The Beast of Ideology Lifts the Lid on Transformation

The Transformation is accelerating. The harsh, often violent, police repression of student protests across the U.S. and Europe, in wake of the continuing Palestinian massacres, exposes sheer intolerance towards those voicing condemnation against the violence in Gaza.

The category of ‘hate speech’ enacted into law has become so ubiquitous and fluid that criticism of the conduct of Israel’s behaviour in Gaza and the West Bank is now treated as a category of extremism and as a threat to the state. Confronted by criticism of Israel, the ruling élites respond by angrily lashing out. 100 Lessons That Will ... Reading, Mindset Buy New $14.99 (as of 03:52 UTC - Details)

Is there a boundary (still) between criticism and anti-semitism? In the West the two increasingly are being made to cohere.

Today’s stifling of any criticism of Israel’s conduct – in blatant contradiction with any western claim to a values-based order – reflects desperation and a touch of panic. Those who still occupy the leadership slots of Institutional Power in the U.S. and Europe are compelled by the logic of those structures to pursue courses of action that are leading to ‘system’ breakdown, both domestically – and concomitantly – provoking the dramatic intensification of international tensions, too.

Mistakes flow from the underlying ideological rigidities in which the ruling strata are trapped: The embrace of a transformed Biblical Israel that long ago separated from today’s U.S. Democratic Party zeitgeist; the inability to accept reality in Ukraine; and the notion that U.S. political coercion alone can revive paradigms in Israel and the Middle East that are long gone.

The notion that a new Israeli Nakba of Palestinians can be forced down the throats of the western and the global public are both delusional and reek of centuries of old Orientalism.

What else can one say when Senator Tom Cotton posts: “These little Gazas are disgusting cesspools of antisemitic hate, full of pro-Hamas sympathisers; fanatics and freaks”?

When order unravels, it unravels quickly and comprehensively. Suddenly, the GOP conference has had its nose rubbed in dirt (over its lack of support for Biden’s $61bn for Ukraine); the U.S. public’s despair at open border immigration is disdainfully ignored; and Gen Z’s expressions of empathy with Gaza is declared an internal ‘enemy’ to be roughly suppressed. All points of strategic inflection and transformation – likely as not.

And the rest of the world now is cast as an enemy too, being perceived as recalcitrants who fail to embrace the western recitation of its ‘Rules Order’ catechism and for failing clearly to toe the line on support for Israel and the proxy war on Russia.

It is a naked bid for unchecked power; one nevertheless that is galvanising a global blow-back. It is pushing China closer to Russia and accelerating the BRICS confluence. Plainly put, the world – faced with massacres in Gaza and West Bank – will not abide by either the Rules or any western hypocritical cherry-picking of International Law. Both systems are collapsing under the leaden weight of western hypocrisy.

Nothing is more obvious than Secretary of State Blinken’s scolding of President Xi for China’s treatment of the Uighurs and his threats of sanctions for Chinas trade with Russia – powering ‘Russia’s assault on Ukraine’, Blinken asserts. Blinken has made an enemy of the one power that can evidently out-compete the U.S.; that has manufacturing and competitive overmatch vs the U.S.

The point here is that these tensions can quickly spiral down into war of ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’ – ranged against not just the China, Russia, Iran “Axis of Evil”, but vs Turkey, India Brazil and all others who dare to criticise the moral correctness of either of the West’s Israel and Ukraine projects. That is, it has the potential to turn into the West versus the Rest.

Again, another own goal.

Crucially, these two conflicts have led to the Transformation of the West from self-styled ‘mediators’ claiming to bring calm to flashpoints, to being active contenders in these wars. And, as active contenders, they can permit no criticism of their actions – either inside, or out; for that would be to hint at appeasement.

Put plainly: this transformation to contenders in war lies at the heart of Europe’s present obsession with militarism. Bruno Maçães relates that a “senior European minister argued to him that: if the U.S. withdrew its support for Ukraine, his country, a Nato member, would have no choice but to fight alongside Ukraine – inside Ukraine. As he put it, why should his country wait for a Ukrainian defeat, followed by [a defeated Ukraine] swelling the ranks of a Russian army bent on new excursions?”

Such a proposition is both stupid and likely would lead to a continent-wide war (a prospect with which the unnamed minister seemed astonishingly at ease). Such insanity is the consequence of the Europeans’ acquiescence to Biden’s attempt at regime change in Moscow. They wanted to become consequential players at the table of the Great Game, but have come to perceive that they sorely lack the means for it. The Brussels Class fear the consequence to this hubris will be the unravelling of the EU.

As Professor John Gray writes:

“At bottom, the liberal assault on free speech [on Gaza and Ukraine] is a bid for unchecked power. By shifting the locus of decision from democratic deliberation to legal procedures, the élites aim to insulate [their neoliberal] cultish programmes from contestation and accountability. The politicisation of law – and the hollowing out of politics go hand in hand”.

Despite these efforts to cancel opposing voices, other perspectives and understandings of history nonetheless are reasserting their primacy: Do Palestinians have a point? Is there a history to their predicament? ‘No, they are a tool used by Iran, by Putin and by Xi Jinping’, Washington and Brussels says.

