Thursday, December 11, 2014

Black Mass

John Gray’s latest book is called Black Mass. It is subtitled Apocalyptic Religion and Death in Utopia.

Christians apocalyptic literature describes a traumatic event that transforms society. With the enlightenment, thinkers neglected Christianity, but retained the apocalyptic hope.

Modern revolutionaries such as the French Jacobins and the Russian Bolsheviks detested traditional religion, but their conviction that the crimes and follies of the past could be left behind in an all-encompassing transformation of human life was a secular reincarnation of early Christian beliefs. These modern revolutionaries were radical exponents of enlightenment thinking, which aimed to replace religion with a scientific view of the world. Yet the radical Enlightenment belief that there can be a sudden break in history, after which the flaws of human society will be for ever abolished, is a bi-product of Christianity.

The history of the past century is not a tale of secular advance, as thinkers of Right and Left like to think. The Bolshevik and Nazi seizures of power were faith-based upheavals just as much as the Ayatollah Khomeini’s theocratic insurrection in Iran. The very idea of revolution as a transforming event in history is owed to religion. Modern revolution movements are a continuation of religion by other means.

Since the French Revolution a succession of utopian movements has transformed political life. Entire societies have been destroyed and the world changed for ever. The alteration envisioned by utopian thinkers has not come about, and for the most part their projects have produced results opposite to those they intended. That has not prevented similar projects being launched again and again right up to the start of the twenty-first century, when the world’s most powerful state launched a campaign to export democracy to the Middle East and throughout the world.

When the project of universal democracy ended in the blood-soaked streets of Iraq, this pattern began to be reversed. Utopianism suffered a heavy blow, but politics and war have not ceased to be vehicles of myth (pp. 2-3).
Modern Politics has been driven by the belief that the world could be shaped by humanity alone (p.15).
During the past generation, the Right abandoned the philosophy of imperfection and embraced a pursuit of Utopia (p.32).
Gray assumes this faith in political transformation has been destroyed.
The faith in Utopia, which killed so many in the centuries following the French revolution is dead. Like other faiths, it may be resurrected in circumstances that cannot be foreseen , but it is unlikely to trouble us much further in the next few decades. The cycle in which world politics was dominated by secular versions of apocalyptic myth has come to an end… Iraq was the first utopian experiment of the new century and maybe the last (p.184).
I think Gray is wrong. The neocon politicians that dominate American political thought have not been put off by Iraq, but are itching to have another go. They sorted Libya and Ukraine, and now they would like to have a go in Syria against ISIS.

The ultimate secular utopian movement is the Beast of Revelation. With the current political forces at work, it could be getting close.

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