“The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”
Nietzsche eventually went mad, some say due to the effects of syphilis, others blame the implications of his complex and darkly ironic philosophy of life, which included, as its central precept, the doctrine of eternal recurrence. The concept makes its most dramatic appearance in Thus Spake Zarathustra, where Nietzsche, speaking through Zarathustra, is arguing with a grey dwarf who represents human limitations:
“Behold this moment!’ I went on. From this gateway Moment a long, eternal lane runs back: an eternity lies behind us.’
Must not all things that can run have already run along this lane? Must not all things that can happen have already happened, been done, run past?’
And if all things have been here before: what do you think of this moment, dwarf? Must not this gateway, too, have been here before?’
And are not all things bound fast together in such a way that this moment draws after it all future things? Therefore draws itself too?’
For all things that can run must also run once again forward along this long lane.’
And this slow spider that creeps along in the moonlight, and this moonlight itself, and I and you at this gateway whispering together, whispering of eternal things must we not all have been here before?
and must we not return and run down that other lane out before us, down that long, terrible lane must we not return eternally?'”
This concept, it has to be admitted, is subject to various interpretations: since Nietzsche wrote in parables and aphorisms, his text rich with metaphor, it’s hard to say whether he was speaking about the willingness to relive one’s life, exactly as it was lived, over and over again, as a sign of life affirmation and psychological health, or if he meant it in the temporal sense, as a cosmological theory. Time, according to this variant of Nietzschean thought, doesn’t progress in a straight line, but loops back on itself: we are doomed to go through the same cycles, again and again, and there isn’t a damned thing we can do about it.
In any case, it’s this latter interpretation that fascinates me, these days, because we seem to be reliving the first days of the Great Depression of the 1930s, and war drums are heard in the distance. As the stock market takes another dizzying dive, and the ghosts of FDR, Hoover [.pdf], and yes Hitler return to haunt us, reproach us, taunt us, the madness that overtook Nietzsche isn’t hard to understand. To continually make the same mistakes, to stumble over the same ruts in the road, to repeat mindlessly and without the least bit of irony or self-mockery the dusted-off slogans of yesteryear, all to the same tragic and bloody effect what kind of a nightmare universe are we living in?
Once again, the delicate structure of human economy shudders, and falls, as the death of a system that has made us the wealthiest nation on earth is loudly proclaimed. Capitalism is dead long live what?
We’ve seen these other isms before, and they aren’t a pretty sight. Socialism, fascism, communism, national socialism, corporatism, and other despotisms too obscure to be mentioned they’re all rising from their graves, resurrected by fear and the hope of redemption. A government official affixes his signature to a piece of paper and suddenly the market is abolished, the banks nationalized, as the very visible hand of the State takes hold. And all of this furious action is framed within the context of an ongoing war a world war, officially declared by our President.
Perhaps unconsciously presaging this moment, the War Party has often and cleverly utilized images of the 1930s in its propaganda: in their world, Hitler never died, but lived on to bedevil us in many forms. Every tinpot despot we’ve faced and overthrown has been depicted as the latest incarnation of the failed painter-turned-dictator whose name has become a byword for human evil. Yes, even Manuel Noriega! (Remember him?) To the neocons, it is always 1939, every negotiation is another Munich, and the only real solution is war, followed by a promise of blood, sweat, and tears. Churchill is their god, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt sits at his right hand side. These two stood fast during the crisis, and withstood the storm unbowed, uniting their respective nations and indeed the West in a worldwide crusade that only ended after many millions had been hurled into the abyss from the heights of their heroism.
“The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”
To my fellow specks of dust, I would issue this warning: you may think the danger of a destructive war another world war is abating, now that we are to have a new President, likely one who is willing to talk and doesn’t see Munich in every effort at conciliation. Yet, remember, that he, too, is a speck of dust, albeit one a bit bigger and of more consequence that most. He, too, is carried along by the same forces that drive us all, the winds of Time that blow backwards as well as forward, and carry us to where we’ve been before .
