Sunday, December 21, 2008

Public Space Between Family Privacy and Government/State

The Pursuit of Glory is one of those rare history books which has a delight on every page, like Braudel's The Mediterranean. Author Tim Blanning quotes Marxists like Eric Hogsbawm and Walter Benjamin often, but doesn't show some leg except a bit with the papacy and the Catholic Church, but as a Brit, that can be excused. Early on, the author does note that medieval concepts of [what he calls "messianic"]time were slowly evolving from the old "Fortune's Wheel" which always returns to where it began to "the arrow of time" relentlessly going forward in a "progressive" don't-look-back mode. The inventions of watches and timetables in Holland were beginning to make time a commodity.

A quote from a review brings up the novel introduction of "public space," which began in England as public opinion separated the privacy of family from the overweening interference of the state [with forced labor in England and corvees in France, to name a couple of examples of the tax-with-impunity interference which rarely returned actual benefits from the state.
""Blanning, professor of modern history at the University of Cambridge, has performed the miracle of balancing and blending traditional political and diplomatic accounts with the newer fields of social, economic and intellectual history. A prime example of this is the author's treatment of the impact of the new "public sphere." As people discoursed through coffeehouses, Masonic organizations or periodicals, "a new source of authority emerged to challenge the opinion-makers of the old regime: public opinion." Countries where this public sphere was left free, as in Britain or the Dutch Republic, tended to be more politically stable than, say, France, where suppression ended in bloody revolution."

The book only covers 1648-1815, but the French Revolution introduced the "concierge" in each building in Paris to vouch for the political correctness of its inhabitants during The Terror and other revolutionary inventions. An early example of "public space" monitoring the opinions of the citizens of the state even in the familial household.

Nowadays, we see "privacy" becoming a rare commodity itself, as public space continues to invade the family in one way or another. However, "Time's Arrow" does not move forward, as we have seen many times since 1789, and that wheel of fortune keeps disobeying the Eric Hobsbawm and the other disciples of the worst economist in human history.

UPDATEReading Erich Heller's The Importance of Nietzsche, I was struck by the point Heller makes on p. 5 about the "Death of God" which Nietzsche called "the greatest event in modern history and the cause of extreme danger," as Heller puts it. EH goes on to say:
Note well the paradox contained in these words. He never said that there was no God, but that the Eternal had been vanquished by Time and that the Immortal suffered death at the hands of mortals."

Perhaps this is a paraphrase of the mini-thought above that "medieval concepts of [what he calls "messianic"]time were slowly evolving from the old "Fortune's Wheel" which always returns to where it began to "the arrow of time" relentlessly going forward in a "progressive" don't-look-back mode." Heller goes on to quote Nietzsche's Will to Power to state:
The story I have to tell is the history of the next two centuries...For a long time now our whole civilization has been driving, with a tortured intesity growing from decade to decade, as if towards a catastrophe: restlessly, violently, tempestuously, like a mighty river desiring the end of its journey, without pausing to reflect, indeed fearful of reflection....Where we live, soon nobody will be able to exist." [no. 2, 57]

And Nietzsche ain't talking about Global Warming or some natural catastrophe, a force majeure of nature. Heller expatiates on Nietzsche's vision of the aftermath of the Death of God and the seizure of power by "reformers of society."
...Men have become enemies, and each his own enemy. From now onward they will hate, Nietzsche believes, however many comforts they will lavish upon themselves, and hate themselves with a new hatred, unconsciously at work in the depths of their souls. True, there will be ever better reformers of society, ever better socialists, and ever better hospitals, and an ever increasing intolerance of pain and poverty and suffering and death, and an ever more fanatical craving for the greatest happiness of the greatest numbers. Yet the deepest impulse informing their striving will not be love and will not be compassion. Its true source will be the panic-struck determination not to have to ask the question "What is the meaning of our lives?"---the question that will remind them of the death of God.....Rather than allowing that question to be asked, they will do everything to smooth it away from the face of humanity.....For they cannot endure it and yet they will despise themselves for not enduring it, and for their guilt-ridden inability to answer it; and their self-hatred will betray them behind the back of their apparent charity and humanitarian concern. For there they will assiduously construct the tools for the annihilation of human kind. "There will be wars such as have never been waged on earth," says Nietzsche in Ecce Homo and in the notes to Thus Spake Zarathustra, "I foresee something terrible, Chaos everywhere. Nothing will be left of any value; nothing which commands: Thou shalt!"
[emphasis in original text]

Heller goes on to say that the fragments above from the notes of his late years "give a surprisingly full diagnosis of what he termed nihilism, the state of human beings and societies faced with a total eclipse of all values." As Stephen R.C. Hicks correctly notes frequently in Explaining Postmodernism, although regarded as a hero by shallow postmodernist nihilists, Nietzsche is a deep humanist and abhors the destruction of values and even calls the clever nihilists "waeklings" and victims of a "slave mentality," as they rationalize their inferior positions in society [professors, journalists, petty functionaries, actors, community organizers, etc.] whose "curdled bitterness" curls up and lashes out at the strong, i.e., those whose values permit them to be happy and generous [read Nicholas Kristof's NYT editorial] instead of weakly whining that wealthy people should be impelled to give through taxes that which these weak hypocrites are unwilling to give themselves, although beating their puny sunken chests in self-praise of their own generous intentions. As Hicks notes:
Socialism is the historical loser and ... socialists...hate that fact, they....hate the winners for having won, and the ...hate themselves for having picked the losing side. Hate [as Nietzsche noted above,my comment]is a chronic condition [that] leads to an urge to destroy. ........ Postmodern thinkers hold that...everything has failed....
[p. 194, Hicks, op. cit.]
My guess as Obama keeps a centrist course in the current crisis, the ultra-left nihilists will continue to maintain their Chicken Little jeremiads as they display their slave mentality and their weakness, the weakness of loo-zers! Though they believe they are launching a crusade, their Pied Piper is the New York Times and they themselves are appropriately the tiny rodents being musically herded out of Hamelin [Gotham City]!