|The Race To Unimportance||Hugo on Genius|
by Christopher Chantrill
February 11, 2005 at 5:17 pm
WHAT A DIFFERENCE a year makes! A year ago Americans were digesting the rude, crude Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction of Janet Jackson. This year, twenty-something guys are sniggering over the Go Daddy Girls troublesome bra-strap. A year ago America got hit in the solar plexus with mindless challenge art. This year we got a satirical $2.5 commercial from GoDaddy.com that sashayed provocatively up to the line but not over it. (Warning: parental discretion advised here)
It is vital for conservatives to understand the difference between the bared breast and the broken bra-strap. By understanding the difference and acting on it we can win the culture war.
Raunchy TV goes back to the Sixties, do your own thing, and the so-called creative revolution in advertising. It made a cult out of transgression, challenging the conformist society of the Fifties and the Organization Man. But the cult of creativity goes back at least to Freud at the turn of the twentieth century. Thats why youll still hear artists and writers witnessing to the world how the scales fell off their eyes when they read Freud.
Freuds psychology may seem to conservative Americans as a sudden, irrational outburst from Teutonic Europe. But his psychology develops naturally out of Kants conscious ego, Fichtes impulsive ego, Hegels stage theory of consciousness, and Schopenhauers theory of repression. The key link in this chain is Fichte, because he isolates the key factor in human knowledge: humans.
How does knowledge come into the world? Descartes thought that knowledge came from a scientist making logical inferences from known indubitable facts to a necessary theory. But Fichte showed that facts are dead, and dead men tell no tales. It is the free imaginative act of the scientist that breathes life into facts to create a new theory. And that act comes from impulse: All our thought is founded on our impulses, he wrote. It was surely Fichte that gave the great generation from Einstein to Heisenberg permission to think the unthinkable and shock the world with modern physics.
Of course Fichtes discovery applied not just to scientists. Artists and writers were delighted to think the unthinkableand do it too. A century later, Freud taught the young artist to regard his dreams as a holy font of impulse welling up from the unconscious id and to fear that repressing it would lead to neurosis.
For the middle-class conservative, this all seems crazy. Without the restraint of rules, the impulsive ego becomes an unguided missile. The names of Hitler, Mao, and Castro come to mind. Rules and traditions are not repression, but societys wise defense-in-depth against unrestrained egos and their destructiveness. And so conservatives brush Freud aside.
But rejecting German psychology means keeping on stage the psychology of Locke and Hume, an ageing act, any German will tell you, that lost its top billing when Kant awoke from his dogmatic slumber over 200 years ago. Locke and Hume laid the foundations of our miraculous constitution and gave a philosophical foundation to the Protestant culture of self-government that was the glory of colonial New England. But Kant cut the ground out from under them with a startling idea that resolved an argument that went back to Plato and Aristotle: Was the real world the ultimate reality, or was it the world of ideas? Kant said, simply, that we couldnt tell. All we can know are appearances; we can never know things-in-themselves.
The Germans should have run the British empiricists off the stage there and then, but they didnt. Instead they had a wardrobe malfunction. The slipup was made by Fichte and extends through Nietzsche, Freud, Sartre and all their postmodern adepts in a thousand universities, arts communities, and moviesand by cultural osmosis down to third-rate talents like Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. As we have seen, they conceived of the genius as an impulsive ego beyond the rules. No more rules... Genius conjures up rather than learns, said Victor Hugo. It is the great achievement of the postmodernists to have added a corollary to this theorem. Rules are a mask for power.
It is precisely on this that conservatives take their stand athwart history, yelling Stop! And they are right. Rules are not a mask for power, but a defense-in-depth against power.
Conservatives need something more than a stop sign. They need a model of consciousness that can dish Fichte, Freud, and the cult of the transgressive genius by offering something better. It would extol instead the creative ego, the hero that transcends and includes the rules that have served us so well instead of trashing them.
Can conservatives create such a theory? Or perhaps has someone already developed one? Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of Conservative and the Creative Impulse.
Buy his Road to the Middle Class.
[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists, she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican
[T]he way to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,
Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop
discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
Roberts, C.J., Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District
[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State
[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050
[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.
[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
[Every] sacrifice is an act of impurity that pays for a prior act of greater impurity... without its participants having to suffer the full consequences incurred by its predecessor. The punishment is commuted in a process that strangely combines and finesses the deep contradiction between justice and mercy.
Frederick Turner, Beauty: The Value of Values
Within Pentecostalism the injurious hierarchies of the wider world are abrogated and replaced by a single hierarchy of faith, grace, and the empowerments of the spirit... where groups gather on rafts to take them through the turbulence of the great journey from extensive rural networks to the mega-city and the nuclear family...
David Martin, On Secularization
What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph
These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self
There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion
The Union publishes an exact return of the amount of its taxes; I can get copies of the budgets of the four and twenty component states; but who can tell me what the citizens spend in the administration of county and township?
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America