Liberal Fascism

Modernism & Fascism Cont’d

From a reader:

Dear Jonah,

I really wish I could get ahold of your book, but alas my studies and budget won’t allow it at the moment. I’ve been consoling myself by reading through the blog instead, and find the latest post about worthy of reply (I’m a lecturer in the School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America, btw):

On whether fascism was “anti-modern,” while I agree progressives thought fascism could be very forward looking or “modern,” there were certainly some very anti-modern elements to Nazism, including the rejection of Judeo-Christian morality in favor of an older (anti-modern) neo-paganism. 

This “return to the past” is actually the driving force of modernism. Bacon called his new scientific philosophy the return of an Ancient Wisdom. The Social Contract Theorists thought you could only understand politics by going back to the beginning (of political societies to observe how they form [and Rousseau at least thought you should just stay there]).

Descartes wanted everyone to return to their pre-prejudiced state (to the place before they had become prejudiced by the influence of outside authority), and Kant wanted everyone to return to their pre-individuated state (to the essence of humanity, to what makes us all the same [before our individual emotions make us different]).

So Nietzsche and Heidegger, who both loved the Ancient Greeks and longed for/prophesied a return of the Ancient Greek mind is just another expression of the modernist “return to the past.”

Insofar as Heidgegger was influential on Nazism (and there’s little question that Heidegger was pro-Nazi, or that his philosophy was conducive to the Nazi philosophy and aesthetic), he was an “anti-modern” influence. 

Heidegger may have disliked some modernist thinkers and approaches, but that doesn’t mean he was not a modernist himself. Very often you critique someone precisely because they belong to the same group as yourself but do not live up to the true nature or potential of that group (like actors/scientists who criticize other actors/scientists for not being good actors/scientists).

And insofar as Heidegger was influential on post-modern literary theory types, its also worth remembering that some of their most important figures were themselves Nazis (e.g. Paul de Man).

Again, “postmodernism” in its primary drives is simply a new expression of the modernist drive to return to the beginning. Ultimately this desire for the coming of something new which is actually the return of something old can, I believe, be traced back to the Judaeo-Christian idea of a coming paradise which will reinstantiate (through the coming, or the Second Coming of the Messiah) what the original paradise was meant to be.

Witness the talk preference for “messianism” in Derrida.

-Micah Tillman

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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