24 October 2018

The high demands of the axiomodern

Something about our days has me thinking about the fall of (Western) Rome. The crisis of faith in the old established institutions – in our case as much political as religious. Wasteful infighting among the ruling class (check). The growing wealth gap between the rich and the poor (check). The insecurities about immigration and the border (check). The prevalence of usurious consumer lending (check).

What’s more, in both cases, there is a worrying trend of being closed off to radical alternatives. The Roman Empire was addicted to œconomic growth – and it grew by conquering land and slaves. In our case, growth is predicated on leveraging debt into investments in technological progress. But just as the Roman Empire ultimately lost steam as they began running out of land and people to enslave, so we are also coming up against certain hard limits to technological progress, as well as on the strain we can put on the biosphere. This is – to put it mildly – very troubling. We are headed full-steam toward a big collapse and we seem to have misplaced the brakes.

But more than that, we need to begin considering our place in the historical arc. We are living in the waning days of a hyper-capitalist globalism, and we are caught between factions which are taking refuge in a range of extreme and bizarre ideologies held over from the last century. The ‘alt-right’ is preparing for a race war over dwindling resources, while the ‘Tumblr liberals’ are still stuck somewhere between Rules for Radicals and Excitable Speech. Libertarians and counter-culture conservatives are sounding a retreat from the institutions. Honestly, I think the counter-culture conservatives get more right than most people credit them (at the very least they have the civilisational scope of the problem right), but really none of the above ‘options’ offers anything resembling long-term thinking. Indeed, the ‘Tumblr left’ and the ‘alt right’ seem to be flip-sides of the same Mad Max petrol-can cap. The libertarian-slash-crunchy-con position offers very little more by way of a map to the coming wasteland.

To be sure, there are some interesting proposals out there: the ‘slow food’ movement in developing countries isn’t, by the way, so much about boutique consumer alternatives as it is about preserving food sovereignty, which – it strikes me – will become a much more widely-regarded topic as political weakness, biosphere stress, scarcity and mass migration begin to make themselves more strongly felt. (People need to eat even after the collapse of the state.) Even so, these alternatives are lacking in the big-picture department. The one man who, it strikes me, has laid his finger solidly on the current problem – if not yet the solution – is the counter-cultural Russian conservative Aleksandr Shchipkov.

Here is how he puts it in his essay, ‘Axiomodern’:
Postmodernism seems to be rolling, rolling back and rushing into antiquity. Sociologists broadly discuss the “technical paganism”, “new pantheism” and “new barbarism.” … The refusal to subsidize complex and costly cultural projects gives rise to simple and radical projects. All this is true, but it is only one part of the problem. The second, even more important part is that the archaism of culture is secondary. Its real reasons lie in the archaism of politics.

It’s not about thousands of Syrian refugees, these Eastern “barbarians”, as Europeans call them. Our own inner barbarian of the West, which has been set at liberty, is much more dangerous. The era of neoliberal panopticon is inevitably slipping away. The time of idols and temples of the post-digital era comes. This means a rapid dechristianization of the Western world. And the elitist concept of culture, for its part, welcomes the moral terror by all sorts of “Pussy Riots” and attempts to call politics “art”.

Elitism has already turned into barbarism in arts. Similarly, it has turned into dechristianization and dehumanization in society and politics: fundamentalism, neo-Nazism, new Migration Period flooded Europe, the latter, as a “reward” for centuries of colonialism. For the sake of preserving the situation, the present Western political regime cultivates “a new barbarism” to counter the inner barbarian, who always was on guard, but now he seems to be unleashed, with the outer barbarian. Such is the result of postmodernism that rehabilitated the primitive sacrality and cave instincts.
There’s a lot to unpack here. First of all, notice the incredibly short shrift Shchipkov gives to the various alt-right Camp of the Saints fantasies. The real problem – and, being a practising ‘cradle Orthodox’, he understands this all too well – lies instead within. (This is a common talking point among counter-culture conservatives who have at least skimmed After Virtue, but not one, in my view, taken seriously often enough.) Our élite classes have inculcated and ‘set at liberty’ an ‘inner barbarism’. Now, in order to figure what Shchipkov means by this, one has to rather intuit it by means of the various examples he gives (the radical ‘feminist’ art of Pussy Riot being the main one); but reading him charitably, he takes the ‘inner barbarism’ to mean more broadly a politics of affect or a politics of emotivism, motivated by ‘cave instincts’. The ‘new barbarism’ responding to the enemy at the gates, who is now also unleashed by the élites, is clearly the faux-populist nativism now seen in various far-right politicians in Europe and the Americas.

Shchipkov mobilises a high historiographical language to contextualise and counter this dichotomy. Actually, the ‘Bronze Age’ terminology that he uses along with ‘Axiomodern’, is summoned forth out of the Russian literary usage – i.e., the Golden Age of Russian literature and the Silver Age. (And his reference to the late-Soviet poetry of Oleg Okhapkin shows that the Russian literary usage is foremost in his mind.) But in Russian as in English, ‘Bronze Agecalls back to Hesiod in this context – and doubly so when coupled with a Jaspersesque epithet like ‘Axial’. Shchipkov isn’t just quibbling over poetry; he’s talking about the grander-scale rise and fall of human epochs. He understands that we are in the middle of a massive historical transition, and not a particularly pleasant one. The reference to the plight of literary Christians like Okhapkin under the Soviets, additionally, hints that the already-arrived age of ‘post-digital idolatry’ will make overwhelming and even martyrific demands on Axiomodern Man.
Axiomodern has a bronze colour shade reminiscent of the golden classics. This bronze glow, of course, can be noticed not only in literature but also in the sphere of social mores. It is Russia who will play an important role in the return of Europe to Christian roots. Therefore, the “Bronze Age” may be universal. We already have one foot in the new era. Axiomodern has come. And responding to Pasternak's catchphrase: “What millennium is it outside, my dears?” you can answer directly, “Axiomodern. Bronze Age.”
We new ‘axiomoderns’ are faced with a crisis of the soul and a crisis of the social sphere that go hand-in-hand. The twin collapses of Catholic and Orthodox public praxeis are merely signposts of these broader crises. We are the Goths and Huns and Vandals who have sacked Rome, who are sacking it right now. On the other hand, we are also the Goths who are tasked with picking up the pieces and assembling it into mosaic. We are being called to transcend both the politics of affected umbrage plaguing the left, and the politics of nativism plaguing the right – both of which we know will end in the filth and debasement of bestial savagery. Also, the aretē being demanded of us now has an additional element of danger attached. Where in collapses of ages past man was tasked with conquering and taming wilderness in forging a new civilisation, now we are tasked with compassing a sophrosunē that preserves and restores our ailing and overburdened biosphere, not through atomised ‘green’ pieties but through acts of collective political heroism.

No pressure.

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