Flat White

Why ‘progressives’ are going nowhere

30 November 2019

9:00 AM

30 November 2019

9:00 AM

As the Labor Party, following its unexpected loss in the recent federal election, is forced to question the progressive worldview on which so many of its policies are based, it may be worthwhile examining whether there is any coherence within this worldview in the first place.

Progressivism is a religion, as religion is an inescapable concept and everybody is religious. Progressives borrow their linear view of history from Christianity – there is a beginning, middle and end – for history is progressing in a certain direction, towards a certain end.

However, here the similarities end. With Christianity, there is specifically a denouement to history’s progress – there is the culminating parousia. But with progressivism, where is the end toward which we are meant to be progressing? Can there be an end without a guiding telos? Whither are progressives progressing? One will find that progressives do not even know whither they are progressing.

It is to the monotheistic faiths that society owes its linear view of history, as the concept of progress does not make sense with a cyclical view of history. History has meaning because it is progressing towards a certain end. There is a past but, more importantly, there is a future toward which to look forward. There is progress to be made.

But what happens when God is killed, when God is dead? What happens when the one through whom we live and move and have our being is declared passé? Nietzsche, of course, is famous for declaring just this fact – that God is dead. The town of Modernity was not big enough for both God and man, so man took care of God.

What is the practical consequence of this? Nietzsche, blessed (or cursed) with a preternatural prescience, told us just what this would entail. In “The Parable of the Madman”, he told us just what it would mean when we end up killing God.

The madman in the parable runs into the marketplace distressed and afflicted over the implications of the death of God, announcing to all who would listen that he is looking for God. Naturally, he excites considerable laughter from his audience, for they are living in the Age of Reason, where the concept of God is ridiculous.

But the madman confronts his mockers:

Where has God gone” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? … God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.

Nevertheless, in our prideful stubbornness, we insist that the greatness of this deed is by no means too great for us! We shall continue to wipe away with our sponge all last remaining remnants of superstitious belief. We shall invent new festivals of atonement. We shall determine for ourselves what is good and what is evil, indeed declaring for ourselves what has hitherto been good to be evil and what has been evil to be good. Progress shall indeed continue unabated even as God is dead.

The telos of existence will now be provided for by the imperative to survive, to stay the hand of extinction. In Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, the purpose of life in Modernity is provided. This purpose will be that of the struggle for life – with the fitter, more favoured races struggling and dominating over the weaker, less favoured races. Survival is what existence is all about.

The Germans, being the best-educated and most technically advanced population in the world at the time of the 1930s, understood the implications of this telos rather too well. As Nietzsche explained, the blond beast, the lion, has no need to apologise to the antelope for killing and eating it, for it is the lion, the king of the beasts. Nature, after all, is red in tooth and claw, for there is no good or bad in Nature, no right or wrong. There is just Nature.

So when the two-legged blond beasts proceeded to exercise the prerogatives Nature had conferred on them by mercilessly seeking after Lebensraum, there was no ethical system to hold them at bay, for Nature had emphatically given the go-ahead: the strong do what they want and the weak suffer what they must.

Nevertheless, the best-lain plans of mice and men often go awry. Contrary to the ordinances of Nature, the battle actually ended being to the weak, the race to the slow. The Untermenschen ended up crushing and prevailing over the Übermenschen, the Red Army inflicting the overwhelming majority of casualties suffered by the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front, which was the focus of most of the fighting in the European theatre.

Modernity recoiled at the excesses of the Nazis, many not quite yet ready to assimilate the implications of the death of God. Nevertheless, the imperative to survive, to stay the hand of extinction, still remains, even if it no longer openly enjoins the domination of the strong over the weak.

So we must not accept to go gently into that good night of extinction, only to rage, once it is too late, at the closing of the day. We must rage, now, against the dying of the light – against the impending threat of climate change! We must rebel against the imminent extinction event closing in on us every minute! We must be the katechon of 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7, keeping the end at bay!

Nietzsche showed that when we kill God, we kill all meaning, all purpose to life. We kill the telos. Nevertheless, standing at the precipice, surveying the promise of infinite nothingness before him, Nietzsche elected to leap into the abyss. He went mad. But one wonders at what point he actually went mad. Was it when it became obvious, or was it when he was for all intents still quite lucid and compos mentis? I tend to favour the latter possibility.

Progressives are not progressive in the sense of linear progress. They are simply incoherent – perpetually falling backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions, with there being no up or down for them, no male or female, no right or wrong, simply straying as through an infinite nothing. As they light their lanterns in the morning and hold them up that they may see the way ahead, they beckon for us to follow, insisting they will show us the way.

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