They say such untruths because the intellectual effort to see Palestinians as human beings, as citizens, endowed with rights, would force many Western states to revise much of their rigid system of thinking. It is simpler and easier for Palestinians to be left ambiguous, or to ‘disappear’.

The future which this approach heralds couldn’t be farther from the democratic, co-operative international order the White House claims to advocate. Rather it leads to the precipice of civil violence in the U.S. and to wider war in Ukraine.

Many of today’s Woke liberals however, would reject the allegation of being anti-free speech, labouring under the misapprehension that their liberalism is is not curtailing free speech, but rather is protecting it from ‘falsehoods’ emanating from the enemies of ‘our democracy’ (i.e. the ‘MAGA contingent’). In this way, they falsely perceive themselves as still adhering to the classical liberalism of, say, John Stuart Mill.

Whilst it is true that in On Liberty (1859) Mill argued that free speech must include the freedom to cause offence, in the same essay he also insisted that the value of freedom lay in its collective utility. He specified that “it must be utility in the largest sense – grounded on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being”.

Free speech has little value if it facilitates the discourse of the ‘deplorables’ or the so-called Right.

In other words, “Like many other 19th-century liberals”, Professor Gray argues, “Mill feared the rise of democratic government because he believed it meant empowering an ignorant and tyrannical majority. Time and again, he vilified the torpid masses who were content with traditional ways of living”. One can hear here, the precursor to Mrs Clinton’s utter disdain for the ‘deplorables’ living in ‘fly-over’ U.S. states.

Rousseau too, is often taken as an icon of ‘liberty’ and ‘individualism’ and widely admired. Yet here too, we have language which conceals its’ fundamentally anti-political character.

Rousseau saw human associations rather, as groups to be acted upon, so that all thinking and daily behaviour could be folded into the like-minded units of a unitary state.

The individualism of Rousseau’s thought, therefore, is no libertarian assertion of absolute rights of free speech against the all-consuming state. No raising of the ‘tri-colour’ against oppression.

Quite the reverse! Rousseau’s passionate ‘defence of the individual’ arises out of his opposition to ‘the tyranny’ of social convention; the forms, rituals and ancient myths that bind society – religion, family, history, and social institutions. His ideal may be proclaimed as that of individual freedom, but it is ‘freedom’, however, not in a sense of immunity from control of the state, but in our withdrawal from the supposed oppressions and corruptions of collective society.

Family relationship is thus transmuted subtly into a political relationship; the molecule of the family is broken into the atoms of its individuals. With these atoms today groomed further to shed their biological gender, their cultural identity and ethnicity, they are coalesced afresh into the single unity of the state.

This is the deceit concealed in classical Liberalism’s language of freedom and individualism – ‘freedom’ nonetheless being hailed as the major contribution of the French Revolution to western civilisation.

Yet perversely, behind the language of freedom lay de-civilisation.

The ideological legacy from the French Revolution, however, was radical de-civilisation. The old sense of permanence – of belonging somewhere in space and time – was conjured away, to give place to its very opposite: Transience, temporariness and ephemerality.

Frank Furedi has written,

“Discontinuity of culture coexists with the loss of the sense of the past … The loss of this sensibility has had an unsettling effect on culture itself and has deprived it of moral depth. Today, the anticultural exercises a powerful role in western society. Culture is frequently framed in instrumental and pragmatic terms and rarely perceived as a system of norms that endow human life with meaning. Culture has become a shallow construct to be disposed of – or changed.

“The western cultural elite is distinctively uncomfortable with the narrative of civilisation and has lost its enthusiasm for celebrating it. The contemporary cultural landscape is saturated with a corpus of literature that calls into question the moral authority of civilisation and associates it more with negative qualities.

“De-civilization means that even the most foundational identities – such as that between man and woman – is called into question. At a time when the answer to the question of ‘what it means to be human’ becomes complicated – and where the assumptions of western civilisation lose their salience – the sentiments associated with wokeism can flourish”.

Karl Polyani, in his Great Transformation (published some 80 years ago), held that the massive economic and social transformations that he had witnessed during his lifetime – the end of the century of “relative peace” in Europe from 1815 to 1914, and the subsequent descent into economic turmoil, fascism and war, which was still ongoing at the time of the book’s publication – had but a single, overarching cause: Unreasonable Hospitality unknown author Best Price: $24.00 Buy New $10.75 (as of 04:17 UTC - Details)

Prior to the 19th century, he insisted, the human way of being had always been ‘embedded’ in society, and that it was subordinated to local politics, customs, religion and social relations i.e. to a civilisational culture. Life was not treated as separated into distinct particulars, but as parts of an articulate whole – of life itself.

Liberalism turned this logic on its head. It constituted an ontological break with much of human history. Not only did it artificially separate the ‘economic’ from the ‘political’, but liberal economics (its foundational notion) demanded the subordination of society – of life itself – to the abstract logic of the self-regulating market. For Polanyi, this “means no less than the running of society as an adjunct to the market”.

The answer – clearly – was to make society again a distinctly human relationship of community, given meaning through a living culture. In this sense, Polanyi also emphasised the territorial character of sovereignty – the nation-state as the pre-condition to the exercise of democratic politics.

Polanyi would have argued that, absent a return to Life Itself as the pivot to politics, a violent backlash was inevitable. (Though hopefully not as dire as the transformation through which he lived.)

The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.