Saturday, July 6, 2019

The Counter Enlightenment: Rousseau's Ravages (2)

The present is a series of key postings on the roots of contemporary European political philosophy. These ideas shaped many states on the continent, determined the nature of the Government, and defined the role of the people as state subjects. The result is a distinct European culture that is shaping the world today as it is taking over the USA. 

Have you ever signed up for the social contract? 

Continued from The Counter-Enlightenment: Introduction (1)

Swiss-French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau's (1712-1778) personal life is marked by traits sounding awkwardly contemporary. Self-pity and paranoia play see-saw with wrong choices and blaming others. In Rousseau's world view man is by nature good, but it is society that is the cause of corruption and vice. Iconic for Rousseauian thought is the image of the noble savage, man in his natural state before his fall from Paradise.

There is nothing ambiguous about his ethics however: he believed his 'doctrine of two substances' to be the key to the absolute quality of good and evil [Jonathan I. Israel, Radical Enlightenment, 2001, p., 2001, p. 719]. In an example in a classical setting he saw in Athenian decadence the degrading influence of reason. He preferred the cruder, militaristic Spartans, an unspoiled and nobler tribe. Their callous practice of exposing babies to nature (now in dispute) may well have inspired Rousseau to expose his own five illegitimate children to the hardships of the Paris orphanage.

Although Rousseau died in 1778, before the French Revolution, his justification of violence to power was the source of inspiration of the Reign of Terror that the Jacobins unleashed during the latter part of the rebellion. In 1792 the French 'citizen army' faced the Prussian forces at Valmy. In a psychological victory they prevented them from marching on to Paris to restore the monarchy.

Earlier in the capital a mob had stormed the Tuilleries Palace. In the massacres over a thousand political prisoners were brutally hacked to death. Fabre d'Eglantine declared: "In the towns, let the blood of traitors be the first Holocaust to Liberty, so that in advancing to meet the common enemy, we leave nothing behind to disquiet us!"

Rousseau's statist revolutions

After "the first Holocaust to Liberty" many more would follow. It is a specific feature, typical of Rousseau's constellation of ideas. The chief ingredients as expressed in "Profession de Foi" are a sweeping rejection of tradition, Revelation, and all institutionalized authority. [Radical Enlightenment, p. 718] In Roussea's ideas we find the source of every anti-Liberal, violent revolution ever since the French Revolution went off the Lockean track.

Rousseau is ultimately the father of many noxious and lethal, collectivist traditions besides: Romanticism, redistributive Socialism, philosophical agrarianism, conservative Communitarianism, Nazism, and more to the point, the Counter-Enlightenment and Postmodernism (including ecology and environmentalism that favors inanimate objects over human beings). Cultures, adopting Rousseauian ideas found in them a mirror of some aspect of their own identity.

Many have descended into the abyss of collectivist hell. In France his radical egalitarianism led to The Reign of Terror, in Germany to Left and Right Socialism with known result, in Russia and the Far East to Communism, mass starvation and slaughter on grandiose scales. In China Mao Tse Tung's Great Leap Forward resulted in the greatest mass murder in human history and in Cambodia the Khmer Rouge's extermination campaign to establish Rousseauian agrarianism, resulted in the deaths of well over twenty percent of the population. 

Why Rousseau is different

Rousseau stands apart in many respects. He marks the fault-line in Western tradition between Anglo-American and Continental lines of thought, and marks the point of departure from the Enlightenment because he is essentially anti-modernist. While loosely following the traditional path of Enlightenment thought, his radical stance differs notably on the crucial issues of anti-individualism [Isaiah Berlin, "Against the Current", 2001], anti-capitalism and against private property ("Radical Enlightenment", p. 273), anti science and technology, his radical egalitarianism, and the inherent mindset in which the means are justified by the perceived noble end.

Rousseau is often quoted as the iconic philosopher of the Enlightenment, but it is quite clear he fiercely rejected all its tenets and values. No doubt, here we have the ground zero of the Counter-Enlightenment.

He was certainly no believer in voluntary interaction, or the beneficial effects on society of self-interest (Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733), "The Fable of the Bees"), asserting that "society hardly needs to feed man's love for himself and his desire to be first among men." ["Radical Enlightenment", p. 273]. Rousseau embodies the political Narcissist of the second variety: a maniac who gladly sacrifices his brothers to his "ideals". 

