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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Preachers of unreason


What a dangerous stage The United States has reached when its main broadcaster on Fox TV is conducting an ideological campaign of hatred against a 78 year-old woman (for something she wrote in 1966) allowing death threats against her to appear on its official website. This is not just a reflection of the violent ant-liberal mood in the States – since Fox TV is one of the main engines of this hatred.
A very thoughtful blog reminds us how anti-liberalism poisoned the politics of Weimar Germany and paved the way for Nazism. The post summarises something else written in the 1960s – The Politics of Cultural Despair - which looked closely at the ideas of three writers whose critique of modernity in the late 19th century, the author (Fritz Stern) argued, prepared the mental ground for the acceptance of Nazism.
The central focus of this cultural criticism was the fact of modernity - liberalism, secularism, Manchesterism, consumptionism, and individualism. These were conservative critics; they favored an earlier time that was more traditional, moral, hierarchical, and religious. They preferred villages and towns to cities; they preferred cultivated thinkers to merchants and professionals, and they feared the rise of the proletariat.
By liberalism they meant to encompass several ideas: individualism, self-interest, parliamentary government, and glorification of commerce and the market. And their criticisms were unswerving: they hoped to turn back all of the liberal democratic and industrial transformations that modern Europe was undergoing.
The movement did embody a paradox: its followers sought to destroy the despised present in order to recapture an idealized past in an imaginary future. They were disinherited conservatives, who had nothing to conserve, because the spiritual values of the past had largely been buried and the material remnants of conservative power did not interest them. They sought a breakthrough to the past, and they longed for a new community in which old ideas and institutions would once again command universal allegiance.
The conservative revolutionaries denounced every aspect of the capitalistic society and its putative materialism. They railed against the spiritual emptiness of life in an urban, commercial civilization, and lamented the decline of intellect and virtue in a mass society. They attacked the press as corrupt, the political parties as the agents of national dissension, and the new rulers as ineffectual mediocrities. The bleaker their picture of the present, the more attractive seemed the past, and they indulged in nostalgic recollections of the uncorrupted life of earlier rural communities, when men were peasants and kings true rulers.
America's First Amendment is a sacred thing - but, in allowing hatred to continue spew from Fox TV and the airways when its citizens are looking for scapegoats for their troubles, is storing up trouble for American society. Anyway, the woman gives as good as she gets - see hereFritz Stern, the author, is a marvellous historian born in Breslau/Wroclaw in 1926 who escaped to America in 1938 and wrote a powerful autobiography essay which I read a few years back with great pleasure and benefit - Five Germanies I have known. He is a highly engaging character - as you can see both from his book and this video of him introducing it
Watching the video reminded me of the great interviews Clive James has on his website – and I liked his short piece attacking the rebranding which Britain’s privatised railway companies carried out you can see half-way through (3 mins 50 secs to be precise) this video interview about George Orwell.

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