This is something I wrote in 2003, have revised for clarity, and am reposting now. I still agree with most of it, but thankfully, in the post-Bush years there's less of a sense of danger from an all encompassing ideological-technocratic corporate state than there was when I wrote this.
"The Neo-Romantic Manifesto (2003/2012).
"The Neo-Romantic Manifesto (2003/2012).
Here ye, Here ye, all doyens of countercultural and youth trends, for I have declared what my philosophy and the implicit philosophy of a whole lot of people my age (early twenties) is.
I call it Neo-Romanticism.
How much is this just my own pontificating and how much of it is really a cultural movement is for you to judge.
The Neo-Romanticist movement is based on a rejection of the prevailing Positivistic and Scientistic worldview, and the substitution of a worldview based on the idea that the mental and social spheres obey rules completely separate from those of the sphere of the physical sciences. Therefore, the world of the humanities and an increase in the quality of human life in the Neo-Romanticist worldview are valued over mechanistic explanations about how the world works, and the material slick tech toys that go along with it. Those rules don't apply, pure and simple, no matter what the conventional wisdom says.
Why now, you may ask.... where did it come from, where's it going? Well, Neo- Romanticism is an outgrowth of the vaunted Generation X movement, the product of the factors that caused Generation X (or individuals thereof) to drop out and create an alternative society brought to a fever pitch. Generation X was saved from becoming an activist group because they had a tangible memory of how things were before the Reagan Revolution; consequently, they didn't HAVE to react strongly in order to save their sanity; they had a firm memory that told them that things had been different in the past, and could be different in the future.
Instead of Generation X's experience of still existing world and culture slowly decaying while they grew up, Neo-Romanticists have grown up in a world where the decay has advanced so far through conservative control of institutions that they believe there's nothing to latch onto and save, that there’s no real source for nostalgia, but that new cultural productions are required to revivify America and American culture. Again, this isn't a choice, it's a reflection of a cultural situation where if we want anything satisfying we're going to have to make it ourselves.
Sad, but true.
Neo-Romanticism is more aggressive than Generation X in its rejection of conventional society because the opponent is stronger now, and was stronger during my "generation's" formative years. It's positively monstrous now at this historical juncture.
This is why the Romanticist viewpoint is emphasized. The Romanticists were individuals who consciously reacted against the decayed conception of Enlightenment liberalism and science that stifled any and all human instincts and experiences not explainable by a mechanistic 'reason'. A good parallel to the Romanticists in the present day, in our present environment, one that was formative in their influence on today’s counterculture, are the Situationists of the sixties and seventies, who advocated radical action and self creation against media/consumerist capitalism in order to produce a new culture. Their ideas have been adopted by many, and are thought of as a movement whose time has come. Crimethinc. for example, advocates producing your own new culture and breaking out of the media created consumerist world instead of just pawing over old cultural productions, thinking that they might provide some residual satisfaction.
We are Neo-Romanticists not only culturally but politically; the Romanticists were the first people who seriously suggested a Socialist alternative to pure Enlightenment liberalism, who put forward the view that people had collective rights on top of individual rights. Politically, we take this position because the United States has refused to honor or take notice of any trends to expand rights and social programs in areas that go beyond the individual, such as health care and universal pensions, not to mention because of hostility to the labor movement. In this aspect we are heirs of the Romantic moment of the early 19th century, transported into the present day United States, because the same scientistic worldview and over rationalized classical liberalism they fought against the has not been truly overcome in our society, even though continental Europe overcame these influences on a social and historical level in 1848. The United States is still stuck in the 18th century.
We praise the individual in both their personal and collective contexts and advocate learning and critical thought against the corporate, technocratic society, and look forward to a restoration of the individual freedom present in the '70s. Indeed, we look forward to taking that freedom farther than they ever did. Although individuals in the ’60s and ’70s were fighting against some of the same problems we are today, the monolith we face, however, is not the same as Ginsburg's Moloch. Their dissent that was swallowed up by the ’80s, anyways. In the ’60s and ’70s, the machine was still on the outside of society. It had been created in the 1950s, alarming people, but even in the counter-cultural decades it did not own society lock stock and barrel. It does now.
Dissent against the educational, cultural, capitalistic, scientific, militaristic, monolith overseen by conservative politics today isn't just about protesting against a troubling trend in society but a fight for the very life of that society itself, and for the quality of our personal lives. Our choice is between honoring the individual and developing cultural and social uniqueness, or submitting to the grind of anonymous McDonalds-esque work and a life that becomes a black hole with nothing at the end of the tunnel.
Positivism has also given rise to a particular strand of corporate conservatism, which, even as Rome is burning outside it's windows, laughs at everyone who would be so stupid as to think that the "Conventional Wisdom" brought to you by indoctrinated elites is a fraud. It laughs while it implicitly endorses more and more of the senseless consumerist wasting of lives, caused by the cultural vacuum of nothingness we live in. This in turn causes people to use drugs, alcohol, and sex as attempts to dull the pain of nothingness instead of as fulfilling tools for freedom. People are drugging themselves on prescribed medications, on CNN, sex, porn, on hero worship, on alcohol, on anything that can convince them for a little while that they have a decent stake in their lives. They are drugging themselves on anything that can help them avoid both the alienation of the present and the hard truth that they've missed the boat on life, as we all have.
Anton Szandor LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, in one of his later writings, called this struggle against control the "Invisible War" against individual freedom, orchestrated by people wanting to control, drug, and manipulate the populace into submission. The aim of Neo-Romanticism is to reverse this proces. If you buy into the machine culture, don't be surprised if all you get at the end of your life is a dead imitation of satisfaction, brought to you by all the right companies. Neo-Romanticism seeks to reverse this process by revivifying normal life, by taking ourselves out of the machine and creating a viable alternative, not just a stopgap but the beginnings of a construction of a new, viable, humane, society, that will eventually make it's way into the mainstream and effect it.
Bring back what's important, give up your toys, your little cell phones, your pursuit of bigger and bigger machines, your video games and your greater integration into the machine hive... discover the human experiences in life; discover the connection between two living beings, and the enjoyment that comes from pursuing goals that come out of the human experience itself and not out of a factory. Practice being, and doing, instead of having, and existing.
Cultural stagnation can't end by itself. We've moved into a decadent phase where it becomes clear on a daily basis that the machine can't produce anything truly new or original. Culture has stopped; the musicians and stars of the past have not been superseded by anything or anyone truly new in a long time. Time to drop out and forge that something new, not founded on ideology, but on humanity. Before Castro became a dictator, he famously declared that he didn't stand for Communism but for Revolutionary Humanism; I think that's a good summary of what Neo-Romanticism stands for.
Will this declaration be heralded by nothing but silence and irrelevance? Will it resonate with people and inform them about the trends they’re already pursuing in living their own lives? I can't say; but I do know that I'm not the only freak out there, and that there are a great many others who agree with this rough philosophy and live roughly the same type of life I'm living.
Whether we constitute a real social movement that will someday change society, or are just a pipe dream, is another matter. Let history judge."