Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Poor West

An excerpt from Brian C. Anderson's Democratic Capitalism and Its Discontents, reflecting on the West in the aftermath of the 20th century and its conjointly murderous ideologies: National Socialism and Communism. A telling reading of our plight as self-doubting, self-hating egalitarians, in conversation with French historian Jean Furet.
(Emphases mine).

“Yet, however intoxicating communism's blend of revolutionary will and pseudoscience, it inebriated as many as it did because it both grew out of and exploited two fundamental political weaknesses of the bourgeois regime.

The first weakness: liberal democracy had set loose an egalitarian spirit that it could never fully tame. The notion of the universal equality of man, which liberal democracy claims as its foundation, easily becomes subject to egalitarian overbidding. Equality constantly finds itself undermined by the freedoms that the liberal order secures. The liberty to pursue wealth, to seek to better one's condition, to create, to strive for power or achievement-all these freedoms unceasingly generate inequality, since not all people are equally gifted, equally nurtured, equally hardworking, equally lucky. Equality works in democratic capitalist societies like an imaginary horizon, forever retreating as one approaches it. Communism professed to fulfill the democratic promise of equality. Real liberty could only be the achievement of a more equal world-a world, that is, sans bourgeoisie. And if what the communists derisively called the "formal" liberties of expression and political representation had to be sacrificed in order to establish the true freedom of a classless society, well, so be it. Thus was the "egalitarian apocalypse" set in motion, as Furet observes.

The second weakness of liberal democracy is more complex, though its consequences are increasingly evident: liberal democracy's moral indeterminacy. …Furet suggests that as the "self" moves to the center of the bourgeois world, existential questions-what is man? what is the meaning of life?-become difficult to answer….

The two political weaknesses of the bourgeois order have their psychological corollaries: self-doubt and self-hatred. The bourgeois man finds himself unsettled by a guilty conscience and spiritual dissatisfaction. "Self-doubt," Furet writes, "has led to a characteristic of modern democracy probably unique in universal history, the infinite capacity to produce offspring who detest the social and political regime into which they were born - hating the very air they breathe, though they cannot survive without it and have known no other.

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