Rousseau's radical egalitianism is echoed in the notion that "rational and industrious man with dehumanizing machines would replace absolute monarchy as an enslaver of the common man, being better and more ruthless on the aggregation of material goods". He argued that the separation of the progress and dissemination of science and art from political and religious control are hazardous for society and for the virtue of the people [Bloom, 1990]. But it gets worse.

'Common will' instead of Liberty

In Rousseau we see the first social contract at the price of freedom and the birth of a notion called the "common will". The latter is a concept that in Rousseau's approach requires state intervention. This should not be confused with the 'common good' or 'the will of the people'. . It is a far more developed concept which, and unlike the former, can only be realized in the context of a society under state control ["Radical Enlightenment", p. 720).

For the creation of a society of common will, "freedom of all the people", they need only accept the dictates of the state. This was Rousseau's essence of "true civilization." The struggle between rich and poor would then rise to a moral experience of self-restraint. With the faculty of moral choice thus abdicated and forfeited to the state, people would be free from 'lowly, earthly desires' and reach full, ideal potential. Man is thus divorced from the social and economic context in which he lives and interacts with others. The ideal state of heaven, separated from earthly considerations.

This totalitarian approach to freedom under state control, an abomination and a contradiction in every sense, was later further developed by Marx, who wrote that "capitalist, individual liberty is the most complete suppression of all individual liberty and total subjugation of individuality to social conditions". [Marx, "Grundnisse", pp. 131].
"Freedom can only consist in socialized man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favorable to, and worthy of their human nature." [Marx: "Selected Writings", pp. 496].
In this way man's separation from his nature and morality began. Never in human history were there any worse judges of human character than Rousseau and his followers: all seek some degree of formal control over individual freedom for the purpose of creating material conditions deemed necessary for "true freedom", moral-ectomy in precise equal measure. Rousseau's concept of 'common will' became the most savage, bloody instrument of social engineering in the history of mankind.

The Atlantic Ridge

In the United States Thomas Jefferson was the most prominent supporter of the French revolutionary achievements. Nevertheless, property rights and Enlightenment liberties were set in stone in the spirit of Locke, Montesquieu and Adam Smith. The present Democratic Party is being diverted further and further from that tradition as the sway of the postmodernists intensifies. Rhetorical style, political correctness, academic attacks on language and style betray the influence of European Counter Enlightenment philosophers. 

While National Socialist and Communist ideas have swept America to some extent in their haydays -- notwithstanding the counter culture, a product of the latter -- these Rousseauian inspired ideologies remained by and large a marginal affair. Rousseau entering Locke's territory by the back door may come as a surprise to some Americans, the wrong brand of revolution is encroaching on its most basic principles.

In Europe the situation was markedly different, as we shall see. Locke's influence remained on the whole limited to the British Isles. France and Germany have both Rousseau traditions, not Lockean. Today of great long-term concern is a possible return to some form of Rousseau inspired extreme ideology. It is chilling to see the rise of an unelected governing body on the European continent that is but one small step removed from authoritarianism. The post-democratic elitism, combined with postmodern ideological Nihilism is an even more disquieting prospect.

Psychological projection and Postmodern tactics are on the order of the day. Rousseau's brand of radical, revolutionary ideas, combined with the notion that civilization is so corrupt that it must be considered beyond salvation, makes him the father of all violent struggle in the last two and a half centuries.

The zero-sum game approach to economics also originates with Rousseau, giving recently rise to Piketty type narratives and movements. The message that "the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer" despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, requires constant public re-affirmation, for that reason alone.

Rousseau and religion

The great minds of the Enlightenment proper (Spinozists excluded) never saw Christianity as their mortal enemy. To them the Church and the Enlightenment were natural allies. Rousseau was no exception, but he had only a passing acquaintance with the Christian political tradition. Therefore he dismissed the role of Christianity as a moderating force in society. He saw faith as entirely a spiritual undertaking, occupying itself only with "heavenly things."

