Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Socialism, the third period: Rome, the Middle Ages, and now

I look at the establishment of a socialist society as providing the resolution to historical and social problems that have been in place since the decline of the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages, although unjust and unequal, represented a resurrection of society into some recognizable form from the chaos that was the Dark Ages. It represented stability after a chaotic period that saw the decline and destruction of the Roman Empire followed by a period of total flux in the sense of both peoples and political dynasties, cultures and belief systems. Now, I see society in a similar state. Rome presented a workable model of society until it gradually was undermined and fell completely, replaced by a sort of negative chaos, but the Middle Ages were replaced by what I consider to be a positive chaos, one rooted in the new ideals of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, with the Protestant Reformation thrown in there for good measure. Although, of all three forces, the Renaissance was the most overarchingly productive of them, providing all the elements for a potentially new culture and social system, it was unfortunately overshadowed by the destructive power of the other two. The Enlightenment streamlined ideas that were birthed in the Renaissance and attempted to make them into a workable whole, but in my opinion failed profoundly.

The Enlightenment's focus on individualism to the exclusion of everything else has been a corrosive force on society, causing the remaining social relationships that we've had outside of the atomized individual to come under fire, with the result being profound alienation in general. The sovereign individual is also an individual who is more unhappy than ever before and more cut off from the world around him or her than ever before. As a culture, this model fails, as does the economic system that was based on this philosophy of complete individualism, only in this case greed was listed as one of the positive features of individuality that should be praised. So we have greedy bastards who don't care about anything or anyone other than themselves being put forward as the model by which society should work. The Enlightenment, in trying to make a comprehensive new society, also jettisoned much of the knowledge of the past that people from the Renaissance on were expected to know in order to be literate people. In its place has come a profoundly weakened mechanical and formal philosophy that spurns the need or the value of things from the past. In my opinion Socialism is the way to overcome all of this and to create a truly stable society once more.

While the Enlightenment was in many cases shortsighted it nonetheless provides a general groundwork on which a stable civilization can be based. The requirement is that the notion of the atomized individual be dropped and replaced by a notion of man that is at once individual and collective. Man, or woman, doesn't step into a collective void but instead finds themselves confronted both by their self and by the social relationships that they naturally are part of. And if an economics has been based off of the individualism of the Enlightenment then an economics can be based on the recognition that we're all involved in things beyond ourselves, whether we acknowledge them or not. But it has to be just if it's not going to be arbitrary and hurtful. Social relationships are profoundly part of our lives, yet in a sense some of them are more incidental than others. The fundamental ones, on a social level, are the ones relating to economic life, to work and to the enjoyment of life, as well. Those social relationships and the mainenance, if acknowledged, should become public issues, with the standard of justice applied to them just as it would be applied to relationships between individuals. There needs to be a social justice in society for there to be social stability.

Now, just as in the poem, two roads diverge: there are several ways that a socialist society could be established. The first, the one I'm describing, which acknowledges Enlightenment principles like liberty and freedom of expression as good things albeit incomplete (it helps to own a printing press), is regular good old socialism. The attempt at socialism that rejects the Enlightenment but purports to create a socialist society that's integrated and stable, with a heavy dose of conservatism, is Fascism. Fascism and socialism have similar goals, on a superficial level, but extremely different overall world visions and ideas of what constitutes the sort of post-Enlightenment society we should live in.

With socialism, the future is unwritten. There will no doubt be advances after socialism is established that deal with aspects of the human will to self realization and to self actualization that are obscure right now. Socialism doesn't forbid that, but it establishes a base that's equitable and just that the future of society can grow off of.

Maybe that will be the end state, where society is swayed by the pursuit of self realization in the direction it goes in.

*on edit: the Fascists and the neo-fascists promise everything: they promise the moon and the stars above, promise a social state going back to premodern times where everyone lived happily together under pagan and folk doctrines, but in practice, aside from the obvious brutality that's been involved with States like that, it all turns out to be bullshit. We live in the modern world and the clock cannot be turned back to what existed before. What you get if you try that is a stale State doctrine that imposes a simulation of what they think people need in terms of culture and existence that doesn't actually function. You have enforced pre-modern pagan and folk ideas for people who have no roots and no actual connections to the things that they describe.

Great for people who are dislocated, particularly because of the collapse (or sellout) of socialist systems in the former "Eastern Europe", which includes East Germany. People can go out and play Viking and make themselves feel better, but it's all an act in the end.

*on edit: all of this isn't meant to suggest that paganism and non-christian ways of looking at things can't be integrated into society, just that, to put it bluntly, Fascism is not the way to do it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Enlightenment's focus on individualism to the exclusion of everything else has been a corrosive force on society,

It would have been if that were true, but that is not what the enlightenment was ever about.

Its the post enlightenment which rejected so much - in the hands of the capitalists and their allies in the state socialist movements.

Out of the enlightenment grew individualist socialism and anarchism, in opposition to it grew authoritarian socialism and capitalism.