the narrative, in political and economic terms, of the Protestant victory over the Catholic idea of a religious community – in the wake of Westphalia?
Inevitably then, different values dictate different models: What sort of models do the emerging values then foreshadow? Firstly, we can see a shift in the non-West, away from ‘identity and gender’ blurring, and a return to a differentiated clarity in these aspects, to the centrality of family, and of the need to give esteem to all, whatever their place, in the hierarchy of life. In governance, as in economics, the guiding ‘value’ is a different understanding of power. The Latin Christian myth of love, turning the other cheek, humility, and retreat from worldly-power stands in contradistinction to the ancient notion of ‘manly’ conduct that preached something quite different: Resist injustice, and pursue your ‘truth’. It was therefore naturally political, and was possessed of an ethos in which power was a normal attribute.
This ancient expression of power has arisen today through the insight that a people which is mentally ‘active’ has activated its vitality and has cultural strength, may prevail against a hugely richer and better armed state – yet one, that has put its people into gentle sleep – and robbed it of vitality.
Thus, whether in governance or in economics, the structures are likely to reflect the principles of autonomy and the re-sovereigntisation of nation and people, and the notion that the organisation of society was always intended to be the natural field for the self-expansion of a man or a woman – a man capable of finding his own power, and finding himself – as his own project.
What is striking is that we see that these last twin principles (which may seem ostensibly in tension), precisely are instantiating themselves in current politics – albeit coming from totally different quarters: In Italy, the Five Star movement (seen as Leftish) is in government with the Lega (viewed as Rightish).
Of course many will say simply TINA (there is no alternative). But plainly there is – and that ‘train’ is already arriving at our station now.