We are entering a danger zone, one that is full of hidden minefields, and unless we step gingerly, and carefully, tragedy is ensured. In times of economic uncertainty, such as these, human beings are susceptible to all sorts of malign influences: energized by economic ignorance, disdainful of history, and unconstrained by either morals or common sense, demagogues arise, and a thousand alien isms take root in American soil, flowers of evil luring us with extravagant colors and exotic perfumes. Ideology, like madness, takes hold of human minds, and dehumanizes them quite effectively. As the conservative philosopher Russell Kirk reminds us (in his storied attack on the neoconservatives): “Ideology animates, in George Orwell’s phrase, the streamlined men who think in slogans and talk in bullets.'”
All these rising ideologies take as their starting point the necessity of increasing government power and influence in every sphere of human activity, starting with economics and ending with well, who knows? There is no logical endpoint to the modern “liberal” faith in the power and benevolence of government and, these days, the “conservatives” agree with them, and then some.
This crisis, like the one that followed in the wake of 9/11, conjures the atmosphere and the rhetoric of wartime. Already we are hearing about the “war on recession,” Little surprise that the solutions proposed require the regimentation of capital under Washington’s command. Economic actors are no longer free individuals but soldiers in an army. What we are witnessing is how an economy and a society becomes militarized.
The economic crisis caused in large part by the economic consequences of militarism has set into motion a fundamental shift in American politics, one that is a perfect breeding ground for the rise of a genuinely fascist system. Our own form of Caesarism will have distinctly American characteristics, of course, but the universal pattern will run true to form: a system of economic corporatism, with all power invested in the State and the whole infernal machinery energized by a demonic sense of mission in our own case, the “duty” to export the wonders of “democracy,” American-style, to the world, and otherwise Do Good.
All the ingredients are there, and the rise of Barack Obama to frontrunner status is troubling at this particular historical conjuncture. With the media agog over him, and his “antiwar” supporters willing to suspend disbelief to a very great degree, President Obama will be in a position to prove his “toughness” in the foreign policy field without having to face much criticism. Indeed, he’ll earn praise for, say, confronting Vladimir Putin over Ukraine “Watch Ukraine,” advised his opponent, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Obama is indeed watching it. His planned grand scale re-invasion of Afghanistan is already being hailed by yesterday’s “liberals” tomorrow’s hawks as we dig ourselves into a deeper hole than was ever dug in the sands of Iraq.
The militarization of the economy, the regimentation of capital and eventually labor, will make the War Party’s job all that much easier. The centralization of economic power in the hands of government officials will ensure that the resources of the nation will be directed, at will, to whatever ends are deemed necessary for victory. We are headed for a future where all the wealth of the country, its energies and attention, are mobilized and marshaled by government as one would command an army. It will be a society perfectly suited to become a modern Sparta, one naturally inclined to militarism and war, as different from the old market-oriented America as the Borg is from human civilization.
Another danger sign: the Obama’s campaign’s remarkable haughtiness, which is just a reflection of his own regal manner. He’s acting like he’s already the President, and he hasn’t even been elected yet. Just wait until he gets into the Oval Office: an arrogance that had been merely annoying will become overweening. An arrogance, I might add, that is shared and carried to its logical conclusion by his fervent followers, who are just as extreme and often just as scary as their Republican counterparts.
In what has to be the most outrageous act of government intimidation of political opponents since the Alien and Sedition Acts, a group of prominent prosecutors and local law enforcement officials in Missouri, including in St. Louis and surrounding rural areas, have banded together and formed the “Obama Truth Squad.” Under the rubric of enforcing “campaign ethics laws,” they are threatening to take anyone to court who fails to tell “the truth” about the Dear Leader.
Where in the name of all that’s holy is the American Civil Liberties Union? Probably the same place they were before and during World War II cheering on the prosecution of “reactionary” dissidents, including war opponents.
In the grim future we are headed for, anyone who dares oppose Obama’s policies, no matter how disconnected the issues are from race, is bound to be called a “racist,” if not by the White House then by its media amen corner, which will be the most obsequious since Stalin’s day. The media hated George W. Bush, and yet look how easily they fell for his guff in the run-up to the Iraq war. Just imagine what a starry-eyed fourth estate will let the Obama administration get away with! I shudder to think of it.
Assuming he wins the White House, it will be a huge problem just finding out what’s going on, what with the mainstream media anesthetized, and the liberals cheerleading the administration’s every move. In the age of Obama, Antiwar.com is an absolute necessity. The War Party, far from being banished from Washington, is simply re-entering through the back door.