Rousseau's Christians are so detached from reality that they're hardly recognizable: a people so spiritualized that they display a profound disinterest if their earthly pursuits are successful or not. Rousseau's call for transcendent values to harness the energies of men towards the 'common will', coupled with the rejection of Christianity as a engine of these values, made it a central tenet of all the Rousseauian ideologies. To Rousseau religion was an imperative. 
"... the state cannot ... pursue a policy of toleration for disbelievers, or view religion as a matter of individual conscience. It absolutely must, therefore, reject dangerous notions of toleration and the separation of church and state" 
"so fundamentally important is religion that the ultimate penalty is appropriate for disbelievers ...".
Despite being so enamored with force-feeding religion, after the publication of his work "Emile" he was driven into temporary exile in Bern after a warrant for his arrest was issued. "Emile" was widely denounced as irreligious and seditious.

The legacy

The loather of civilization, Rousseau was nevertheless greatly admired by the early Counter-Enlighteners, as he is by today's Postmodernists. His followers mostly selected from his work what they could use to prop up their ideologies. Marx accepted Rousseau's critique of Locke's economic man but stood solidly by the Enlightenment in his appreciation for science and technology. Marx even went so far as to describe his ideology as Scientific Marxism, basically a pseudo scientific rationalization of his aggregate of ideas.

Hegel as well as Rousseau inspired Marx' theory of dialectic materialism, in which the theme is the dichotomy of the Oppressor versus the Oppressed. Now clearly a Postmodern tactic, Rousseau's hatred of man's self interest and a primordial world destroyed by man's egoism, has no doubt contributed to the emotional blackmail of a public raised on the morality of altruism. 


Ironically, while Rousseau was convinced that civilization was the cause of moral degradation, little did he know that his followers, by rejecting objective reality, would drop morality along with it. Despite two and a half centuries of genocidal legacy in pursuit of Rousseauian ideal society, it enjoys considerable support among the Western intelligentsia, specifically in the humanities departments of academe, the media, all levels of education, contemporary arts, the political elite, advisory boards, government ministries and departments and what is loosely described as 'the corridors of power.'

The postmodern heirs remain committed to undermining free-market democracy, casting misty eyes upon the Rousseauean atrocities. 110 million dead are not vile enough to discredit 'the Party of Humanity' in the views of some of the most stubborn apologists. Considering that totalitarian societies are today's version of the tribal community he so admired, the Rousseau ideal society could well be described as an agrarian based, totalitarian theocracy.

In France, Rousseau's ideal of small, intimate villages and a peaceful, agricultural society built on the consent of the common will has resulted in France becoming a by-word for centralized statism. Rousseau's tenet that reason caused man's fall from paradise may well be the basis of the later Counter-Enlightenment's political ideals, modelled on the re-creation of 'paradise on earth', Utopias which invariably turn out to be dystopias instead.

Postmodernism or Rousseauism?

Rousseau can certainly be traced back as the source of all members of the Postmodern coalition: environmentalists, third-worldists (Baran-Wallerstein), feminists, anarchists, 'gender, identity and sexual orientation' theorists (now known as the LGBT movement), traditional Socialists of various plumage, and 'classical' Postmodernists. It is a true gathering of Rousseauians that has largely remained uninvestigated, underreported and certainly undeclared.

In the chaos of Postmodern disintegration in the wake of mayhem, moralectomy and grandiose failure, there is but one purpose left. A resolve that brings these ideologies together with a tradition with which it has so much in common. We are witnessing a spontaneous feast of recognition with radical Islam.

It is truly remarkable that every prior held conviction and allegiance has by now been jilted in favor of furthering the causes of the intolerant: it's back to the Rousseau basics. The grant plan: a strategy to deconstruct Western, democratic, liberal capitalism by relentless critical theory, and 'irrational means of the will.'

Free Download of Stephen Hicks primer on Postmodernism (PDF)

Up next: Emmanuel Kant: "I found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith." 

First posted: March 3, 2008

In this series
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Rousseau's Ravages
Part 3: Countering Kant
Part 4: Heckling Hegel
Part 5: Fluncking Fichte

Dutch: De Contra-Verlichting
Deel 1: Inleiding
Deel 3: Contra Kant
Deel 4: Hegel Gehekeld