Thursday, October 24, 2019

SJWs As Bourgeois Bolshies

Source: The American Conservative

By ROD DREHER • October 22, 2019, 2:09 AM

Left: LGBT Pride poster in Soviet Style (Design Boom)

I'm reading one of the best books I've ever seen, historian Yuri Slezkine's The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution. It's a massive — over 1,000 pages — history of the Bolshevik movement, focusing on the people who lived in a vast apartment building constructed across the Moskva River from the Kremlin, for party elites. In the 1930s, during the purges, it was the most dangerous address in the country. The secret police came for people there all the time.

The book has given me a breakthrough in understanding why so many people who grew up under communism are unnerved by what's going on in the West today, even if they can't all articulate it beyond expressing intense but inchoate anxiety about political correctness. Reading Slezkine, a UC-Berkeley historian, clarifies things immensely. Let me explain as concisely as I can. All of this is going into the book I'm working on, by the way.

In my book, I identify two main factors that make the "soft totalitarianism" we're drifting into different from the hard totalitarianism of the communist years. One is the vastly greater capabilities of surveillance technology, and its penetration into daily life in this current stage of capitalism. The other is the pseudo-religion of Social Justice, the holy trinity of which is Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. The mathematician James Lindsay last year wrote an insightful essay analyzing Social Justice ideology as a kind of postmodern religion ("faith system," he writes). Reading Slezkine on Bolshevism illuminates this with new depth.

To be clear, Social Justice religion is not the same thing as Bolshevism, which conquered a nation and turned it into a charnel house. But the psychological dynamics are so similar that I can understand now why Soviet-bloc emigres feel in their bones that something wicked is coming, and coming fast.

I'm going to give a brief overview of the ideas in this part of Slezkine’s book. Slezkine describes the Bolsheviks as "millenarian sectarians preparing for the apocalypse." He gives a short history of apocalyptic sects, which he said began in the Axial Age, the period between the 8th and the 3rd centuries BC that saw parallel developments in civilizations — Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, Greco-Roman — that caused a fundamental shift in human consciousness. The Axial Age introduced some concepts that are still with us today, including the idea that history is linear. Religion and philosophical systems of the Axial Age developed a sense of separation from the Real (that is, what is material), and the Ideal (what is transcendent). They also introduced the idea that time would culminate in a final battle between Good and Evil that would result in the End of History and the everlasting reign of Justice. The rich will be conquered, and the poor will triumph.

Slezkine writes at some length about these themes in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), but points out that they also existed in parallel in other religions of the era. The two Abrahamic religions that emerged from Axial Age Judaism — Christianity and Islam — modified these same concepts for themselves. The Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible is the standard Western account of the Apocalypse, but not the only one.

In the 16th century, the radical Protestant theologian Thomas Müntzer, leader of an apocalyptic Reformation sect, led an armed revolt against the Catholic Church, Martin Luther, and feudal authority. He and his followers believed the Last Days were upon the world, and that revolutionary violence was necessary to prepare for them.

These movements, says Slezkine, often depend on the virtuous mutually surveilling each other to keep everyone in line. Calvin's Geneva was like this, and had laws prescribing the death penalty for relatively minor violations of its purity code. In the 17th century, the English Puritan movement under Thomas Oliver [the mistake was mine — RD] Cromwell (the "Puritan Moses") was in this same vein.

The Enlightenment birthed apocalyptic millenarianism without God. Slezkine doesn't mention him, but I want to put in a plug for the book Black Mass by the English political philosopher John Gray, which I wrote about here. Gray is an atheist, but he cannot stand the militant atheism of people like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens. In the book, Gray writes about how the instinct for utopia, born out of religion, keeps surfacing in the West, even without God. Nothing is more human, he writes, than to be prepared to kill and die to secure meaning in life. More Gray:
Those who demand that religion be exorcised from politics think this can be achieved by excluding traditional faiths from public institutions; but secular creeds are formed from religious concepts, and suppressing religion does not mean it ceases to control thinking and behaviour. Like repressed sexual desire, faith returns, often in grotesque forms, to govern the lives of those who deny it.
Slezkine writes that this same apocalyptic millenarianism erupted in anti-Christian form in the French Revolution. The Jacobins were Enlightenment apocalyptics, believing in the triumph of Reason, Science, and Virtue. And they were proto-Bolsheviks. Robespierre, in a 1794 speech to the National Assembly, praised "virtue, without which terror is destructive; terror, without which virtue is impotent. The Terror is nothing but justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is thus an emanation of virtue."

Please go to The American Conservative to read the entire article.
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